He once had been his own master fully in charge of his life
His hospital room was seething with frustrations. His duvet was flimsy and slithered from him like a snakeskin as he lay, one knee pulled up, the other leg dangling down the side of his bed. Having called the nurse in his irksome voice, he bent backwards to avoid brushing against her dangling bosoms when she tried lifting his headrest to make him more comfortable. So he could sit up, a pitifully thin figure in his flapping knee-length night dress, his face drawn in at the cheeks, his needle-sharp nose rising over a thin-lipped downward crescent mouth. The straggly hair on his chin called out to be cut with scissors. Sometimes he slid down the bed like a fish that wants to return to the water, but was now caught, wriggling uncomfortably as if attached to the wrong electrodes, twitching feverishly from one pole to the other.
He once had been his own master fully in charge of his life. In spite of being disliked by some of his peers for his occasional unpleasant ways, he was admired and respected for his vast talent. A brilliant linguist he had taught German to generations of students and postgraduates. He was a fellow of one of the famous Oxford Colleges and his reputation as a scholar and translator was widely acknowledged. He freely travelled for years to meet national and international poets exchanging ideas and starting new friendships.
But now he was firmly held in the grasp of a degenerative disease. His thoughts were all knotted and intermingled. From time to time he recognised a face, a name, but soon it was gone, sucked up by a swamp of profuse feelings and confused memories. The only thing still clear in his mind was a great sensation of urgency and worry: How is Jimmy? What have they done with my Jimmy?
His visitors had come quite a way through the late afternoon rush hour. Traffic had built up, diversions had forced them to deviate from a different direction and what would have taken them a good half-hour turned into a much lengthier and stressful travel. Finding him in hospital was a nightmare. They wandered through endless corridors and took a lift only to arrive in the wrong ward. After enquiring of the patient’s location, they realised he was hospitalised under another name, not David, how everyone knew him but Frederic, his childhood name only used by his close family.
She hated lifts and always had tried to avoid them. But now they could not even find a staircase. A gorgeous-looking doctor in the staff elevator pressed the button for them. “What a hunk” Nicole said. “Did you see his tan and his muscular arms?” When they found David’s room, the doctor slipped past them to check his patient and they had to wait some time outside the door until he had finished. By now she was stressed out, her heart palpitating. The air around felt stale and each breath seemed to take an effort. Nurses came rushing past. One man was on the phone, another running through the corridor wildly gesticulating and shouting in a foreign accent. There was a nervous energy floating around her mixed with the sensation of pain tinged with fear, illness and even traces of death.
“What am I doing here?” she thought: “Why have I come? I hardly know David. He is just a pathetic old man from the old people’s home next door.” Her husband had helped him with his shopping. “He only phones when he wants something, help with finding a mislaid book or an instruction again how to switch the TV on. Whenever she tried a conversation, he hardly said anything and looked right through her. Sometimes he came up with long lines by the poet Auden, reciting them with his eyes closed, even a hint of passion in his voice (or was it just well rehearsed?) seemingly unaware of people around him. But he would change as soon as he talked about Jimmy. How the neighbours complained about him. How the staff at the old people’s home had asked him to get rid of Jimmy. When she offered to take him for walks, he refused outright and insisted: “Jimmy does not like walks.”
They had brought this sad creature home after David was taken to hospital. The dog smelled as if he had come straight from a cesspool, soaked with urine and vomit. After giving him several baths enriched with rosemary and lavender oil, his orange fur sparkled. A real contrast to his bulging cataract-ridden eyes, his rotten teeth and his ever protruding tongue weakened by his many epileptic fits. She would not have been astonished, had he made it to the list of the ugliest dogs in Britain. He was on eight pills a day and needed twice daily ointment for his ulcerated eye. After a couple of hours this near stationary dog suddenly moved, lifted his weak legs carefully and walked, even trotted around the garden behind their own Shitsu, smelling, sniffing or just looking incredulously up into the fresh air. Unfortunately he was incontinent, leaving a trail of puddles on red carpet. He had some strange habits rolling over, scratching and howling, whenever he felt even briefly separated from people and especially at night, when he was left alone in the kitchen. It was a heartbreaking, ear-shattering sound, something she had never heard from a dog before. It sounded like a goose having its neck wrung. Nobody could bear it. Nobody slept and in the morning they found a kennel for Jimmy that, with some persuasion, accepted this poor dog in need.
Now David pined for Jimmy almost as much as he pined for all those young handsome lovers who had abandoned him over the years. There was no one left but Jimmy.
When they entered his single hospital room, he called out her name. Great, he knows me. “Look who is with me!” she said. He stared at her beautiful daughter without batting an eyelid. He had met Nicole before, even kissed her once and whenever he phoned, he asked after her. Now he said: “I don’t know her.” A feeling of disbelief. When she looked at the books heaped beside his bed, a title caught her eye: “Boy meets boy” Oh dear! Why did Nicole bring him her favourite Angel Story Book, true life-inspirational tales? Would he even open it?
“How is Jimmy?” the old man asked: “I can hardly walk but I‘ll try to somehow get to the kennels tomorrow to see him.” I pointed out that it was not a good idea. Jimmy might be getting distressed for not being collected. “Yes, the kennel owner has told me the same,” David nodded.
“Mum, don’t sit on his bed. He does not like it.” Nicole warned her. “Take the chair in the corner.”
Before moving she handed him the raspberries she had brought for him. “Thank you, ” David said coldly.
“ Sorry to tell you, I am expecting a visitor in about five minutes.” She looked in silence at the quivering square of his lips, his dull unsmiling eyes, his miserable face. “Thank you for coming.” His bony raised arm dismissed them. They had stayed for just three minutes.
For Jimmy’s time in the kennels there was no end in sight.