Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Low Life | 14 February 2009

It’s good to talk

It’s good to talk

Last week, when the snow lay thickly on the ground, in a rare burst of altruism I picked up the telephone and dialled the number of a frail, elderly and vulnerable member of our community, to ask her if there was anything I could get for her from the village stores. The phone rang and rang and rang. Just as I was about to give up I heard the receiver being fumbled into position and a quavering, phlegm-coated voice say hello.

‘How are you?’ I said. ‘Do you need anything from the shop?’

I ought to have known that getting answers to these simple questions was no easy matter. I was perhaps the first person she’d spoken to for days. Far greater than her need for bread or milk was her need to talk. She asked after my boy, whom she’d watched grow up. Had I seen him lately? I told her we didn’t see much of each other nowadays, now that he was taken up with his girlfriend and her children. ‘Well, he’s a fool,’ she said crisply, ‘putting all his eggs in one basket like that. And you can tell him that from me when you see him next.’

‘How are you for milk?’ I said.

‘Have you heard about Frank?’ she said. Frank is the gallant old gentleman who’d replied to her ad in the ‘lonely hearts’ column of the local paper. Until about six months ago he used to visit her regularly. He would come on the bus from his home 30 miles away, stay for a few days, and then catch the bus home again. The news about Frank was that he had fallen over at home and broken his leg.

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