Last week my sister Hope took my mother Esme - currently in cycle number 4 of twelve chemotherapy cycles - to the cinema.
Of all of us, Hope is the offspring who has been doing more of the practical stuff than anyone else. She is the one who accompanies Esme to the hospital every second Wednesday; she is the one who sits with her while they attach the bottle full of drugs to the PICC line in Esme's arm; indeed, she is the one who sat with her and held her hand while they inserted the PICC line - not a pleasant experience, for the patient or the witness. It's fair to say, then, that Hope is loving, solicitous and if anything over-protective of our Ma.
So there they were in the cinema foyer, waiting in a queue to buy their tickets. Now, Esme has been experiencing a vicious little side-effect called 'peripheral neuropathy'. This is when something happens to the nerve endings in the fingers which makes metal and cold things extremely painful to touch. Opening the fridge, for instance, is a nightmare (she has to use a washing up glove). That morning they had successfully negotiated the car door and got Esme to the cinema relatively unscathed. She was feeling weak, however, and couldn't stand up for long.
All of sudden, Esme realises she has left her spectacles - essential for proper viewing of the movie - in Hope's car. Hope, who has just bought an ice-cold bottle of water for herself, insists on going back to the car for them while Esme waits in the foyer. It's pouring with rain, the film is about to start, and she knows at Esme's pace they'll never make it there and back in time.
Give me the bottle, I'll hold it while you're gone, says Esme to Hope.
No! barks my sister. You mustn't touch the bottle!
Oh I'm sure it'll be OK, says my mum.
NO! You can't have the bottle! says Hope. I'll get your glasses as soon as I've got the tickets. Now, GO over there, SIT down, and DON'T TOUCH THE WATER!
Esme, who knows that she goes all funny if left to stand up for any length of time, duly does as she is told.
By this time the queue has moved on and Hope finds herself at the head of it. She looks up at the box office assistant, only to find the woman watching her, aghast. Clearly, she believes she has just witnessed a nasty case of elderly abuse and is wondering what to do about it.
She only wanted a drink of water, the woman says, accusingly.