next door’s dog

I’ve never seen such an old stair lift. It sits at the bottom of the stairs like a traction engine whose wheels have fallen off. It even has a hatch under the seat, which must be where the coal goes.
‘It was my husband’s’ says Maria. ‘Shame it’s broken. It means I can’t go upstairs.’
‘What about getting it fixed?’
She shakes her head.
‘The company went bust years ago.’
‘But surely someone somewhere would know what to do with it?’
‘I know exactly what to do with it. Throw it in a skip and start again. But I’m alright downstairs. I’ve got everything I need.’

I follow her into the living room, almost tripping over a metal milk holder with three pints in it that Maria has brought inside and put in the doorway.
‘Shall I put these in the fridge?’
‘Yes. Sorry, dear. That’s as far as I got.’

Maria is self-isolating, like the rest of our patients these days. She was discharged from the hospital after treatment for a chest infection, referred to us for ongoing care.

‘I do alright,’ she says, when I bring her through some tea. ‘I’m not as badly off as others. I’ve got two gay gentlemen living next door. They’re so lovely and kind. They do my shopping and what have you. Most mornings they knock on the door when they take the dog out. They’ve got this little dog, you see. Don’t ask me what sort it is. I’m not good with dogs. I pretend to be interested but between you and me it’s not that impressive. It’s fur sticks out all over the place and it has this odd, cross-eyed look, like someone clonked it with a frying pan. I wouldn’t trust it as far as I could throw it, but they seem to like it, which is the main thing.’

We chat as I check her over. She tells me about her husband, Jack. A small businessman with a big laugh, apparently.

‘Yes,’ she says. ‘It’s true. I married the boss. That’s him, there…’
She points to a photo in a frame: An elderly man sitting in a chair, Maria standing behind him with her arms around his shoulders, the point of her chin on the top of his head. The picture has stood in direct sunlight for so long the colour has faded. All the flesh tones have merged, leaving a blurry but strangely transcendent quality to their faces. Only the stronger patterns remain: the curve of Jack’s glasses, Maria’s auburn curls, the laces on Jack’s shoes.

‘I still miss him, all these years later,’ she says, carefully taking a sip of tea. ‘Maybe I should get a cat. What d’you think?’

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