Mr Epstein is taking a shower. His skin has so many growths and curious moles, so many fascinating patches and bumps and lumpy swellings, that, along with the furrows of his ribs and the wide, satisfied downturn of his mouth – he reminds me a little of a humpback whale. In fact, he’s loving being in the shower so much, I’d go so far as to say that the only real difference between Mr Epstein and a humpback whale is that Mr Epstein used to work in the rag trade.
‘It was a fabulous business. Fabulous,’ he says, vigorously working the loofah. ‘I had my own fleet of vans, running up to the city and back. We used to supply all the big fashion houses. Uh-huh – it was really something to see, I tell you. Now – just a minute…’
All in all, the shower takes an hour. Mr Epstein is perfectly sanguine about the whole thing. I can’t see that he really needs much help. He has a set routine, he follows it meticulously. His recent fall knocked his confidence, no doubt. But on the basis of this morning’s performance, I’d say he was coping perfectly well.
‘See that towel? No, not that one – the big blue one? Harrods. They don’t sell them anymore. Put it over the stool, would you? And then put the smaller one on the floor. That’s it. Now, I’ll just move over here…’
If Mr Epstein is a humpback whale, his wife is a clown fish.
‘I just don’t know what to do,’ she says, trembling down in the kitchen, after I’ve helped Mr Epstein safely in to the front room and deposited him into his favourite armchair in a cloud of talcum powder. ‘He thinks he can do these things but he can’t.’
‘I don’t know. He seemed to be managing quite well…’
‘Quite well? What about the other night? He got up to go to the toilet, fell over and cracked his head. Quite well? There was blood everywhere. I thought he was dead.’
‘So … erm … what happened?’
‘The paramedics came and patched him up, that’s what happened. I wanted him taken to hospital but he’s stubborn and said he didn’t want to go. He can’t stay here, though. What am I supposed to do if it happens again?’
‘You’d just have to call the ambulance again.’
‘I can’t keep calling the ambulance.’
‘No. But this is the first time in a while. And he seems pretty stable. It may well have been a one-off…’
‘Let’s hope so.’
‘He should go in a nursing home.’
‘Myself? I think you’ve a long way to go before that’s necessary. You’re really well set-up here. But anyway – that’s something the two of you can discuss.’
‘No. I don’t think you understand. I’m saying he has to go in a nursing home.’
‘Well – so long as someone has mental capacity to make decisions for themselves, you can’t just put them in a home.’
‘What about me? How am I supposed to cope?’
‘If it’s a question of getting some help – you know, getting him up in the morning, showering and dressing, and getting to bed at night – we can always look at the care aspect.’
‘And what about if he gets up in the middle of the night to go to the loo and falls over and cracks his head again? What am I supposed to do then?’
‘That’s when you’d call for an ambulance. But there are lots of practical things you can do. Maybe we could look at putting a commode in the bedroom, so he hasn’t got so far to walk.’
‘Maybe. It’s worth considering.’
‘I just don’t know how you think this is going to work.’
‘And then of course it might be worth looking at giving you some time away, Mrs Epstein. Some respite. There are two of you in the relationship. It wouldn’t help if you got sick as well.’
‘No. It wouldn’t.’
In the pause that follows we can hear a noise coming from the sitting room.
‘What’s he doing now?’ she says.
‘I don’t know. It sounds like singing.’