‘We’re going to convert the laundry room into a downstairs bedroom for him. There’s a small bathroom next door, so that’s good. And I think it’s nice with the sun coming in like that, don’t you, Stelios? Plus he’ll be in the action – you know? The comings and goings.’
Elena is bright and charming and matter of fact about the whole situation, the matriarchal engine of love behind the family. Her husband Stelios is lying on a riser-recliner, his left hand draped over the side of his head in an attitude of great forbearance, his right reaching forward, as the nurse and I irrigate the fist-sized cavity in his side.
‘How is it looking?’ says Elena, leaning over. ‘Infection still?’
‘I think it’s improving,’ says Gill. ‘Look – see there…and there? A little sloughy, but not too bad. We’ll pack it out again and see you again tomorrow.’
Gill has a fantastically reassuring manner, easy as a mechanic up to her elbows in the bonnet, as happy to chat about where she went on her holidays this year as the way a post-operative wound should progress.
‘Here,’ she says, sitting back on her heels and smiling broadly at me. ‘You can do the next bit.’
The living room is a family shrine. Large, blurry portraits of babies and children, couples being married, couples on holiday, in boats, shops, university gowns, every portrait mounted in swirly, gold-leaf frames With all the ornate furniture, the marble tops and carriage clocks and yellow and green porcelain pot stands, and with the broad bands of sunshine leaning in through the patio windows, the effect is quite overwhelming, like trying to dress a wound in the Cave of Wonders.
‘That was the first place I ever went abroad, Greece,’ I say, gently probing the deeper recesses of the wound.
‘Oh lovely! Where did you go?’ says Elena.
‘Serifos. A beautiful little island. Nice ferry ride out. I couldn’t get over how clear the water was. I think it was the first time I ever swam in a sea where you could actually see fish.’
Stelios groans a little.
‘Is that okay?’ I say.
He waves his free hand.
‘Is good,’ he says. ‘Please – go on.’
‘Anyway – I remember when we got there, I pretty much ran into the sea and swam out as far as I could, and it was all wonderful. But then I stopped, because I thought oh my god, what about sharks.’
‘Sharks!’ laughs Elena. ‘Little tiny teeny ones, maybe.’
‘I had no idea. So I ended up swimming back really slowly, trying not to make a splash.’
‘That’s funny,’ she says. ‘Jellyfish, maybe. Sharks? No. The worst could happen maybe you get tickled by squid.’
‘Or hit by motorboat,’ says Stelios, groaning some more.
‘Your name’ says Elena. ‘Is Jim, yes?’
‘I can’t think what this is in Greek, you know?’
She speaks quickly and emphatically to Stelios, who lifts his hands when and how he can as part of the argument, and it goes on like this for a minute or two, whilst I continue to pack the wound. Eventually, Elena turns to me again and says: ‘Okay. Okay. Is Dimitris for Jim, but Iakovos for James, and anyway some of this depends on what your grandfather was called. It’s complicated. Names can be complicated.’
‘I’ll settle for Dimitris, then. And maybe Iakovos when I’m in trouble.’
‘Are you in trouble a lot?’
‘Don’t get me started,’ says Gill. ‘All done, are we?’