rose

The old house is set in a hollow below the level of the road, at the bottom of half a dozen precipitous concrete steps. Either side of the steps, a great tangle of brambles and clematis and honeysuckle wrestle down the slope together, like a green slo-mo wave crashing over the side of a sinking ship.

No-one answers when I press the doorbell, or rap the door knocker, or even when I ring the landline. (I can hear the phone ringing endlessly, hopelessly, somewhere deep inside the house). I find a keysafe on a wall round the side, but when I call the hospital to find out the number, and open it, the safe is empty.

I’ve just got out the phone again to call A&E to see if she’s been admitted, when Mrs Davidson opens the door.

‘Oh! You are in!’ I say, putting the phone away.
‘What do you want?’
‘My name’s Jim. I’m with the Rapid Response team at the hospital. I’ve come to see how you are.’
‘It’s not me that’s ill. It’s that bitch of a woman who’s been hanging around.’
‘Oh. Okay. Erm… would you mind if I came in so we could have a chat?’
‘All right, fine. I really don’t see the point, though. I’m perfectly well…’
She swings the door open and I step inside.
A shabby, down-at-heel place, with that dull and saturating silence you get sometimes in places that don’t see too many people.
‘So what exactly is it that you want?’ she says, dropping backwards into a chair.
I explain about our service, and who made the referral.
‘You had a fall yesterday evening. The ambulance came and got you up. D’you remember?’
‘Of course I remember. They were absolutely charming. Very helpful. But look – that was last night. I’m perfectly fine now. I don’t wish to appear rude – Jim, did you say? But I’d really rather be left alone.’
‘Of course. I can understand that, Mrs Davidson. And I promise I won’t keep you long, or do anything that you don’t want me to do. But I’d really like to check you over again, if that’s okay. Just to make doubly sure nothing’s changed, you know? And then maybe see if there’s any equipment you might find useful to have about the place. To stop you falling again.’
‘All that I need, I have,’ she says. ‘By which I mean my brushes and canvases. The rest is by the by. I’m an artist, you see. It’s what keeps me going. I’ve sold to collectors all over the world. In Bahrain, The Netherlands, Sierra Leone, Washington, Nepal, London…’
‘Wow!’ I say, but secretly I’m not convinced. It’s not just the way her list of places is such a strange mix of countries and capital cities, it’s the canvases themselves. There are examples of her work hung around the room, enthusiastic but crude attempts at flowers, country views, the odd cat.
‘What d’you think of this?’ she says, handing me an unframed picture that’s resting against her chair.
A rose (it says so, in thick black writing along the bottom), the flower looking so distressed I can only imagine she was trying to stab the bristles through the canvas.
‘Watercolour. That’s the medium,’ she says, taking it from me again and storing it back beside the chair. ‘I like the way it runs.’
‘Amazing!’
‘Thank you. Now then – let’s get on with the examination. I don’t want that bitch of a woman across the road looking over the top of the curtains. She’s been coming round a lot, you know. Telling me how to live my life. Saying I’m ugly. Ugly! What business is it of hers what I look like. I said to her, I said I may be ugly on the outside, dear, but you’re ugly through and through you heartless bitch. So now then. What d’you want first? Blood pressure?’

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