Ray has the kind of face Disney would draw if he were animating an oak tree. A knotted, gnarly, weathered kind of face, smiling the width of his trunk, a songbird nesting in his hair.
‘Thanks for coming,’ says Ray, then turning stiffly on his roots, leads me into the sitting room.
And if Ray is a tree, Daisy is a deer – an ancient, other-worldly kind of deer, with sad pale eyes, uncertain footsteps and a wistful manner.
‘So!’ I say to her, dropping my bags and sitting at the other end of the sofa. ‘How are you feeling today, Daisy?’
She laughs – an unexpectedly girlish trill – as if I’ve asked the most ridiculous and scandalous thing possible.
‘How am I feeling? What a question! How do you think I’m feeling?’
‘Me? I don’t know. You look well, I have to say.’
‘Tell the gentleman about the fall, Daisy.’
‘The fall? Where?’
‘Not so much a fall as a slip out of bed. Onto your bum.’
Daisy looks at him blankly. But in the time it takes for her to turn and look at me, the moment has completely gone. She frowns a little, then fiddles with the cuff of her cardigan, muttering something I don’t quite catch.
‘You know about the dementia?’ says Ray, mouthing the words more than speaking them.
‘Is it any worse?’
He shakes his head.
‘This was a little setback. I think we’re okay, though. Aren’t we Daisy? Eh? We’re okay?’
‘What are you talking about!’ she says, then turns to stare at me again.
‘Seventy-five years we’ve been married,’ says Ray. ‘Imagine that.’
‘Congratulations! That’s quite an achievement.’
‘That’s one word for it.’
‘How did you meet?’
Ray leans forwards in the armchair.
‘I was eighteen, just about to join the navy. There was a fair on the common, so I went there with my mate Harry to see what’s what. Daisy was there with her identical twin Maisy, so we hung out with them for a bit. Which one do you want? Harry said. I said does it matter? I can’t tell ‘em apart! So we took up with each other, and there you are. Harry got chucked after two days, and here I am, seventy-five years later, still wondering if I married the right one.’
‘How come she chucked Harry?’
‘He was too cocky. Me? I was just the right amount.’
He laughs and leans back in the chair. He has a twitch in his right eye, which he tries to ease by kneading it vigorously with a knuckle.
‘Nah!’ he says, dropping his hand after a while. ‘I definitely married the right one. Didn’t I Daisy? Eh? I say I married the right one!’
‘My husband should be back soon,’ she says, blanking him, folding her hands neatly in her lap. ‘Shall I fetch you some tea?’