It doesn’t help that Moira takes out her hearing aid the moment I put it in.
And when I kneel down next to her chair to shout in her ear and explain why we’ve come to see her, I kneel on a tack strip.
‘Are you alright dear?’ she says as I swear and leap up again.
‘Fine. I’m fine,’ I say, rubbing my knee, tentatively exploring the small hole in my trousers.
Moira stares at me, her jaw bobbing up and down, like a ventriloquist’s doll on satellite delay.
It’s not a great hospital discharge, that’s for sure. It’s going to take a while to figure out what’s what, and even whether it’s safe for Moira to be here. For a start, her landline’s out of action, which means the Carelink alarm box is also redundant. Not only that, the phone is in the middle of the carpet, the power line one side of her chair, the phone line snaking across the carpet and off into the socket in the hall. Not so much a trip hazard as a trip trap. Someone’s obviously taken the view that Moira should stay downstairs. There’s a bed in the corner, a commode and a zimmer frame, but the bed’s unmade, the bedrail on its end against the wall, and the commode in the middle of the room. She’s wearing pads but no sign of any fresh ones. The fridge has the barest minimum – a loaf of bread, a tub of spread, a pack of cheese slices, a pint of milk. The freezer has a pizza and a few oven meals whose date I haven’t checked but from the packaging look fairly antique. All in all, it doesn’t seem as if much has happened since Moira was taken into hospital two months ago. And although we’ve arranged for carers to come in four times a day, it’s debatable whether that’s sufficient. In fact, looking at Moira sitting in her chair, surrounded by not much, I’m wondering if they’ve started outsourcing the discharging of patients to an online delivery company. Although, I’m sure if they DID, at least you’d need a signature, and in this case, she’d have gone back to the depot.
‘What’re you going to do now?’ she says.
‘I need to sort your phone out.’
‘Your phone. It’s not working, Moira. It’s too dangerous left on the floor like this.’
‘Don’t you go breaking it.’
The first thing I do is call the Carelink people. They say they’ll send a technician round within the hour to install a box that works off the mobile signal until the landline is up again. Luckily there’s a power socket in the hall, so I plug the phone in there and put it safely on a table, ready to be fixed.
‘What’s your son’s number?’ I shout.
‘John. What’s his number?’
‘Who’s it you say?’
I make the international sign of the phone.
She immediately races through the number.
‘Oh – hang on a minute,’ I say, getting out my mobile. ‘Okay. What’s it again?’
‘John. His number.’
She stares at me.
I go to kneel down by her but stop myself at the last minute.
I lean in and shout in her ear.
‘WHAT’S JOHN’S NUMBER?’
She races through it again. I repeat it to myself as I put in the area code.
‘What about the telly?’ says Moira, pointing a crooked finger Grim Reaper style at the screen. But John’s picking up, so I hold up my hand as if to say ‘shan’t be a second’ and walk into the kitchen to speak to him.
The man that answers sounds utterly spent.
‘I was round there for hours and she never showed,’ he says. (I want to ask him what he did for all those hours, but I let it ride). ‘I’m in my seventies myself,’ he says. ‘I’ve got my own problems.’
‘It’s difficult,’ I say.
‘I give her some of the stuff outta my fridge, but she wouldn’t have it. Mum’s not easy – I don’t know if you’ve found that out yet? She was always difficult. Old age hasn’t done nuffin’ to improve on things.’
‘She won’t put her hearing aids in.’
‘Yep. And that’s the least of it. I could go on, but you don’t want to hear it, and I don’t particularly want to say it.’
‘We’ve got to get her landline fixed,’ I tell him. ‘Without it, the personal alarm won’t work.’
‘My son’s sorting that out,’ he says. ‘Or should be. I’ll give him a nudge. ‘Course – he’s busy with his own life.’
‘There’s the TV as well. It doesn’t seem to be working.’
‘Yep. He’s looking at that n’all.’
‘Great. We’ll be putting carers in four times a day, and we’ll have various clinicians and therapists coming in and out. Can I give them your number?’
‘Why not?’ he says. ‘Although I’m not sure what I can really do.’
I ask if he’ll do a shop to stock up on the things she might like, microwave meals and so on, plus a supply of pull-up pads.
‘Righto,’ he says. ‘I’ll drop them round tomorrow morning.’
He rings off.
Back in the sitting room Moira is staring at the blank TV. I turn it on, but it just goes to a fuzz and nothing I try makes it any better.
‘John’s sorting it out,’ I tell her.
She holds out her hand and makes a flapping motion with her fingers.
‘Where is it?’ she says. ‘What’ve you done with it?’
I hand her the remote.
She points it at the screen, flips it on and off. On, off. On, and then off.