If this happened in a dream – and with the amount of opiate medication Anna is taking, I’m guessing most things must seem fuzzy and dream-like – it would no doubt happen like this: Anna drifts down from the sky in a semi-recumbent position, her eyes closed, her hands folded on her tummy. The roof of the house shivers, becomes transparent and loose, moves apart. Anna drifts down through the Anna-shaped gap, down through through the attic, the upper bedroom, the floor, the fixtures, the criss-crossing joists, the cobwebbed bricks, the insulating wool. Down through the cloying air of the living room, to settle finally on the soft brown sofa. And the ceiling heals up, the roof and everything else. And the cushions roll over like squashy boulders and mould themselves around her. And she’s there, back from the hospital, thoroughly landed. And she opens her eyes as her daughter Christine wanders in to see her, a jug of iced water and a glass tinkling gently on the tray.
‘Did you put in a pinch of vitamins?’ says Anna, grunting as she pushes herself into a more upright position.
‘A pinch? Not a spoonful?’
‘A pinch. Yes.’
‘Last time it tasted like a spoonful.’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Well it did to me.’
Christine shrugs and goes back out to the kitchen where she carries on talking to her friend in an urgent kind of tone.
‘She’s a good girl,’ says Anna. ‘I don’t know what I’d do without her.’
I finish writing up my notes and then put the folder to one side.
‘The thing about back pain – the advice they give these days – is to keep moving.’
‘That’s easy for you to say. You’re not the one in agony.’
‘I know it’s difficult, Anna, but the longer you stay on the sofa the harder it’ll get. You’ll become deconditioned. You’ll be at risk of getting pressure sores.’
‘I know my own body.’
‘Absolutely. But I think there are some practical things you could do to make things easier for yourself. To give yourself the best chance of recovery.’
‘Sleeping in bed, for a start. You’d be flatter at night, which is better for you. It’s higher off the ground for getting in and out. And with a bit of re-organisation, you’d have more chance of getting mobile again.’
‘Where do you suggest I put everything?’
I look around. The house is packed full with ornaments and hangings, boxes on top of tables on top of bigger boxes, every bookshelf crammed with books, even the windowsills piled up with stuff. The only free space is the giant plasma TV screen on the wall facing the sofa. Anna turned it off when I came in, and now it hangs there, a window onto a darker, clearer world.
‘It’s difficult, I know, but not impossible. All you need is a decent amount of space for you to get about. As things stand, you’re much too restricted. How do you even swing your legs over to go to the loo?’
She closes her eyes.
‘I manage,’ she says.
‘I’ll ask the physio to come and see you, but I know that’s the first thing they’ll say.’
‘I’ll think about it,’ she says, then reaches to the side for a glass of vitamised water. ‘In the meantime – please speak to the doctor about my pills. Because nothing’s working and I’m in absolute agony.’
‘Of course,’ I say, picking up my bag to go. ‘I’ll pass on the message.’