Agnes is telling me how she fell down the stairs.
She’s sitting on a chair with her legs crooked up. There’s something so slow and deliberate and precise in the way that she describes how she normally negotiates the stairs, which – along with the gestures she makes with her arms, slowly out to the side and back, her long, spindly fingers reaching out to grab imaginary banisters – that makes me think of a sloth. Her words are sloth-like, too. She even blinks slowly. I need to get on and replace the dressing on her leg, but it’s impossible to interrupt her, and besides, I have to admit, I’m a little hypnotised by the monologue.
‘…and so, you see, I have my technique. And my technique is this: I place my left foot on the first stair like SO…. and then I very carefully reach up with my RIGHT hand to grasp the handrail that runs up the RIGHT side. And once I have a FIRM grasp of the handrail with my RIGHT hand, I transfer my weight forwards, and then begin to move my RIGHT foot up to join the LEFT. And then once I have my balance, I very carefully transfer my weight a little forwards again. And then I reach out with my LEFT hand until I have a firm grasp of one of the bannisters on the left. And then I gently pull forwards with THAT hand, and transfer my weight so that I can swing up my RIGHT foot. Now… all this is very well and good. And in this way I manage to make it all the way to the top, where the stairs turn in a little tuck to the LEFT. But the problem at his point, you see, is that the bannister on that corner is much fatter. Do you follow? It’s shaped … like THIS … (and she describes two curves in the air with those weirdly etiolated fingers, like a potter describing the outline of a shapely vase)… and of course, a shape like that is much more difficult to grasp… to get a good PURCHASE on. Normally I can manage it … by reaching a little further forwards… and almost crawling at the critical point… but that PARTICULAR day I’m sorry to say I DIDN’T manage it, and I toppled backwards…. d’you see?…. and I bounced all the way back down again, like a giant tennis ball or something. And I lay in the hall and shouted out for help, but none came. And after a few hours I said to myself… Agnes? It’s up to YOU! And little by little I crawled to the phone. And in THAT way I managed to summon help. And after a while the ambulance people came, with a key they’d fetched from Gerry across the road. And everything was alright in the end, thank goodness. Except this wretched leg, of course, and a little wounded PRIDE…’
She blinks slowly and sadly, and then seems to brighten as she looks up at me again.
‘So NOW!’ she says. ‘Tell me what it is you’ve come to do?’