Her name is June Bergh so of course I write Bug.
She drifts around the house like a June Bug, too – a hapless bumping into things that’s as much to do with cataracts as anything else. She’s perfectly happy in spite of her ailments, though.
I wish I could say the same for her husband, Derek.
‘Now what?’ he barks as the phone rings, glaring at me from the thickets of his eyebrows as if he’s wondering whether to answer it or strangle me with the cord. I offer to help him out of the chair, but he bats me away. ‘I’m not senile yet!’ he says – then spends the next couple of minutes waggling himself forwards in the chair, paddling his great slippered feet, rocking backwards and forwards with his arms on the armrests to get some momentum going, then pitches forwards so alarmingly I can’t help reaching out to stop him plunging head first into the fireplace. ‘I’m perfectly alright!’ he snaps again, finding his balance, then trudges away to answer the phone, which I can’t believe is still ringing (although I’m guessing they’ve rung before and know to wait).
June and Derek are both in their nineties, married for seventy, as moulded together in their ways as two ancient EPNS tablespoons back of the cutlery drawer. I’ve come to dress the wounds on June’s legs and see how she is generally, which I have to say is pretty good.
‘Oh no,’ she says. ‘I never go to the doctor’s and he doesn’t come here. I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw him. I don’t even know if it’s a him.’
The long-term care of June’s legs should really fall to the District Nurses, but they’re the most stretched of any of us and have to triage their workload ruthlessly. Anyone remotely capable of leaving the house will simply be referred to their local surgery and the practice nurse. June has already told me she goes out from time to time – for hair appointments, to see a friend a few miles down the coast, occasional shopping trips and so on – all by taxi, or one of a circulating cloud of nieces and great-great whatevers. When I suggest she sees the practice nurse once a week, she pulls a face.
‘I’m ninety-four!’ she says. ‘I don’t go to the doctor’s! Besides, you can’t get an appointment.’
Derek is shouting into the phone by this point. It’s obviously about something clinical, and I’m tempted to intervene to clarify, but he turns his back for privacy, so I take that as a no.
‘You try ringing them!’ says June, warming to her theme. ‘You can be sitting there with the phone in your hand dead-on half past eight and it’ll still be engaged. And when you finally get through there’s nothing left. No! I’m sorry! If they want me, they know where to find me.’
Just as I’m wondering how to change my line of approach, Derek hangs up and lumbers back to his chair.
‘Who was that, dear?’ says June.
‘Well what on earth does HE want?’
‘He wants to come and take your blood. So I told him. Good luck with that.’