Mary Jones was a sturdy woman wearily approaching retirement age, six more slow months to go and she would be freed from her life as public servant. She had given her all to her work. Her husband was worried that there was no more left to give him in their golden retirement years.
She trained to be a social worker at twenty two and stuck with the profession, battling on as her peers peeled away into the private sector, securing more glamorous roles as councillors for repressed middle aged housewives or children overcoming the emotional demands of divorce and the wheel of modernity turns. Some just threw in the towel, worn down but all the misery they witnessed on a daily basis. They learnt to see things as they walked through life that a casual observer would never notice. As they shopped in supermarkets the misbehaving children being appeased with chocolate and the make-up covered bruises of the till girls. They were inducted into the underbelly of society. They saw it at its worst and many could not stay with the profession for long. They wanted to be soaked back up into the anonymity of the crowd, into the bliss of ignorance.
Mary’s old puffy hand, deformed by arthritis knocked confidently on Jack’s door. “Yeah, come in.” shouted a muffled voice.
Mary entered the office, it was dark and smelt of a mixture of new and old books, a comforting smell for a book lover. The only window in the small office was obscured by a pile of box files labelled with various course titles and authors.
Jack was sitting on a wheelchair by his desk, looking through some old teaching plans. He looked comfortable as the chair had been worn into his shape through years of use.
He begrudgingly lifted his head from his notes, but his expression soon changed from intimidating lecturer to the warmth of seeing an old friend.
“Mary, what are you doing around here?”
“Hi Jack, looking as handsome as ever.”
Mary walked over and planted a matronly kiss on Jack’s cheek.
“Can’t a girl just pop in on her favourite client?”
“And who would that be then?” inquired Jack with a smile.
Mary cleared off some books from the nearest chair and looked around for somewhere to relocate them but all the other surfaces are cluttered with dirty mugs, pens or magazines. She bent down and puts them on the floor, and settled herself down.
Jack spun his chair around to give her his full attention.
“Let me cut to the chase. I know you’re a busy man. I have a proposal to make to you.” Mary said, her face hardened to talk business.
“Is this where I run screaming from the building?” Jack detected the shift in her voice.
“Jack, be nice.”
“What is it then?
“Well, you know how you haven’t been happy with your care package?”
“Sure, I hate being treated as a patient in my own home. But we’ve been through this and I am resigned to the situation. It is the best we can do.”
“Until now,” said Mary looking pleased with herself.
“What do you have in mind?” Jacks expression turned to suspicion.
“Oh Jack, keep an open mind about this. I was assigned to a girl a few years back. She was an easy enough case. A great girl, really great. So intelligent, didn’t let anything that had happened to her drag her down. In fact I think she used it to fight to get where she is. You see I kept in contact with her. I like to be there for her. Well you know,” she said touching Jack’s thigh. “She flunked out of school and I thought well that would be that but she pulled it back together. She got herself a job in a café and went to college at nights and did really well.”
“Where do I come in?” asked Jack looked sceptically at his old mate.
“She wants to come here. It’s a fantastic opportunity, it really is. Do you know how many kids make it out of the system with such…. drive?”
“What course is she on?”
“I’m an English Lit lecturer… I don’t know anything about…”
“Oh it’s not that. She’s on the course and I am confident given the chance she will succeed. She has managed to get a few grants and bursaries but it won’t go far. I was wondering if you would think about taking her on as an alternative to your current arrangements. Admittedly she has no experience, no medical training but she’s a smart cookie and would pick up anything she needs to know quickly. And I thought that the lack of experience would be a plus for you.”
“I don’t know about this. How old is she?”
“Twenty three August just gone. You see I thought it would be a perfect fit. You are fed up with the agency carers and you only need help when you get up in the morning and go to bed at night, plus the housework here and there. This would free her up during the days, to study or whatever it is that young students get up to these days.”
“I assume you want her to live in?”
“Well yes, I thought that may be an option. She could stay with you, your house is huge you wouldn’t know she was there.” Jack turned back to his desk and stared blindly at the wall.
