the fowling piece

Bill shuffles slowly through the bungalow to his front room, nudging the zimmer frame forward a stretch, working his way painfully back into it, nudging it forward again, his back curved, his neck craning forwards and the skin of his neck slack, like one of those ancient Galapagos tortoises you might see in a documentary, sensing the ocean, inching through the sand towards it.
‘No rush,’ I say to him. ‘Take your time.’
He stops.
‘I’m afraid Time is pretty much all I have these days,’ he says. ‘But at least it means you get a chance to enjoy my gallery.’

There’s a generous spread of photos around us across the walls. A lifetime’s worth, carefully framed and aligned, the early ones faded to the blurry impression of an umbrella or a hat, the new ones hypercoloured portraits of great great whatevers in gowns and mortar boards holding scrolls up with a satisfied expression that seems to say: This is what it all means.
‘Quite a family,’ I say.
‘Yes,’ he says, starting the painful business of moving those enormous velcro shoes forwards again. ‘We did pretty well.’

The front room has three, wide windows that overlook the garden. The sun is so bright it’s like we’re on the deck of a ship overlooking a sea of green. If it is the sea, though, that must be King Neptune, wielding a spade instead of a trident, waving cheerfully as he plants out a row of blood red geraniums.
Bill waves back.
‘Dylan comes every Tuesday. And I’ve got Malcolm at number fourteen who pops in now and again. And my sons are often over. So I don’t do too bad.’
After his recent fall and long stay in hospital, though, it’s clear Bill needs carers to come in every day for help washing and dressing. That’s why he’s been referred to us, and why I’ve come over to do the assessment today.

Taking pride of place on the wall above the fireplace is a large, antique fowling piece, its intricate plates and decorations and its great curved butt making it look more like a gigantic clarinet or something. Below it on the mantelpiece is an extemporary shrine to Bill’s wife June who died last year. There’s the order of service, a dried flower, and then a line of photo frames either side of the two of them at various ages, June always on the left, Bill on the right (although from their point of view it was the other way round, I suppose).
‘We were married sixty years,’ he says. ‘We had a wonderful life.’
‘How did you meet?’
‘At a dance. June was with her friend, Daphne. Daphne tapped her on the shoulder and said to her: See that man over there? He’s alright, isn’t he? And June said: Hands off! He’s mine. And here we are, all those years later. Mind you – her mother wasn’t keen. She was what you might call difficult. She said to me, she said: William? You’ll marry that girl over my dead body. But then she popped her clogs three weeks later, so I suppose you could say it was a sign.’
‘Wow! That’s quite a story!’ I say to him.
‘Yes! Yes, it is,’ says Bill, staring at the mantelpiece – although, whether at the shrine or the gun, it’s impossible to say.

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