Ray answers the door. I know from the referral he’s eighty something, but if you snatched a look on a foggy night after falling out of the pub you could be persuaded he was twenty-four. His skin has a deep leathery tan, hair dyed black, swept up in what would have been a substantial quiff in the late fifties; his teeth suspiciously even, cardboard white, his flowery shirt unbuttoned to the navel, revealing a slew of chains of differing lengths and thickness, pendants of silver and gold, crosses, St Christophers, a US dog tag, an Egyptian ankh.
‘Hi!’ he says. ‘Come in!’
‘Just a flying visit, Mr Clarke. The nurse asked me to drop by with a couple of things for Daphne.’
‘Daphne?’ he calls over his shoulder. ‘Another lovely person to see you.’
‘Oh fantastic! Wowee!’ says a thin voice from the room straight ahead.
‘Go through’ says Ray.
The lounge is a shrine to Elvis. Images of The King on everything, from mirrors and paintings and gold records and film posters, to ceramic statues, a throw over the back of the sofa, even the clock over the mantelpiece – Elvis in his Las Vegas incarnation, legs apart, arms windmilling the minutes and hours.
‘Hello, Daphne! Lovely to meet you. I’m Jim, from the hospital.’
‘Lovely to meet you, too!’ she says, holding on to my hand, squeezing it, gradually pulling me in. ‘Aren’t you handsome?’
‘You’re making me blush,’ I say.
‘Now, now,’ says Ray.
She laughs and releases my hand..
‘I’ve just dropped round to bring you this special cushion to sit on. To protect your bottom. And some cream for the carers to put on in the morning.’
‘Now – you hear a lot about the NHS,’ says Ray, taking the things off me. ‘But I have to say, we’ve had nothing but the very best treatment.’
‘That’s good to hear,’ I say.
Daphne is beaming up at me from the armchair. I’m guessing Ray does her make up, because there’s something doll-like in the way the lipstick and rouge has been applied. She’s immaculate, though, as perfect as the figurine of Elvis, circa sixty-eight special, in a glass bell jar on the coffee table. She’s cuddling two soft toys, a fox in a waistcoat under her left arm, a scruffy looking teddy bear under her right.
‘And who are these two gentlemen?’ I say, patting the bear on the head. ‘They look amazing.’
‘Guess their names!’ she says.
‘Well – this one here, I’m going to start low and say … Ted!’
‘Yes!’ she says. ‘Now – what about this one?’
‘Mr Fox? Hmm. That’s a bit more tricky. But I’m going to take a wild guess, and I’m going to say… Elvis!’
‘No. It’s Montgomery. How do you do?’ and she offers up his paw for me to shake.