“Jack, she’s a good kid that has just had a great volume of crap thrown her way. I don’t want to pressure…”
“But?” asked Jack.
“You’re my last hope.”
“No pressure hey? What does she say about all this?”
Mary got up from her chair and replaced the books back on the seat. “I haven’t told her yet. I didn’t want to get her hopes up. Why don’t I set up a meeting? I assume you’re here most of the time anyway. I could send her round.”
“Okay,” Jack agrees reluctantly, “next week sometime.”
“I was thinking more like tomorrow.”
Jack groans. “Mary don’t do this to me.”
“She hasn’t got anywhere to live now. “ Mary pleaded. “Her course started a couple of days ago and she’s shacked up in a flea infested B&B with very dubious owners. I would like to get her out of there as soon as possible. Jack, trust me. This will be great for all concerned.”
Mary reached the door and turned around and flashed a cheeky smile. Jack crumpled a piece of paper with his right hand.
“I’ll tell her four, tomorrow, here,” said Mary who left quickly before Jack had time to respond. Jack threw the paper ball against the door. Mary sharply opened the door again. “I heard that mister!”
He smiled “Get outta here!”
Carrie had no idea where the English and American Studies Building was. She was very familiar with the café and Library, two of her latest necessities. After a few enquiries she found her way to the building. In the main foyer, she swung her back- pack off her shoulder and held it awkwardly as she looked through its contents with her free hand. She pulled out a creased piece of paper with the instructions she had quickly scribbled down. She squinted to read her own handwriting. A book and tin pencil box escaped her bag and fell noisily onto the tiled floor. The box opened, splaying all of its contents over the floor.
She put the scrappy piece of paper between her teeth and ducked down on all fours to gather up the dropped items. She stuffed them messily back into her bag and got up on her feet and looked around the foyer. She felt completely lost and nervous about the ‘informal’ interview Mary had set up for her.
The phone call had been short, Mary was unusually distracted and dismissed her concerns by repeating to her that everything would be fine and then had cut the call off rather abruptly.
A group of students walked passed.
“Excuse me” Carrie shouted over to them, “Do you know where…. “ she squinted at her note again trying to decipher the name she had attempted to note. “Jack Landor’s office is?”
“Jack Langford,” one of the girls corrected her. “Jack’s office is on the fourth floor, room 406.”
The students continued on their way but the female student that had answered her question looked back at Carrie and gave her, what can only be described as a proprietorial stare.
Carrie absentmindedly walked passed the lifts and headed for the stairs. Completely out of breath, she regretted taking them. She doubted whether she would be able to get a word out, hoping that his office was on the other end of the corridor so she had time to recover but, alas, it was a few metres from the stairway.
She reached an open door with a number plaque of 406. She peaked round the door but the office was empty. Not sure whether to go in or not she decided to walk away, back towards the stairs.
Jack wheeled down the corridor, his lap full of photocopied handouts. He wheeled straight into his office and Carrie followed timidly.
“Mr. Langford?” She asked.
Jack turned his chair around quickly to see the owner of the unfamiliar voice. The handouts spilt to the floor and Carrie rushed in, fell to her knees and picked up the pages and passed them to Jack.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“It’s okay,” replied Jack. “Mary’s protégée?”
She was surprised to find Jack to be a very attractive man in his late thirties. Very short hair that refused to lay flat on his head in places and soft eyes with gentle lines of age developing around the edges, and when he smiled he got laughter creases on his cheeks.
“Yes, she said to pop along about four. I’m a bit early I’m afraid. I didn’t have a clue where the building was,” said Carrie.
“She never told me your name?”
“Carrie, Carrie Dale.”
Carrie extended hand to shake his, it seemed like the right thing to do but she soon realised perhaps it wasn’t as he struggled to lift his right arm and noticed his fingers were tightly curled towards his palm. The result was a very clumsy, improvised handshake. She looked to his other hand and the fingers looked worse. She felt so nervous, and began to worry that he could detect she was starring at him.
