Earlier in this run of glorious October sunshine I was languishing on the bed in the middle of the afternoon not feeling up to much. The phone rang. Catriona. Could I manage to get down the path to help carry two heavy shopping bags back up to the house? ‘I’m on my way, mon chou’, I said, maintaining my customary ‘willing helper’ tone of voice.
I went down the path in my pants, which could pass for thin shorts in the event of an encounter at the bottom with one of the neighbours. From here it’s a short climb to a dusty plateau were we park the cars. I gallantly refused Catriona’s offer that we carried a bag each, saying that I’d be better balanced with both.
As we set off, Catriona slid on some loose stones and lost her footing. I looked round and she was on her back in the road. She had turned her ankle over, she said. She thought she had heard something go ping. She was in a great deal of pain, she said. She wept. She sat weeping in the road for five, maybe ten minutes. ‘You can’t sit here in the road all afternoon crying, ma petite puce,’ I said. ‘Let’s try and stand you up.’ I hauled her up on her feet and she gingerly put her weight on the injured foot and took one hobbling step, then another. She wanted to proceed unaided from now on so I stepped back to watch. ‘You’ll soon walk that off,’ I said.
Holding on to me in the difficult stretches, and to walls and branches, we made it as far as the stone staircase leading up to our front door. The staircase has an iron rail for the unsteady, the exhausted and the frail to lean on. As a pair, we were all of these things. Once inside the door, Catriona lurched for the nearest armchair and collapsed into it. After recruiting her strength there for a few minutes, she got on her feet again and made a bid for the stairs leading to the bedroom.
On the way, something on the floor arrested her attention. She asked me to tear off and hand her a square of kitchen towel, then she bent and started rubbing a spot on the floor.
Catriona is always cleaning, hoovering, washing and tidying. My clothes, for example, disappear into the washing basket after only a day’s wear. We sleep between steam-ironed antique French linen sheets. The lavatory is cleaned and disinfected daily. In my ever so humble opinion it can be a little excessive. Occasionally I allow a nuance of irritation to creep into my voice as I question whether all this constant noise and disruption is strictly necessary, only for it to be drowned out by one of Mr Dyson’s latest gadgets. She’s like a bluebottle in a jam jar. Lately she has taken to wearing one of those wristbands which count how many steps you take in a day. Ten thousand is what most fit and active people aim for as a minimum for keeping in shape. Her total the other day was 37,000.
If she doesn’t run this foot injury off, she’ll have to be put down, I thought to myself as I watched her stooping on one leg. ‘What is it?’ I said. ‘A speck of dust?’ ‘It’s a lump of horribleness,’ she said. ‘Has one of the dogs been in?’
Three village dogs call on us. We welcome and make a fuss of them and give them treats from a tin in the cupboard with a picture of Tintin on the lid. The dogs’ tails go twice as fast when the Tintin tin appears. They grin and caper, gobble down their strict ration of two dog biscuits per visit and have a thorough sniff around. (If it’s crumbs they are looking for, it’s a vain hope with Catriona around.) Then they bugger off again. Hector is a sort of cross between a Rottweiler and a donkey. June is a lean and ecstatic Boxer. Milko is a serious-minded Jack Russell who doesn’t suffer fools gladly but makes an exception in our case.
It’s true that Milko cocks his leg and lets out a proprietary jet against a selected item of furniture sometimes. A syringe-full. (If Catriona doesn’t spot it, I say nothing, either to her or the dog.) Hector and June just wouldn’t. As for any of them doing their business — out of the question.
Then it dawned on me now that what she was feverishly scrubbing at must have dropped out of my pants earlier. It has been getting out of hand down there lately. Some days I’m quelling one Boxer rebellion after another. ‘Oh yes — Milko,’ I said. ‘Why? Has he been naughty, mon petit ange?’
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