On entering the room, it was obvious her teeth had long gone and, quite irritatingly, she constantly moved her mouth as though sucking on a never-ending and far too large gobstopper. Her skin, wrinkled and weather-beaten, looked aged beyond measure, though her hair was dark, thick and long, hanging straight down her back in a long ponytail, tied at the nape of her neck. I wondered at her ethnic origin, imagining some gypsy ancestry had moulded her form and almost sensed an air of curses around her as others in the room looked away, avoiding her gaze.
She walked with a deep stoop, slowly but steadily, and without the aid of a stick. In her right arm she carried a small basket, covered by a small checked cloth. As she approached, there was a strange aroma and I wasn’t sure if it was from her, or from the basket, which I imagined to be full of apples and I’d soon be offered the largest, shiniest and brightest red specimen, only to fall into the deepest sleep after only a single bite.
She looked at me for a long time with the youngest, softest brown eyes I’d ever seen on an old woman, and then, almost cheekily, before she spoke, as though checking to make sure no one else was listening, she glanced to one side and gave a sort of smirk.
‘Would you like an apple dearie?’, she asked.
I was taken aback. Had she read my mind?
‘You don’t look like a Snow White though, more a Huntsman’, she continued, ‘unless you want to be a Snow White?’, she started waving a finger at me in slow circles and I imagined little sparkles flowing from its tip.
A nurse rushed over. ‘Come now Mrs Blacknest, you don’t want to be frightening the young man’, and she carefully clasped the old woman’s hand, closing down her spell. The nurse turned her attention to me while the old woman muttered under her breath.
‘Do you not think he’d look quite pretty as a Snow White and why can’t men be Snow Whites, why was it always the girls who were kissed by charmers and brought up by dwarves?’
‘Are you the lawyer they spoke of?’ the nurse asked.
With some effort, I pulled my stare away from the old woman and rested it on the nurse, who was quite short, rather plump, and who looked rather flustered. ‘Yes’, I replied simply.
‘Well then’, the nurse sighed, ‘you’d better come with me’.
I followed her into a small, cramped office, full of too many folders that were spilling its contents carelessly over all available surfaces. She grabbed one pile and heaved it on top of another to make space on the imposing mahogany desk and rather breathlessly manoeuvred herself behind it. She motioned for me to sit down, though the only other chair in the room, in front of the desk, was otherwise occupied by a pile of manila folders, so full they were barely able to close.
‘Just, ehm, just, sort of’, the nurse waved her hand about indicating I should move the pile of papers onto the floor, which I did with some difficulty. They were so full and so loosely bound that they were in danger of falling from my hands as I moved them, and then from toppling into an uncontrolled heap when left abandoned on the little floor space that was left. ‘They’ll be fine there, she said impatiently, ‘now what was it you wanted to see us about?’
I opened my briefcase on my lap and took out the document, and then carefully closed it again. I looked around the floor as I positioned myself comfortably, worried any of my documents should try to escape their neat and ordered confinement to run riot within this muddled room. ‘There have been complaints’, I began.
It took some time to make the nurse appreciate the seriousness of the situation. Many residents, or at least families of residents, wished things to be run differently. They were exercising their rights to see how their money was being spent. Finally, and now I was here I understood perfectly and realised this was perhaps the underlying reason for my presence, there was one particular resident who might be causing problems for the others, and who might not be receiving the appropriate care in this establishment, it had been suggested, and might be better suited somewhere more able to support her. Somewhere else, basically. Not here.
‘I’ll show myself out’, I said to the nurse, watching her read over the document while her mouth formed every word, trying to get each one to sink in. I stepped carefully out of the office and back into the main room where the old woman was waiting for me. All other heads were down, a circle of old women in armchairs, trying to snooze, pretending to read, or knit, or trying desperately to get up to leave.
‘I don’t think you’re a friendly sort’, the old woman said, accusingly. ‘Running around doing dirty jobs for people.’ I brushed past her but she called after me. ‘I’ll curse you, you know, if you leave now. I’ll put such a curse on you you’ll wish you never came here.’ The room fell deadly silent.
I headed for the exit, though I felt the hairs on my neck tingle. This was just an ordinary old folks home, mismanaged as per all of them, full of old people, most of whom had lost their wits years ago, but who deserved a more dignified end to their days than sitting in a circle staring into space.
‘You should be helping people, not causing trouble. All that cleverness gone to waste, using it to find ways to punish people and not helping them. Well, I curse you to be stupid, forgetful, see how you like it, you won’t be able to use your big law books to pick on people then will you?’ Her voice seemed harsh as it rose to a peak, almost spitting out the last words.
It was cold outside, but I was glad to be leaving, and started walking towards the car park. Finding myself in the staff car park somehow, I then wandered around to the side of the building to finally locate the visitor spaces. I couldn’t see my car. I was sure I’d left it there. It was a fairly poor neighbourhood, so I guessed it had been stolen, which was really going to screw up my day, especially as I had a number of appointments arranged. Fumbling for my phone to call the police I took out my car keys and thought I might try the remote anyway. The car beside me flashed its lights and the doors clicked open, but it wasn’t my car, it was a blue Mercedes whereas I drove a silver Audi.
Or was that my last car?