buy one get one free

The new database was live, and the office was crammed with people – nurses, nursing co-ordinators, therapists of one sort or another, health care assistants, admin staff, pharmacists, and running around and over them all, a team of floor-walkers, problem solving, straightening things out, or trying to, like a team of super-motivated, superintendent, super-capable ants.

It felt good to get out.

* * *

Mr and Mrs Carter live in a cold little house at the bottom of a steep flight of concrete steps. Mrs Carter opens the door. A tall, grey, anxious woman in tracksuit bottoms and baggy black jumper, she greets me neutrally, as if I’m just the last in a long line of Things That Will Go On Happening.

She turns to walk unsteadily back into the bare sitting room, taking her seat by the heater that has just one bar on.
‘Cold today, isn’t it?’ I say, self-consciously setting up my laptop. ‘By the way. Apologies in advance. We’re using these things today. It’s all pretty new.’
‘Oh?’ she says.
‘God knows if I’ll get it right.’
‘Do your best,’ she says, folding her arms. ‘You can’t do more.’
‘No. That’s good advice. You can worry about these things too much.’
‘Yes,’ she says.

Mr Carter bursts through the door. He’s as tall and grey as his wife, but much more energised, with wavy white hair bursting from under his cap. He has one blue eye and one that’s completely filmed over, which intensifies his blustery bonhomie, somehow, and makes him look like some wild, superannuated robot just back from shopping.

‘Nearly fell over running for the bus,’ he says, dumping the bags, tearing off his cap and throwing it like a frisbee off into the corner. ‘That’ll be the next thing. There’ll be the two of us on your list. Buy one get one free.’

He glares and gapes at me, then strides over to the heater.
‘Let’s have this up,’ he says. ‘We’ll freeze otherwise.’
‘Thanks,’ I say, then tap enter to start the examination.
‘Fancy…’ says Mr Carter, nodding at the laptop, then throwing himself down onto the sofa next to me and pushing his fingers back through his hair. ‘The things you have these days.’
But I’m not sure if I’m on the right screen or not, and for a second I’m tempted to pick it up and throw it into the corner like Mr Carter’s cap.
‘Anyway,’ I say, turning to his wife. ‘Ignore all that. The most important thing is – how are you?’