“Take a seat. Did Mary tell you anything about me or about the job?”
Carrie looked around for a chair. Jack nodded over to the chair submerged in books. She went over to drag it over and a pile of books clattered to the ground. She looked pleadingly up to Jack for forgiveness as she picked up the books and put them on his desk.
“I’m so sorry. I’m a bit nervous.” Carrie said.
“Really, it’s okay. Did Mary say anything?”
“No, not much. She just said that you needed someone… That you had a job. A job that required me to live in.”
“Good old Mary. Yes I am on the market for a carer. I have a four bedroom house so there’s plenty of room. You’d get free accommodation, I’ll pay for all the bills and I’d pay you the going rate weekly or monthly depending on which you’d prefer. I’ll organise an agency carer twice a week so you’d get that time off.”
Carrie realised she was still staring at Jack so quickly averted her gaze to the pile of books on his desk.
“I’m a quadriplegic. I can’t feel anything below my chest, a C6. I have limited use of my arms. I have a slight grip which may not seem much but can make the difference of making a cup of coffee and dieing of thirst. I have a big problem with balance so I need help in the mornings getting dressed and at night. Buttons are a killer. I can cook but probably nothing fit for eating and can’t put that down to my injury. What do you think? Are you interested?”
“Well, to be honest with you I don’t have any experience at this. I’ve never looked after anyone or anything before, not even a pet. I kill all my plants. And as you may have noticed I am the clumsiest person in the world. You’d be taking your life in your hands. I’m not sure if I’m the right person for this. Perhaps you should get someone who knows what they’re doing.
“I really appreciate what you and Mary are trying to do but… I just would be worried I would hurt you or something.”
“I think I may be able to challenge you for the World Clumsiest title.” Jack said as he tapped the wheels of his chair. “I’m willing to give this a shot. Why don’t we give it a trial run, a couple of weeks and if it doesn’t work out we won’t have lost anything?”
“Are you sure?” asked Carry. “You trust me to be let loose with your… with your…”
“Yes I trust you. I know you need to get settled in quickly. If you get your stuff together tonight and come here tomorrow at say six I’ll drive you over to my place.”
Jack had been working when she turned up at his office. His expression seemed serious and he was so absorbed in what he was doing that it took several minutes before he realised she was standing there.
She felt like a waif and stray standing in front of him with all her worldly goods, a suitcase on wheels which she’d bought from the market and a large sports bag slung over her shoulder and a cardboard box she’d salvaged from the checkout area from the local supermarket. All were brimming full of clothes and books, not much to show for her life so far.
Jack turned off his computer and gathered some papers together and stuffed them into a back-pack which he swung over the back of his chair.
“All set?” He asked taking Carrie’s sports bag and placing it on his lap and putting the strap around his neck.
His large van was parked in a disabled parking place near the side fire exit. He opened the side door and put in Carrie’s things and then opened back door and lowered a lift. It seemed to take ages to lower. He made superficial small talk about the weather while it lowered. He wheeled onto the lift and it rose just as slow as it fell.
“You can get in.” He said, obviously run out of small talk thought Carrie who was more than aware that shyness had clamped her mouth shut. She could feel the vibrations of the lift through her seat. It came to a stop with a jerk that shook the van.
Jack wheeled through to the driving position and fixed his chair in position with expertise of practise. They set off. Driving through the landscape of terrace houses which looked predominately full of students as make shift curtains had been made of sheets and posters could be seem on the walls of the brightly light rooms.
The house began to distance themselves from each other and finally melted away into fields and copses. They drove into a village with a postcard picture centre, complete with post office and duck pond. He turned off into a side road in which grand old houses stood like a set for a Dickens drama. She kept an eye out for bus stops and was happy to note a lonely post sticking up from the pavement at the start of the road with a picture of a bus on it small metal flag. Just in case anyone was in doubt.
