Jack sits in his riser recliner with his left arm in a collar and cuff sling, looking about as uncomfortable as a man could be, hyper-inflated with discomfort, the great balloon of his belly pumped to bursting with unease.
Jack’s wife, Marge fusses round the foothills of her husband with kitchen roll and baby wipes and so on. I can see that things are difficult. He fell over in the garden a few weeks ago, broke his upper arm up near the shoulder, cracked a few ribs. The codeine-based painkillers have made him constipated. He’s immobile, frustrated, and all things considered, struggling to see his way through to the end of it all. To make things worse, just a few minutes before I arrived he had an episode of incontinence.
‘Don’t worry,’ I tell him. ‘I can help get you cleaned up.’
He’s grateful and embarrassed in equal measure. Marge runs back and forth with hot water and towels. We chat whilst I work.
‘You wouldn’t think it to look at me now, but I really used to be somebody.’
‘You’re somebody now.’
‘Not like I was.’
‘What did you do for a living?’
‘I was in carpets.’
‘I used to travel the country, selling them. I’m not talking rugs and runners. I’m talking big volume sales. Whole businesses. Serious operations, the international guys. They used to know me at all the best hotels. They used to know me by name. Say for example my son Jimmy wanted to stay the night, too. Sometimes he’d do that. He’d come out with me and we’d drive around, see the sights. So then I’d say to this fancy hotel, I’d say to them: What about Jimmy, here? What can you do me for Jimmy? And they’d say: Of course, Mr Sackler. Even if they were full. I tell you what – it was a good life. The things I used to see and do, driving round.’
I help him back into the chair.
‘Now look at me. Falling over like a clown. See that garden?’
I look out of the patio doors, onto a grid-patterned lawn, feature borders, a grey-green summerhouse, water-feature, architectural plants – the whole thing as prepped and manicured as an illustration from a magazine.
‘It’s lovely,’ I say.
‘Yeah? Well – it used to be a wilderness. The old woman we bought the house off, she hadn’t done a thing for years. It was an absolute jungle. You wouldn’t believe what we pulled out of there. I mean – I was pulling monkeys out of there. Wasn’t I, Marge? Pulling monkeys out of the garden?’
‘I wouldn’t say that,’ she says, handing him some clean trousers.
‘No, not those ones,’ he snaps. ‘The other ones.’