Irene is issuing commands. ‘I’d like my writing paper. And my ink pen. And my ink. There’s something I need to write. Something very important.’
Linda says ‘I’ll drop them by tomorrow.’
Irene says ‘I need them now.’
Linda wants to protest. Make a stand. It’s a novelty for Linda. Competitive advantage. Her grandmother consigned to bed. She won’t be bossed around. Not any more. She’s not at Irene’s beck and call. But something stops her in her tracks. The way Irene said important. Perhaps she’s tidying up loose ends. Perhaps the accident has prompted her to face her own mortality. Perhaps she’s going to write a will.
Of course, Irene will write a will. It’s the kind of thing she’d relish. Power from beyond the grave.
What if Irene does something willful? A bequest to the Chelsea Pensioners or the widows of sailors lost at sea.
What if she leaves everything to Alan? She wouldn’t put it past her. What was it Irene said about Alan’s request for cash? It wasn’t a loan, it was an advance on his inheritance. Perhaps they’ve cooked it up between them. Linda mulls it over. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all. They are still married. If Alan were to disappear – properly disappear – it would be uncontested. Alan’s wealth would pass to Alan’s legally married wife. Linda would inherit fair and square.
Linda smiles her sweetest smile and says ‘I’ll get it straight away.’
Linda admires her reflection in the mirror in Irene’s dressing room. Her new hairstyle. Her new life. She tries out new expressions. Her current repertoire is limited: long-suffering; docile; bored. They don’t suit a single woman with a razor sharp black bob. She tries a whole new range: seductive; knowing; angry; coy. She practices her poker face. Unintelligible, mysterious. A face that speaks of many secrets but gives none of them away.
It pains her to admit it, but Irene has a point. It’s not convincing without make-up. Lacking in mystique.
She chooses Irene’s brightest, reddest lipstick, leans towards the mirror, and paints her lips bright red.
She thinks ‘OK Irene. Point Taken.’
It’s time to up her game.
Irene is wondering where Linda’s got to; what’s taking her so long. It’s perfectly straightforward: paper, pen and ink. She’s a useless little thing. Keeps a tidy house. She’ll give her that. But where’s the drive, the ambition? Irene can’t understand it. At her age, she had an empire, a small fortune, an iron in every fire. She had a tidy little business by the time she turned sixteen. You had to earn a living somehow. You didn’t have any choice. Not like young women nowdays. Off to college, signing on. Or sponging off a man. You couldn’t do that in those days. All the men had gone to war.
Linda is back at Irene’s bedside. She says ‘Dee Delaney’s asking questions. She’s been getting people’s views on bringing back St. Anselm’s Bonfire Night.’
‘Bonfire Night was cancelled years ago. There’s nothing to be gained from bringing back the past.’
‘Why was it cancelled?’
‘It was the Blitz. We were hiding behind blackout blinds. You’d be a sitting target if you gathered round a fire.’
Linda shrugs. ‘Apparently it used to be a big event.’ She shouldn’t have asked. She always switches off when Irene talks about the War.
Irene is not to be deterred. ‘All the ladies bought new make-up. It was wonderful for sales.’
‘Bonfire Night?’ says Linda. She thinks of fleeces, mittens, wellies, mud.
‘It was different then,’ says Irene. ‘Girls put on a show.’
And so they did. Rose to the occasion. Relished the reprieve from day-to-day existence. A carnival; a masquerade. Irene pictures her mother getting ready. Preparing to go out. To dazzle in the twilight.
Her mother smiles a ghoulish gloss-red smile and says ‘So how do I look?’
Irene has to stop herself from answering ‘clownish; absurd; grotesque.’
For the first time in a week, Irene isn’t feeling cold. She is sweaty, full of fever. As though she’s standing by the bonfire. Children chanting all around her.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes ‘twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament
Flames that blaze so brightly that the Fire Brigade turns up. Her mother isn’t having any truck with that. She’s chased them with a broom before they get a chance to turn their hoses on the fire.
Irene chuckles at the memory. Linda is taken by surprise. She is used to disdain and disapproval, self-possession, icy calm. Not merriment and mirth. It strikes her that Irene is regressing. Retreating into girlhood. She is not looking at a woman in her nineties but at a gleeful giggling child.
He’s quite good-looking, Dr Tanner. In an insipid kind of way. Linda has to force herself to listen. To feign an interest. To stop wondering how he dresses when he isn’t in his whites.
She is wearing an expression that says ‘sad, but realistic’. She practiced it this morning. She’d like to try the pout, but it wouldn’t be appropriate.
She really ought to focus on his professional opinion.
‘She has a urinary infection. It could have an impact on her mental state. You may have noticed that she isn’t quite herself.’
‘Well,’ says Linda, carefully, ‘she’s saying a lot of very odd things. About her childhood and the war. As though her brain’s stuck in the past.’
Dr Tanner looks at Linda sympathetically, holds her gaze a fraction longer than is strictly necessary.
‘There are a few things that concern us. It would be good to find the time to have a proper chat.’
The fever has subsided. She is sponged and soothed and cosseted. Strangely calm, sedated. She says ‘You wouldn’t believe the fuss people made. You’d have thought they’d cancelled Christmas.’
Madness, now she comes to think of it. The community up in arms. Clamouring for a bonfire. They must have had some sort of death wish. You may as well have put up a sign. ‘Drop bomb here for maximum loss of life.’
Irene giggles out loud. Tickled by the thought. Linda wonders if perhaps Irene’s hysterical. She’s laughed more in the last hour than she has in twenty years.
Linda has come to a decision.
If she likes Irene’s will she’ll let it stand. If it doesn’t meet with her approval she’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that Irene isn’t of sound mind.
She says ‘I’m going to leave you on your own for twenty minutes to write whatever you have to write. And then I’m going home.’
Doctor Tanner’s in the corridor. A little bit too keen to have a proper conversation.
He says ‘So how’s the patient?’
She says ‘Reminiscing. Rambling. About people she knew years ago. She’s living in the past. I’d say her short-term memory is pretty much non-existent. I couldn’t say with any certainty that she’s quite sure who I am.’
Irene has lost her marbles. Good to have it on the record. Just in case.
‘We’re not entirely happy about her living on her own.’ Says Dr Tanner.
Oh good. She thinks. Hooray. They’re going to put her in a home.
‘It’s not just the burns.’ Says Doctor Tanner. ‘The drinking is a worry. And the risk of accidents.’
Linda can have the flat. Rent out the house. Cover the mortgage. And the bills. And still have some left over. Maybe she can sell it. If anybody wants it. With all those houses on the field. In any case, she has somewhere to live.
She has an obligation. Flats don’t like being left empty. They deteriorate. Plummet in value. It’s the only decent thing to do.
Doctor Tanner keeps on talking. ‘We need to keep a close eye on her.’
YES! Thinks Linda. Yes yes yes!
‘There are some pretty good schemes in place. She should be eligible for comprehensive care. With the right package it should be possible for her to stay in her own home.’
‘Over my dead body.’ Says a voice inside her head.
Irene hands her granddaughter an envelope.
Lilac Basildon Bond.
Slanting scratchy letters. Vivid purple ink.
Linda has to read it twice before she takes in what it says.
‘It’s addressed to Miss Dorothy Delaney.’
Irene says ‘See she gets it. Don’t give it to her in person. She mustn’t know who it’s from.’
Another anonymous letter.
‘You can’t keep harassing the poor woman.’
‘I’m not harassing her.’ Says Irene. ‘I’m giving her advice.’