normal

To say that Geoffrey’s live-in carer, Nadja, might have had some work is like saying the Forth Bridge might have used a few girders. She’s incredible to look at, her hair Fox News Fabulous, her face stretched to a shine, her eyebrows plucked and pencilled, her lips plumped, her teeth flat white. And it doesn’t end there. Her whole body, riotously on display in a peach velour pant suit, looks like a Barbie doll in a hall of mirrors. Her entire wage must go on surgery; I wonder how she affords anything else – although, as far as imagining a home for her, I can’t get further than a giant box with a clear plastic cover and the words: Carer embossed in bright pink letters.
‘Hi!’ she says. ‘Is lovely to meet you! Thank you so much for coming!’
Geoffrey is asleep in his chair.
‘This recent illness has done him out,’ says Nadja, gently touching him on the arm to wake him up. ‘Geoffrey! Geoffrey! Wake up now, sweetie. We have visitor.’
It’s like reanimating a corpse. Geoffrey is ninety years old but looks older, his flesh sallow and slack, his eyes – when he eventually opens them – two opalescent, milky-grey stones.
‘There you are!’ says Nadja, squeezing his hand. ‘I hope you had nice dream.’
Nadja knows everything there is to know about her patient. She talks me through his condition, from the current state of his bowels to the latest contretemps between the hospital Consultant and his GP. The folder she hands me is perfectly neat and ordered; all his tablets are nicely kept, in fact, the whole scene – all the showering and toileting equipment, all the stand-aids and rails and pressure mattresses – everything is immaculately just-so. Geoffrey may be in a parlous physical state, but he couldn’t ask for better care.
Fully awake now, he blindly sniffs the air as I take his temperature.
‘Oh – don’t worry honey,’ says Nadja. ‘Is necessary to see for infection.’
She leans in to put an arm round his shoulder, and a hyper-inflated breast brushes his cheek.barbie
‘Normal!’ I say, reading the thermometer.
‘There! You see, baby? Is normal!’
But if Geoffrey registers any of this, it’s impossible for anyone but Nadja to tell. He simply gives one, long, deflationary sigh, closes his eyes, and goes straight back to sleep.

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