Ralph the Jack Russell trots round and round the room like a robotic dog gone haywire, his furry brown ears bouncing up and down.
‘Once he’s got his harness on, that’s it’ says Gina, Mae’s granddaughter. ‘We’ll just go for a quick one round the block. See you in a minute.’
Mae settles back in the sofa.
‘What a to-do!’ she says.
It all started three days ago when Mae fell in the kitchen.
‘My knees just gave out,’ she says. ‘I landed on my derriere. Got a real shocker of a bruise there, but nothing broken, the doctor reckons.’
‘So you didn’t go to hospital for an x-ray?’
‘They all wanted to cart me off but really – what’s the point? If I’d broken one of my sitting bones they’re hardly likely to put it all in a cast down there, are they?’
‘You’ve got a point.’
‘So I thought I’d brazen it out at home. Where it’s warm and I’m surrounded by all my things.’
Mae is ninety-six but looks twenty years younger.
‘What’s your secret?’ I ask her.
‘I made it a rule a long time ago. Only look in the mirror long enough to straighten your hat.’
‘I love it!’
‘Everything else might be packing up, but so long as I’m forty-eight up here,’ she says, tapping the side of her head, ‘I’ll be alright.’
I carry on with the assessment. Really, all things considered, Mae is doing remarkably well. Her family lives nearby, which helps, of course. A domestic comes in to clean the house once a week. Healthwise, she takes an aspirin a day, and that’s it.
‘I like the name Mae,’ I tell her. ‘You don’t see it that often. Where’s it from? Is it Welsh?’
‘There’s a story behind it,’ she says. My father was in the marines. He became good pals with a French colonel whose wife was Japanese. They had a daughter called Mai, which I think means brightness in Japanese. So when I was born they named me after her, although they changed the i to an e, because they thought there might be some confusion in the registry office.’
‘It suits you.’
‘Do you think? I’ve often thought what an odd business it is, naming people. I suppose you can grow into a name. Although sometimes you don’t. Everyone knew my husband as Stanley, but his real name was Jim.’
‘Same as me!’
‘Yes, but you look like a Jim. He was more of a Stanley. Although quite what the difference is, I couldn’t say.’
The back door opens and a second later Ralph trots back in, doing a lap of honour round the sitting room in his scarlet harness. Gina follows behind, bringing with her a swirl of freezing air.
‘How are you getting on?’ she says, tugging off her gloves and throwing them onto the radiator.
Ralph jumps up onto my lap and starts licking my face.
‘Ralph! No!’ shouts Gina, coming to haul him off.
‘It’s okay,’ I tell her. ‘I needed a wash.’