The light faded outside and the darkness came out of the corners to shadowbox the upstart, blue-white light that lurched around the room. He stirred. Uncrossed his outstretched legs and brought his feet back, slowly, until they disappeared beneath the chair.
“Would you like some tea?” he asked, looking not at her but at the screen. Remote. The screen changed and changed and changed again. The volume increased. And he let it rest there on an ad break.
A skinny white man in jam-jar spectacles and a singlet was selling the strength of a toilet cleaner through his obvious weakness. “Yes”, she replied, raising her voice a bit more than usual to counter the whining muscle man.
She put the newspaper down, went in the kitchen, filled the kettle and turned it on. She found his mug, unwashed, in its usual spot on the outer edge of the breadboard, a teaspoon a kind of territorial flag to his one possessive streak.
Rummaged in what used to be the crockery cupboard now overrun by newspaper cuttings, bits of string, empty jars, eardrops, aspirin, a small can of light machine oil. Retrieved one of two surviving cups from the tea set that haunted her childhood with fear of damage. The new chip at the rim a delta to the crack that meandered to the base.
Ran both cups through with boiling water – though she had no particular view on his habit of washing his teacup just once at day, at bedtime. Dropped a tea bag in each and deemed the teaspoon fit for purpose to sugar his.
His half-pint fridge was running cold and well stocked in its way – fresh milk, individually wrapped cheese slices, a bottle of white wine that somebody had brought for Christmas three years earlier, a slab of red meat still in the butcher’s wrapping, half a can of beans still in the can, and some tired looking carrots in the veggie rack that were beaten to the draw with depressing regularity by the beans or frozen peas.
And as usual, here and there, though she wished he’d at least nominate a designated spot, the usual little packets of out-of-date sausage and bacon, meat slices and ham. He collected them irregularly, with his pension, from the woman who ran the grocery store that doubled as the post office. For the cats.
Balanced a plate with four biscuits on his mug and carried it all back to the other room. He said: “Thank you, I could have done it”. She smiled at him and meant it, drew the curtains against the night, brought light into room and said: “That’s okay, I’ll get you next time”.
He hugged his cup for warmth though it was not cold. He would drink it lukewarm and then wander out into the dark for the cigarette he was not allowed to have. With the barest pressure from his finger he silenced the wars and woes of the world now raging on the screen before them. To tell her: “You’ve spent enough time with me. You should get off”.
An hour later she stepped over his legs, outstretched again – a slide for the remote that would eventually slip from his grasp and make him fumble to find it later. His chin was buried in his chest and his breath was deep and even. She bent to kiss his forehead but withdrew to let him sleep. Stepped out into the night and left him with his company. Alone.