An old woman sits alone in a dingy Glasgow tenement room. 

Tea’s cold. Again. Says she forgot it was on the side. Forgot! Would it kill her to put the kettle back on? A cup of hot tea! I don’t ask for much. No milk, just a wee bit sugar.

That bloody woman’s been round again, all smiles and leather gloves, poking her beak in, not that you can see it under the mask. First time she comes, she says, ‘And how’s Granny today?’ I says, don’t call me Granny. I’m not your Granny. I’ve a name. She says, what is it then? I says, mind your own. She keeps smiling. Don’t tell me that’s normal. ‘I’ve come to do your assessment,’ she says. ‘You’re a vulnerable person.’ She says it like I’ve won a medal. 

She says, I’ve brought you glad tidings. I says, I’d rather have a bag of lemon drops. She doesn’t blink, smiling away like she’s a screw loose.  Poxy left-

footers. Give me a Presbyterian any day. She said to me, oh no, dear, I’m not a Catholic. Good as, I said. All that incense and whatnot. Shut her up for a good five minutes. Thought she might sling her hook, but she’s like a bloody limpet. Do they get paid by the visit or something? Scratching away on her forms, asking this, asking that. Bloody nerve. 

Did you hear the news, she says, shouting like I’m deaf. It’s my legs that don’t work, not my ears, that’s why I can’t get out. Trying a different tack, I guess. News, I says, news! When would we have money for a telly! She wouldn’t waste her pennies on one, that one outside. Not for me. Just leaves me cooped up in these four walls, hoping the next time she looks in, I’ll be gone. I won’t give her the satisfaction. D’you think I want boxing and carrying out from here? No, I’m having a proper laying out. Bit of respect. I know her, bundle me up in an old sheet and be done. Blame this virus. Bitch.

’Course old mealy-mouth doesn’t take the hint. Keeps rabbiting on. Only

there was this story, she says. Ever so queer. Chap living on the q.t. in a house for ten years or more. No-one knew he was there. I said, join the club. I don’t see a blind soul from one day to next even when we’re not in lockdown. She says, well, you see me! So it’s not all doom and gloom. I didn’t answer. Like a dog with a bloomin’ bone, though, she is. He’s a hermit, this fella, she says. Lives on nothing but grass. Imagine! Well, I can’t let that go. Grass, I says, you can’t live on grass. That’s rubbish. Grass is for cows, not humans. We tried it once, had no choice, grubbing up weeds and all sorts. Himself was off somewhere with one of his tarts or more likely inside, I forget, kids and me without a scrap in the house.  Sent the eldest out for some nettles: comes back with a great bunch of grass, the numpty. Ill for days, we were. I leathered him for that, good and proper. Once I got my strength back.

She stopped smiling then. Face like a suet pudding, all white and sweaty. I said, indigestion?  She shakes her head. You hit him, she says, your own son? ‘Course I hit him, I says, little bleeder. Only language they understand. My God, she says, pulling at her scarf like she can’t breathe, have you never heard, suffer the little children? Oh, I says, he suffered all right. Couldn’t sit down for a week. She looked that peaky, had to give her one of my peppermints. 

Hilary Spiers

Hilary Spiers is a novelist, award-winning short story writer and playwright., writing about women - particularly older women - in all their wit and exuberance.  Her novels Hester & Harriet and Hester & Harriet: Love, Lies and Linguine are published by Allen and Unwin and she has just completed her first children’s novel. Mrs Siddons in Lockdown, about the legendary tragedienne Sarah Siddons, is available on the Stamford Arts Centre YouTube channel.