The night clawed at her temples. She faced-off the dark in a feverish quest. For what, she wasn’t sure. The box hedge stirred in the dark; the couch grass whispered. What company did Rodin’s The Kiss keep? What about the dreamy amble? The security light had provided the perfect stage. She had given a spectator something to look at. A shudder slithered up her spine and pooled at the base of her throat.
Her fingers trembled as she grappled for his other crutch resting against the back door. The upper spindle slipped through her fingers. She had the notion the thing was trying to evade her. In her smart clothes, she felt a sham. She was still daughter of Sheila.
Vince had barely moved when she returned to him. ‘Mr. Jonas.’ Her voice came low and insistent. ‘It is time to get up now. I have your other crutch.’
She could feel the eyes within the box hedge, his boot planted in the grass, his glasses reflecting. Nancy neared her mouth to Vince’s ear and the word please teased at her lips. Vince’s wheezing had lessened and his eye made a weary blink. He swallowed noisily. Please wanted to leave her lips but she wouldn’t let it. Despite the shame burning her chest, she conjured the nurse within. ‘It’s time to get up now, Mr. Jonas,’ she said quietly so the box hedge wouldn’t hear. Vince’s eye flicked her way. She proffered his crutch.
For a moment, Vince didn’t respond, seemingly locked within a cocoon of inertia. She would wait and she would keep offering the crutch. ‘It’s time to get up now, Mr. Jonas.’ Gentle yet firm. When had he raised his trembling hand? Nancy couldn’t be sure, as time had dissolved behind a screen. His second crutch came to life. His journey to a standing position involved no further hand from her. Phases in deliberation made a simple maneouvre look graceless and difficult: the flexing of a knee, the twisting of a shoulder. The security light carved out his wretched form as he battled gravity. His crutches trembled, his crutches slipped, his heel twisted. He grazed his elbow, saliva dribbled down his chin, he snorted balls of condensation. Cords contorted his neck and sweat soaked his collar. Sightless, he groped his way to the top of his crutches. Nancy did not intervene.
The box hedge continued to watch.
Nancy’s eyes remained on Vince. He tucked the crutch-pads beneath his armpits; his fingers took position at the crossbars. Both soles came to rest upon the patio. Unceremonious, Nancy entered the house.
An eternity later, the limo flickered around her as Vince’s pallor bleached to ashen. His blanket whispered between her fingers as she straightened it over his abdomen. His lungs submitted to another wheezing ripple before his pillow consumed the back of his head. Throughout his journey, his wheelchair remained in the rain, the screws to his stairlift in her satchel-bag. He didn’t ask for them. He didn’t ask for anything. Only her presence assisted his lurch throughout the house. Her presence became the needle that wouldn’t let him settle. The stairs arrived at the dead of night. Each riser taunted his twisted form. But Vince had endless attempts as the minutes grinded past. And all the while, his sweaty grasp inched up the banister.
Before straightening his blanket, Nancy helped him out of his sweatshirt. He collapsed onto his back. She slipped off his slacks. Heat radiated from his body. She unfastened his knee braces. A maze of shadows obscured the sight and she was grateful. She went into the bathroom to find a cabinet devoid of painkillers. She filled a glass with water. When she returned, she found sleep had pulled all tension from his face. He continued to wheeze, though softly through his mouth. Shame prickled her again. She could barely look at him as she deposited the glass on the dresser. She stepped to Vince’s window to encounter an inkblot of oak-tops splintering the sky. The box hedge lurked somewhere to the right. But the lone apple tree proved a favoured prop for Henry’s garden tools. In the gloom, Nancy could make out a pole. Nancy knew before exiting the premises that Henry had set the gates on automatic again.