a wanted man

The heavy red drapes across the windows give the place a hectic, closed-in feel, like I’ve blundered into a giant womb – a particularly nightmarish one, given that the shelves are lined with dozens of Victorian dolls, all in flouncy dresses and hats, each with a stupefied expression, bow lips, flushed cheeks. The ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece makes it sound like they’re all chewing gum, stopping when I turn to catch them out.
‘D’you like my lovely gells?’ says Helena.
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Oh-hmm.’
Helena has been referred to us because her gout has flared up and she can’t make it up the stairs.
‘I’ve been going in the bucket,’ she says, nodding at something terrible draped in a towel. ‘Sorry. It’ll need emptying and sluicing about with some Dettol.’
‘No worries.’
‘Do you have gloves?’
I pull them out of my pocket.
‘I’m sorry to ask you to do all these things, but I’m completely hopeless, as you can see.’
I’ve brought her a commode, which will make it safer for her in the short term. I set it up, run a set of obs, give her the meds she needs, complete the notes.
‘Anything else I can help you with?’
‘Yes,’ she says. ‘There are a few bits and bobs I want fetching from upstairs if you wouldn’t mind.’
‘In the front bedroom, not the back bedroom, you’ll find two small pots of face cream on the side table. One’s purple with a white top, and the other’s yellow with a green top. I’ll need a couple of pairs of knickers.  You’ll find them in the second drawer down of the cabinet next to the dresser. In the back bedroom there’s a camel-coloured dressing gown hanging behind the door. Not the brown one. That’s too thick. In the bathroom there’s a towel hanging on the rail – the top rail, not the second rail down. And there’s an old towel draped across the taps. Could you bring them both?’
‘Okay. Anything else?’
‘Yes. I want a tube of Steradent, a toilet roll, the Dettol, when you’ve cleaned out the bucket, my toothbrush and toothpaste, and the cerise flannel that’s under the sink.’
‘Got it.’
‘I’ll need a nightie of some description. You’ll find some in the top drawer of the dressing table. And could you bring me down the cardy that’s on the back of the chair? And if you’ve got room, the Lee Child’s book on the chair by the bed. I’m half way through. He’s very good, you know.’
In the end I’m up and down the stairs six or seven times. Turns out, I don’t know what colour cerise is; I don’t know what colour a camel is; I bring the wrong towel from the rail, and I have trouble locating the Dettol. The book’s easy though.
‘My mum’s a fan,’ I tell her, handing it over.
Is she?’ says Helena. ‘Well – he is very good, you know.’
‘Right! I think that’s everything. You’re pretty well set. The next thing is to get you better so you can manage the stairs yourself.’
‘Yes,’ she says, sadly. ‘You know, I always thought gout was an old man’s disease. You know – lay off the port and pate and that sort of thing. But I don’t even like port. And I can’t remember the last time I had pate.’leechild
I shrug.
‘I don’t know enough about it,’ I say.
‘Hmm,’ she says. ‘Well, thank you for all you’ve done.’
‘Next time it might be quicker just to carry you upstairs.’
She laughs and slaps her tummy.
‘Really?’ she says. ‘Well you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!’

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