Jack turned up a short driveway in front of an old grey stone house. The front door was in the centre of a symmetrical line. Two large windows on either side with small glass panes that sparkled in the sun as the van came to rest. There could be no doubt this was Jack’s house. The steps had been muted by a long sweeping ramp led up to the front door. A low handrail followed its path.
“Well, this is home, welcome,” said Jack warmly as he pushed himself back through the van onto the lift taking with him a couple of Carrie’s bags resting on the back seat.
“It’s ok I can manage,” said Carrie who scrambled out of the car.
“What?” yelled Jack over the noise of the whining lift.
Carrie picked up the remains of her belongings and waited for Jack to lead the way.
She hovered behind him not knowing whether to help him up the ramp but he grabbed the handrails and in a relaxed manner pulled himself up the ramp.
He took out his car keys from his breast pocket and through his many keys found a little plastic box and pressed a button which unlocked the door. “A proper key opens it too. I just can’t manage when the weather is cold. And to be honest I’m a little lazy in these matters.”
The house was bigger than Carrie had imagined. Her room was the size of the dormitory she had to share with four other girls in the care home. The whole house was beautifully decorated, filled with Edwardian charm. Deep red colours warmed the living room, olive green bathed the study and a clinical white beamed in the kitchen. She was relieved that it was a respectable place. After talking to Pete she had visions of being driven out to some wasteland, having American tan tights wrapped around her throat and being buried half dead in a shallow grave. As time passed she was getting more and more confident that this wasn’t going to be the case.
Carrie had gone straight to her room after Jack had given her a quick tour of the rooms and the bare essentials. She unpacked her bags and box. She had sold most of her things to build up her study fund. It didn’t take long for her to put away her clothes and plug in her electrical items. She was unsure what to do next. She knew how to keep herself out of the way and wasn’t sure what her place was in Jack’s home. It was dinnertime and the smell of a slowly cooking casserole wafted up to her room.
Carrie investigated in the kitchen. She looked into the oven to inspect the dinner. A huge casserole dish was bubbling away, the top of the lid was burnt black so she turned down the temperature.
The house seemed so big and quiet compared to the places she was raised in as a teenager, full of children running around, quarrelling, sneaking snacks from other children’s marked tins and the yelling that followed when it was discovered.
Carrie had a talent of zoning out the noise but she didn’t need to here. Sitting at the large empty kitchen table she realised how used to it she was and it’s absence was just a deafening.
She never felt the claim of family on her existence and had travelled through life to this point completely self sufficient, it was now it hit her she was finally on her own in the world. The thought filled her with a mixture of feelings, relief being the strong and independent but also the lonesomeness as there had been no one except the course administrator that she needed to inform of her change of address. There was Pete also but that gave her no comfort as she had only met him several hours earlier and she doubted he would ever talk to her again. She wondered if she was a missing person in her own life.
Finally the silence was broken by some soft rock music coming from the living room. Jack appeared from in the doorway. “All settled in are you?” He peeked into the oven and then turned the temperature back up a few degrees. “There’s some wine in the fridge if you want to do the honours. I’ve made this chicken casserole, I think it’ll be safe to eat. I haven’t managed to kill anyone yet with this recipe.”
Carrie opened the fridge and took out a cold bottle of Chardonnay. Jack opened a drawer and passed her a large corkscrew. “The glasses are in the cupboard over there.” He said nodding his head in the correct direction.
Carrie poured two generous glasses of wine and went back to the kitchen table to sit. She stared at the gentle string of bubbles breaking to the surface in her glass. She took a sip, it was drier than she was expecting but a rich fruit flavour revealed itself on her tongue.
“Do you like it?” Asked Jack joining her at the table. “I picked it up last year when I was lecturing in France. I’ve been waiting for a special occasion to open it.”
Carrie felt flattered. “Yes it’s nice. I don’t know much about wines. I don’t drink much.”
