The door to the common sitting-room (on the right) and to the attendant’s office (on the left) were painted highly and whitely in gloss; and the double doors to the lift (next to the office) were stainless steel. The ceiling was white. The wall of the television room (next to the sitting room) was solid plate-glass but all the other walls (and the thick, sound-quenching carpet) were unrelenting buttercup.
“Yellow,” said Camellia. And she sighed.
"Yes,” said Mrs Bendicks, arriving beside them proudly. “I haven’t been here long but my first action as Manager was to cheer up the decor.
"Really?" asked Camellia, wondering if she sounded interested.
"Yes!" said Mrs Bendicks again, enthusiasm softening her features and her cheeks pinkening until they clashed with her housecoat. "I wanted to put up yellow shutters but the council wouldn’t allow it. There are all sorts of planning restrictions on buildings this side of The Common. Such a shame." (Hugh grunted.) "I’ve made a special study of how colour makes people feel - and yellow "mellows". Residents and staff alike have been much happier since I had this done."
"Really?" said Camellia.
"Indeed!" said Hugh. "I expect you would have wanted the window boxes to be planted with red geraniums in the summer? A cheerful contrast. An Alpine effect?”
“Why yes!”, said Mrs Bendicks, looking at him with interest. “How did you know?” She reached out and touched his sleeve lightly - which startled Hugh so much he had to force himself not to jump backwards. She didn't seem to notice. “But the Management Committee was against that. Such fuddy duddies.” She ran her hands over her housecoat and smoothed the nylon clematis flowers against her hips. "I'll show you to your rooms, shall I?"
Hugh and Camellia stepped towards the lift.
“Stairs!” barked Mrs Bendicks. They turned back, startled. “We always use the stairs,” she said. “It keeps our hearts and minds in order.”
"Really?" said Camellia, resolving she'd try not to say it again.
"Our hearts and minds are fine, thank you Mrs Bendicks," said Hugh, pressing the 'CALL LIFT ' button.
The doors opened, more or less immediately, revealing two startled ambulance men; and a very pale old lady lying on a wheeled stretcher. Hugh and Camellia moved aside to let them through but instead of coming forwards, one of the ambulance men leaned over the lady and pressed a button on the control panel so the doors slid shut, and the lift went up two levels.
"There!" said Mrs Bendicks, "we'll walk shall we?"
"We'll wait!" said Hugh.
Camellia distracted herself by watching a maid trundle a tea-trolley into the television room, where an elderly man slept in front of a black and white race track. Through the glass, Camellia saw her raise his arm a little. Gently, she returned it to its position, clinked a cup against a saucer and spoke again. The man stirred. The maid smiled and put a plate with a biscuit on a table in front of him. Then, she seemed to be asking about the television. Did he want to stay on the same channel? - something like that, Camellia guessed. But her attention was pulled away by the arrival of the lift which had returned to Ground Floor and the doors had opened. The ambulance men and the old lady were still inside. The doors closed again. The lift went back up.
"Still here?" asked Robert, coming in with the first suitcases and putting them on the floor next to Hugh.
"We'll take them straight up," said Mrs Bendicks.
"Ah!" said Robert. "That's fortunate. Look, the lift is on its way down."
"There's a body in it," said Hugh.
"The stairs," said Mrs Bendicks.
Robert said "Right;" picked up the suitcases and began to walk towards the first step.
The lift doors half opened - and closed.
Mrs Bendicks immediately saw she would have no problems watching over Hugh's heart for him. In a flash, he was right past her, up the stairs and on the first floor landing so he could press the 'CALL' button in time to intercept the lift on its latest journey upwards. The doors opened and his foot went straight over the threshold.
"Hello," he said, cheerfully to the ambulance men. "May I introduce myself? Hugh Thorncombe." And he held out a hand to each in turn. Reluctantly, they shook it politely - though the lady on the stretcher carried on lying still. Hugh observed her carefully for a moment, then he smiled. "My wife, Camellia - she's on her way up - she and I are here for a holiday." He lowered his voice - but not so low that Mrs Bendicks wouldn't be able to hear if she wanted to listen. "We're farmers," he said. The ambulance men looked uncomfortable. He took this as a good sign. "Which means," he said, sternly, "we're unshockable." Then he winked. "You can take her out now." One of the ambulance men winked in reply. Couldn't help himself. It just happened. "Right," said Hugh - and he stepped back, pressed the button for 'Ground Floor' - and got out of the lift.
Camellia was half way up the stairs with Robert; Mrs Bendicks plodding indignantly behind. "They don't want to cover her face," Camellia was saying. "That would prove she's dead. Do you see? Quite funny really, in an Old People's Home. That's right, isn't it, dear?" she asked Mrs Bendicks.
She didn't usually say 'dear' - it was something to do with being two steps up from someone she didn't like.
At that moment, an elderly man emerged from the sitting room. "Is that your car outside?" he shouted. Then he stepped deferentially aside because the lift doors had opened and the ambulance men were wheeling the stretcher and the old lady towards the front door. One gave Hugh a half wave and smiled bleakly as they tipped it backwards and began to carry it down the steps.
Robert didn't turn. He didn't want to see. "Yes!" he shouted.
"There's a traffic warden," called the man. "In the street. Just thought you'd want to know!
For the Next Post - Thirty-Six
For the Post Before This - Thirty-Four