‘Have you been here before?’
He holds on to the door like it’s the door holding on to him.
‘I’m not sure. I’ve been to so many places I lose track.’
‘Lose track?’ he says, letting go of the door and tottering back into the house. ‘Bit young for that, aren’t you?’
I follow him in.
John’s still an imposing figure, even though his eighty-five years are weighing heavily on him now, putting him forward at the waist, his vest hanging loose, the braces of his trousers holding a gap between the belt and his withered frame. In his prime he would’ve stood six foot four, broad and strong, with the kind of jaw and chisel-cut mouth that made decisions and stuck to them. Now, it’s all he can do to let us in the front door without going over like his wife.
‘She’s in the bedroom. I can’t get her up.’
He points to the bedroom and that’s where we find Olive, sprawled on the floor by the dressing table, surrounded by pillows and covered with a duvet, a panicked, extemporary nest pulled over her from the bed.
There’s not much room to move. John and Olive sleep in two beds, separated by a table with a lamp. The opposite sides reflect their individual needs – Olive’s with a commode and a rail; John a space for his Zimmer frame and a hook on the outside of the wardrobe with a hanger for his day clothes.
‘Last time it was me,’ he says, sucking his teeth, watching as we pull the duvet aside to examine Olive. ‘Give it me,’ he says, holding out his hand. ‘It’s wet. I’ll put it in the wash.’
Getting Olive up isn’t easy. Her arms and legs are grossly misshapen with lymphedema, lacking even the smallest amount of strength or suppleness to move herself into a better position or help us get the inflatable cushion beneath her. After a great deal of awkward manoeuvring we get her on the cushion, though, and gradually raise her up so she can find her balance, take the weight on her legs and make it to a chair.
Once she’s up, we find there’s some blood on the sliding sheet. We need to find out where it came from, so it means we have to lift her nightie to inspect her for wounds or anything else. We decide it’s nothing to worry about – a minor scrape from the original fall. We treat it quickly and then help her into the chair. With Olive safely landed, I put the bedroom back to normal, then rejoin them all in the front room.
Rae finishes her obs and I write them down. Olive has quite a history, but in the end it’s just about okay to leave her at home. It’s apparent the situation can’t continue much longer. They already have a high-level of care, the house is about as adapted as it could be without demolishing the place and starting from scratch. The outlook is bleak and surely measured in months or weeks, not years. None of this we say, of course. We take care of the immediate aftermath, and leave the rest to play out as it will.
They’re both quite chipper, though. I make them a cup of tea. Olive’s gets cold whilst she finishes talking things over with Rae; John sips his quietly, dividing his attention between his wife and the extensive spread of family photos around him.
‘Does Simon live close?’ I ask, pointing to a particular photo, the usual graduation photo, a man in a gown holding a scroll like a magic club he’s going to use to beat fortune to his will.
‘New Zealand,’ he says.
He gives me a long and appraising look.
‘Like rugby?’ he says at last.
‘Rugby? Me? No, not really.’
‘Oh,’ he says. ‘Pity.’
‘Are you a big fan, then?’
He puts his cup down, almost tipping it over on the floor.
‘You know what’s happening next year, of course?’
‘A big rugby thing?’
‘Big? It’s the World Cup, man! In England! It’s huge!’
He shakes his head, then picks his cup up again, carefully wiping the bottom of it so the drips don’t fall on his lap.
‘I’m going to Twickenham with Simon,’ he says. ‘He’s got tickets.’
He rests his gaze on me again, uncertainly, like a pale blue lamp with a faltering connection.
‘I’m looking forward to it,’ he says.