Sir Julian


Sir Julian



No sooner had Mr. Ross moved out than Sir Julian moved in. Mrs. Ross put him in the big bedroom. That way there was plenty of room for her cot near his hospital bed.

     It was the perfect solution. Sir Julian had become attached to Joyce Ross at the nursing home where she worked part-time. While she worked, he started eating again and trying to talk. But when she left for the day, he sat silent and staring until she returned. Moving in with Joyce eased her financial strain and meant she could be at home to monitor her youngest son. Although Sir Julian seemed oblivious to his surroundings most of the time, his family was relieved that a registered nurse, to whom he seemed to respond, would take care of all his daily needs.

Sir Julian was not the happiest of patients. Sometimes he could be downright difficult, but Joyce never took it personally and kept up a cheery monologue.

“Here you are, Sir Julian, cornflakes this morning.”
            “Hmmmmph!” he growled seated, fully dressed in shirt and tie, at the dining room table with a huge cloth napkin draped under his chin. He scowled up at her as she pulled her chair next to his.

“Gordon, finish your eggs, love, it's almost time to leave.” Joyce glanced at her son as he dawdled on the other side of the table.

“Mmmmmowwm!” Sir Julian brought the attention back to himself.

“Here you are!” Joyce guided his shaky hand around the spoon and scooped the cereal up to his mouth. Most got in, but some milk and a few flakes spilled over onto his chin which she quickly wiped away. As she guided up another spoonful, Gordon leaned over and kissed her cheek.

“Cheerio, Mum. See you later. Bye, Sir Julian.”

Sir Julian grunted back at him.

“All right, dear. Hurry now; don't be late . . . Now, now Sir Julian don't spit! Gordon, pull your socks up, dear.”

Gordon tugged at his thick gray woolen socks that were turned over just under his knee. They coordinated with the short gray trousers and jacket he wore as his school uniform. Another spoonful of flakes into Sir Julian, and Joyce could see Gordon through the window as he shut the front gate and walked forlornly up the street. She sighed. Sometimes he seemed much younger than twelve and still so sad from the divorce.

Gordon was just six when his father left for five years overseas duty in Gibraltar, so he had only vague memories of him. When Ron arrived home Gordon was excited at the thought of having a real Dad at last. But when Ron started ordering them both around and bellowing at the slightest transgressions, Joyce realized she just couldn't cope with that again. So she divorced him. He returned to a more peaceful life in Gibraltar—and probably to a more pliant woman. Joyce’s sanity was worth the struggle of managing on her own. But Gordon was angry at losing his father again so quickly. Still, it had only been a few months, and he was getting better. I must give him time to get over it, Joyce thought.

Sir Julian banged the spoon down hard on the table. “Had enough?” Joyce laughed. “All right, let’s try the sausages and eggs next, and here, you can hold the toast.”

Most mornings they struggled through breakfast, and then Joyce helped him into a coat to sit outside. On blustery days, she settled him in the living room to listen to the radio while she cleaned up and started the laundry. Then she read The Times to him every morning, making sure to include the financial section. Sir Julian had been a successful banker, and although he was eighty-four and quite senile, Joyce thought he might still have some lucid moments when that kind of news would be important to him. Sometimes he would fall asleep while she was reading, only to wake up and growl if she stopped. At other times, he would stare at her fixedly while she read and suddenly flail his arms wildly at her, yelling “No, no, no, no!” scattering pages all around them, causing her to jump back with a laugh.

“Sir Julian. Don't be naughty. Just tell me if you want me to stop!” Then she would turn his chair to face the front window so he could watch the comings and goings of the neighborhood.

Joyce's next door neighbor, Mrs. Way, would often lean over the fence to chat as Joyce hung her clothes on the line.

“Oooo's that man you ‘ave staying with you?” she asked one day shortly after Sir Julian's arrival.

“Oh that's Sir Julian Barker. I'm looking after him. He's a dear, but poor thing hasn't been able to speak since his stroke. I can only recognize 'No' and a few swear words! We don't think he can understand too much of what goes on around him.”

“Aaoooow, what a pity! Poor old man. ‘ow'd you get that job, then?”

“His doctor suggested it. After a chat with Sir Julian's niece and nephew, he recommended me.”

“Well, isn't that nice! Quite a stroke of luck for you, isn't it? What about the County Council? Don't they mind about you looking after 'im?.”

“The County Council? Why, no, they don’t know . . . they haven't said anything. I think it's all right. Well . . .” Joyce inserted the prop under the clothesline and raised the wet clothes to the wind. “I must go. Cheerio!” She smiled as she bustled towards the back door.

At noon Gordon arrived from school for lunch. He and Sir Julian sat at the table while Joyce served their meal.

“Guess what, Sir Julian? We learned about India in Geography today,” Gordon said. “Did you know my Daddy was stationed there after the war?  He was the chief accountant for the embassy in Bombay! Did you ever go to India, Sir Julian?”

“Weeuuuummm” Sir Julian replied.

“You did?!  Maybe you knew my Daddy and never even knew it!”

