sisters

Agnes doesn’t stand so much as get cantilevered into position by the riser chair. It’s a painstaking, precarious business. Just when you think she’s gained her centre of balance, she makes another tiny adjustment. I’m standing to the right, Grant, the OT, to the left, our hands out and at the ready like twitchy fielders at silly mid-off.
‘There! That should do it!’ she says, jettisoning the controls. ‘Now then. Where do you want me?’
Agnes is crippled by osteoarthritis. The medication she’s on, especially the steroids, have puffed her up until she’s as plump and dry as any of the scatter cushions tastefully spread about the place.
‘I used to be so house proud,’ she says, beginning the painful shuffle through to the bedroom. ‘I like everything just-so. All this chaos is just torture.’
‘You should see where I live,’ says Grant.
The porcelain dolls and antique teddy bears set about the place look as scandalised as if they’d all, at some point, been round to Grant’s flat. One of them has slumped over to the side. I set it upright again and the head falls off.
‘Jim doesn’t like dolls,’ says Grant as I faff around trying to make it right.
‘Doesn’t like dolls?’ says Agnes. ‘Why ever not?’
‘I keep expecting them to grab me,’ I say, finally getting the head back on.
‘Grab you? Why would they grab you?’
‘Exactly. That’s the thing.’
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
Grant high-fives a teddy as he passes and nods encouragingly at me. I grimace.
‘He’ll remember that,’ says Agnes, nodding at me.
‘Really?’
She laughs, and shuffles into position alongside the bed. We help her onto it.
‘See that black and white picture on the side there?’ she says, when she’s got her breath back.
‘Yep. Lovely. Is that you?’
‘No! That’s my sister, Ruth. She died this year.’
And suddenly Agnes is crying.
‘I’m so sorry,’ says Grant. ‘That must be very hard for you.’
Agnes squeezes her eyes shut and dabs at her cheeks with a tissue.
‘We used to talk every night on the phone. Oh – not about anything much. Silly stuff. What sort of day we’d had. I can’t believe I won’t hear her voice again.’
Grant pats her on the shoulder.
After a moment or two she gathers herself and brightens up, straightening up on the bed as much as her contorted spine will allow.
‘Oh dear, oh dear,’ she says. ‘This won’t do. Now then. What did you want to know about the bed?’

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