When I walk into the front garden, a young collie rushes up from the back garden to the rusting, curlicue iron gate that pens it in, pushes its muzzle through the gaps, and barks crazily. I say hello, which only makes it worse, of course. It’s a funny-looking dog. The eyes are different colours – one brown, one blue – which, along with the patchwork black and white fur, mismatched paws, one ear up, one ear down, reminds me of an oil painting my auntie Ollie did of a collie dog, staring up from a hectic, pea-green background.
‘Whose dog is that?’ I said.
‘No-one’s,’ she said. ‘I did it off the calendar.’
All that remains of the keysafe at the front door is the base, though, and I realise that I’m expected to go to the side door, beyond the gate guarded by the mad dog. It gets so excited when it sees me coming back to the gate, it does an insane war dance on its back legs, spinning round on the spot, stopping itself by slamming its paws against the gate, then spinning round in the other direction. It looks pretty crazy, but I think what the hell, and reach in to flip the latch. The dog runs off into the garden, then sprints back with an empty plastic Coke bottle.
‘Thanks!’ I say.
It drops it at my feet. I toss it away into the garden again, then seize my chance to go through the kitchen door standing open on my right. ‘Hell-oooo…’
Maisie is lying on her bed in the gloom. There’s a substantial electric mobility scooter in the bedroom doorway – more like one of those big, sit-on mowers – with a seamy jacket slung over the seat and a basket filled with crap strapped to the bumper.
‘Over here,’ says Maisie.
The dog rushes in behind me and prostrates itself on the floor with the Coke bottle in its mouth, biting it with loud crackles.
‘Flash! Leave him alone!’ says Maisie. Flash drops the bottle and smile-pants up at me. I stroke Flash’s head, then straighten up, breathe in, and squeeze past the scooter into the bedroom.
‘The diet starts tomorrow,’ I say.
I’m guessing there’s been a partial deep clean at some point. There are lots of yellow bags zip-locked, piled up around the place. Maisie’s bed seems enormous, Maisie spread-eagled on it, like a depressed housewife cast adrift in a yellow ocean on a giant orange sponge.
‘’Scuse the mess,’ she says.
The phone rings. She grunts and rolls towards the side table. Before I have a chance to pass the phone to her, she knocks it off its base and the two things fall down the back of the bed. To be fair, it would be difficult NOT to knock anything off Maisie’s side table. It’s a cheap, warped affair, made worse by the fact it’s littered with stuff – bottles of spray, a glass of water, a mobile phone, an alarm clock. When I retrieve the phone and the base, hand Maisie the phone, and put the base back on the stand, I knock the alarm clock off. When I retrieve the alarm clock and set it down again, I knock the phone base back onto the floor.
‘Jesus Christ!’ I say.
‘Whoopsie!’ says Maisie. She holds the phone to her nose and prods the buttons myopically. ‘Dunno who that was,’ she says after a while. She hands me the phone. ‘Don’t drop it,’ she says.
I rearrange the side table as best I can, then start in on the examination.
Turns out, the phone call was from the pharmacist. She rings again and this time Maisie manages to answer it without anything else happening. There’s a long conversation, Maisie saying yes or no or yes or no or sometimes, all in a bored, non-committal way – then hands the phone to me.
‘She wants to talk to you,’ she says.
The pharmacist is someone I know well. She has the kind of incisive questioning that’s light and pleasant but still makes you sit up a little straighter.
‘Maisie says she hasn’t got her medication. It should be in a green bag somewhere. Could you check for me?’
I don’t have to check very hard; the bag is right there in front of me, beside the table. Not only that, the drug chart in the folder at the foot of the bed shows that the carers gave the morning dose as prescribed.
‘Good!’ says the pharmacist. ‘That’s a relief! Although why she told me she didn’t have it….is she confused this morning?’
‘No, she seems pretty orientated and okay. All her obs are fine…’
Flash has climbed on the bed by this point. He’s lying on his back with his legs in the air as Maisie tickles his tummy.
Who’s a silly boy? Who’s a silly boy?
Flash stares at me with his tongue hanging out, his mismatched eyes spinning with ecstasy.
‘No. She seems fine,’ I say.
The pharmacist has arranged to visit later to check up on things. I say goodbye to Maisie, and with the dog leaping around me like a species of giant flea, I see myself out, closing the gate as quietly as I can behind me.
I open my laptop and write my notes in the car. There are a few things to sort out, so I’m there fifteen minutes or so. I’m just about to finish up and move on when I hear a clatter from the gate. Maisie is coming out on the electric scooter, Flash trotting by her side. Maisie pauses at the front of the garden. She pulls out a packet of fags, nips one out with her lips, lights the fag with a flip of her Zippo, puts the packet back in her pocket, all in one smooth, practised motion. Then she sits there smoking a minute or two, looking right and left along the street, blowing smoke from her nose in a business-like way. Then she twists the key on the scooter again and heads right, at speed, to the park, I’d guess, with Flash high-stepping alongside her, trying to avoid the wheels. On the top of the basket, I can see an empty plastic Coke bottle rattling from side to side.
I wonder who put it there.