room for a couple

The place looks more like a film set than a family home.

There are two men struggling to unload an enormous new fridge from their van; a man in a woolly hat re-glazing a shattered front door; a woman with a giant poodle arguing with the builder about glass on the floor whilst the dog barks and hops excitedly from paw to paw; a woman with a kettle in her hand trying to get everyone’s drink order right; a woman with an armful of clean sheets excusing her way from the linen cupboard to the bedroom; a woman arguing with someone on her phone, turning on the spot from left to right, her other hand over her ear to block all the noise; a young girl idly swiping her phone with her legs up on the sofa – and then Jean, the woman dying of cancer, sitting upright on her hospital bed in the centre of it all, as watchfully imperious as an Egyptian mummy roused by tomb raiders.

‘Busy, isn’t it?’ she says as I pick and excuse my way past all the chaos further into the room. ‘If it gets too much, just do what I do and bathe your eyes in the garden.’
It’s certainly a wild and lovely view. A small front garden with an elaborate bird-feeder, an ancient apple tree, an overgrown hedge, and beyond it, uninterrupted miles of misty downland.
‘Tea?’ says the woman with the kettle, looking in after me.
I say thanks but no.
‘Right then. So…’ She heads for the kitchen, staring at the splayed fingers on her right hand, rehearsing the tally. The dog barks. The sound of more shattering glass. Somewhere nearby a beeping van reverses.

I’d been told the story before my visit, of course. How Jean’s twin sister had died unexpectedly. How the ambulance crew had had to smash through the front door to get in – to no avail, unfortunately. Friends and family had converged on the house to help – including re-fitting the front door – at the same time as the kitchen appliance people arrived with the new fridge, and I arrived to supervise moving Jean from the bed so a more suitable mattress could be installed.
‘I’m no weight, but it’s not just you, is it?’ says Jean.
‘No. I’m expecting two more.’
‘Ah!’ says Jean. ‘Well. That should prove interesting.’

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