Joyce laughed. “I don't think Daddy was exactly chief accountant, Gordon.” She put down two bowls of soup. “And how could Sir Julian know him if he didn't know he knew him!”

Gordon laughed, “Sir Julian knows what I mean, don't you?”

“Mummmm ummmmm.” Sir Julian mumbled trying to grasp his spoon. His fingers wouldn't curl at the right time and he banged his fist on the table, exclaiming in frustration “Damn, damn, damn, damn!”

Gordon giggled at the forbidden words, but stifled it at a look from his mother.

“Here, dear, let me help you.” Joyce eased the spoon into Sir Julian's fingers and guided spoonsful of soup to his mouth. His eyes glazed over as Joyce struggled to get more soup into his mouth than onto the napkin under his chin. She never knew how he would react. Sometimes the frustration seemed to overwhelm him, and he would bite the spoon and spit and growl at her. Other times, he would look directly at her and seem grateful for her help. Then sometimes, like this, he seemed to simply close the door to his mind and let her struggle for him.

As Gordon went back to school, Joyce settled Sir Julian for a nap. This gave her a chance to finish the housework and get a start on the evening meal. After his nap she thought he enjoyed a walk around the garden. He leaned on his stick and her arm as they stopped to admire the flowers, the fruits and the vegetables.

Joyce enjoyed the garden once Ron left and the pressure of keeping it perfect was lifted. His precious pears looked a little more natural, she thought, without so much pruning. She didn't know for sure if Sir Julian enjoyed his walks, but the fresh air was good for him, as his color had begun to brighten. Once he gently stroked her hair as she bent to pick him a rose to smell, and once he punched her arm when she stopped him from swiping at a bird with his stick. But most days they just quietly strolled.

One morning the letter arrived:

 “You are hereby ordered to cease and desist operating a business out of a Harrow County Council rental housing unit. If you wish to appeal you may appear at the next Council meeting.”

Distraught, Joyce didn't know where to turn. She thought of Sir Julian and the progress he’d made since she first knew him. A move now could send him back into the same downward spiral. No one at the nursing home had the time to sit and read to him, or just talk to him. She thought of Gordon and what a wrenching experience it would be for him to lose someone else he’d grown to love. Perhaps she'd ask the advice of Mavis, the relief nurse who came on Thursday afternoons.

The rain lashed at the living room windows as Sir Julian stared vacantly into the street. He wore a gray cardigan sweater over his shirt and tie, and a plaid blanket across his knees kept him cozy. Behind him Joyce and Mavis sat next to the fireplace with a cup of tea and discussed the problem in low voices.

“I never thought of it as operating a business, Mavis. After all it's just one person. I'd hate to send Sir Julian back to the nursing home. We've grown quite fond of him now, especially Gordon who’s just beginning to pick up. I'd have to start working full-time, perhaps nights. It's going to upset Gordon all over again!”

“You could always appeal it, Joyce. Get Sir Julian's doctor to speak for you. What about the niece and nephew? Surely they'd help.”

“Rowhr blahr dah!” Sir Julian blurted suddenly. He struggled to rise from his chair, knocking the blanket to the floor.

“I think all this talk upset him,” Joyce whispered to Mavis.

“Nonsense!” Mavis replied. “When they’re this far gone they don’t understand much at all. He’s like a baby in that regard.”

Joyce frowned. “I’m not so sure . . .” She hurried to Sir Julian’s side.

“What is it dear?” Joyce said as he struggled to stand. “Here's your stick. Do you want to walk around?” and to Mavis, “You're going to have a busy afternoon by the looks of it. It’s strange; he's usually so quiet in the afternoons.” Joyce put her arm under his shoulders helping him to stand. He grabbed the stick and swung it in her direction, growling. He tottered off balance as she easily deflected the swing to the floor and steadied him.

“Now, Sir Julian, sticks belong on the floor. Come along, I think you need the toilet.”

The old man allowed himself to be led, all anger gone.


During the next few weeks Joyce prepared for her appeal. Although many of the necessary people wrote letters on her behalf, she still worried she’d be rejected. On the day of the hearing, she stopped at Sir Julian’s chair where he gazed through the window at the new leaves dipping in the wind.

“Mavis is here to look after you, Sir Julian. I'm going out for the afternoon.” He stared at her, then his trembling hand clutched hers, squeezing it hard. Unnerved, Joyce gently uncurled his fingers. “I won't be long, dear. Be a good boy for Mavis, all right?” She smiled and brushed back the wisps of sparse white hair that had fallen over his forehead. His eyes were blank again as his gaze returned to the window.

 “It's five o'clock, Sir Julian, time for your supper,” Mavis shouted at the old man. He continued staring at the street. “Come on, then.” Mavis took hold of his arm to pull him to his feet. “Let's go and have our nice din-dins.”

Sir Julian growled, pulled his arm out of her grasp, and sat back down. Mavis leaned down to drape her arm across his back, “Don't be naughty!” she shouted as she tugged. “Gordon! Come here and help me move Sir Julian into the dining room.”

