‘Read me’

“What’s missing here?” Anita points at the bay next to her.

“A bed. They’ve taken it away. They’ll bring it back soon.”

“Soon?”

“You’ve got the whole room to yourself.”

“All to myself?”

We nod. She gazes into the middle distance, then down at a wrinkled sheet of paper on the table.

“Read me. Oh, it’s for me?” She smiles at us and begins to read the paper out loud for the third time since we arrived. “My name is Anita Wells. I am in hospital.” She pauses for a moment and looks around. Her eyes are suddenly dark and afraid. “Is this a hospital?” she asks quietly.

She continues: “I am in Ivy ward because I am a bit…” she peers closer at the paper, “ill. I am a bit confused. I have a husband called Fred, three daughters and six grandchildren.”

She reads their names without recognition. She looks into her lap.

“What am I wearing?”

“A hospital gown.”

“A hospital gown?”

“Yes, because you’re in hospital. All the patients wear them.”

“Patients?”

“You look great in it Anita.”

She pulls it forward and looks down the front.

“I’m seeing what I got down there,” she says. We break into laughter, and she does too, and the room feels brighter for a moment.

“What’s meant to be here?”

Before we can answer, a man in a plastic apron appears with a plate. “Got your lunch, Anita. Shepherd’s pie.”

“Shepherd’s pie, what’s that?”

“It’s lamb and carrots and peas in a sauce,” we say, because the man’s already gone. “With mashed potato on top.”

“Mashed potato?”

“You’ll like it. Bet you used to make a mean shepherd’s pie.”

But she’s not listening. She picks up a package of condiments. “Salt,” she reads. “Pepper. What’s this for then?”

“Would you like some pepper?”

“Oh yes, plenty of pepper.” I tear it open and sprinkle generously. She prods the meal with suspicion, then looks out towards the window, and the empty room. Her forehead is furrowed. “There’s something missing here.”

“You’re right. What do you think it might be, Anita?”

There’s a short silence. She’s concentrating.

“A bed?”

“That’s right. It’ll be back soon.”

“Soon?” She looks down and picks up the sheet of paper. “Read me,” she begins.