Jack twirled the glass around on the table making the liquid thinly coat the sides of the glass and then he peered down at it. “Do you see the lines that are forming. Like piano keys almost.” Carrie twirled her glass and looked through it. The liquid slowly divided into thin lines as it drained back to the bottom of the glass. “Yes.” She replied.
“You can tell from the thinness of the line that the wine is going to be dry, and you can also tell the quality of the alcohol because the lines are straight. The thicker the line the sweeter the wine.” Jack picked up his glass and sipped a mouth full, drawing the air through his full mouth to better taste the wine. “Yip, this is a good bottle.”
“It catches a little bit.” Carrie commented.
“Yes it could be a bit smoother,” said Jack wheeling round to get the bottle from the kitchen counter to refill their glasses.
“It’ll take the edge off the first night nerves I think.”
Carrie hadn’t thought till that moment that Jack would be feeling nervous also. She didn’t have any idea what she was expected to do but whatever it was would probably affect Jack’s dignity and personal space more than it did hers.
“Have you started your course yet?” he asked
“Yes today was my first lecture. I didn’t understand most of it.”
“Don’t worry, we do that on purpose,” said Jack smiling. “It puts you guys in your place. Make you realise you have to work for it.”
“Have you started yet?” Carry asked.
“No next week. I have to admit I’ve left all my planning to the last minute as usual. There is so much going on at the moment. I never seem to get the time to do everything I need to. In fact it will be a nice break to be back in the classroom.”
“I’m just worried that may be I’m running before I can walk. I’m sorry I didn’t mean any by that.”
Jack laughed and poured them each another glass of wine. “I know. I know. Don’t worry about it. Relax. It is very difficult to offend me.” He finished his glass in three gulps and Carrie followed suit. “I know what it is like though, taking up study a bit later than planned. I was about your age, perhaps a little younger.”
“It does get easier though. This was your first day, you will see it gets easier. Now are you hungry because I suggest you dish out the meal or the alternative would be to eat it from the floor.”
Carrie obliged and served out the dinner. She wasn’t very hungry so only put a spoonful on her plate and a couple of spoonfuls for Jack.
They had dinner and watched some TV. Jack was happy just to watch what Carrie fancied, she could tell he was out of practice as he seemed to find it difficult to just sit there and get involved in a programme. Carrie watched the clock, ten was approaching and she wasn’t too sure when Jack liked to go to bed and what she would be required to do. She was both dreading the passing time, her anxiety of the unknown growing until she wish it would arrive and be over with.
Jack noticed her frequent glances at the clock on the mantelpiece. He too was dreading the end of the evening. It was a difficult subject to broach but he knew he had to take the lead.
The programme they were watching came to an end and it the subject could no longer be avoided. Without saying anything they both knew it was time for bed.
Carrie decided to take the bull by the horns and moved to the edge of the seat and asked “What do you need me to do?”
Jack appreciated her direct question. “Well I can make it upstairs alright on the chair lift. I just need some help getting ready for bed.” He said looking down at the buttons on his shirt. “I think we’ll take this slowly if you don’t mind for both our sakes. I don’t want to scare you too soon. Easy does it.”
“That sounds like a plan,” said Carrie anxiously. “I’ll wash up while you get up the stairs.” She walked out to the kitchen followed by Jack who transferred onto the chairlift. He edged his bottom onto the seat and then pulled his legs over. Carrie watched from the corner of her eye. She hadn’t seen him move from his wheelchair and was eager to evaluate that extent of his disability. He struggled to strap up the belt, she wasn’t sure what he was doing so walked back out to the hall.
“Do you need a hand?” She asked reaching over and threading the strap through the belt.
She watched for a few moments at the chair ascended the stairs smoothly. She could see that the strap was needed as his body fell forward slightly against the movement. She realised she would have to follow him up the stairs to release him when he reached the top.