Gordon ran in from the kitchen where he'd been dipping his finger in the custard. “Come on Sir J.,” he took hold of his hand, “Look sharp. Mum left plenty of rations tonight.” He led Sir Julian towards the dining room with Mavis hanging on to the other arm.

“That's right, Sir Julian, that's a good boy!” Mavis shouted.

“Stop shouting, Mavis,” Gordon shouted at her. “He can hear you if he wants to.”

“Don't be cheeky, Gordon,” Mavis said shortly as she let go of Sir Julian's arm to open the dining room door. As Gordon led him through the doorway, Sir Julian took a swipe at Mavis then staggered as he lost his balance. She moved aside quickly then took hold of his elbow. “Come along, sit down.” She sat him in front of a full plate of chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, peas, and mashed turnip. She sniffed appreciatively.

“Why doesn't Sir Julian have any runner beans like me?  He loves them!” Gordon asked as he picked up his knife and fork.

“He might choke on them.”

“Mum lets him have them, and he never chokes.”

“Well, your mother's not here now, and I'm in charge!” Mavis snapped. “He doesn’t care what he’s eating.” Mavis pursed her lips at Gordon then turned her attention to her patient. She scooped up a spoonful of mashed potatoes and aimed for his mouth. She met firmly closed lips as Sir Julian glared at her with a glint in his eye.

“Don't you want some of these nice mashed potatoes Nurse Joyce made just for you?” she pleaded.

“She made them for me too,” said Gordon.

“Be quiet, Gordon,” Mavis hissed as she swiftly forced the spoon into her patient's mouth. He chewed automatically then swallowed. “Good boy. Now here, have some mushy peas,” she slipped another mouthful past his lips. She relaxed and shoved another spoonful of peas into his mouth, but he spat them out and reached for a chicken leg. “No, wait a minute, Sir Julian. I'll cut the chicken off the bone for you!” His eyes fixed on the bone he struggled to grasp it.

“No! It's got gravy on it. It'll get all over you.” Mavis tried to pull his hand away from the plate, but he proved too strong for her. He grasped the chicken leg and swung it triumphantly in the air, gravy dripping on his head.

“Hooray!” Gordon cheered. “Sir Julian gains possession!”

“All right, now, bite.” Mavis scowled at Gordon then tried to move Sir Julian's hand towards his mouth. He resisted her pressure. “Go on.” Mavis pushed his hand a little harder.

“Damn, damn, damn!” Sir Julian growled as he raised his arm again and flung the chicken leg across the room.

Gordon ducked as it flew past his head, splattered on the wallpaper, and slid to the floor. “Bullseye!” he giggled then leaned away as Sir Julian took a swing at him.

“It's not funny, Gordon. That's it, Sir Julian. No dinner for you!” Mavis stood up, wiped his mouth and dabbed at his hair. “It'd serve you right if you were sent back to the nursing home. A good dose of medication would settle you down.” She pulled him up out of the chair.

Mavis sniffed the air. “Oh no, you didn't! Sir Julian, you're really straining my patience today. Off to the toilet.” His eyes blank once more, he allowed himself to be led away.

A little later, Mavis led him back into the living room and sat him on the couch. He stared at the blank television set until Gordon joined him.

“What are you watching, Sir J.? Not very interesting, if you ask me.” He snapped the box to life and sat next to the old man. He leaned close and said quietly, “Don't worry; Mum's not going to let anything happen.” But his mouth was pinched and his eyes wide, as he stared straight-faced at the comedy in progress.

 “We got it, Mavis. We won!” Joyce shouted as she bounded in the door.

Gordon ran to meet her, “What happened!” he and Mavis asked together, then laughed. Behind them, Sir Julian stared impassively as the television blared in his face.

“Sir Julian's nephew, being an M.P., seemed to carry some weight with the Board members. They granted me a waiver. What a stroke of luck!” Joyce shook her head, “Heaven help the poor people who don't have that kind of advantage.”

“That's wonderful!” Mavis responded. “It takes a load off your mind about Gordon, but I don't know how you put up with Sir Julian. He's been terrible today. He refused to eat dinner, swore at me, and threw a chicken leg at the wal I'm afraid the gravy will stain the wallpaper. And to add insult to injury, he messed his trousers. I tell you, I'm exhausted.”

Nothing could temper Joyce's good spirits. “Oh my, you were a naughty boy, Sir Julian.” She crouched down in front of him and smiled up into his face. “I expect you're hungry by now. I'll fix you a light supper. Is that all right dear?” She patted his hand. He gazed at her, raised his hand, hovered a moment, then stroked her hair.

“Hmmmmm,” he said gruffly as his gaze swung back to the television. Joyce and Mavis bustled out chatting amiably.

“Well, Sir Julian,” Gordon said as he sat down next to the old man, “looks like you're going to be around for a while. That’s a relief, eh?” He reached to change the channel.

Sir Julian leaned back against the cushions, closed his eyes, and released a long sigh. A tear squeezed out from under his lashes and trickled down his cheek.



Mary Marca


Mary Marca taught writing, both essay and creative, at California State University, Northridge for twenty years. During that time she received an MFA in Creative Writing. Now retired, she is excited with all the extra time for her own writing.


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