Gaynor Madoc Leonard
02/13/16 01:31:20AM
302 posts

She was a woman who had never knowingly forgotten a slight, whether real or perceived. At 85 years of age, she fizzed with an energy fuelled by resentment and righteous anger. Her hair, dressed in its tight perm, echoed her world view. Daily viewing of Jeremy Kyle had persuaded her that many of the world's troubles could be solved by banning sex before marriage. Anything outside her experience was suspect; at any given time, drinking wine or any other alcohol, reading books, watching TV dramas (aside from her favourite soap opera), not being married, living in London or travelling by taxi, might be considered beyond the pale. When her husband was diagnosed with dementia, she took it as a personal affront and something which he had done deliberately to annoy her. Chris sighed as he returned his mobile phone to his pocket. Another message demanding his presence. His mother insisted that his father should not go into a nursing home but she never failed to don the veil of martyrdom as his chief carer. He knew that eventually she would agree to the nursing home and then claim it as her own idea. Running his fingers gently over the Roman mosaic on the table in front of him, he gazed at the partly lost image of what had probably been Apollo. Sadly some of the head was missing but he could see that the craftsman who created this floor of minuscule tiles had been a true artist. Many such creations had passed through his hands but none had a signature. Those craftsmen had simply done their work and moved on. He thought of his father who, like this Apollo, had lost part of himself. The god could, in theory, be restored, but his father could never be repaired. Pieces of his mind, like the tesserae before him, had disappeared and would continue to do so until, eventually, he would be a shell. Later, on the train, as he nursed a plastic cup of whisky, he wished he could like his mother but there was no denying it was hard to do so. Her impatience and her parochial views had given her little in common with her husband, the marriage eventually becoming a competition to see who could annoy the other most. Chris's father had a wider experience of the world and was a clubbable man, but he was of that generation that didn't speak openly about emotions. His mother, on the other hand, always gave out more information that Chris could wish for. Like his father, he had travelled and taken and taken an interest in the world, While perfectly content and at ease with the modern, his heart lay with the ancient. As an archaeologist, his work was scientific but he was moved beyond words by a newly-found fresco or mosaic, so often as gaily-coloured and vibrant as the day it was made. His attempts to explain his fascination to his mother had failed; she would invariably change the subject to some local gossip or one of the fund of stories from her early life. He, in turn, had mastered the art of pretending to listen, nodding his head every so often to give the appearance of attention. When he reached his parents' home, his father was sitting blankly in an armchair, awaiting the arrival of carers to take him up to bed. He was able to recognise his son although he didn't appear to know that he was in his own home. Christ's mother looked at her husband with pursed lips and proceeded to catalogue all his misdemeanours at length. He sat down wearily and allowed his mind to wander. His imagination took him along the Appian Way in bright sunshine while a voice in the background told him of vast amounts of laundry and horrors in the bathroom. After the carers had settled his father, Chris and his mother sat in the kitchen where Chris repeated all the advice he had given numerous times about nursing homes or home nursing. She sipped tea and conceded that a temporary stay at a nursing home would mean a rest for her. Hiding his surprise, Chris vowed to telephone the GP in the morning. Happening to look up, he noticed that on a shelf above his head was a photograph of his father, taken just a handful of years before and printed on ordinary paper; it had faded as alarmingly as the subject himself. How long would it be before it disappeared altogether? As he lay on the uncomfortable bed later that night, he thought about his own life. Now in late middle age, he too had known what it was to be broken. Relationships had fallen by the wayside but, in that, his own life was little different from any other man's. He enjoyed his work and he had a small group of friends. When his time came to leave the world, he would have left an almost invisible footprint but nonetheless he was content. After a tiring night, during which his father visited the bathroom five times, Chris contacted the family doctor who came to review the situation in the afternoon. Within hours, a placed had been found at a nursing home for two weeks, so that Chris's mother could rest. He felt tremendous relief, despite the temporary nature of the arrangement, hoping it would be the first step in finding a long-term solution. In the meantime, the sly look which Chris saw sometimes in his father's eyes told its own story. While there was no doubt about the older man's condition, Chris was certain that his father did as much as he could to infuriate his mother. In turn, his mother continued to harangue her husband about his shortcomings during their six decades of marriage and tell anyone willing to listen about her own health problems. For the next two days, Chris heard but did not listen to her complaints and, on the third day, his father was taken to the home. Having ensured that the old man was comfortable, Chris returned to the family home where his mother continued her recital of the various wrongs done to her during her long life. On the journey to his own home, he reflected on his family . In his childhood there had certainly been laughter and fun; although his parents had worked together in their own business, his father had taken the traditional role in that he played golf with friends and visited his club while his mother had taken the role of home-maker. Consequently, their home was very much his mother's domain; there were few photographs of his father's family or records of his history and the house reflected his mother's personal story. As he became less physically able, his father had been obliged to spend more and more time in the house where he seemed more like a visitor than a member of the family. The one time when Chris had seen a