The smell permeating the house gets stronger the nearer you get to Philip’s bedroom. There’s a shakily written note taped to the door:
No carers admitted. I will not be taking pills or speaking to ANYONE if this door is shut. It means I am sleeping and must not on any account be disturbed.
Several crossings out, different pens, one over the other.
We knock, get no answer, go in.
Philip has a poster of Marilyn Monroe on the wall facing him. She’s in bed, too, lying on her side, smiling at the camera, partially draped in a white cotton sheet, her head propped on one arm, her short blonde hair mussing down over her face, whilst behind her golden sunshine spills around her through the window, holding her in a warm and sensuous wash of light.
But even though fifty years, a camera lens, Life and Death, separate the two, it’s still surprising Marilyn doesn’t jump up and run.
The atmosphere is fetid and thick. One small window is roped open, the rest are sealed with mastic. There’s a liberal scattering of desiccated flies along the sill; a half-finished plate of food on a dirty chair; a jug of urine maturing underneath.
Philip is as sick as the room. A tall, powerfully-built man in his sixties, he’s been clothed and in bed so long that getting him out will be more exhumation than extrication. Rotten with neglect, even his wild, white goatee looks like the flaring of some exotic fungus.
‘Please don’t touch my legs,’ he whispers. ‘You’ll just have to use your equipment to lift me as I am. I know you have your equipment, and you like to use it. But please – I beg you – just go carefully.’
We pull down the sheet to see how he’s lying and how we might get him out. His shirt is unbuttoned to the navel, revealing a shockingly distended hernia, full and round and veined, just like the crowning of a baby’s head. And with his septic demeanor, and in the feverish atmosphere of his room, it’s easy to think he’s somehow fallen victim to some obscure, vegetative process. He’s been staring at the poster on the opposite wall so intently, and for so long, through so many days and nights, that the image has taken root in him, and grown, and come to fruition, pushing out from the ripening pod of his body, turning slowly towards the light, its features resolving, like a woman’s face, those eyes, that smile. Like Marilyn.