The response car is parked round the back of the block, its engine quietly running, its scene light illuminating the side of the building in a vivid splash of white. We go in through a service door into a cool, bare stairwell. We walk up one flight. On that landing, a door stands open.
Stan is lying on his back on the floor of the bedroom. Rae is standing over him.
‘Thanks for coming,’ she says. ‘I’ve been out to Stan a couple of times before. He has trouble with mobility, and sometimes he just misjudges sitting down or whatever and ends up on the floor. Tonight he was heading for the commode when he crash landed. Unfortunately that’s not the only thing he misjudged – so we’ll need to clean him up before we put him back to bed. If that’s okay.’
Stan tries to talk, but it’s almost impossible to make out what he’s saying because he hasn’t got his teeth in, and he’s so dry it makes his tongue seem two sizes too big for his mouth.
‘Don’t worry about it, Stan. Honestly. You’d do the same for us if the situation were reversed, I’m sure,’ says Rae. And then to us: ‘I’ve already got a bowl of sudsy water and a flannel, Spence. If we get him up, are you okay to take care of business?’
We help Stan to his feet. His legs are extraordinary, fashioned out of creamy-white driftwood. Whilst Frank and Rae support him between them, I set to with the bowl and flannel. Stan is smeared with fudgy brown excrement from the small of his back down into his withered buttocks. I put a towel over the stains and deposits on the carpet beneath him, then start to wash him down. His legs are so bandy his testicles are easily accessible. I feel like an agricultural worker tending to a bull, dabbing at the pendant scrotum with my flannel.
‘Done,’ I say, dropping the flannel into the bowl again.
We locate a pair of pants and put them on him, then whilst Frank and Rae shuffle him over to the bed, I take the bowl away to empty it in the loo and find some cleaning materials for the carpet.
In the hall there’s a photo of Stan holding an enormous fish. It’s early in the morning – or late at night – and the flash of the camera gives the portrait a hectic, hyper-coloured quality. It flares off the steel frames of Stan’s glasses and the flat black eye of the fish. Stan smiles exultantly into the lens; the belly of the fish sags between his hands.
Back in the bedroom, Stan is neatly propped up, tucked in, sipping from a non-spill beaker. We finish cleaning and tidying. Rae is going to stay and finish off the paperwork, so we leave her to it.