The chair slowly ascended the stairs leaving an awkward silence to be filled. Jack seemed quieter than earlier in the evening. His interdependence on her left him feeling vulnerable a situation that he had faced many times before since his accident but whether it was a maudlin mood brought on by the two bottles of wine they had quickly consumed or the fear of exposing his weak body to a stranger, an attractive young woman that he barely knew. He was worried now that he hadn’t thought this moment through properly.
If he was struggling coming to terms with having to accept her help just strapping up the seat belt what feeling were the next ten minutes going to generate.
Another wheelchair was waiting at the top of the stairs. It looked older and shabbier than the one he used during the day. It looked like it had seen better days. Carrie released Jack from the chair and he transferred over to the wheelchair. “I can take it from here if you want to finish up downstairs. Just give me a few minutes okay?” Jack said wheeling off towards his room.
Carrie stayed to see him cross through his doorway and then ran down the stairs. She took the wine glasses from the living room and washed the remaining dished up. Then she looked in the kitchen drawers to find a clean tea towel and dried the dishes, trying to remember where they went she put them all back into the cupboards.
She looked back to the empty sink and the clean work surfaces. There was nothing left to do. She heard the toilet flush up stairs. She went and sat by the table. Resting her head in her hands she thought ‘what have I let myself in for. I should never have agreed to this. What am I going to have to do now?’
Jack was in his bedroom closing his curtains. He could see Carrie’s approach being reflected in the glass. She stood in the middle of the room awaiting direction. Not sure what to do. “If you could just help me with these buttons that would be great?”
Jack needed the evening to unravel slowly. He had never shown his body to anyone except medical personnel before who he took comfort in knowing they had seen it all before. His body was skinny and soft from muscle atrophy. His own mother and father rarely touched him anymore as they were distressed at being able to feel his skeleton through his skin.
His arms were strong and muscular and he was comfortable wearing sleeveless t-shirts during the summer, he was especially proud because being a C6 quadraphigic and managing to keep up strength in you upper arms was like snatching some victory away from the fates that had robbed him.
It was through shear bloody minded determination that he was able to use a manual chair when all around him said that the prognosis would mean he would have to use a motorised chair which weight would restrict his spontaneous acts of movement.
Carry sat on the edge of an armchair facing Jack and slowly undid the buttons of his smart pale blue shirt. He rested his hands on his knees to keep out of the way and then held his arms out as she undid the buttons on the sleeves. He leaned forward and she helped him take off his shirt.
They both concentrated on each task in turn. Shutting off their brains from running several stages ahead.
Jack moved over to the bed and transferred onto it. Carrie followed and undid the button of his trousers and undid the zipper. He lifted himself up on his arms and she tugged the trousers down to his ankles and then pulled them off. She folded them up and placed them on the arm of his chair.
Jack sat on the edge of the bed. Sitting in his white boxer shorts, a catheter tube coming down his leg attached to an empty bag strapped to his leg. He reached down while her back was to him and unstrapped the bag and slipped it under his duvet before she turned back around. She looked over him trying to objectively assess what he needed her to do next. She could see the sun had made a template on his legs where his shorts had been. It made her think of him out in the sun being active.
“I think that’ll do for tonight,” he said.
She walked over and turned down the covers as he lifted himself up again.
“Thanks,” Jack said.
“Are you sure you’ll be ok?” Carrie asked.
It hadn’t been as bad as she was expecting. She knew he was letting her off easy for the first night and was grateful for it.
“I’m great,” he said pulling the covers over his body. She noticed how he hardly indented the duvet cover.
“Could you switch off the main light on your way out?” he asked. She turned and gave him a smile. “Good night.” She said, switching off the light “Do you want the door closed?”
More than anything he wanted the door closed. He wanted to hide behind it in his room, hide under his covers but experience had taught him to be practical. “No, best to keep it a jar just in case.”
“Of what?” Carrie’s question escaped her mouth before she could stop it.
“I sometimes have the tendency of falling out of bed or something.”
She pulled the door ajar and wanders slowly to her door. She thought about closing it as she also wanted to hide back into her safe private world but thought she should keep it open just in case he did need her during the night.
