In the time it takes to walk from the front door to the sitting room, Rita has recalled my name, the names of my children and their musical aspirations, the village I live in and even the breed and name of our dog.
‘I’m amazed!’ I tell her. ‘And there was me struggling to think if I’d been here before.’
‘Dear oh dear!’ she says, a little wheezily. ‘I’m obviously not that memorable, then. Or perhaps it’s because you see so many people. Yes – I think for the sake of my vanity I’ll go with that explanation.’
She’s quiet for the rest of the time it takes her to return to her chair and catch her breath. I wait until she’s settled, fetching the yellow folder and having a quick read through.
‘I’m afraid my breathing’s not what it was,’ she says, ‘but there’s nothing wrong with my brain, thank goodness.’
‘It must have been six months ago, at least.’
‘What do you remember then?’
‘I don’t know. These chairs.’
‘The chairs did you say?’
‘Straight out of the seventies. All that chrome and leather. You just don’t see them that often.’
‘Well there you are, then. I remember people, you remember furniture.’
‘When you put it like that it sounds bad.’
‘I’m just having a little fun at your expense,’ she says. ‘Would you like some tea?’
‘I’ll make it.’
‘Would you? I’m worn out with all that exercise. I think you’ll find it all pretty self-explanatory.’
When I’ve made the tea and she’s quite recovered, we chat as I take her observations and so on.
‘I don’t suppose anyone can believe the old bird is still around,’ she says as I unwrap the blood pressure cuff. ‘Least of all the old bird herself. I’ll be ninety-four next month.’
I shake my head.
‘What’s your secret?’ I say.
‘Stay away from medication! You don’t know what’s in it. You’re much safer with the odd glass of whiskey. Malted barley, spring water, a few years in an oak barrel and there you have it.’
‘Did you work for a distillery or something?’
‘Me? No! Although that sounds like fun. No – I was a teacher for many years. Loved every second.’
‘I bet you were amazing.’
She shakes her head.
‘I don’t suppose my students would have agreed with you particularly. But one did one’s best.’
She watches as I fill out the chart.
‘All okay, is it?’ she says.
‘Better than mine!’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘We-ell. That’s the thing about advanced decrepitude, y’see? It’s the practical things. All of my friends are dead. I’ve got family of course, but they’re liberally spread about in the North and Australia and what have you, and I don’t see them all that much. I’m afraid to say I’m beginning to feel as if I’ve rather outstayed my welcome.’
She smiles, and gently strokes the armrests.
‘But you like my chairs?’ she says.