Non-fiction odds and sods!


shutterstock_183125051Empty Nest.

She’d left home and moved on and I was at home, left to move on with my life. I stood in what had been her room; devoid of her stuff and presence. Memories of her played over and over in my mind: the music, laughter, and tantrums.

‘It’s just a normal part of life,’ I repeated over and over again, as well-meaning people asked me how I was handling my ‘empty nest’. It felt like a bereavement of sorts and in a way it was. With my child-raising years behind me, what was I to become? I didn’t want to be the woman that was defined only by motherhood.

It felt novel and good to go round to her place for coffee: though sometimes I was banned; it was a mess and ‘I would have a fit if I saw it.’

She moved home many times, and geographically got further and further away. When I couldn’t sleep at night, I would mentally calculate how long it would take me to drive to her; if she were to ring and need me… old habits die hard.

We transformed her vacant bedroom into an office. It was a luxury that my hubby and I had never had before.

Our daughter returned regularly for long weekends and I would cry after we had waved her off on the train for her return journey. At home I would push my face into the pillow where she had slept, just to smell her scent. The mourning-period over, I would snap out it and concentrate on my new responsibility-free life.

Stress-free it wasn’t. It’s much easier to keep an eye on your young child: the adult version is at large in the big-bad-world. You have done everything you can to hopefully guide them in the right direction; now it’s their call. They bring you moments of immense pride, and occasions when you question, whether they were actually switched at birth with your true child.

When our daughter wanted to come home, I cried again. Another woman I didn’t know moved in with her ways and expectations. For some reason, she would regularly revert to being a child again and we became the bewildered, disinclined parents: subsisting in a sort of twilight-zone world.

“You’re so anal,” she would shout at me, as I insisted on the dirty pots being washed up last thing at night. “They’ll still be there in the morning.”

“That’s exactly my point. I don’t want to start the day with dirty pots from the day before.”

Reluctantly they would be washed up and slammed on to the drainer. “I prefer them to dry naturally, it’s more hygienic,” she would announce, and flounce off: to occupy our much – loved office.

Our computer became her computer, and the bathroom was forever engaged.

Eventually, to prevent several murders occurring, she moved out again. We got our grown-up daughter back; but thankfully inhabiting her own space: complete with a drainer full of crockery – at one with nature.

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shutterstock_178580633The geriatric ward.

This September evening of 2003; I walk down a deserted, dimly-lit, never-ending corridor and eventually find a door – there is life after all. I wait anxiously for the door porter to be activated, so I can enter the geriatric ward. My original sense of supposed sanctuary is slowly dying; to be replaced by an uneasy feeling of dread: someone is screaming. Too late – the door opens and a caustic stench of urine and hospital disinfectant irritates my nose and makes me feel nauseous. The heat is stifling.

Gran sleeps, and I gently hold her hand.

A tall woman who was once a keen athlete has wet herself again: the muscles are not what they were, and someone else is being sick. A proud father of three strapping boys, waits patiently for a nurse young enough to be his granddaughter, to take him to the toilet: there will be no privacy for him ever again in those matters most personal.

Elsewhere a woman sleeps: her arms and legs flailing around in her dreams.

“Maude, lovey,” says a nurse as she gently rouses the old lady from her nightmares. “You’re having bad dreams again, aren’t you?”

Maude sits up, smiles, and asks for a cup of tea. Betty sits next to her, and they discuss the television programme that is playing to a mostly unaware audience.

“Isn’t that Minnie Caldwell?” says Maude.

“Oh no,” says Betty, laughing, “ she died last year.”

I laugh to myself.

A nurse is in pursuit of Frank, who is making a bid for freedom without his pants on.

“Frank’s got no knickers on again, laughs Betty,” as they watch Frank being captured and frog-marched back to his bed.

Next to Frank is George. He is sleeping and is surrounded by his family: they hold his hand and wait for the inevitable end. The sense of peace is almost tangible.

The phone rings: that’s another patient to be admitted tonight; another bed to prepare… the one where Annie passed over this tea-time.

“You’re bonny lass,” George tells Nurse Lucy, and tries to grab her bum. Wise to him, and his antics she dodges him, and continues on her way, giggling.

“He was a solicitor, would you believe?” Carol tells another nurse.

“I want to go home, please,” shouts Margaret.

“We all do love,” says a pregnant nurse, as she hurries to empty a bed pan.

“I’m going home tomorrow,” Margaret tells anyone who will listen.

The nineties floral wallpaper is peeling next to Gran’s bed, the paintwork is tatty; but clean.

“See you tomorrow Gran,” I whisper, as I kiss her. Gran slowly opens her cloudy blue eyes and tries to focus on me, one last time. By dawn she will have passed on, peacefully.

Back in the corridor, the cool fresh air is a welcome relief; but it’s dark and too quiet.

A portent: the geriatric ward is a place we’d rather not visit, either as a patient or visitor.

For now, I can run away.

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