The moon is full. Its cold white light was lighting up my studio when I woke. I didn’t even have to turn on the light. I could see the nurses in the flat across the courtyard were also awake. They milled about their kitchen. Their cat leaned its black sleek body against the window, its tail arched and flicking. The moonlight helps. The darkness isn’t so black, so bleak.
Well, I did it. And I am not really any the wiser. Need I be? I don’t know how I feel about it. It’s just an experiment, he says. You’re just trying something out, that’s all. It’s true. But I am conscious that other people are involved. What is my outcome? What do I give them? What will or do they expect? She seemed delighted, he said. And she did. I can’t wait to tell the others, she said. Look what I’ve got, I’ll tell them, an artist-in-residence. I’m glad that she feels that way. And that she seems to accept my modus operandi. My only concern is that the residents won’t see you, she said. The staff have noticed you, though they won’t say anything to you. But the clothes you’re wearing mean that the residents might not see you against the furniture. I had to tell them not to sit on the cat, she also gets lost against this dark leather.
Do I mind? Do I mind that I am invisible? Isn’t that part of the point? How can I explain that to her? She is kind, solicitous, sensitive towards me. I like that. I feel held. I feel that it is OK. Though both he and I got a bit twitchy listening to all the dos and don’ts. Don’t pick up a resident if they fall, don’t let anyone out of the front door, don’t take a resident downstairs with you if the fire alarm sounds and so on. All rather counterintuitive but understandable when she explains it all. I want to be invisible, to watch to just be a presence but it isn’t that simple. It never is. Just by being there a duty of care is expected. Or more a willingness to obey the rules. It is a closed-off community. I felt privileged to be allowed in. To sit and sew and bear witness. They are open to visitors but on their terms. It has to be so. They sit by the front door. One in a coat, woolly hat and gloves waiting to be to let out. They won’t be. They can’t be. Have you got a car outside? the man in the woolly hat asks him. A gentle man. An ex-professor from the University with a soft Scottish brogue. Would you mind taking me for a drive? he asks again. He wants to be of help, it is his want. Next time, he says, touching his arm. Next time I come I’ll take you out. Don’t, I want to say. Don’t promise something you won’t be able to do. But he seems completely compos mentis, he says to her. Why is he here? Everyone here is living with dementia, she says. Can I come with you? he asks as she takes us on a little tour to point out the alarm buttons. Of course, she says, saying his name, as they all do. Names are called out, repeated over and over again. He follows, taking his arm. He didn’t know you, she said. But he recognises a kindness in him, I want to say but don’t. There is so much to say, too much. What was I witness to? The old lady I’d seen before holding hands with a man. I’d assumed that he was a resident too, and that a friendship had blossomed into romance, but after yet another person walking through the front door hailed him, I realised that he was her husband. Her husband from outside, from another life. I do love you, she kept saying as they held hands and sipped their hot chocolate. Lovely tea, she I said. I do love you. This is paradise. Yes, my love, my angel, my flower, he said. His eyes when she fell asleep held such misery.
There are some flickers of joy. I have to acknowledge them. It is important. Like making him scrambled eggs for supper yesterday. I gave time to it. I watched it’s preparation. The whisking of the milk into the yolks, the melting of the butter, the slow hardening on the bottom of the pan, the feel of the wooden spoon in my hand. But it was more the gift of it. A wholesome food. Simple. All it needs it is a bit of time and care. A giving. It was enough. I remembered the taste of it. Make it creamy, I told myself. Just like you used to like it. Like her I don’t like the smell of the eggy pan afterwards. But it is worth it. The gift of it.
Is bearing witness enough?