My next case is a Walter Simms. Eighty-three. Wife deceased. Estranged from his children. No siblings. A truck from the Department of Water is pulling away as I arrive at his home. I wouldn’t have their job no matter how much it pays.
A minute or so after I ring the bell, the door opens. I show Mr. Simms my identification, step inside and take a quick look around. Small but tidy. Sparsely furnished. Two recliners I can easily imagine Simms and wife sitting in reading the paper after supper, nodding off before bedtime. There’s a threadbare couch and a coffee table the years have scratched and ring-marked. On it is a framed photograph. A strapping, young Mr. Simms drapes his arm over the shoulder of a woman I assume is his wife. A boy and girl, each fingering bunny ears behind the other, kneel in front of their parents.
I wonder how Mrs. Simms died and what went wrong between Mr. Simms and his children, but that’s none of my business. A certain distance is needed for me to do my job properly. I ask if we can sit at the kitchen table where it’s easier for me to make notes.
Water puddles on the linoleum. I ask Mr. Simms the usual questions — Eating regularly? Bathing? Social interactions? “Enough” is his standard, grunted answer. Not surprising. People generally aren’t very talkative after a visit from the Water Department. I notice eddies on the floor from the slight but steady flow.
After the interview, Simms shows me to the door. The carpet has started becoming spongy, and my footsteps squish. It appears this case will progress rapidly.
As I head to my next call, I see several other WD trucks making the rounds. Glad I’ve got Simms wait-listed already.
When Simms opens the door, water pulses out as I expected. I galosh my shoes and enter. The musty smell is invasive as BO. I note the wall is veined with electrical cords that have been taped about knee-high. The water is ankle-deep now, but I need precision. I extend my tape measure — nine centimeters. Anything over eight is a trigger. “Mr. Simms, I’m afraid your driving days are over.”
“I drive better than you,” he says — most assert something similar — then relents, splashes down the hallway and returns with his car keys. I enroll him in Rolling Meals and promise to return the following week. He tells me he’ll be counting the minutes. A sarcastic SOB, but I can’t help but admire his spirit.
I receive a notification that the WD has been to the Simms home again to turn up the pressure. I’m not scheduled to see Mr. Simms till tomorrow, but I don’t want to wait that long.
When Mr. Simms opens the door, water gushes out. He’s shriveled, skin bluish. I hand him a pair of hip waders then step into my own and go inside. Wanting to give him something to look forward to, I inform him that he’s moving up the waiting list. He bull snorts at me. I put my hands on his shoulders and ask him to be reasonable. Doesn’t he realize the WD is relentless? Does he understand his power will be shut off soon? Does he want to be here when it turns cold? Locked in ice? Another snort.
I hear Mr. Simms shout for me to come in. I pull on my wet suit and enter. Mr. Simms calls out from the kitchen. I swim there and find he’s dammed it with boards and plastic drop cloths. Ingenious and tenacious, the old guy’s not giving up easily. The family photograph sits up on top of the refrigerator. I tell him he’s next for admittance to End Home. He clambers over the makeshift dam, backstrokes into the living room, opens his mouth and goes under. Bubbles stream. I hesitate a moment — maybe this is for the best. But I can’t bring myself to just stand by so I churn to Mr. Simms, reach down and pull him up. As he gasps and sputters to catch his breath, I beseech him to be strong. He finally promises he won’t try to hurt himself again. I have no choice but to trust him as I’m already late for another urgent case.
I stop by End Home before calling it a day. A woman pushes past me with a walker. Her eyes are sunken, and her cheek bones look like they could jut through. She trails a ridge of dust behind her. An orderly looks at me, shakes his head, and plugs in a vacuum cleaner. “Wasting away to nothing,” he says. Looks like there’ll be an opening for Mr. Simms any day.
I spend the evening at home having a few drinks, listening to oldies and wondering how I’ll fill the days when I’m retired in a couple months. I turn in early, but a leaky faucet keeps me awake. I’ve been unable to fix it, but I’m not about to file a report with the Water Department.
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