I asked her about Christmas, remembering as I did that it had been her first since her Mum died. She is a buoyantly, resolutely cheerful person. I don’t know her well, only having met her twice, but I can tell this. Though the sadness lurks behind her eyes. It was OK, she said. She’d made a real effort, she told me, decorated the house. For my Mum, she said, Mum loved Christmas. And it was her birthday at the end of last month, she continued, spraying the back of my head with some water before snipping, so we all went out for a meal. To one of your Mother’s favourite restaurants? I asked. Yes, she said, grimacing, the Football Club, they have a carvery on a Sunday lunchtime. My parents loved to go. It’s only down the road and it’s cheap, £6.00 a head. What’s it like? I asked. Rather oldy-worldy, she said, wrinkling her nose, but the food is good, no it’s OK. Wayne said it was like eating in an old people’s home, she continued. Stop it, I said to him, Dad likes it. Her father has become a problem. Clearly a taciturn man, she is struggling to deal with him now her mother has gone. She obviously softened his sharpness, his silences. She chatted to everyone, she said. I loved going shopping with her. She is trying with him but it clearly hurts. She’d gone round to see him one afternoon and had been telling him, ‘as you do’, she said, about some of her customers and he’d just stood up and walked out. No explanation, she said. I waited and waited, thinking he’d come back, only to find he’d gone into the kitchen and was making his tea. You making your tea? I asked, she said, after she’d gone into the kitchen to find him, why didn’t you tell me? Apparently he just shrugged his shoulders. I’ve always been uncomfortable with him, she said. I suggested we go to Cardiff for a few days like we used to do when Mum was alive, she continued, helping me off with my gown, but he just said, what’s the point?
She talked about a rucksack, or was it me? Was it me that first raised it? Taking the rucksack as a metaphor, she asked, might you take it off and leave it on the floor, in the room? Yes, I might, I said. She always pronounced it ‘rook-sack’. We always say it, he and I, the way she did. It was same with the word Wimbledon. She’d say ‘Wimpleton’. Sweet really. The rough-sleeper on the Prom has a rucksack. A small one. He sleeps with it between him and the wooden wall of the shelter. It seems to be all he has, that and his sleeping bag and the clothes he stands up in. It isn’t full. Imagine, if that is all you have? I fantasise about living so lightly on this earth, want and do, to give things away. But to be so without. How is that? He looks so neat. There are no straying plastic bags, not bits of flotsam or rubbish around him. And his bag is locked up tight around him.
I feel a great lethargy when I walk and when I have to do things around the house. Everything requires effort. He says it’s because I am depressed. I don’t know. Maybe I’m anemic. I looked up the symptoms. Some fit but others don’t. Don’t self-medicate the sites insist. All right I won’t. I’ll just eat more and more spinach and nuts. What more can you do but wait? He is to see the specialist today – who shares the same name as him which is a little unnerving. He wobbles over all these things. So much feels out of control. Home doesn’t feel safe, I told her, there is chaos.
We talked of whiteness, of oblivion. She is good. She is kind. It is good to talk though I am stripped, flayed by it. Can you concentrate on the details? she asks. Her place is not to advise, merely to reflect back. Yes, I say, yes I think I can. And I will. If the big is too much stay with the little. It is enough. For now.