by Kirsty Tansey
The doorbell screams its warning. A swish of the grubby nets. Two ladies huddle on the step, one over-lipsticked and leathery, the other younger but rotund.
I affect the shuffle to the door, not too slow as to lose their attention, not too quick though.
“Yes?” My voice is lonely. They are wearing council uniforms, the tabards stretched across regulation navy slacks.
“Is it John?” the younger one enquires heartily. I consider the serious form of my name, the version reserved for tellings-off and Sundays, and I agree with a nod.
“You’ve not met us before,” she continues, offering her ID tag on a chain.
“Oh yes.” I smile, look pointedly at the dolled-up one until she flicks her badge in my direction too. “It’s always worth checking, you know,” I explain. “You can never assume someone is who they say they are.”
I hoick the zimmer frame around and clonk it against the dado rail. They follow me inside at a funereal pace. We hover for a moment in the hallway, momentarily confused.
“Your bath, John. We’ve come to give you a bath.”
“Oh yes!” Delight as it registers. A bath! What could be better? “Of course. It’s this way,” and we trail off through the bungalow. Lucky I remembered to put the emersion on.
The seashells on the bathroom tiles mist over. A splurge of Radox froths beneath the tap, Scottish Bluebells.
“That water alright for you, John?”
“Oh yes, darlin’, beautiful!” I wallow further. “Couldn’t do my back could you?” My face wrinkles, the eyes plead. “Just can’t get to it anymore….” I dangle my left arm, all sorry.
“How’s that?” Manicured hands soap and rub and splash in all the right places. I close my eyes, absorb the skin on skin, the human touch of kindness. “Must be hard for you, pet, not having anyone close to give you a hand.”
Soap burns my pupils. “Aye, you could say that.” I cuff at watery eyes.
She pats my shoulder, they stretch their mouths into consolatory smiles. “Ah, bless.”
I consider losing the flannel, asking them to dig around down below the grimy suds. That’s probably pushing my luck.
Towelled and talcumed, clean pair of pants on, a helping hand to step into my trousers and with the shakes I button up the fly. I part yellowing locks into neat tram lines with the comb I’ve had man and boy. The nights out that comb’s seen from my back pocket, it could tell some tales.
The girls fill in their time sheets. I waddle into the kitchen, offer them coffee, custard creams, toffees, I haven’t got much, they’ve been so helpful.
“No no,” they hold up their hands, pushing it all away. “That’s very sweet, but we’re not allowed, see.”
My gnarly fingers make a dog’s dinner of arranging the mug, Nescafe spills out across the counter top, the spoon clatters to the floor. I stoop and emit a groan.
“Now then John, let me, you have a nice sit down.” One of them guides me to the high-backed safety of the armchair and feet up on the pouffe, the other clinks and boils and stirs in the background until my drink is ready.
“You enjoy that,” she instructs. And I do. I sip my coffee and suck the custardy bit off the biscuit and I listen to them cackling and the softened slam of car doors, their goodbyes echoing round the empty house.
What a daft pair.
The coffee is just how I like it. I pick up the Reader’s Digest beside the chair. Never a big fan of Reader’s Digest but it’s better than nothing and it’s not my fault they deliver it here instead of next door. They deliver a lot of stuff for next door: plant catalogues, I always manage to take those round. And I gave the driver who brought that commode short shrift, don’t need one of those myself, I can walk quite well when I need to.
Some of the stuff’s for keeps : a birthday parcel of Dairy Box, well next door can’t eat those, he’s a diabetic. And some of the Meals on Wheels are quite nice, fish pie’s my favourite, but I see that he gets the mince and spuds. After all, if the driver or the post man or the carers can’t read an address properly, and if the council can’t get round to fixing the vandalised numbers back on the gates, and we’ve almost the same names, what can you do? That bath was a nice surprise though, and if I’d been twenty years younger…
He won’t be wanting a bath this week. Or the next. Two days ago he called an ambulance, complained of chest pains. That’s what the nice paramedic said when I answered the door. “Now don’t you worry yourself, John. Let me have a look at you.” Said it must have been a panic attack rather than a heart attack because everything was fine by the time she got here. I’ve got the blood pressure of a fit young man, apparently.
No, he won’t miss the bath. Always was a mucky bugger. He’d do anything to escape bath night when we were lads. Our Mam had to chase him round and round the table with the scrubbing brush. More than once he tried pretending he’d already had a bath, only it was me who’d been in there, and no one could tell the difference on account of us being identical twins. Always getting me into trouble, he was, taking my things, stealing my girlfriends, my Elsie, God rest her soul. So there’s no love lost. Devious little sod.