Vexation stung as she left the room. Somehow Vince still managed to have the last word, even when he didn’t. Vince still managed to prescribe his arrogance without his scotch, his silk sheets or even the use of his legs. She dropped his pillow at the foot of his bedroom door and added a blanket. She would aid his campaign in his refusal to sleep in his room. He could sleep on the floor and continue to be the Vince that scoffed at her.
Towels and a bowel of warm water in arm, she descended the stairs. At this moment, she felt more nurse than ever. She relished the shield of her outfit and the rap of her shoes. His arrogance brought out the Nora within her and she sort of liked it. Vince appeared expectant as she entered the room. He had taken off his knee braces and put them in the corner. Nancy paused before depositing the bowel on the floor. She unrolled the towel over an adjacent, more capacious couch that enabled Vince to recline horizontally. He did so, using the crutches in this transfer. Nancy washed her hands without helping. The couch gave a squeak as he rested his head upon the arm-support. She unfurled the bottom of his bathrobe. ‘I couldn’t help noticing your legs are undressed.’
Vince’s tone emerged short yet throaty. ‘The stitches itched like hell last night. The damned dressing got in the way.’
Nancy’s breath caught in her throat at the sight. She tried not to let it show in her voice. ‘You obviously needed a fresh dressing.’
Vince’s voice came back flatly. ‘A nurse was due to change it yesterday…but you took care of her.’
Nancy refused to admit fault. She seized a hand-wipe from the trolley’s lower tray and worked the tissue between her fingers. A clinical tang cut through Vince’s aromatic fusion of seashell and well-water. She raised the bottom of Vince’s bathrobe to pipe antiseptic lotion along the ridges of his wounds. The shock of what she was seeing began to sink in as she spread her fingers over his knees. Vince’s right leg twitched. Notches that had no business being there protruded from both kneecaps in ugly asymmetry. Sunset hues blotched out from ridged scars that ran down the flanks of Vince’s knee joints. In places, bruised skin appeared to bank up against the line of scar, bringing the illusion of patchwork. Within these folds, flaky skin had partially curdled. A line of stubble separated the injured area from his lower legs. Below this line, muscle and sinew from a former life had proved the best sculptor. Now the aesthetic and the deformed vied for attention.
Nancy worked the antiseptic cream over the broad areas of Vince’s legs. A tic developed within Vince’s right knee. Nancy maintained pressure for the benefit of the pores. Her fingers enclosed the force of his spasms. Vince grunted. Nancy brought her thumbs to the sides of his kneecaps and pushed the cream into the seams of his scars. Vince cried out. Her thumbs continued to make a circuit. ‘Just being thorough, Mr. Jonas.’
Vince hissed through gritted teeth. ‘What sort of mother did you have?’
Her fingertip exorcised the curdled skin from his scar tissue. ‘She made me what I am.’ At her periphery, his left hand groped at the edge of the couch.
‘Do your best, Nora…won’t you?’
Nancy eased the pressure before letting go. Without delay, she enclosed her index finger within a clean cloth. She then excavated all traces of dead skin that dared to evade her. Double-Barreled Nurse with her falsies could not have equalled Nancy in thoroughness. Vince’s right thigh now joined kneecap in a spasmodic dance. His voice came out a strangled whisper. ‘Soon, Nora… very soon… I will be adrift somewhere… miles from this grim climate… and your grim company. I will be sipping wine with good friends… watching the sun go down… the water lapping at my feet… and above all… I will be with someone who will please me.’
Residual dead skin gathered at the cloth’s leading edge. ‘I’m sorry you find my company grim, Mr. Jonas.’
‘Don’t be sorry, Nora. You have made me appreciate the good things in life.’
Nancy paused in her task and felt an imperative to look ahead. Her sights fixated upon the door leading to the foyer. Beyond the doorframe, the gloom shifted. Her nape hairs twitched. Was someone watching her? Nancy lowered her gaze not wanting to draw attention. The ambiguity tormented her but she wouldn’t look again. She hoped she had simply neglected to close the door or imagined what she’d seen.
Nancy turned to encounter the full force of Vince’s glare. Sweat speckled his brow and his fevered eyes demanded an answer. Nancy suppressed a gasp. ‘Lay back, Mr. Jonas. I have not finished.’
The dressing at his throat jerked as he swallowed. Mouth firmly-seamed, he complied, the couch whispering against his bathrobe as he lowered his head onto the armrest.
Clothed finger poised, Nancy set her sights upon a seamed scar below his left kneecap. She didn’t want Vince to cry out anymore. She didn’t want him to make a sound. But a pink gash intersecting the wound warned this may not always be possible.
Clothed finger touched down; a sweep across the seam. Vince submitted to a choked whimper. Another sweep. Vince’s leg jerked. The gloom beyond the doorframe continued to survey her. A cherry-sized portion of antiseptic cream slowly departed from her fingertip into the recesses of Vince’s scars. Vince made small sounds along the way.
The task done, Nancy washed her hands. Vince’s cries had satisfied the gloom beyond the door. The gloom beyond the door can now retreat with the memory and dwell upon it. Clean towel failed to cleanse her soiled hands. The gloom had latched onto her purpose and made it dirty.
Nancy groped at her run of tasks. She applied a light dressing below the knee. She applied another just above. She repeated the procedure on Vince’s other knee. The emergence from her trance brought her to silence. The creases of Vince’s bathrobe shifted with each breath. Nancy folded the towel. ‘Your wounds shouldn’t itch tonight, Mr. Jonas,’ she said.
Vince grasped the edge of the couch and levered himself up. His fevered state had passed, leaving his hair damp and his eyelids heavy. With a clatter, she placed everything on the lower tray of the trolley. ‘You haven’t eaten since yesterday,’ she remarked.
Vince shifted onto his tailbone. ‘I think you should know, Nora that cheese sandwiches and custard creams are not really to my taste.’
Nancy raised an eyebrow. ‘Don’t worry, Mr. Jonas. You’ll get a taste for it.’ She poised herself behind the trolley ready to wheel it out.
Nancy paused, looking at him.
Heavy shadows flickered over his face. ‘Nothing.’