The living room is as brilliantly lit and formally arranged as the opening scene in a play. A man and a woman sitting side by side on the two-seater sofa in the bay window, stage left; me with my folder on my lap on a matching armchair just downstage from them, and then an elderly woman stage right, the focus of attention, sitting on a dining chair turned sideways to the table, her hands neatly folded in her lap. A bright and pleasant room, crowded bookshelves, pictures on the walls, a giant fern in a green pot, and a plain-framed mirror over the mantelpiece casting back that light pours in through the windows.
And if it was a scene from a play, the director might well decide to hold it there, curtain up, and not have anyone speak their lines for a beat or two, giving the audience time to settle, take it all in, and wonder about the four characters. What assumptions might they make?
They’d know I was official, and not just from the obvious stuff, the uniform and lanyard, bag and folders. They’d probably think there was something a little self-conscious about the way I was sitting, a conciliatory duck of the head, maybe, a professional sharing of attention between the other three. They’d think the other man was a relative, the son, no doubt. He’s the right age, of course, but he looks like someone who’s spent a lot of time in this room, one way or another. And the way he massages his hands and jogs his knee up and down. He looks like someone who’s been brought here over some distance, at some inconvenience, still wearing the suit he was in when he took the call. A nice, professional son, then, worn down by circumstances he finds more difficult because they’re out of the normal run of things, and hard to quantify in the usual way. The woman sharing the sofa is sitting so close to him they must be in a relationship. There’s something resolutely straight-backed about her posture, and the encouraging smiles she shares around the room. There’s something about the way they are together that suggests long conversations and negotiations. They’ve arrived at a decision – he, more reluctantly – resolved to face it together, shoulder to shoulder. The elderly woman has a bewildered look. There’s a vagueness about her in strange contrast to the sharp delineation of everything else, as if the bright sunlight flooding the stage is causing her to lose definition rather than gain it.
‘Tell me about the whole bath thing’ I say. ‘I didn’t get the whole story.’
‘Well it does sound a bit crazy, even to me,’ says Helen, the elderly woman. ‘You see – I took a bath as I usually do in the evening, but then I blacked out, and it was some time before I was found.’
‘That’s a long time.’
‘Yes. It is.’
‘Was the bath filled with water? You were lucky not to drown.’
‘No. The water had gone.’
‘Who drained it?’
‘It must have been me, although I don’t remember.’
‘Three days in a bath! I’m surprised you didn’t freeze.’
‘It’s a warm flat.’
‘When did you regain consciousness?’
‘The whole thing’s quite blurry. I’m not really sure.’
‘It’s perhaps a strange question to ask, and I’m sorry for asking it – but had you been incontinent?’
‘No, I hadn’t.’
‘So you passed out in the bath. Came round at some point. And then couldn’t get out of the bath. Is that right?’
‘I suppose so. Although it sounds pathetic when you put it like that.’
‘Who found you?’
‘Maria, the cleaner. She comes every Wednesday morning.’
‘And did she call the ambulance?’
‘And they took you to hospital?’
‘They did. And I had a whole series of tests. The works. And all they found wrong with me was a silly little cut on my toe. Would you like to see it?’
‘Maybe in a minute or two.’
‘I don’t know how I did it. Probably on the tap, I should think.’
She looks at her son, Matthew, who sits on the sofa with his knee jogging up and down. Matthew’s German wife, Helga smiles brightly back at Helen.
‘We will get things sorted,’ Helga says. ‘Don’t worry.’
‘Absolutely!’ I say, flicking through the discharge summary, at the normal blood results and scans and so on, the recommended follow-ups. ‘We’ll figure something out.’
‘I do hope so,’ says Helen. ‘It’s all a bit of a drama, I’m afraid.’