She is a new cleaner. Her name is unpronounceable to my mother. It is the word for “snow woman” she tells us. She says, making a gesture at her neck, that her country gets many feet of snow. Snezana – with a saucer of a moon over the z. But she is blonde and so the name makes sense and I can imagine it sticking for my mother. You can call her Snow. She squats down next to my mother’s chair to greet her. When she has emptied the bins and sprayed the bathroom sink and has gone my mother says, “It’s important to remember their names.” She didn’t say that it humanised her to them. But that is what she meant. If she remembers their names it shows them she is not like all the others, who don’t recall their own name, let alone someone else’s. Maybe they will answer her bell, when she rings it, believing she really does need something. Maybe, if she calls them by their names, they will treat her nice. Like she is their captive and she is softening them up, making ready her escape when their backs are turned.
Mother tells me they all have Alzheimers here. And she is right about a lot of them. One man lights up when he sees Jasper and speaks to him in an excited foreign language. He is always in the corridor, with his slippers on, his hands clasped behind his back. He loiters about the intersection of the corridors as if he is on a street corner waiting to cross a busy road. Sometimes he sings softly to himself. He has large, unblinking eyes.
My mother’s nails are beginning to deteriorate. They were strong and clean most of her life. Despite gardening. Often they were expertly painted a soft pink. They are the long slender fingers of a piano player. Is it a sign that she is deficient? She eats two bananas a day. Egg sandwiches every night. But she does tip the protein drink down the toilet. Sometimes I do it for her.
I have to cut the right hand for her. She can do the left herself. I don’t like to do it because it is difficult. The nails seem to shatter as they are cut and she makes out like I am cutting her when I am not. Careful careful. Today she has a reddening at the side of her finger. I go out into the corridor and find a carer walking past. One who cares. She is svelte. Jane was a dancer. She moves like someone coming off stage. She calls the thing on my mother’s finger a whitlow. Mother winces at the cutting of the nail. Her hands are barnacled. Fixomul covers something that has recently bled. The hands don’t hold a pen well these days. They can’t seem to work the battery cage on the hearing aid. They can’t manoeuvre a hearing aid into the shell of her ear. They have lost their strength to do up a seat belt or turn on a tap. They have forgotten about buttons and zippers.