Agnetha has two shelves of bowling trophies, a mini militia of silvered women bending over with arms extended over a series of dates. Beside the shelves are a couple of wedding photos, both with a faded seventies look – shapeless flowery dress, huge sunglasses, thirty five years of sunlight on crumbling photographic paper – both, as far as I can make out, identical. Agnetha herself is sitting on the floor, so drunk that she cannot co-ordinate the lighting of her cigarette, or the closing of her eyes. She pauses momentarily to swear at her carer.
‘You cow. I’m going to shmack you in the mouse.’
‘Netty,’ I say, ‘Please don’t say things like that. It really isn’t nice. We’re all here to help.’
It seems inconceivable that Milly, her home help, could come to this flat every day in the face of such abuse and yet still be as bright and smiling as she is.
‘Such a lovely day today,’ she says, glancing out of the window as she clears up the kitchen and unpacks Netty’s lunch. ‘So Spring-like.’
‘You louse!’ from the floor. ‘Did you call them? Warum?’
Milly raises her eyebrows to us, then gives her pony-tail a little shake, like a horse batting away a fly.
‘I don’t know how you put up with this,’ I tell her. ‘Whatever they’re paying you, it’s not enough.’
She laughs, then hands me the yellow folder with Netty’s care details.
I can see from the records that Netty often ends up on the floor after she’s been drinking. As the level in the bottle of gin sinks, so does she, until she slides forward off the armchair onto the floor. She doesn’t ever hurt herself –is uninjured today – but often refuses help in getting her back into the chair or into the big, white plastic poolside lounger that dominates the centre of the room. Her mobility is okay when she’s sober, but she isn’t looking after herself. A brackish smell of urine lays heavily across the room, cut only by the smell of old smoke.
‘Why won’t you let us help you, Netty?’
‘Netty – are you from Germany originally?’
She stares at me across a deep void of drunkenness, then holds out her right hand to me. When I take it, she tries to hurt it by squeezing as hard as she can. But her little yellowed claws are like her words, full of intent, but powerless.
‘What are you trying to do, Netty?’
She drops her hand back onto her lap, inadvertently crushing the unlit cigarette in her left. She gives a couple of nods - then suddenly seems to wake up.
‘Prussia. I come - from Prussia.’
‘My mother in law originally came from Prussia.’
But she nods forwards again, this time for longer, and it seems she may now actually be asleep.
‘Stolp,’ I say. ‘Poland now, but Prussia before the war.’
Those heavy lids lever themselves open a crack.
We lift her into the lounger, and notify her GP that we have some concerns about her welfare, the fact that she doesn’t seem to be taking care of herself effectively, pointing out the fire risk she poses to the rest of the block. There’s nothing else to be done. We say goodbye to Milly, who needs to be heading off to her next client as soon as possible.
‘Have a great day,’ she says.