Moira’s mouth has a tragic and graven quality, down-turned, thinly incised, which, along with her hooded eyelids and watery blue eyes, gives her a profoundly disapproving expression, something you could imagine at Judgement Day, looking out across the smoking ruins of the world, with a caption in Gothic script that reads: I told you so.
‘I spent a great deal on his education so it’s about time he started paying some of it back,’ she says, the point of her elbow dug into the armrest so she can hold her bandaged hand straight up in the air like a courtroom exhibit.
‘When did you last see him?’
‘Simon? Yesterday. He stayed the absolute minimum and then he was off to another meeting. I said to him: What’s more important – work, or the health of your mother? I won’t be here much longer. If it’s going to go on like this, the sooner I go, the better.’
‘Where does Simon live?’
‘Where doesn’t he live. It’s absurd. He’s got enormous houses all over the place and he spends most of his time in hotels.’
‘Couldn’t you move in with him?’
She turns her eyes on me.
‘He’s a businessman, dear. Not a saint.’
It’s been a long and difficult assessment. Moira has the issue of her hand, of course, but it strikes me that her biggest problem is depression, a bleak and palpable thing that sucks all the light and life from the air, like a black hole opened up in a riser-recliner and someone tried to disguise it with a dressing-gown.
‘I asked Jenny upstairs if she could go out and get me a paper. And d’you know what she said?’
‘What did she say?’
‘She said No.’
‘No. Just like that.’
‘Harsh? I’ve known her twenty years. I think it’s positively murderous.’
She pats her hair with her bad hand and then winces as she lowers it back to her lap.
‘I shan’t be bothering her again,’ she says.
The phone rings. Moira mutters and frowns.
‘Shall I get it for you?’ I say.
‘I’m not dead yet,’ she says, and then makes a huge, sighing deal of picking up, reciting the name of the town and the phone number when the handset eventually makes it up to her ear, as brave as a telephonist being martyred at the stake, making one last connection amongst the flames.
Oh. It’s you… Well how d’you think I’m getting on? … I’m not, and that’s the whole point… Yes, he’s here now… How should I know what he thinks? He just sits there making approximate noises… Not at the moment, no. I haven’t finished with him yet. When I have I’ll get him to call you… Yes, thank you. I think I have everything I need – excepting a son who gives a damn.
And she hangs up.
‘That was Simon’
She observes me closely.
‘He sends his regards,’ she says, after a very long while.