Ding Dongs Merrily Awry
I pressed firmly at the pearl white bell push set inside the ring of gold. The bell dinged merrily but faded away sadly mid dong.
Mrs Taylor opened the door and peered at me through her glasses.
‘Oh yes,’ she said, ‘you’ll do.’ She stepped aside from the door and beckoned me inside the hallway richly carpeted with a floral pattern, wallpaper bright in blue and gold vertical stripes. She patted the top of an ornate chair, wooden scrollwork up the back, base of it padded in pink silk.
‘Just pop your clothes on there and I’ll show you to the sickly door chimes.’
She was all bulging fish eyes through her glasses.
‘Uh, I’m Doctor Smith, here to have a little chat with you.’
A scowl deepened her wrinkles.
‘The head doctor,’ she said. ‘Well I’m busy, you’ll just have to take me as you find me.’
She marched off down the hall, stopping abruptly next to the first door she reached.
‘I’m sure they’ve told you of the parrot cage. Yes, you will find inside a green plastic parrot glued to the perch. I’m partial to the cage for sentimental reasons, but I can’t abide all that squawking.’
She turned and walked, but paused after another half step.
‘And you’ll find the fish tank, and what’s a fish tank but a picture of life under the waves so why not a picture of some fish? No water to change, and the sound of that pump was getting on my nerves.’
She marched again, down the hall and through into the kitchen. A vast cauldron was atop the stove, steam wisping gently from the top.
‘It’s yoghurt, for Zeus,’ she said.
‘And Zeus is your cat?’
‘He’s in the conservatory.’
Sitting on a bench reading a copy of The Guardian was a well muscled black man, firm biceps and pecs glistening in the sunshine. He looked up and showed a wide smile full of bright white teeth. I edged back into kitchen.
‘So that’s Zeus. Is he…?’
‘Oh yes, completely. Would you like to see his ding dong?’
I could only shake my head limply.
‘Oh he doesn’t mind. Between you and me, I think he enjoys it. He was off with his togs and strutting about with the duster before we even discussed his daily fee.’
‘Is he your…?’
‘Good Lord, heavens no! I’m eighty-four years old – that ship has long sailed, and sunk in the harbour. But I can still ogle from the shore.’
From the bread bin she took out a thick sheaf of paper, edges curled and worn, post it notes sticking from the edges.
‘My will,’ she said. ‘I like to keep it handy, for up to the minute adjustments.’
She set it down at the table and took a seat. She raised a thick black marker.
‘Now then,’ she said. ‘Which of my lovely family was it hired you to say I’m mad?’