the full set

I turn off Elm Road into Birch Grove and park outside Mulberry Court. It’s a shame Edie isn’t called Mrs Hawthorn or Mrs Rowan, or at least be wearing a hat made of leaves. She does come to the door in a rose patterned housecoat, though, so that’s something, and she’s so elderly she looks like a tree, a gnarly old olive you might see growing out of rocks in Greece, magically galvanised into answering the door, and then rooting it awkwardly back to her perch.

We chat whilst I work through the various tests, and then set out my things to take some blood.
‘I get a bit lonely,’ she says. ‘Especially after Eric passed.’
Edie nods at a portrait on the mantelpiece: a smiling old chestnut with a row of medals on his trunk. Edie starts to cry, so I fetch her a tissue.
‘Sorry,’ she says. ‘But when you’ve been together fifty years, it’s a bit of a wrench.’
‘I bet it is,’ I say.
‘He went in June,’ she says, dabbing her nose. ‘I wish I’d gone with him.’
‘I’m so sorry, Edie. How did you meet?’
‘He was the brother of my eldest sister’s husband. They set us up when he came home on leave.’
‘That’s lovely.’
‘Yes,’ she says. ‘He was a dancer. A lovely little mover.’
‘It looks like he was in the navy?’
‘A submariner.’
‘Oof. I don’t think I could’ve been on the submarines. Imagine that – being stuck underwater for days on end.’
‘Me neither. But he seemed to get on alright. He had the head for it.’
‘He was good in tight places?’
‘He was short.’
‘That must help.’
‘I made a bit of a habit marrying service men.’
‘Did you?’
‘My first husband was in the army. We got married very young. Near the end of the war. Only he got wounded and sent home.’
‘How was he wounded?’
‘He got kicked by a horse.’
‘A horse?’
‘Yes. God knows what that was all about. But he never really got over it. Drank to forget I suppose. Then we got divorced and I ended up with Eric.’
She blows her nose. I fetch her a glass of water and she has a sip.
‘Thank you,’ she says, setting it to one side. ‘Sorry to carry on.’
‘You’ve had a hard time lately.’
‘Yes. Well. There’s nothing to be done about it, I suppose.’
She stuffs the tissue up the sleeve of her housecoat and then takes one of those brave, exaggerated breaths that segues from a shrug to a smile.
‘All I’ve got to do now is find myself an airman and I’ll have the full set!’ she says.

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