the birdbath

‘Funny – you being called Jim. My mother christened me Stanley but everyone calls me Jim, too. I don’t know why. I must look more like a Jim than a Stanley.’
‘Well I was christened James’, I tell him. ‘But no-one ever calls me that. Unless I’m in trouble.’
‘Two Jims!’ says Jim. ‘That should make it easier.’
‘Oh God!’ says Erica. ‘One’s enough!’
The phone rings, and Erica hurries into the hall to answer it.
‘One of her girlfriends, I ‘spect,’ says Jim with a sniff. ‘There’s half a dozen of ‘em at least. Or there was…’ he says, drifting off slightly and scratching his head.
Erica’s delighted laugh trills through from the hallway. I get the impression she laughs easily and often. She’d laughed when she opened the door to me, when I introduced myself and said what I’d come to do – even when I’d slipped my shoes off.
‘A housetrained man!’ she’d trilled. ‘Well I never!’
They’re both in their nineties. Of the two, Jim is fairing the worst. He’s frail and stooped, tentatively feeling his way from sideboard to sofa like a ghost unexpectedly granted one last corporeal turn about the place. Erica, on the other hand, seems to be intensifying with age, her girlish spirit ringing through the dusty air.
‘Hark at that!’ says Jim, collapsing back into his armchair. ‘She’ll be on the phone for hours now.’
But he closes his eyes as if it’s the sweetest sound imaginable.
Whilst Erica is occupied on the phone I run through the examination and take some blood. By the time she hops back into the room I’m pretty much done, just asking some questions about eating and drinking, how he’s managing with personal care and so on.
‘Are you able to use the shower?’ I ask him.
‘The shower?’ says Erica, leaning over the chair and combing his thinning grey hair with her fingers. ‘Goodness, no! He has a birdbath.’
‘A birdbath?’
‘Yes! You know! He grips the sink with his claws, flaps his wings, and splashes his face with water!’

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