mary’s canaries

‘I’m Jim from the Rapid Response service, come to see Mary.’
Lenny’s response wrong-foots me. He doesn’t say hello, but continues to stare at me with an expression that’s one part wryly amused and three parts hostile. It doesn’t bode well for the consultation. I certainly don’t feel able to ask him not to smoke.
‘How is she?’ I ask, putting my bag down, trying my best to put him at ease. ‘How’s she doing?’
Lenny shakes his head.
‘How’s she doing? You do know the past medical history, do you? You haven’t just turned up?
‘They did tell me, yep. Some. But I took the details on the hoof, so…’
‘I’ll fill you in then, shall I?’
‘If you would.’
‘Mary is very unwell indeed. Mary has Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.’
‘Ah yes! They did say.’
‘She’s lost a lot of weight because she’s not looking after herself. She went to the hospital the other day and they said there was nothing new going on so they sent her home again. To this!’
This being a frigid two-roomed flat, spots of mould in the high-corners, and bizarrely, a copper-wire pagoda of sherbet yellow canaries in the window.
‘What have you come to do, then?’ says Lenny. He takes a drag on his fag; when he exhales, the smoke rolls out and over his lips like a fire set back in a cave. He coughs, and I could swear some ash falls from his hair.
‘I can’t shake this bloody cold,’ he says, taking a filthy handkerchief out of his pocket and trumpeting his nose. ‘Tell me again why they’ve sent you?’
‘When anyone gets referred to us we always do a set of obs to start with, you know – blood pressure, temperature, that sort of thing. Like a health screen.’
Health screen? What on earth d’you mean? he gasps, his eyes watering. ‘I told you. She’s not well.’
‘No. I know. It’s just a way of finding out for ourselves how unwell. And then acting accordingly.’
‘I see,’ he says, inspecting the handkerchief with a disappointed look, and then stuffing it back in his pocket. ‘Well, she’s in bed. Just through there.’
Mary is lying on her back, duvet up to her chin.
‘We don’t live together anymore,’ says Lenny, standing behind me in the doorway whilst I take her pulse. ‘But I still come round on the weekend, to see how she’s doing. We go down the pub and have a couple.’
‘So she’s still actively drinking?’
‘Oh no. Not like she used to. Not bottles and bottles. Just a couple to keep her ticking over. And some fish and chips to balance it out. But that’s the problem, see? Her memory’s affected. She’s lost a lot of weight these past few weeks. No-one can get her to eat.’
‘And she went to the hospital, you say?’
‘She had a collapse so we called the ambulance. They did all the tests. The hospital put her head through a doughnut, but they said nothing had changed so they sent her home. To what?  I’m telling you. This isn’t good. This isn’t good at all. I mean – look at it!’
He gestures around him.
The birds in the cage behind him leap from bar to bar, chirruping alarmingly.
‘She needs re-housing!’ says Lenny. ‘She needs putting somewhere so they can feed her up!’
He takes one last drag of his fag, then drowns it in a mug of old tea.
‘Mind you,’ he says, putting the mug down on the bedside table and hitching his trousers up. ‘If they did, she’d never remember where it was.’

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