Nathan studied the floor before he looked at me. 'Try to cheer him up a little? He's . . . he's a little cranky. Understandable, given . . . the circumstances. But you're going to have to have a fairly thick skin . . .'
Mrs Traynor disappeared. We were silent while we listened to her clipped footsteps disappearing down the hall towards the main house.
Then Nathan broke the silence. 'You mind if I go and talk Miss Clark through your meds, Will? You want the television? Some music?'
'Radio Four please, Nathan.'
We walked through to the kitchen.
'You not had much experience with quadriplegics, Mrs T says?' 'No.'
'Okay. I'll keep it fairly simple for today. There's a folder here that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Will's routines, and all his emergency numbers. I'd advise you to read it, if you get a spare moment. I'm guessing you'll have a few.'
Nathan took a key from his belt and opened a locked cabinet, which was packed full of boxes and small plastic canisters of medication. 'Right. This lot is mostly my bag, but you do need to know where everything is in case of emergencies. There's a timetable there on the wall so you can see what he has when on a daily basis. Any extras you give him you mark in there –' he pointed '– but you’re best to clear anything through Mrs T, at least at this stage.'
'I didn’t realize I was going to have to handle drugs.'
'It’s not hard. He mostly knows what he needs. But he might need a little help getting them down. We tend to use this beaker here. Or you can crush them with this pestle and mortar and put them in a drink.'
I picked up one of the labels. I wasn't sure I had ever seen so many drugs outside a pharmacy.
'Okay. So he has two meds for blood pressure, this to lower it at bedtime, this one to raise it when he gets out of bed. These he needs fairly often to control his muscular spasms – you will need to give him one mid-morning, and again at mid-afternoon. He doesn’t find those too hard to swallow, because they're the little coated ones. These are for bladder spasms, and these here are for acid reflux. He sometimes needs these after eating if he gets uncomfortable. This is his antihistamine for the morning, and these are his nasal sprays, but I mostly do those last thing before I leave, so you shouldn’t have to worry. He can have paracetamol if he’s in pain, and he does have the odd sleeping pill, but these tend to make him more irritable in the daytime, so we try to restrict them.
'These –' he held up another bottle '– are the antibiotics he has every two weeks for his catheter change. I do those unless I'm away, in which case I'll leave clear instructions. They're pretty strong. There are the boxes of rubber gloves, if you need to clean him up at all. There's also cream there if he gets sore, but he's been pretty good since we got the air mattress.'
As I stood there, he reached into his pocket and handed another key to me. 'This is the spare,' he said. 'Not to be given to anyone else. Not even Will, okay? Guard it with your life.'
'It's a lot to remember.' I swallowed.
'It’s all written down. All you need to remember for today are his anti-spasm meds. Those ones. There's my mobile number if you need to call me. I'm studying when I’m not here, so I’d rather not be called too often but feel free till you feel confident.'
I stared at the folder in front of me. It felt like I was about to sit an exam I hadn't prepared for. 'What if he needs . . . to go to the loo?' I thought of the hoist. 'I'm not sure I could, you know, lift him.' I tried not to let my face betray my panic.
Nathan shook his head. 'You don't need to do any of that. His catheter takes care of that. I’ll be in at lunchtime to change it all. You’re not here for the physical stuff.'
'What am I here for?'
Nathan studied the floor before he looked at me. 'Try to cheer him up a little? He's . . . he's a little cranky. Understandable, given . . . the circumstances. But you're going to have to have a fairly thick skin. That little skit this morning is his way of getting you off balance.'
'Is this why the pay is so good?'
'Oh yes. No such thing as a free lunch, eh?' Nathan clapped me on the shoulder. I felt my body reverberate with it. 'Ah, he's all right. You don’t have to pussyfoot around him.' He hesitated. 'I like him.'
He said it like he might be the only person who did.
I followed him back into the living room. Will Traynor's chair had moved to the window, and he had his back to us and was staring out, listening to something on the radio.
'That’s me done, Will. You want anything before I go?' 'No. Thank you, Nathan.'
'I’ll leave you in Miss Clark's capable hands, then. See you lunchtime, mate.'
I watched the affable helper putting on his jacket with a rising sense of panic.
'Have fun, you guys.' Nathan winked at me, and then he was gone.
I stood in the middle of the room, hands thrust in my pockets, unsure what to do. Will Traynor continued to stare out of the window as if I weren’t there.
'Would you like me to make you a cup of tea?' I said, finally, when the silence became unbearable.
'Ah. Yes. The girl who makes tea for a living. I wondered how long it would be before you wanted to show off your skills. No. No, thank you.'
'No hot beverages for me, just now, Miss Clark.'
'You can call me Lou.'
'Will it help?'
I blinked, my mouth opening briefly. I closed it. Dad always said it made me look more stupid than I actually was. 'Well . . . can I get you anything?'
He turned to look at me. His jaw was covered in several weeks of stubble, and his eyes were unreadable. He turned away.
'I’ll –' I cast around the room. 'I'll see if there's any washing, then.'
I walked out of the room, my heart thumping. From the safety of the kitchen I pulled out my mobile phone and thumped out a message to my sister.
This is awful. He hates me.
The reply came back within seconds.
You have only been there an hour, you wuss! M & D really worried about money. Just get a grip & think of hourly rate. X
I snapped my mobile phone shut, and blew out my cheeks. I went through the laundry basket in the bathroom, managing to raise a paltry quarter load of washing, and spent some minutes checking the instructions to the machine. I didn't want to mis-programme it or do anything which might prompt Will or Mrs Traynor to look at me like I was stupid again. I started the washing machine and stood there, trying to work out what else I could legitimately do. I pulled the vacuum cleaner from the hall cupboard and ran it up and down the corridor and into the two bedrooms, thinking all the while that if my parents could see me they would have insisted on taking a commemorative photograph. The spare bedroom was almost empty, like a hotel room. I suspected Nathan did not stay over often. I thought I probably couldn't blame him.
I hesitated outside Will Traynor's bedroom, then reasoned that it needed vacuuming just like anywhere else. There was a built-in shelf unit along one side, upon which sat around twenty framed photographs.
As I vacuumed around the bed, I allowed myself a quick peek at them. There was a man bungee jumping from a cliff, his arms outstretched like a statue of Christ. There was a man who might have been Will in what looked like jungle, and him again in the midst of a group of drunken friends. The men wore bow ties and dinner jackets and had their arms around each other's shoulders.
There he was on a ski slope, beside a girl with dark glasses and long blonde hair. I stooped, to get a better view of him in his ski goggles. He was clean-shaven in the photograph, and even in the bright light his face had that expensive sheen to it that moneyed people get through going on holiday three times a year. He had broad, muscular shoulders visible even through his ski jacket. I put the photograph carefully back on the table and continued to vacuum around the back of the bed. Finally, I turned the vacuum cleaner off, and began to wind the cord up. As I reached down to unplug it, I caught a movement in the corner of my eye and jumped, letting out a small shriek. Will Traynor was in the doorway, watching me.
'Courchevel. Two and a half years ago.'
I blushed. 'I'm sorry. I was just –'
'You were just looking at my photographs. Wondering how awful it must be to live like that and then turn into a cripple.'
'No.' I blushed even more furiously.
'The rest of my photographs are in the bottom drawer if you find yourself overcome with curiosity again,' he said.
And then with a low hum the wheelchair turned to the right, and he disappeared.