Anne was getting stronger every day, and she had already dispensed with the Zimmer frame she had found so humiliating in the hospital. She followed fanatically the exercises given to her by the physiotherapist from the Royal Orthopaedic hospital, and found each day that walking became a little easier, albeit only around the hotel suite.
Then came the momentous day when Lawrence insisted they go down to the restaurant for dinner for the first time. Anne took a great deal of trouble to dress in her best white pleated polyester blouse and a neat charcoal grey suit which she had persuaded Lawrence to go and fetch from the flat. She washed her white hair and arranged it carefully in its usual neat chignon. How I’ve hated not being able to put my hair up properly while I was in the hospital. I really needed a personal hairdresser, but that would have been so extravagant.
‘Now for the lift, Anne. Don’t forget your stick.’
This essential item still managed to irritate her, but she knew when she was beaten. At a rather undignified and laboured pace the two made their way to the bank of lifts, meeting en route their usual waiter who beamed at them and congratulated Anne on her excellent progress.
‘You’ll be doing me out of a job at this rate’ he said.
‘Oh I do hope not, that would be awful.’ Anne had taken him seriously, but Lawrence hastened to reassure her. Once installed in the restaurant, Anne looked about her, admiring the lush greenery in sculpted pots which adorned various parts of the large room. That is until she discovered they were plastic. ‘What a swizz! Can’t they be bothered to look after proper plants?’ Anne was disgusted. But she thoroughly enjoyed the meal which Lawrence chose for her.
‘You need building up,’ said Lawrence rather in the manner of an adult speaking to a sick child. ‘That’s what my mother always used to say to us if we’d been ill.’ He ordered her the soup of the day to start, followed by a fillet steak with mushrooms – or at least that’s what the menu called Tournedos Rossini had turned out to be.
‘Well done, please – none of your fancy raw meat for me’ interjected Anne.
‘Very good Madam.’ The head waiter looked superciliously down his nose at this, but Lawrence quelled him with a frown.
‘And we’ll finish with a proper pudding. Something to put a bit of meat on you’ – turning to the waiter ‘What would you recommend?’
‘Chef does a very good apple pie, Sir.’
‘With custard?’ Anne was starting to get the bit between her teeth.
‘Very good Madam.’ That’ll larn ‘im to look down his nose at me. I thought the customer was always right.
But they needn’t have worried. The meal was everything it should be. ‘It looks good. It tastes good and what’s more it does you good.’
‘Where did that come from?’ asked Lawrence.
‘Oh, it was that lovely Bernard Miles man in a commercial for Guinness. Fancy me remembering that!’
While they were enjoying their coffee in the elegant lounge, Lawrence broached the subject that had been on his mind for a few days. ‘I think we could go and have a look at this flat tomorrow. It’s about time we made some progress towards you getting your independence back.’
‘Oh goody.’ Anne clapped her hands. ‘I’m so looking forward to seeing what you have done to make those offices into a home for me – however temporary it may turn out to be. And I must let Nurse O’Riordan know when she can move into my old flat. Can’t have her sleeping on the floor any longer – nurses need their rest.’
‘And that’s another thing. I shall be much easier in my mind if you have someone nearby – specially that pretty nurse – who can keep an eye on you when I go back Stateside. But we’ll have to charge her some rent. People don’t respect things they get for nothing.’
Anne bristled at this and drew herself up to her full five feet nothing. Does he think I need looking after like an old lady? Well I know I am an old lady, but not that old that I can’t manage on my own. Still, I will enjoy a bit of young company from time to time.
Next day their regular black cab swept them the half mile or so down the Hagley Road and round into Francis Road.
Lawrence handed his aunt down with a flourish. ‘There! What do you think of that?’ The end building now had sparkling new double-glazed sash windows, unobtrusively designed, to match the rest of the Georgian block, and a gleaming black front door on a level with the street – unlike the other end of the terrace, where the sloping street meant a longer and longer flight of steps before each front door.
‘Let’s wait and see, shall we?’ Anne was not going to be suborned into moving unless the flat was to her liking. She had simple tastes and wouldn’t tolerate what she described as folderols.
But even Anne was forced to admit that Lawrence had excellent taste when they entered the spacious apartment. The simple cream-painted sitting room at the front, the bay window overlooking the street and the splendid cast-iron fireplace newly re-furbished to a glossy black to set off the William Morris tiles, made Anne gasp and smile. ‘It’s lovely, Lawrence. You have done well. But my furniture won’t go in this room. It’s completely the wrong style.’ Not for nothing had Anne watched hours of house makeover programmes on daytime TV.
The plain white and pine Ikea galley kitchen was very much to Anne’s taste. ‘I’ve never had a fitted kitchen before, and this looks so easy to work in. And a proper cooker. I’ll be able to learn to bake. And look, I can stand at the cooker and turn round to the sink and cupboards without moving a step. I’ll be getting so lazy.’ And as for the bathroom, she was overwhelmed. ‘A walk-in shower. What a good idea. I’d been having such a problem getting in and out of the bath in the old flat. But won’t the water go all over the place? Lawrence showed her how the floor had been cunningly re-laid so that it sloped gently towards the central drain.
‘We can get you a curtain if you want to shut yourself off.’
‘Oh yes please, dear. I don’t like the idea of standing naked in what amounts to the middle of the room!’
Lawrence had saved the best ’til last. Between bathroom and kitchen a door led to a sunny and cheerful, cream painted bedroom with a built-in wardrobe and dressing table in the alcoves either side of the blocked-off fireplace.
‘Oh Lawrence.’ Anne was lost for words as she caught sight of the view from the low window. At this end of the terrace the old long narrow garden had been left when the rest of the gardens had been turned into car parking leading out on to the road behind. But the garden, shaggy as it might be, was a green oasis from the city pavements and busy ring road at the other side of the building. There was even a rambling rose straggling over a rickety pergola, and beyond it Anne caught a glimpse of the luxurious gardens at the back of the up-market Plough and Harrow Hotel. ‘I didn’t even know this was here, and it really is beautiful. But how am I going to look after it? I have no tools and I’ve never done any gardening.’
‘Don’t you worry about that my dear. I’ve had a word with the man in the lottery kiosk at Tesco – you remember Mister Pitkin? He’s promised to pop in once a week or so and mow the grass – I won’t dignify it with the name lawn until he’s had a chance to tame it. He’ll plant anything you tell him to – though it might be easier all round if you confined yourself to tubs and container gardening. Then you can potter round to your heart’s content without having to get down on your hands and knees.’
‘I don’t know what to say Lawrence. I am so grateful that you should go to so much trouble for me, and that nice Mr Pitkin, too. How can I ever thank you?’
‘You don’t need to. You have spent your life and just lately your money as well, helping other people. Don’t you think it’s about time you had a bit of spoiling. All I want is to know that you’re settled and happy, with Patsy O’Riordan and Malcolm Pitkin to keep an eye on you and stop you doing anything really daft with your winnings. Then I can go home to Elaine and the kids with a clear conscience. But before I can do that we’ve got to settle this business of the future of the terrace.’