Friday 29 July 2022

Agnes by Judith Skilleter, a summer rosé from the Languedoc


 Agnes is paralysed from the waist down, a fall some years ago did rather a lot of damage and Agnes has been living off the generous compensation, which has been sensibly invested, ever since. She lives in a block of council flats, on the 10th floor and she has not been outside her flat for five years. This has been OK as she loves her flat and has no time for all those know-alls who think that tower blocks are eyesores and should be knocked down. Agnes is very happy looking out of her windows, watching what is happening in the world from up in the air, seeing green spaces and wildlife and on clear days she can even see the sea.

Agnes has a carer, Jemma. Jemma  is employed by the council and comes twice a day, three times if she is in the area at lunch time just to check that Agnes is OK and have a cup of tea with her. Neither the council nor the tax man know about the lunchtime visits for which Agnes gives Jemma £10. It is their secret.

Jemma works hard. She arrives around 8 am, empties the commode, gives Agnes a wash down and dresses her and does her hair.  (Jemma is a trained hairdresser and every week she washes Agnes’ hair and every 5 weeks or so she gives Agnes’ hair a trim. Agnes likes to look presentable and Jemma makes sure she does. The council and tax people do not know about these hairdressing visits either for which Jemma receives another £10.)

Jemma then settles Agnes in her recliner chair, gives her breakfast, usually toast and cereal, makes sure she has everything that she wants and needs before she goes off to her next call. Twice a week Jemma dusts round and hoovers and on another day she does sinks and the loo. Jemma is very keen that Agnes’ flat does not look uncared for and fresh flowers from time to time, recompensed by Agnes, usually £10, make it a very pleasant place to live or visit.

Jemma does most of these tasks in reverse in the evening. She arrives and gets Agnes into her nightdress and dressing gown and makes her tea which Agnes enjoys in front of the TV on one of those special trays with a cushion underneath. Later on Agnes can usually get herself into bed, which Jemma leaves turned down with a hot water bottle in winter.

Although Agnes is paralysed she has strong arms and she can manoeuvre herself from the bed or chair onto the commode or the wheelchair which she uses to have occasional tours around the flat. She enjoys these little adventures which Jemma has advised against.  “You might get in a pickle you can’t get out of” says Jemma quite firmly. But Agnes has to explore her whole world from time to time, a world that consists of more than one room.

Agnes reckons she and Jemma have a good routine; they are good buddies and Agnes’ life is made much easier with Jemma around.

Agnes has a niece who visits once a fortnight. Agnes reckons Hilary, her niece, is just checking on her inheritance. Agnes has no other family. She was married briefly but her husband just went out one day and didn’t return. She has no idea if he is alive or dead. There was a rumour that he was in New Zealand with a family of his own and even has grandchildren. Agnes is saddened by the possibility that another women is having the opportunities that she never had but she is not bitter – “there are worse things at sea” she tells herself although she has no idea what that means but she thinks that in another life she would have loved to go on cruises. Jemma makes sure the flat looks especially nice for the Hilary visits for which she receives another £10.

But these days Agnes is anxious. Jemma has borrowed money from her. £100 on three occasions and none of it has been paid back yet. She gave Jemma her card to get the cash from nearest ATM and Agnes noticed from her bank statements that more than £100 was taken out on two of the three occasions. On these last 2 occasions £200 was taken out. Also Agnes has noticed that some things are missing. A Royal Doulton figurine, that had been her mother's, and was always on the shelf in the spare bedroom, is no longer there.  In its place is a snow globe from Blackpool that usually lived in a drawer beside the spare bed.

Agnes knows that Jemma struggles financially. She is a single mother with two teenage children and her only income is what she earns and something that used to be called Family Allowance. Agnes believes it might now be called Child Benefit.

What should Agnes do? Agnes knows that monetary transactions are not supposed to take place between the council employee, Jemma, and the client, herself. If she reported Jemma to the council Jemma would probably get the sack and that would make her financial position even worse. Also Agnes would lose her and she may end up with someone who was far less nice, someone who had to learn right from the beginning how to care for Agnes. Agnes was not sure she wanted this to happen. Agnes is in a quandary. She has lost trust in Jemma but is afraid to lose her. She needs her and Agnes knows that Jemma probably knows this also. “Damn,” thinks and says Agnes but she reckons that one thing she cannot do is nothing.

Agnes has a small computer, a notebook she thinks it's called, and sometimes she likes to go on to EBay. She is fascinated by the fact that so many things that she has sent to charity or the tip over the years are now worth quite a bit of money. She scrolls through the Royal Doulton figurines and, lo and behold, there it is, something that could easily be her missing ornament. Agnes knows that Jemma “surfs” EBay and she wonders if this figurine for sale is actually hers, is her stolen property up for sale.

Agnes has a plan and buys it; she offers the asking price and it is accepted immediately. The sale seems to go through but when Agnes puts in her name and address for postage the sale stops and the figurine is taken down, it is no longer for sale. “Thought as much” thinks Agnes. The seller, presumably Jemma, has realised she has been caught red-handed.

When Jemma came that evening she was very quiet and subdued. She did not look Agnes in the eye or give her the usual greeting. Agnes waited – still nothing from Jemma who did the usual jobs, but without the happy chatter.

Eventually Agnes said “Have you anything to say Jemma?” 

“No, why?” answered Jemma. 

“Well I have a problem. Should I call the police or speak to your supervisor?” said Agnes.

Jemma finally looked Agnes in the eye, but Agnes couldn’t see any regret in her expression. It was more like anger, anger that she had been found out. “Please don’t” said Jemma, “I will pay it all back when I can – and I will return the ornament.”

"But can I trust you?" said Agnes. “I thought you were my friend? Friends don’t do this to each other”

“Friend?” replied Jemma, “This is just work, nothing more.”

A very sad and disappointed Agnes then said “I think you had better go. I will be asking for someone new to be my carer. Goodbye Jemma.”

Jemma left and Agnes cried for the first time in years. She had scored a small victory but she had lost so much and what she thought she had lost had never been there it seemed.


About the author

 Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching. Her first children's novel The April Rebellion, has recently been published. Judith is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire 45 years ago and is married with 3 grandchildren 
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