Thought I would write something with an old man being central to the tale, but with a difference.
“Mornin’ Mr Strauss,” sang Ella Ringrow, keying the door of the small terrace house at precisely the same time every day. She shepherded in her 8 year old grand daughter Cissy behind her, closing and locking the door. “In here darlin’ see if you can find your Pops on any of these photos, while I see if he’s ready ... unlikely,” she tittered, pointing through to the back room and slinging her coat on the stair post.
No reply from above was usual and Ella slowly climbed the steep narrow stairs of the nineteenth century once clay workers cottage, wheezing out of puff, at the top. She popped quickly into the bathroom. Cissy stared round the neat room, seeing a bare, black cast iron fireplace devoid of flame and warmth, it being mid July. The mantle piece was full of ornaments and photos which didn’t cover an enormous wall mounted mirror, it’s glazing tarnished at some edges. A very worn leather armchair was beside the hearth rail, a small table laden with a rum bottle and empty glass, part eaten packet of chocolate biscuits, an ornately carved empty Meerschaum pipe on a clean ashtray and no sign of being used. A 30” TV dominated the room from it’s corner. The window cill, the bulky oak sideboard, a set of shelves, part of the dining table had given up space for photograph after photograph, some in elaborate frames, some in plain simple black frames and some in tattered worn card frames, all depicting groups of men in uniform.
“You OK Josef?” Ella queried, knocking then entering the front of two bedrooms, carrying a small holdall bag, with a care company logo emblazoned on the side.
“Yes ... course I am woman,” snarled the owner of the property. “Got my pills?”
“Yes course I have man,” she chuckled back sarcastically, used to his abrupt manner, brandishing a box and rattling it after getting it from a table. She drew back the thin brocade curtains, sunlight drenching the room which smelled of fresh paint. “Nice out,” she commented, tying the drapes back.
“How would I know...” he chuntered. “Want to piss.” he added throwing his sheets off, unable to swing his skinny legs to the side. Ella, made sure both of his feet were near the floor, then got her hands inside the top of his incontinence nappy, telling him to stand. His hands rested on her shoulders as she stooped, drawing down the padded garment which he stepped out of. It was wet, heavy and ponged of his urine. Supporting his 82 year old doddery body, she escorted him across the room, across the landing and into the bathroom.
He had to sit to piss, not only because her was too wobbly to stand and aim, he often forgot to aim, or he missed the pot completely waving about so much and even then the room was so small, the even slender Mrs Ringrow was pinched up trying to keep him upright and stable. In her mind was the delay at HQ in getting a commode delivered.
Wow! what a lot of photographs of Mr Strauss, Cissy thought, scanning the veritable exhibition of stiff young men in uniform. In rows, in formal groups, in informal parties, at presentations, massed on parade grounds – static and marching, virtually all moustached men with heavy looking metal helmets with cute pointy bit at the top. She spotted Pops in only two shots, much newer and more modern, of two mature men in, to her, comically weird casual clothing, sporting rows of medals and besides him on both, a strange looking man with one evil staring eye and a fixed grin. Her Pops and the man must have been pals.
She heard the floor above creaking and water flushing and thought she needed the toilet. She remembered the last time she had visited this house with her grand mother during the half term, that there was a small toilet through the kitchen in a small vestibule at the back door. The lean little black girl toddled through the kitchen, finding the small room. She lifted the lid, visually checked and happy with the seat’s cleanliness, slid on and let go.
The cute little piccaninny with her black shoulder length frizzy hair tied in double, bright red, pig tails, saw the photos even on the toilet wall, some with the man of the house standing to attention and some receiving medals from more ornately medal decorated old men. She dabbed her little bottom, flushed the basin and left the room.
Back in his bedroom Ella made sure Josef was safe on the side of the bed, before dragging off the khaki coloured threadbare shirt the old man insisted on wearing as a night shirt. She frowned and shook her head seeing the barely visible logo on the left breast area.
“What is for breakfast?” he gruffly demanded.
“Usual - but we’ll see,” Ella replied as pleasantly as she could, spreading a towel over the bed behind him.
“And don’t forget my pills,” he snarled, glaring at her. “Going to do this, out of my way,” Josef growled, pointing to his lean, bony, rough bristled face with one hand, the other pushing Ella away nearly spilling the basin of water she had brought in.
His glass eye was removed easily ... well, he had done it for fifty years and dropped it into the container of special solution at his bedside. Mrs Ringrow, while one of his army of carers and doing the same things for him over years, still couldn’t stand the sight of a man, whatever his age, religion, nationality and political leanings taking out a prosthetic eye, then having to see his empty red socket. She let him get on with it as she prepared the fifteen pills of doctor prescribed medication, sorting those before food, the others after. A blue one with a white stripe was taken from her purse, unwrapped from a hastily put together piece of tissue and placed with the eight before food.