She slept very lightly, partly because of the strange bed which she had yet to claim as her own and find the comfy positions on it and partly as she was worried about his falling out of bed confession and was scared that it wouldn’t look to good to Mary if she should damage Jack on her first night.
She had heard him get up in the middle of the night and the tap running for a little while and then listened as he returned to his bed. It sounded like he had poured himself a glass of water. She drifted off to sleep but it didn’t feel the benefit of it as she woke abruptly to the beeping of Jack’s alarm waking the house up.
When Carrie had dressed and sauntered into Jack room he had already got up and was in the ensuite getting washed. She could smell the mixture of soap and shampoo wafting into the room. He was humming a tuneless song.
She made up his bed and sat on its edge waiting for him to finish. She heard a dull thud as the soap hit the floor.
“Shit!” said Jack, his hair still white from the shampoo lather. He looked helplessly down at the bar of.soap and then snapped his head around as he saw Carrie walk into the bathroom.
Jack was sitting on his wheelchair in a large roll in shower. Panic filled his eyes as she entered. He covered up his nakedness with his hands and felt completely on show. Carrie felt immediately embarrassed, she picked up the soap and went to hand it to him but he kept his hands covering his manhood, her face turned scarlet and the bar of soap slipped out of her hands and landed on the far corner of the shower. She leaned over to retrieve it without thinking and was soaked through by the shower.
Her thin t-shirt clinging to her breast she quickly lifted her arms to cover her breasts. She placed the soap onto the shower shelf and left the room quickly. “I’m so sorry.” She kept saying disappearing into her bedroom and shutting the door with an unintentional slam.
Jack began to laugh. More out of a nervous release but also because he didn’t know which of them was more embarrassed. Carried returned ten minutes later, wearing a thick baggie jumper leaving no definition of her sex.
Jack was looking through a drawer pulling out his clothes. A towel draped over his lap. His hair was lying flat on his head and made him look younger.
He placed his clothes on the bed and then he had to broach the subject he had been dreading, the both had been dreading. “I need to… I use a…” He struggled to find the words. It was his secret, people suspected but rarely knew the details. Carrie came to his rescue. “What do you need me to do?”
Jack wheeled over and picked up his catheter bag. He connected the tube with a shaking hand. Perhaps he had been better off with medical experts, he thought, they didn’t need this explained to them, they just knew and accepted it was part of the job.
He reached down to strap it onto his left thigh and Carries hands appeared to finish the tying. She reached over to his pile of clothes and started to put his legs into his trousers one by one. She didn’t know where her confidence was coming from but she felt no doubt or worry about what she had to do. His legs were stiffer than she was expecting. Not floppy and lifeless as she thought they would be, instead they seem to resist her touch and jittered slightly before relaxing and accepting her lead.
He lifted himself up as she pulled the trousers to his waist tucking in the bag and catheter so it was hidden to the side of his leg.
He was grateful for her matter of fact handling but could bring himself to look into her eyes as she dressed him. It wasn’t until she slid his tie beneath his collar that he looked to see her expression. It wasn’t as he expected, disgusted at his shape and form but a warm open expression of kindness.
When she was finished she stepped back as if examining a sculpture and nodded happily with the result. “You’ll pass,” she said and left the room to wait for him at the stairlift.
Mary’s plan for Jack had completely slipped her mind that week. She felt annoyed with herself that she hadn’t followed through with a telephone call as was her usual style, always there, always accessible.
“Oh yes, I’m so sorry I didn’t call. How’s it going?” She managed to switch to a pleasant work mode.
“It’s going ok. She seems a nice girl. A bit on the shy side but I’m sure that will wear off given time. It is a bit early to tell yet if it will work out.”
Mary found her mind kept wondering from the conversation. She had to keep snapping it back into focus.
“Oh Jack, give it time. You both need time to get used to the arrangement. It will work out fine for the both of you just wait and see.”
“Don’t set your heart on anything long term Mary. This is only a two week trial.”
