No reply on Henry’s landline or mobile, so I call Nancy, his daughter.
‘He should be in,’ she says. ‘Unless he’s gone out.’
‘Shall I just take pot luck and pitch up? Will he mind?’
‘No. He won’t mind. Are you alright with dogs?’
‘Yeah. I like dogs.’
‘Don’t worry, Nancy. Look – I’ll call you when I’m there and let you know your dad’s alright.’
Half an hour later, I’m standing outside the front door, sheltering as best I can from the kind of supersaturating rain that drags along the street in sudden waves like the pleats of a monstrous ball gown dragging through town. There’s no answer at the door. What’s even more worrying is that when I call Henry’s landline again I can’t hear the phone ringing inside the house. Have I got the right number? There’s a keysafe by the door that I don’t have the code to – so the easiest thing is to ring Nancy again. She confirms the address. When I ask about the keysafe she says there’s no key in it.
‘Not that I know the code anyway. He keeps changing it. I’m worried he hasn’t answered the door, though.’
‘Maybe he took the dog for a walk,’ I say, glancing behind me at the rain, imagining the two of them paddling off in a canoe.
‘Maybe, she says. ‘He’s crazy enough. I’ll come over.’
‘Do you live nearby?’
‘About twenty minutes at a trot. I’ll come through the park so I’ll catch him if he’s there. See you soon.’
She hangs up.
I peer through the letterbox and ring the doorbell at the same time. Nothing, not a hint of movement, not the sound of a dog or any other living thing.
I check the back door. That’s locked, too. I peer through the windows but can’t make anything out. The only thing to do is wait for Nancy, so I hurry back to my car. At least I’ll be warm and dry. I can’t see the front door from there, though, so I decide to wait ten minutes and try again. Maybe Henry will have come back. If not, Nancy will pretty much have made it.
This time when I ring the doorbell, there’s a furious barking from deep inside the house, followed by what sounds like a basketball bouncing down the stairs and colliding with the front door. A light goes on. Just discernible beneath all the barking, the sound of creaking stairs. After a minute or two, the door chain gets thrown back. A white haired Westie – presumably Eric – head butts my ankles as Henry stands there narrowing his eyes. He’s still in his vest and pyjama bottoms.
‘I was in bed,’ he says, with an edge.
‘Sorry to disturb you!’ I say. ‘The doctor has asked me to come and take some blood.’
‘Has he?’ says Henry.
Eric is pretty much frisking me for evidence so I crouch down to make it easier.
‘Nancy’s on her way over?’ I say.
‘Oh?’ says Henry. ‘What does she want?’
‘She wants to know you’re alright. We were worried because you weren’t answering your phones.’
‘They’re downstairs and I’m upstairs,’ he says, as if that settles it. ‘I suppose you’d best come in.’
Eric gruffs and puffs and snuffs and follows close behind me as I go through into a wood panelled room set up just-so, a high backed chair in front of a television, a fleecy basket between the two, a small breakfast table, a tiny sofa. Henry gestures for me to sit on the sofa.
‘Won’t be a tick,’ he says, then leaves the room.
I sit on the sofa. Eric jumps up and sits at right angles, staring at me.
‘Alright, Eric?’ I say, tickling his chest, which he accepts a little grumpily, like a guard who’ll take a bribe but won’t commit.
The house falls silent again.
Eric continues to stare at me.
For a second I have a dizzy, prickly kind of feeling, like I’ve dreamed all this, that actually I’m Henry, and Eric is my dog, and Eric is just concerned because I’m having another one of my turns.
There’s the sound of a key in the lock. I snap-to and realise with a guilty lurch I should probably have called Nancy to say her dad was home and okay and let me in. But it’s too late. She’s standing in the hallway now, soaked to the bone, frowning at me as she swipes off her hat. And once again I have the disquieting, telescopic feeling that I’m Henry, this is my house, Nancy is my daughter, and I’m going to have to explain to her – once again – why I didn’t answer the phone, and also why I’m sitting on the sofa dressed as a nurse.
It doesn’t help that Eric is still staring at me, unblinking.
‘Hello Nancy,’ I say.