the end of the line

Eamon is too tall for the recliner, his pale legs extending beyond the foot rest, so that his slippered feet hang in mid-air.
‘We need to get you some support there, Eamon. It’s putting pressure on the backs of your legs.’
Eamon turns his face to me, the waxy skin taught across his cheekbones. And whether it’s the cancer, the opiate medication, the distress of his decline, or a combination of all of these things, but he smiles in an off-centred way, like someone trying to make sense of a dream.
‘I’ve always been tall,’ he says.
I improvise an extra footrest from a packing crate and cushion, then finish the rest of the assessment, writing a long list of all the people I need to ring. I’m frustrated that Eamon was discharged without everything in place, but the wards are impossibly stretched, I don’t know all the facts, and anyway, I haven’t got time to worry about things I have no control over.
‘Can I get you anything?’
‘A cup of milk,’ he says, and looks down at a little porcelain cup on the cantilever table by the chair. I take the cup into the kitchen, rinse it out, then open the little fridge under the counter. There’s a huge, six pint carton of full fat milk in the door, a couple of microwave meals, a punnet of strawberries, and not much else. I pour him some milk, take it through and carefully hand it to him.
‘Ahh!’ he says, holding the cup with both hands. ‘Yes!’
Eamon’s chair faces a sash window that overlooks the backyard. In the yard is a clothes line with two white pillowcases gently stirring in the breeze. The sun is directly overhead now, and it blazes down on the linen, giving it a transcendent, brilliant quality.
‘I worked on the ferry,’ he says, staring at the washing line. ‘Then I left to nurse my parents. And here I am.’
‘I’ve always liked ferries,’ I tell him. ‘You really feel like you’re going somewhere. I remember we took the ferry back from France once and it was great. We had a cabin, and I was so exhausted from the long drive I just lay on the bunk and stared out at the sea…’
I almost say that it felt like dying and going to heaven, but I stop myself in time.
He nods, as if he knew that, then shakily swigs down the last of the milk and hands me back the cup.
It’s a small backyard with a limited space at the top between the buildings. The sun has moved only a fraction, but it’s enough to alter the angle of light so the line is now in shadow.
‘Can I get you anything else?’ I ask him.
‘No,’ he says. ‘Thank you.’ Then gently resting his hands back on the arms of his chair, he directs his attention to the window again, the washing on the line, and everything beyond.

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