making it down there

There’s a note on Mrs Layland’s file to say that her daughter, Ellie, has to be contacted before any visit. Mrs Layland gets extremely anxious the notes says. Make sure you ring first before going in. It gives Ellie’s mobile number, underlined, twice.

‘How about one?’ I say.
‘Perfect.’
‘See you then.’

I have three patients to see that end of town. As it turns out, one of them has been admitted to hospital, and the other is surprisingly quick. My remaining visits are some distance away, so I won’t be able to go to them and make it back for one o’clock – so I call Ellie to see if she can make it any sooner, perhaps eleven?
‘That… should be okay,’ she says, after a pause which sounds like she’s flipping through a diary. ‘That should just give me time to make it down there. Okay – fine. Let’s make it eleven.’
‘Thanks. I’ll give you a call when I arrive.’
‘Lovely.’

Just before eleven I pull up outside the apartment block, and after writing down my arrival time, take out the mobile and call Ellie. It rings six times and goes to voicemail. I leave a message to say I’ve arrived and asking her to call me back so we can go in together. Then I spend the next ten minutes going over what visits I’ve got left, and figuring out the routes.

When there’s still no call-back from Ellie, I ring her again. Straight to voicemail.
‘I wasn’t sure whether I left my number or not,’ I say, ‘…so just in case…’
I read out the number, then end with something like  ‘looking forward to meeting you soon’ and hang up.

Time starts to drag. I keep checking the phone, to see if it’s registered any calls that for some reason I may not have heard. I hold the phone in different places in the car, just in case. I start watching the road ahead, and the road behind in the rear view mirror, wondering if each car that passes is going to be Ellie. Maybe she’s cycling? Is that Ellie, walking along the pavement, checking her phone? Is this a signal blackspot? Anyway, it’s almost half past now, so I’m guessing if it was Ellie she’d be walking a little more quickly – unless she’s very relaxed about appointments. But then again, maybe she’s forgotten about the second call? Maybe she thinks we’re still meeting at one? The woman talks animatedly on the phone as she walks past. I check mine again, then drop it on the passenger seat and wonder what to do.

I think about going to the intercom and buzzing Mrs Layland’s flat. The instructions were pretty clear, though. In fact I’d go as far as saying they were emphatic, written in block caps, in haste, as if something bad had happened last time and there was no room for error. If I rang the buzzer, and Mrs Layland let me in, what would I do? Wait in the flat for Ellie to arrive, whilst Mrs Layland got more and more anxious, and I struggled to reassure her? And then what would I say to Ellie? That I left two messages, and thought I’d go in anyway? But then she might say: ‘What messages? I didn’t get any messages!’ and ‘You should have waited. I thought I made it clear…’

So I wait some more.

Eventually, at twenty to twelve, I ring again, and Ellie picks up.
‘Where the hell are you?’ she says.
‘I’m outside, in the car.’
‘I thought you said you wanted me here at eleven?’
‘I did. I was waiting for you to get here.’
‘What do you mean, waiting for me to get here? I live on the next floor.’

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