‘Good afternoon Frank,’ Elaine grinned as she entered the room, carrying a meal tray. ‘Helen, what a nice surprise!’
Helen stood up from beside her husband’s bed and nodded at the nurse stiffly. She slung her bag over her shoulder and briefly turned back to him.
‘I hope you’ll at least consider it,’ she whispered, not unkindly. Another pained smile at Elaine and she whisked her way out of the room.
‘I–I’m sorry,’ Elaine said, embarrassed, ‘I hope I didn’t interrupt anything important.’
‘Not at all,’ Frank chuckled from his bed. The chuckle turned into a cough as he sat up, swinging his tray table around in preparation for the plate. ‘Impeccable timing, in fact; that’s why you’re the best disability support worker I’ve ever had.’
‘Frank, you’ll make me blush.’
He chuckled again as she laid the food out for him.
‘You want to know, don’t you?’
She shook her head, with a smile. ‘Absolutely not. None of my business.’
‘Go on, pull up a chair.’
Elaine grinned, dragging his armchair forward a few inches.
‘She wants to leave me,’ he said, popping a small cut of steak into his mouth.
‘Oh, Frank…’ she started. ‘I’m so sorry.’
‘Nah, don’t be,’ he waved her off. ‘It’s been a long time coming. Fifty years, give or take.’
He chuckled again, but it ended more sadly this time. ‘Believe it or not, with me coming in here we’re the happiest we’ve ever been. That’s… that’s a hard thing to learn.’
Elaine didn’t know what to say.
‘We tried it all,’ Frank said. ‘Talked to people, went on holidays together, moved to Adelaide. Community nursing was the answer all along — who knew? Who knew…’ he sighed, setting down his knife and fork.
Elaine leant out to grasp his paper-skinned fingers. ‘It’s nobody’s fault Frank.’
He patted at the back of her hand, another wry smile trying to force its way to the surface, but never quite making it all the way.
They sat together, in the silence.