Mrs Rivers

I had been to the dentist first thing in the morning, then collected the weekly allowances and dropped in at Mrs Rivers’ for a cup of tea. Would you like a cup of tea? she normally asks and I say, yes, please. Perhaps she was a little disappointed this time about not being asked to supply herb tea. Maybe she wondered on the quiet what had caused me to change my mind. Anyhow, she produced a cup of Indian or China tea, I don’t know which, and we settled down to our weekly conversation.

She had had a tiring time with some dear, it is true, visitors. But all the talking! It had been too much for her. How can people talk like that all the time, she asked. I hadn’t been aware that this was a problem for her. Just like Aunt Maisie. Two very elderly ladies living on their own. Whenever I come to see them, they do all the talking. I put in the occasional remark which is enough to keep them going. I expect there can be over-stimulation liable to wear them out at their age.

How did you get on at the dentist’s, Mrs Rivers asked me next, another crown? I told her it was worse than that, the tooth in question being crowned already. However, he had managed to save it. I had to add for truth’s sake : There isn’t much of it left, but he could use the old crown. I suppose, the tooth is dead, she commented. I assured her it wasn’t. How come? she said, if there’s no substance, it’s bound to be dead. The dentist must have had similar feelings when he did the tooth, for he poked the nerve which sent me nearly out of his chair. I know that nerve is alive and am rather pleased about it. Hadn’t the dentist himself told me I would find out unmistakably as soon as any more trouble arose ? I told Mrs Rivers and she said that from a medical point of view it was preferable for the tooth to be alive.

She then turned to her favourite subjects, gardening and herbs. She had become rather fond of herbs, she told me and listed what she had in her garden. Then I had to make a list of what we have in our garden. From herbs she passed on to gardening which reminded her of a lady, also a keen gardener, who has a handicapped child. Ten months old and what is to become of him? I admitted it was a frightening idea. In former times they used to die early, she said, of chest problems, pneumonia and that sort of thing. Nowadays they’ve all these drugs and keep them alive. What’s the good of it? She knew of another case, grown into a strong young man, eating a lot no doubt, but totally incapacitated otherwise. Or such and such an elderly gentleman living like a cabbage in a home. Very well looked after. His relatives are lucky, it doesn’t cost them a penny. I don’t know, she said, giving me a scrutinizing look and then assessing me as reasonably open-minded, formerly you gave them a morphium jab, she had been a doctor herself, ‘easing them out’ it used to be called. One couldn’t do that nowadays without some silly newspaper making a fuss of it. Quite honestly, she continued, all the money it costs to keep them alive, couldn’t that be spent in another way? I couldn’t think of any reason for keeping these cases alive, except that they were perhaps meant to be a burden to us. She said, perhaps so.

Another visitor turned up who brought vegetables for Mrs Rivers. More talk about herbs. Mrs Rivers told the visitor that I used a lot of herbs in my cooking. I was thinking to myself, my husband wished I did. The conversation then turned to cats, the newly arrived lady being a great lover of these animals. She has two and buys Chinese rabbits for them. It was not available lately which forced her to ‘buy English’. So expensive! Nearly as expensive as lamb. I heard she cooks the meat for her cats. The cats bring live mice to her house to play with them in the lounge. Never eat them. Quite naughty as well. Obviously the cats know how to handle her. I told her that our cat catches his own English rabbits, eating them in the garage. Raw. After that I took my leave, because I was expecting a visitor.