The woman in reception turned as I entered.
‘Darling,’ she drawled in a mid-Atlantic accent, an arm flamboyantly flung out to greet me. ‘I’m Francesca Cavendish. You may have seen something of me on TV.’
I wasn’t certain but she vaguely resembled the woman who did the cat food ads – opening a pouch of tuna while a puss purred round her ankles.
This Francesca Cavendish was certainly extrovert in appearance though with her multi-coloured turban, purple breeches and thigh-length boots she seemed more pantomime dame than theatrical one. All set off by a voluminous pashmina that enveloped her shoulders.
‘I’ll get my Oscar for you,’ she went on.
An Oscar? Good grief. Was this actress more talented than I imagined?
Francesca Cavendish turned and gracefully floated across to the open front door, the ends of her pashmina floating behind her. Here she paused, hand on her hip, and beckoned. A minute or so later, a man appeared, carrying a cage, in which there huddled an undersized African Grey. ‘My Oscar”, said Miss Cavendish, waving at the Parrot.
The cage was carried through to my consulting room, followed closely by Miss Cavendish. She billowed to a halt in front of the table and ran a finger along its surface.
‘It’s quite safe to put Oscar’s cage down,’ I said.
‘If you are sure,’ she replied with a sniff. ‘Can’t be too careful what with all these super bugs about. Wouldn’t want my Oscar to catch anything nasty.’
‘The table’s disinfected.’
‘Oscar could breathe in the fumes. He’s got very sensitive lungs.’ She glanced round the room, her eyes alighting on my degree certificate framed on the wall. ‘Yours?’ she queried.
She studied it for a moment. ‘Says you qualified this year.’
I nodded again.
‘So, your experience is somewhat limited then.’
Ouch. Claws. I ignored the catty remark and said, ‘What can I do for you?’
‘Darling boy. It’s not what you can do for me but what you can do for Oscar.’
Grr … Those claws again. I stepped round the table.
In the event, it turned out it was Oscar’s claws that needed seeing to. They required trimming. Easy enough. Job soon done under the very watchful eye of Miss Cavendish.
It must have been about two months later when she made contact again. This time it was an emergency call.
She arrived at the hospital before me and was sitting in the consulting room, with Oscar in his cage on the table. She leapt to her feet as I walked in.
She gushed, ‘So good of you to see me out-of-hours.’
I forced a smile. ‘No problem.’
‘It’s just that I feel Oscar is slipping away,’ said Miss Cavendish, tears in her eyes, while beating her chest with a dramatic flourish.
When I pulled the Parrot gently out of the cage, there was no struggling. No resistance. He felt as light as a feather. He obviously hadn’t been eating properly for a while. And there were encrustations round his nares. Thoughts of a lung infection sprang to mind. A fungal infection, maybe. It certainly was serious. But before I could express my concern, Oscar gave a rattling gasp in my hand and lay still.
There was a long, very loud intake of breath from Miss Cavendish. She stood there, her lower lip jerking up and down, while her hand continued to beat her breast. A single tear rolled down her powdery cheek. One sob escaped from her lips before she finally said, ‘He’s gone, hasn’t he?’
Miss Cavendish took Oscar’s body from me and carefully enfolded it in her pashmina. Eyes glistening, mascara smudged, she squared her shoulders and whispered, ‘Still, the show must go on.’ She then turned and swept out of the room.
What a class act. But very much a genuine one.
And, at last, my heart went out to her.
Malcolm’s memoir, An Armful of Animals, is available on Amazon at £7.99 and Kindle at £1.99
His website is: http://www.malcolmwelshman.co.uk