After lunch I left my mother sleeping on the sofa. She has not cut her hair for over a year so her head is heavy with a silver bearskin. We know and see she is not the debutante she was in 1950 turning rooms and causing men to demand dances and to desire. But I know the memory is there.
There had been enthusiastic noises in the morning today about a shopping trip but she complained that she did not have any ‘feet’ to wear. She had come down the stairs trying to wear shoes that were too tight, her heels slipping on the carpet. Each day it is the same routine, the same clothes just nearly holding up as her weight goes down and she clutches a tote bag containing address books with numbers that she tries to dial on the TV remote, chocolates that are fed to the dog and books that will never be read. She has not left the house in months and refuses to contemplate it anyway.
The sofa is her refuge. It has a high back and is full of cushions, crumbs, shawls and handkerchiefs hidden and stuffed into folds. She sits in the same moulded place so that her view is to the bookcase with the ‘red book’ or Debretts in focus. This is her memory bank and she says it is part of her story. It is and her long departed lovers appear on the bible thin pale paper drowning in the thousands of pages that will never be turned again. One day she will join them, skipping through the lanes of Sussex and the cocktail parties of Knightsbridge.
Today we cancelled her society magazines and the TV Times as reading and planning a time for watching anything is a pleasure of the past as is tennis and Coronation Street. The plots and scores have to be explained and then are soon forgotten. Once she played each day at the Nicosia Club. Does she remember the sun, the wooden Slazenger rackets and onion white balls scuffing the dust as she served to win and the gin fizz in clouded glasses served by Turkish club servants?
Her head is drooping now further and further so her chin rests on her neck. The dachshund is sleeping too, its belly full of toast and titbits sneaked to it when she thinks no one is looking. We do but have given up any complaining and the corpulent beast will pay the ultimate price, the sacrifice of friendship over sweetmeats. He can hardly drag himself but is animated at meal times squealing and panting. Do dogs realise about healthy eating?
Music is her last sensation and once in a while Mum shuffles to the piano, her long nails scrape the keys and arpeggios are roughly executed. Her smile then returns for a few minutes but the attention is soon lost. I know she wants to remember and I want to look into her mind and fight to unlock and unpick the jam and jumble of thoughts that mean her words are confused and out of place like a bag of Scrabble tiles.
Sometimes a memory of a wedding surfaces, usually the one to my father back in 1955 and my step-father takes it all on the chin. He signed up for in sickness and health in 1974 and is now watching the racing in his study with a cigar and wine while the sofa absorbs my mother deeper and deeper into its folds. Each few hours he lays the table, encourages her to come and while he eats ‘meals for one’ she struggles with either a biscuit or a roll and cheese shreds.
I miss the mother who has gone but am happy to help the small percentage of my mother that surfaces occasionally and talk about clocks, dogs, the family whose names she does not really know.
The deterioration is speedy and steady and her friends are waiting for her, their names have flown off the page to another place where her skills of becoming a lady who was taught how to get out of sports cars, tennis, coy smiles and kindness will be required.
Bless you Mum. When the time comes, go safe and we will follow.