“Do you know what you’re here for?” The woman with the English accent and stern eyes was peering at me, trying hard not to squint but failing.
“I am here to care for Mr. Sayer,” my accent was half-English, half-American, which made her wince every time I spoke.
I was standing in front of her with my hands behind my back to hide the nervous trembling that threatened to take over my whole body. My nurse uniform was wrinkle-free and my hair was neatly tied in a ponytail, thanks in part to a condescending taxi driver, at whom I barked – after he winked at me – “Addison Road. And you’ll be sorry if my uniform doesn’t make it unruffled!”
“You are young.” She stirred in her seat. “Why would you want to live inside this house, caring for an old man like Mr. Sayer, twenty-four hours a day?”
She would have said ‘young and pretty’ if that was the case. No, this isn’t about self-esteem issues. She just wanted it to be that way. She wasn’t going for ‘pretty’. She wanted someone that would be serious about her work whilst causing the least disturbance in the family. Simply put, she didn’t want Mr. Sayer falling for his caregiver.
“Caring for others is my calling, and I’ll be glad to do it twenty-four hours a day for the rest of my life.” That line would’ve made me puke in a normal situation, but this was rehearsed, of course. I thought it was a waste of time, but she didn’t give a shit about what I thought. It was her little play for the man in the adjacent room.
“Very well,” the woman eyed my resume, holding it with both hands close to her eyes, “it would be nice to have someone full of life in this house for a change.”
She cleared her throat, “Armand will have the last word.”
The trembling in my hands moved to my legs when she stood up and nodded for me to follow her into Mr. Sayer’s room.
There is a typical odor in the rooms of the sick, as if death came to visit them from time to time and left its stench in its wake. However, Mr. Sayer’s room was so full of flowers that it wouldn’t smell like death even if The Reaper himself were among us.
It was dark inside, there was only light enough to see one’s way around the bed. Mr. Sayer was sitting on the bed, and the moment he tried to reach one of the curtains to open it, the woman interfered.
“No, Armand, I’ll do it for you,” she opened it only enough for us to be able to see each other’s faces, “you shouldn’t move.”
“For fuck’s sake, woman! I can move, I’m not paralyzed.”
“But you shouldn’t, Armand. And don’t talk like that, there is someone here to meet you.”
He raised himself with his hands and turned to me. I can’t deny how scared I was to have him look at me from head to toe, as if measuring me up before opening his mouth to speak.
“And you are…?” he drawled.
“Her name is Scarlett, she’ll be your new caregiver.”
“Oh,” he cocked an eyebrow towards me with a sarcastic smile, “welcome.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Now, now, Armand, you must rest. I have to go fetch your meds and run some errands. Will you start today, Scarlett?”
“Yes, I’m ready to start today.”
“Good. Let me show you to your room. Follow me.”
We went into the next room, but even as she showed me around and explained things to me, I didn’t see anything. My mind was running so fast I couldn’t concentrate. My attention snapped back abruptly when she asked me if I was all right.
“Excited to be here, that is all.”
She closed the door to what would be my private bathroom.
“You can stay here while I’m out. Today is George’s free day – he’s the butler – so if you need anything, go ahead and help yourself.”
Butler? I think he’d be insulted if he heard her call him ‘the butler.’
“You can call me Helga,” the stern façade had melted away and was giving way to a friendlier one, one that smiled before shutting the door behind her.
Alone at last, I gave a quick look around the room before going back to Mr. Sayer’s.
When I stepped into his room I noticed he had rolled to one side and pulled the blanket up to his ears.
“Is she gone?” he asked from his hiding place.
“Yes, sir, she’s gone.”
He pushed the blanket off, kicked it to the feet of the bed, and sat on the edge.
“But, Mr. Sayer, you shouldn’t be up…” I went to him but he stopped me, holding out his hand.
“What did she tell you?”
“What were the instructions she gave you?”
“That you needed twenty-four-hour care because of your condition.”
“And what is this condition of mine?”
“You were shot thrice during a violent assault.”
“I was shot twice in my left leg and once in my right arm, yes. However,” he paused before proceeding, “that was over a month ago. I’m fine, I don’t need to rest so much, I should be out there having a stroll, for god’s sake! And these curtains…”
Before he was finished I was on my toes opening all the curtains and letting the room flood with light. He breathed in deeply, as if to smell the aroma of pure sunlight for the first time.
“What was your name again?”
“Scarlett, sir. And I must tell you I’m more forgiving than your wife.”
“She’s not my wife, she’s my sister.”
“Oh,” I breathed, letting some fake amusement slip through my parted lips. I already knew all about him, long before I applied for this job.
“I need to make some phone calls, if you’ll excuse me.” He got on his feet, stretched his back, and started for the door with a very noticeable limp. “Also,” he stopped at the threshold, “can you do something about the flowers? I’m neither sick nor dead.”
“I’ll do something about them.”
“You can burn them for all I care…” he turned away, then back to me, “just don’t get rid of all of them at the same time. Helga will notice and you’ve seen how she is.”
“Yes, sir, I’ll be disposing of them one at a time.”
He turned to exit but paused again. “Burning them isn’t practical either. The neighbors will notice…”
“It’s OK, Mr. Sayer. I’ll take care of everything.”
He nodded, grinned, and left the room.
I was left on my own in a room filled with so much sunlight and flowers it looked more like a garden than a bedroom. As I picked out some of the smaller arrangements to be thrown out, I started pondering about Mr. Sayer – hair completely gray, in his late sixties, tall, handsome – and I wondered if there were business cards in his office that read: