‘Call me Ellie. Everyone does.’
La Contessa is sitting in her riser recliner, one hand clapped over the business end of a cordless phone, the other held out to me – whether to shake or kiss, it’s hard to tell.
Are you still there, Doctor? she shouts into the phone, flapping her free hand for me to come in and sit down somewhere, anywhere. Hello? No – that was the nurse. Come to sort me out, I should think. I should HOPE. Now – this really is the most awful bother I’m in. Those pills you gave me aren’t doing the trick and I need something stronger. Something with a bit more of a kick. Mildred my domestic was telling me about the lovely liquid morphine she was given for her knee. She said she took a slug of it every time she had a twinge and it sorted her out nicely. I rather like the sound of that. So I’d be awfully grateful if you could see your way to organising that for me…….. Well, I’m hardly like to do that, am I? I haven’t moved from the chair in the last day or so…..No, not even for that….. which is why I’m rather hoping this kind nurse may have brought a special something to help with that aspect. (She glances over at me, raises her eyebrows, and nods.) Yes, she says into the phone, he just made a gesture to indicate that he HAS brought something…….Okay Doctor? Thank you Doctor. I’ll say goodbye for now, and I look forward to seeing you soon. Lovely. Cheero.
She presses the phone off in an overly forceful way – more like she’s grinding out a revolting bug with her thumb – then places it on the table of things next to her chair, and turns herself to address me.
La Contessa isn’t all she appears to be. Her fingers may be extensively knuckled with an array of decadent rings; her neck hung with impressive ropes of pearls and pendants, blue and white enamelled things reminiscent of medals, or obscure orders; and she might be surrounded in the room by Regency furniture and paintings of haughty relatives posing in country settings, with featureless children and bug-eyed dogs – but there’s something about the place, a junk-shop utility, that’s difficult to take seriously. I’m tempted to screw a loupe in my eye and hold her hand up for a closer look, but instead I unpack my bag and get ready for the examination.
The referral doesn’t say anything about any of this, of course, but Rae gave us the heads up. Rae is a physio. She came to see La Contessa earlier in the day, and was sufficiently impressed by everything she said about her life as an actress and scriptwriter, and her relation to half the royal family in Italy, to look her up on imdb. When that failed, she turned to Google, and came up with a much richer vein of information, which seemed to show that the only role La Contessa Eleganza di Dramamine had ever played in her life was La Contessa Eleganza di Dramamine. A role she plays to perfection.
‘Now look,’ she says – but then instantly appears distracted, tipping her head to one side like an inquisitive bird and scrutinising my face. ‘Have we met before? On a film set somewhere? What do you do when you’re not nursing? What d’you get up to?’
I’m always a little reluctant to tell anyone I’m a writer. Especially of a blog. It would feel like a duck hunter standing up in the reeds with a whistle, gun and hat with a duck on top. But I’m instinctively honest, and besides, I want to feel like I am actually a writer, and declaring it might go someway to making that happen, even if the next step would probably be to go to a support group, Writers’ Anonymous, and stand up when it’s my turn, and say Hi. I’m Jim, and I’m a writer.
‘I write,’ I tell her, a little forlornly.
‘Fabulous!’ says La Contessa. ‘Look in the drawer to my right, would you?’
The drawer is filled with business cards. I’m tempted to shuffle through them and see if they all say the same thing, but instead I take the first one I lay my hands on, and hold it up. A fancy gilt affair, curly lettering, La Contessa’s name followed by a long line of acronyms.
‘Send me some of your work,’ she says. ‘It’s all about the contacts, you know.’
‘Great! Thanks!’ I say, putting it in my pocket.
‘This back pain really is the most dreadful nuisance. I’m halfway through a project and it’s cutting across everything like mad.’
‘What’s the project?’
‘Oh – you’d love it! It’s called The Heart is Another Country. It’s about a Mata Hari figure in World War One who has to choose between duty to her country and this rather scrumptious German general she falls in love with. It’s in pre-production, but not quite cast. Darling Judi is frightfully keen to play the mother. Do you know Judi?’
‘That’s the one!’ says La Contessa. ‘Stephen wants to play the general, but I don’t know how to put him off. He’s frightfully brilliant, of course, and he looks marvellous in moustaches, but I’m just not sure I could take him seriously.’