Three Things About Elsie
There’s all manner of nonsense under that sideboard.
It’s amazing what falls behind furniture when your back is turned. I’d never have noticed if I hadn’t been lying here, but now I have, I can’t stop staring. They don’t make a job of it, the cleaners. They’re all headphones and aerosol cans. Some of them even switch the television on while they’re working. Never ask. I watch from a corner of the room and point things out, and they glance sideways and hoover around my feet. “Let them get on with it,” Elsie says. “Enjoy being a lady of leisure, Florence.” It’s not in my nature to be leisurely, though. Elsie’s more of a sitter, and I’ve always been a doer. It’s why we get on so well.
Occasionally, you see the same one twice. There’s a girl comes on a Thursday. Or it might be a Tuesday. I know it’s a day beginning with a T. Dark hair, blue eyes. One hand on the vacuum cleaner, the other pressing a mobile telephone to her ear. She’s always laughing down that telephone. Pretty laugh. The kind of laugh that makes you want to join in, except I can’t tell a word she’s saying. I think she might be German. When I went to the shop near the main gates, they had a box of shortbread. MADE IN GERMANY, it said on the back, and so I bought it, because I thought it might remind her of home. We could have it with a cup of tea, I thought, break the ice a bit. Get to know each other. I mentioned it, but she was so busy talking down that telephone and the front
door banged shut when I was halfway through a sentence. I expect she was in a rush. That’s the trouble, isn’t it, everyone is in a rush. We can have them another time, when I get over this fall. No harm done, because they’re still in the packet.
She might be the one to find me. The German girl. She’ll forget about her telephone as soon as she realizes. It will fall to the floor, but she’ll ignore it and kneel down on the carpet next to me. As she leans forward, her hair will fall into her face, and she’ll have to brush it back behind her ear. Her hands will be warm and kind, and her fingers will wrap around mine.
“Are you all right, Florence? What have you done to yourself?”
“Not to worry, I’ll be fine,” I’ll say. “I don’t want you fretting.”
We will wait for the ambulance, and while we are waiting, she’ll ask me how I fell, how it all happened, and I will hesitate and look away. I’m not even sure what I’ll tell her. I remember the newsreader smiling at me and shuffling her papers, and I remember the silence when I switched off the television. There is a special kind of silence when you live alone. It hangs around, waiting for you to find it. You try to cover it up with all sorts of other noises, but it’s always there, at the end of everything else, expecting you. Or perhaps you just listen to it with different ears. I heard a noise, perhaps. Or a voice? I’m trying to decide what made me fall to begin with, but the only thing I remember is opening my eyes and being somewhere I knew I shouldn’t be.
The ambulancemen will get here, and the German girl will be relieved, and all the worry will empty out of her eyes, because you assume once a uniform arrives, everything will be fine. It isn’t always the way, of course. I know that more than anybody. One of the men will push back the furniture, and the other will put a little mask on my face. The pieces of elastic won’t stay behind my ears, and there’ll be such a fuss made. They’ll strap me into a chair, one
of those with a seat belt on it, and they’ll put a blue blanket over me, and the German girl will make a big point about making sure it’s straight.
“Are you all right, Florence? Is there anything else you need?”
When we get outside, the cold will pinch at my nose and my ears, and my eyes will start to water.
“Soon have you there, Flo. You hang tight, Flo,” the ambulancemen will say, and I won’t mind that they call me Flo, because they have kind eyes.
They will lift me up and carry me down the outside steps, and as they do, I will look out over the town, at the liquid ink of the night and the lights that shine from other people’s lives, and it will seem as though I’m flying.
And I will feel as light as air.