"What did you catch?"
"Oh, Just a bird." He smiled at her gently, letting his cheeks lift to ridge beneath his eyes. "Do you want to see?"
"No," she said. "I was hoping you could take me shopping - there's plenty of the bulky stuff we need but I can't face public transport, not at this time of the day."
He reached out his hand up towards her face, almost to take her chin in his palm. Now she smiled, though the movement of muscles was not enough to dislodge the pain in her eyes.
"You're still not well. Give me a list and I'll drive over there later."
"You're a good friend, John. Are you sure you don't mind?"
"Of course not." He kept his eyes steady on his neighbour's face, refusing to acknowledge his ears' demands to locate the starlings, their chirrups announcing their arrival in the front garden.
"You do too much for me."
She broke their gaze, looked up to the sky. "I can't believe it's getting dark already. It's going to be a hard winter."
"Maybe," he agreed. "I'll have to make some fat-balls soon." Seeing her eyebrow raise, he added: "for the birds. I mix lard with seeds and put the balls in little net bags to hang from the trees. I do it every year."
"Oh, I know what you mean. I've seen them in the pound shops. You make your own?"
"It's something to do," he said. "It kills an afternoon."
She looked up then, looked over his head to the trees beyond.
"Maybe I can pursuade Clive to pop over and trim your lawn, clear the leaves or something."
"Oh, don't worry the lad with work," he said. "The garden is fine as it is - I like it a little wild and unkempt at this time of year."
"Well, it's the least he can do ..."
"He's not my servant, Marcie ..."
"Of course not - I know that! I was just offering ..."
"The garden will keep fine. And thank you for the offer - I do appreciate it." He saw her shiver then; again he smiled. "It is getting chilly, mind. I'm going to have to go in, get some hot tea in me."
"Okay, John," she said. "I shouldn't have kept you talking."
"Don't worry, Marcie! It's always good to keep up with the news. I'll drive over to the supermarkets around seven, yes? They should have quietened down by then ..."
"What was the bird?" She asked the question suddenly, as if unwilling to let him go.
"The one you caught."
"Oh, that - it was a robin. They're a lot easier to spot once the leaves come off the trees. I managed to snap a wonderful close up of him."
"Will you be posting it to the web?"
"Yes," he agreed, his smile much broader now. "I'll see if I can do that between the cup of tea and the drive to the shops."
"I'll look out for it there, then," she said. "And thanks for going to the shops for me - shall I tell Clive to go with you ..."
He reached out from his wheelchair to grab her hand across the low fence. "I'll be fine, Marcie. Honestly. And you don't need to keep suggesting the boy helps me. It was an accident: he has nothing to atone for!"
She had no more words. Watching her neighbour manouver his wheelchair away from the fence and towards the new slope to his door, she could feel the sad, self-blaming arguments welling from the depths of her throat, urging her mouth to free them.
She refused them. Refused for a while to turn back into her own house, back to the petty realities of her life. Above her, clouds greyed with rain, sent a few drops downwards to test the route. Two starlings landed in her driveway, where once she had parked her car. Where they saw space to stretch wings and bicker, she saw an accusation.
She would have to move, she resolved to herself once again. Her neighbour's forgiveness was killing her.