Mrs Butterworth is wearing a cornflower blue chenille dressing gown, its plump collar falling open at the neck. She talks in a soft, sadly undifferentiated way, like fog flowing over the brow of a hill. And whilst she talks, she gently rubs the side of her tummy, in the unconscious way pregnant women sometimes stroke their bumps, although the last time Mrs Butterworth was pregnant it was back in the sixties, and the swelling in her abdomen is now diverticula disease. Behind her on the wall is a photograph – the seventies, I’d guess, with Mrs Butterworth in the centre, smiling brightly, her arms left and right around a smart looking boy standing straight-backed, and a younger girl with bright yellow hair, leaning forwards, her face a little out of shot.
‘Gilly’s not a bad daughter. She’s got her own problems. It goes back a long way. It’s all diagnosed. She’s been on Prozac for twenty years or more. Who knows what she’d be like if she ever came off. She’s had therapy and a few stays in hospital, but nothing seems to do the trick. She’s just fundamentally unhappy, I suppose, and I can’t help blaming myself. But it’s just – I don’t know – what with my recent scare and all this and that, I wish it could be different. Like normal families. My eldest child Peter, he lives in Australia, and he does what he can from there. He rings every other day and whenever his business takes him this way he makes a point of stopping over. What do you need? he’ll say. Just like that. Name it. He’s such a good boy. You wouldn’t think they came from the same place. I know he gets cross with Gilly, but he holds it back because he knows it’ll only make things worse. There’s nothing anyone can do. It’s just such a shame. She only lives three streets away but I’ll tell you something: Australia seems closer. I haven’t seen her since January. To be fair, she did come to the hospital with me that time, when I went in for the operation. I mean – it was a serious thing. They didn’t know if I’d come out of it. I had to sign papers. And the morning of the operation, there I was, sitting in bed waiting to get wheeled through, with this terrible thing hanging over me, and Gilly was pacing up and down, sighing like she does, checking her phone every five seconds. And then she turns round to me and she says I can’t wait here all day. I’ve got things to do! And she left. And that was that. I didn’t make a fuss. I knew it wouldn’t help. I told Peter about it and I know he was furious, but what could he do? I think he did ring her, though, because when I was discharged she came over to see me. I kept the conversation as light as I could. I mean – what was there to say? But my grandson, James – not the most prepossessing boy in the world. Well James was sitting on this chair with his head down in his phone, jabbing away with his thumbs, and it was all very quiet, so I just thought I’d ask him about school. Right! That’s it! she said. I don’t have to stand here and listen to this! And they left. And that was the last I heard from them. Although I did try ringing her last week, when I needed a bulb changing in the living room. Her husband Trevor answered the phone. Well. He’s not what you might call an attentive son-in-law. Do you know what he said to me? He said Can’t you just stand on a ladder and do it? Me! On a ladder! That’s okay, Trevor I said. I’m getting used to living in the dark.’