Alone again with Deborah, he recalls, in no particular order, every one of the eighteen funerals he’s attended in his ten years as manager. Some bloody miserable, most just a funeral, one of them, Rory’s, you could have sold tickets for: his brother-in-law had them all in stitches with his hilarious recollections of Rory’s life. After the first half-dozen he’d stopped ‘attending’ though. He was there but only in body — couldn’t let anyone see tears.
A gentle knock on the door, Oliver checks at the spy-hole and Gavin ushers in two men in identical black suits, ‘little’ and ‘large’. ‘Large’ could probably carry Deborah down to the under-croft unaided but his mate will struggle. They are no strangers to this work and soon have Deborah safely zipped-up inside a body bag and on the trolley; they secure it with a heavy faux-leather cover-all attached to the trolley by industrial-sized press studs. Oliver partially closes the windows, checks that the lights and taps are off before he locks up and joins the procession. All is quiet. Oliver can’t help thinking that an eye is peering through the spy-hole as they pass each apartment on Deborah’s final journey from her home.
At the top of the staircase ‘large’ collapses the trolley and takes the lead on the delicate descent. Oliver needn’t have worried, although by the time they reach the undercroft ‘little’ looks as though he might be using his staff discount sooner rather than later. The precious cargo is firmly fixed to the floor of the dark grey van which then begins its short journey to the far end of the nearby High Street.
“That’s that then,” says Gavin, “I’d better be off too.”
“I suppose so, villains to catch and all that.”
“I wish it was, I really do Olly. Now it’s mostly admin and targets. Too many graduates at the top and not enough people who’ve been around a bit, and I don’t mean a gap year paddling up the Orinoco saving butterflies. Hah! Now who’s venting his spleen?”
Olly extends his hand. “Good to meet you, Gavin. Thanks for all your help with Deborah. Hey! How about coming back and giving a talk to the residents about your work? You’d have to come in uniform though,” says Oliver, smiling broadly.
“I’d like that Olly but I might have a problem explaining to the wife about older ladies and uniforms. Give us a ring and we’ll arrange something.”
As Oliver turns to walk back to his office he sees one of the residents shuffling towards him carrying this week’s rubbish, on her way to the bin store. He hurries to meet her.
“Hey Lizzie, let me take that.”
“Oh thank you Olly, I’m sure this bag gets heavier every week.” They walk together to the bin store where Oliver adds to Cambridgeshire’s landfill problem.
“You know you can ask me to bring it down for you, you’ve got enough on your hands with Marjorie. How is she today? I’m sorry haven’t managed to call in today, something unexpected turned up.”
“Yes I know, Olly. I may be eighty-eight but I saw that nice paramedic earlier and there’s been a police car here for a couple of hours, so who’s died?
Oliver sometimes forgets that their bodies may be wearing out but their brains aren’t.
“Deborah Barron, in 57. She died peacefully during the night.” The lie comes easily.
“Oh I remember her. Didn’t she upset some of the old farts during those vicar’s tea parties in the lounge?”
“That’s the one but she wasn’t too fond of the tea.”
“Good for her,” laughs Lizzie, “good for her.”
“And Marjorie?” Lizzie and Marjorie have been together since they met in the Women’s Royal Air Force during the last war and afterwards in civvy street they owned a very successful boarding cattery. They are devoted to each other and Oliver has witnessed almost daily Marjorie’s steady decline. Now bed-ridden, almost blind and profoundly deaf she refuses to let go. Fortunately, they have the means to remain in their home, totally dependent on carers four times a day.
“I don’t think she’s got much longer, Olly,” says Lizzie, her voice quiet, breaking slightly, at the same time gently taking Oliver’s arm.
They walk slowly to the four steps leading up to the ground floor where Lizzie gets in the lift and Oliver heads for the stairs. He’s there to meet Lizzie when the lift doors open and they walk the few steps to her apartment.
“Hello Marge,” shouts Oliver.”
There’s a slight turn of the head and then a weak smile.
“Hello Oliver — glad you could come,” croaky and difficult to get out. “And it’s Marjorie not Marge — we used to spread marge on bread in the war.” Oliver sees that this effort is tiring her so he walks over to the bed and gives her hand a reassuring squeeze which she manages to return weakly. He and Lizzie walk back to the hallway.
“Thank you, Olly, she loves your visits, they do her the world of good. Now, you must go, you’ve got to type your black notice about Deborah.”
“That’s what we called them in the war — when we lost pilots —I saw lots of black notices then.”
“Oh, I’ve never heard that before. I’ll say goodbye then, Lizzie, you know where I am if you need anything.”
“Goodbye Olly, see you tomorrow.”
Oliver headed for the stairs, and this time took them one at a time. There isn’t room on the notice board for two black notices.
© William 2018