Somehow Eva’s regular carers have managed to tidy up the kitchen sink – a colossal task. Now, it rises out of the terrible mess of the rest of the flat, as improbably defined as the Spratly islands the Chinese built in the South China Sea.
‘How are you, Eva?’
She’s sitting on the sofa, mournfully puffing on an e-cigarette, her right arm in a cast.
‘It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for this,’ she says, raising it an inch, then settling it back down in the sling again.
It’s hard to know where to stand in Eva’s flat, let alone do anything to help. There’s rubbish everywhere, but if I move something to make a little room, she gets cross. When I use a supermarket bag to start collecting up her used pads, she complains I’ve wasted a good bag.
‘Put it here, next to me,’ she says.
The sofa is her mother ship, the place she really lives, all manner of things stuffed between the cushions – a Ziploc bag of documents (her one concession to order); medication, phone, newspapers, spare pads. Anything that doesn’t fit gets dumped on the coffee table. There’s no room for me to pick a way through it all, let alone someone in her condition. And now that her arm’s in a cast – well, I can’t think how she’ll manage.
Eva is wearing a large, baggy t-shirt with a big red heart in the middle saying All You Need Is Love. It hangs clear of her body though. There’s no flesh to fill it out because Eva’s body has been ravaged by years of alcohol abuse. She’s more like an anatomical model, all the chords and veins and bony prominences of her body cruelly exposed, like one of those plastinated cadavers in an exhibition, put in everyday poses – playing cards, riding a horse, sitting on a sofa smoking a cigarette and ordering a carer about.
I clean her up as best I can, change her pad, and fetch her a little trifle from the fridge, finding a way to wedge it in her lap so she can eat it one handed. Whilst she tucks in, I clear away what I can and then pull out a yellow sheet to record what I’ve done this visit.
‘Pass me one of them tea lights,’ she says. After a great deal of tutting and pointing, I finally manage to see what she means: a box of them, balanced on a pile of junk a million miles of crap away on the other side of the room.
‘What do you want them for?’
‘Put one on the table and light it. It’ll clear away them flies.’
‘There’s no way I’m going to put a lighted tea-light in the middle of that table.’
‘It’ll set the place alight. It’s a fire hazard. The whole place’ll go up in about five minutes. And then where would you be?’
‘Out the door, mate. Where d’you think?’
‘How d’you think? I know what to do when there’s a fire.’
‘The smoke would finish you off before you made the door.’
‘Are you going to light it or not?’
‘Then I’ve got no further use for you. You seemed all right when you came in but I’ve changed my mind now. I’ll ask the nurse to do it when she comes.’
‘Good luck with that.’
She studies me whilst I write out the yellow sheet.
‘Are you always like this?’ she says eventually.
‘What? Safety conscious?’
‘No. Getting other people to do your work.’