“I have no doubts.”
Jack hung up and Mary was left again with her thoughts. She was relieved that it seemed Jack and Carrie were settling in with each other. It was the perfect solution to both their problems.
She set the alarm on her mobile phone to go off early and she surmised that church folk would probably like any early start to all the retreating they were doing.
The first week had been very tiring for Carrie. It was beginning to dawn on her that the lecturers expected them to do a vast amount of preparatory reading for each class. It took two readings of every section before she understood the esoteric language of the subjects. It left very little time for her to go out socialising, though Pete had been trying hard to part her from her text books.
Her evening consisted of drinking vast volumes of coffee to keep her eyes open and her concentration switch on and clock watching for the dreaded ten o’clock shift of helping Jack to bed.
Apart from the first night of watch television together they both lived very separately. Carrie would cook dinner and eat hers alone, leaving Jack’s meal warming in the oven for when he would appear at eight thirty or nine o’clock. He would usually take his meal to his study and carry on working until ten.
It was hard for them both to strike up natural conversation as they knew very little about each other. Carrie having to act nonchalant around a very attractive naked male who’s well defined muscular arms she would quiet happily check out on a beach.
Jack had been a wheelchair user for nineteen years and was more than use to having to reveal his all to doctors and nurses but this was different. He could tell that Carrie was trying hard not to make a big deal of the situation. He could see that she was trying to look anywhere around the room except where he was. She was kind and gentle and tried her best but no matter how hard she tried he still knew she was finding his care difficult.
He had arranged that she could take Saturday and Sunday off and was sure that she would use the time to find an alternative solution to her accommodation and financial situation. He decided to call the nursing agency and make arrangements for his care the following week just in case he was proved right.
Carrie spent Friday afternoon in the library. Her head was reeling with information. She settled herself by a computer to order some articles she needed to research. She made out a list on the ones the library stocked and ordered the other via the computer. It would take two weeks to get them in and by that time the course would have moved on to something else.
She brought up the internet to see if she could find a short cut on getting them on a website. When the search engine appeared she found herself typing in ‘quadriplegia’. She knew so little about it and was sure that Jack was taking it easy with her for the first week. She wanted to make sure for herself that she was doing everything that was needed of her.
She went onto a site that showed a diagram of the spine, labelled with the various vertebras. Below was a chart itemising what functions were affected by what injury level. She looked up C6 complete. Jack seemed to have more use in his arms than the description alluded to but his hands seemed to be more affected than the article stated. She then ventured into a site detailing medical complications and conciderations. It mentioned problems with temperature and blood pressure regulation and how if not detected straight away the patient would die. Her heart stopped. She hit the cross on the top right corner of the screen and sat staring blindly at the computer.
She knew there was more to this arrangement than he or Mary let on.
Once her pulse returned to normal she venture back onto the internet and searched under his name. There were numerous hits, everything from his university page to publications, lectures and interviews he had given. Nothing remotely personal however. She looked up his university page and saw that although other staff members had published a cheesy, smiling, approachable picture, his profile contained the default shadow figure. She was surprised and embarrassed that this disappointed her so much. She had to face the fact she was hoping that she could get to study his features more closely without fear of discovery.
She was more than aware that his looks were well above average and this only contributed to the awkwardness she felt around him. The more she tried not to turn into a shy teenager the more clumsy and red faced she got. Carrie desperately hoped that he hadn’t noticed or worse misinterpreted her behaviour as awkwardness due to his disability.
Jacks self deprecating humour and relaxed nature made her quickly lose focus on his chair and sometime completely forget. This had led to an embarrassing incident when they were going to his car and she let a fire door swing back on him forgetting it would be more helpful for her to hold it open. He had been thrown off balance but managed a smile at the incident.
It just illustrated to her just how little she knew about his disability, his physical limitations and she felt too shy to ask Jack directly. The first week of the trial period was up and she needed to know more before she could make up her mind if she wanted the arrangement to become permanent.
To be continued....
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