Jason closes the front door behind me, one hand on the handle and one hand flat against the scratchplate to make sure it clicks-to with the least possible noise. He doesn’t say anything, but waggles a finger for me to follow him down the hall and into the lounge, where he turns to face me with a forlorn look.
We’re not coping he says, in a whisper. It’s reached that point…. I don’t know. She discharged herself from hospital – against advice – I’m sure you’ve heard…
The whole house is eerily quiet, except for Jason’s emphatic whispering, of course – and the loud snores of a sleeping Springer Spaniel draped along the back of the sofa with one front paw and one back paw hanging down the cushions. Immediately above the dog is a giant, blow-up photo of the same dog sitting to attention, its mouth lolling open and its ears back.
Sorry about Clooney whispers Jason. He’s normally a bit brighter than this.
Annie stands and watches through the sitting room window as I unlock the keysafe and retrive the key.
As soon as I open the door, there’s a furious barking from upstairs, a frantic rumble of paws down the stairs, and a sandy-coloured Pomeranian rushes up to me.
‘Mutley’s come to say hello!’ says Annie, without moving at all.
I stand as still as Annie as Mutley sniffs my trousers. After a great deal of huffing and blowing, when he’s satisfied enough to back up a little, I crouch down and let him sniff my hand, too. He accepts me – grudgingly, with a screwed up expression on his face, like a hanging judge forced to commute on a technicality.
‘There! He likes you!’ says Annie.
‘He can probably smell our dog,’ I say, standing up again. Mutley growls.
‘Oh! What sort of dog have you got?’
‘A lurcher!’ says Annie. ‘I love lurchers. Mind you – I love all dogs.’
‘Me too. Within reason. But Mutley’s a beautiful thing. Aren’t you Mutley? Hey? Are you a beautiful thing?’
He lets me fuss his head, then gives a full-body sneeze that lifts him bodily off the ground, and trots off to the kitchen to look for a reward.
I watch him go. It strikes me for the first time that the flat is papered with notices and post-it notes, stuck on doors and cupboards and surfaces, on the fridge and the cooker and various appliances – almost the entire place annotated with boldly written notes, saying things like The carers will make you breakfast and Do not use the toaster and Don’t go outside: Call Wendy first.
‘What have you come for?’ says Annie.
Mutley comes straight back into the doorway and stares at me. Hard.