difference was when his mother was in hospital following a fall. Then his father had come alive, cooked for himself and looked after the house. Soon after his mother returned home, she started to re-assert her authority and his father shrank again, starting on the downward slope to his current condition. Daily calls reassured Chris about his father's comfort at the nursing home and his mother's now undisturbed nights, and arrangements were made for regular stays at the home. Over the next four months, Chris and his mother settled into a routine where he would visit as much as his work allowed. He could understand her frustration at the older man's behaviour and lost patience himself on a number of occasions. It was very difficult to deal with someone who was now unable to reason or apply any logic to normal everyday tasks; equally, it was terrifying to see how quickly the human mind could deteriorate. Only about a month before Christmas, an urgent telephone call informed Chris that his father was seriously ill so he made arrangements with his colleagues and caught the next available train. At the nursing home, it was explained to him that what had seemed to be a mild chest infection had very rapidly turned into pneumonia and his father had been taken to the local hospital. In his room, Chris's father lay palely on the bleached sheets, an oxygen mask covering his face. The old man didn't even open his eyes and the young nurse touched Chris's arm gently in consolation. Chris looked briefly at her and nodded before sitting by his father, noting the thinness of the old man's skin and the bruising which appeared so easily. His mother was not present, having elected to stay at home. Sometime in the early hours of the following morning, at that time when one feels most vulnerable and chilled, Chris heard his father take a final breath. The old man's skin still seemed warm beneath Chris's touch and the nurses allowed him to sit while they removed the oxygen mask and all the other paraphernalia which had been keeping their patient in reasonable comfort. No tears came to the younger man's eyes but he felt an emptiness, a lack of something. The hand beneath his own became colder and, at last, a young nurse came and touched his shoulder, indicating that he should go to the waiting room so that the staff could do their job. Mumbling his thanks, he moved awkwardly to the door and turned briefly, whispering "Goodbye, Dad". Having sat in the waiting room nearby for a while, he shook himself and looked at his watch; it was only 5am. A motherly woman came in with a cup of tea for him and he took gratefully, drinking it to the last drop before slipping into a doze on the sofa. Only when the breakfast trolleys clattered past about two hours later did he awaken, moving his limbs stiffly and stretching. Out in the reception area, he found a member of staff who told him the funeral director had already been contacted and would send someone to collect his father that morning; in the meantime, Chris could check the older man's belongings and take them home with him. There was sympathy there but a practicality which helped in a strange way; an hour later, he left the hospital in a taxi, carrying his father's goods and chattels. Back at the house, his mother was sitting in the kitchen drinking tea. She was silent as he told her of her husband's last hours and, without responding to him, she sorted through the items in the suitcase and took soiled clothes to the washing machine. Later, when the funeral director came to the house for further instructions, she played the part of the grieving widow to perfection, taking the undertaker's professional sympathy as her due. Neighbours and rarely-seen relatives called at the house to find her wearing black and an air of sanctity. Chris, in the meantime, took care of the practicalities, made countless cups of tea and kept his counsel. With the funeral arranged for the following week, Chris left his mother, knowing that neighbours would keep an eye on her, and returned to his work. The mosaic still lay, broken and endlessly fascinating, on the table, but a colleague had created a computerised drawing showing how it must have looked some two millennia previously. When the mosaic was finally exhibited, the drawing would be displayed alongside it, just as during the funeral, a photograph of his father would be displayed at the crematorium, showing him as he had been when whole. A they left the chapel after the ceremony, the man who had once been both husband and father now merely dust in a small container, those who had attended the service clustered around, patting Chris's hand consolingly and making a fuss of the widow who, relishing the attention, leaned heavily on the stick Chris knew she didn't really need and dabbed her eyes with a suspiciously dry handkerchief. He was to stay only one more night at the family home, having ensured that his mother had enough provisions for some time to come and would have company from time to time. She went to bed early, which was a great relief. He could not have stood any more diatribes against the dead man. Suggestions that she might occasionally take a taxi out to coffee with a friend or relative had merely resulted in a look which Medusa would have envied so he gave up that idea. Back at his own home the following day, Chris unpacked the photographs and memorabilia from his father's early life. The young man in the pictures smiled out at the world, entirely unaware, as we all are, of what was to come. Chris picked up one photo which showed his father laughing at a dance and placed it side by side with the faded picture from his mother's kitchen. Both had value for him and he stroked the photographs, just has he run his hands gently over the mosaic of Apollo. He placed a small picture in his wallet, his father in uniform and grinning at the camera, then turned out the light and went to bed. Several weeks passed and, at the museum, the Roman exhibit was being unveiled, along with the drawing showing how it must have looked when first completed. Subtly lit. both looked extraordinary; the original colours glowed and Chris stood transfixed. He and his colleagues had preserved and, for all intents and purposes, made whole again a piece of history as well as a work of art. He had been unable to mend his father but, in the wallet in his pocket, he still possessed the whole man his father had once been. Gaynor Madoc Leonard 2014

updated by @gaynor-madoc-leonard: 02/13/16 01:31:37AM