Josef’s eye cleaned and replaced, she decided to make him take his medication. More or less five at a time he took the various coloured, shaped and size pills in a wizened gnarled hand and mouthed them all, swallowing them with practised ease over a glass of water. Ella got him laying back for his bed bath, thankful he hadn’t noticed the new one.
“No ... want my breakfast now ... NOW!” he shouted fiercely.
“But Josef ... oh well,” Ella gave up, seeing the angry determination in her charge’s face. “Wait OK”
That was not a question, it was a slightly tetchy - as that wasn’t Ella’s demeanour, statement, as she removed the basin of wash water from the bed for safety. She left the cantankerous old man naked on his bed and went downstairs. In the kitchen she prepared the bowl of liquid cereal, put the kettle on, tea bag in the mug, and put a slice of white sliced bread in the toaster. She guessed Cissy was still in the front room searching through the photographs.
Cissy scampered lightly upstairs, in her bare feet. All was quiet and the bathroom door was open, so she entered the bedroom which was open. No Grandma; just an old miserable looking man snoring lightly on the bed. She went closer and realised the man had no clothes on, noting the way the direct sun beams played a pattern on his groin, the big old plane tree outside dancing its shadows over his tiny shrivelled penis and long dangling sac of his balls way down between his emaciated spread legs. Cissy frowned, pursed her thick pink lips, peeped a little closer, seeing the body was going up and down so she guessed he must be alive. She went back downstairs, hearing the kettle blowing off.
“Ah there you are darling,” Ella smiled down at her one and only grand child. “Spotted Pops?”
“Yes two times, but there’s lots of ... er him, I suppose,” the child snickered, nodding upstairs.
“Oh yes, he’s very proud, got loads of medals you know ... for all sorts of things ... in the war.”
“Yeah! Saw them. Why is there only two with Pops?”
Ella explained that many years ago, they’d been in the same war, but on opposite sides and during an organised international peacetime reunion, the two previous foes met and had like hobbies and interests. Old battles and prejudices were forgotten and they became friends ... distant friends. Quite why with this horrid, bad tempered, irascible geriatric, she wondered but didn’t pass her thoughts to Cissy. Explaining that Josef and Magdelena his wife had moved to England to be with their offspring and grand children - by sheer coincidence they had set up home near to Pops and went to functions at the British Legion. Magdalena had died, Josef’s health deteriorated badly and now it was Ella’s job to care for him on a shift basis knitting in with three other carers, one a man. Pops had died only last year.
They went upstairs, carrying parts of Josef’’s first meal of the day to find him snoring, his head sunk to his hollow chest, lolling to one side. Ella frowned at the lewd nude display where one of his cranky thin legs was bent sideways, his cock and balls in magnificent view. She knew her grand daughter had seen the sight many time at home, with Pops and various visits she made accompanying Ella on school holidays. Inwardly, her plan in mind, she smiled at the sad collection of penis and glans, pulling a sheet up over his lower torso. The meal was slowly administered. She had switched on the small TV which distracted Josef nicely instead of his continual haranguing. A TV programme titled Loose Women was chosen by him, she didn’t know why, it was a bunch of glamorous so-called celebrities nattering about rubbish in her mind.
“Right wash time, come on,” Ella urged letting Cissy gather the remnants of the meal, nudging her to stop watching Ed Sheeran being verbally torn apart by the gaggle of bitchy gossipers on TV. The bowl had been replenished with warm water, clothes and towels were in ample supply in the room.
“Do you want to do his feet?” asked Ella with a grin.
Cissy briskly shook her head and grimaced.
“His legs?” That got the same response. “OK you can watch TV or watch me,” Ella declared, getting on with the job. Her little grand daughter shrugged and stood very near the screen.
“Oi! Get out of the way!” shouted Josef. The girl moved slightly, as her Grand mother sluiced his face and neck, then his caved in bony chest with a tattoo painted on his ribs. She rinsed and dried it all then moved to his feet and lower legs. The old man dipped and dived his head to see past her busy body. She moved and started on his thighs, groin and genitals. It was all liberally soaped and her hands slid easily over the area. Josef didn’t stir. She checked on Cissy before grasping his tiny donger and started to massage it in a way not related to getting it clean. She felt a twinge of tensing in it and took encouragement. One hand cupping and gently rolling his ballocks, kneading under his sac finding the root and main artery. A further surge encouraged her practised mitts.