this, too

‘Now listen. Are you listening? Oy – what is wrong with this thing?
There’s the sound of banging, like Ben’s put his mobile phone on the table and started banging it with the heel of his shoe – and suddenly the line goes dead.
I hold the receiver away from my ear, gently hang up and then dial his number again.
It rings and rings and rings.
Is it broken?
Or has he put it down and gone off somewhere?
Just before I decide to hang up and try again later, he comes back on the line.
What?’ he bellows.
‘You rang me, Ben. And then we got cut off.’
‘Oh yes? Well. Now. Yes. Tell me. What do you propose doing about the situation?’
The situation is his sister, Beth. At eighty-one she is five years younger than Eric, but her health hasn’t been good lately. A few weeks ago she fell and broke her arm, which made the basics of day-to-day living pretty complicated. We’d already been in to see her a number of times, and then discharged her from our services once we were reassured she had all the equipment, follow-up appointments, day centre visits and other referrals she needed. Yesterday we heard she wasn’t coping again.
Eric, her only living relative, lives miles away. He was there in the flat with Beth when I went in for the first time all those weeks ago. Despite his wild manner – something he obviously got as a job lot with the wild eyebrows and beard – we got on well.
‘I recognise your voice, young man,’ he says. ‘You’re the one who lives in that godforsaken village. You have some kind of dog, don’t you? And you like to write.’
‘Yes! And you have an old black cat called Jaime, and you still run your own print shop.’
‘Enough of that!’ he says, as if I’ve radically overstepped the mark. ‘Now, Jim – listen to me. It’s vital we sort things out here. Beth is not coping so well. She’s panicking, Jim, she’s panicking. And when she panics, she goes all over the place.’
‘All over the place?’
‘Yes! Last time she had to be brought home by the police. Now last night my son was able to go down and stay with her, but he has his own life and can’t be expected to do this every time. So now I’m wondering what you can do to help? Eh? Because we can’t go on like this. Something will happen and it will not be a good something.’
Each time he takes a breath, I try to jump in with a question, but each time he comes straight back and talks over me.
‘I know what you’re going to say. You cannot do this or that because you haven’t the money, or it’s not the kind of thing you do, or you’ll have to refer her to some other place. But I’m begging you, Jim – I’m begging you. Please. Take some action. Sort this problem out. Because if you don’t, I think the consequences will be most serious.’
‘Ben, I …’
‘We have a care home ready to take her. A nice Jewish place. They tell me they are happy for Beth to stay for a week or two, to help her find her feet and make her confidence to grow again. But of course this is all funding permitting. D’you see? So how do you propose we do that? What is your suggestion?’
I seize my chance.
‘Let’s take this one step at a time,’ I say.
One step at a time! Now – Jim. Are you reading from a script?’
‘Me? No!’
‘It sounds to me as if you’re reading from a script. First this, then this. One step at a time. And so on. Look. Jim. I’ve met you before and I trust you will do the things you say you are going to do.’
‘So please. Put down the script and talk to me. Make your own words.’
‘Ben – honestly. I’m not reading from a script.’
‘No script! Okay? So tell me. What are you going to do about Beth?’
As steadily as I can I review the situation. Beth is safe this evening. Beth has an appointment at the day centre first thing in the morning. This buys us a little time for the social workers to investigate respite care and funding options.
As I’m working my way through these things I can hear Ben breathing heavily into the mobile.
‘Okay. Okay,’ he says at last. ‘Fine.’ Then he sighs, so violently it’s like the mobile phone has exploded in his hand.
Silence for a moment.
‘Ben? Are you still there?’
‘Aye’ he says. ‘Well. Gam Zeh Y’a’vor, I suppose.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘This too, shall pass.’

2 thoughts on “this, too

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