I watch you, my love, drag your weary body to sitting and then sitting still for a moment on the edge of the bed, contemplating what? I don’t know. You slowly rise and spend time carefully making the bed, our bed, our love nest we used to call it, remember? We used to laugh at that. Then you go downstairs achingly slowly, supporting yourself with the bannister. You let yourself out, out into the cold morning bare foot, your cotton nightie barely covering your legs, your once beautiful legs. They used to turn heads, those legs. You pretended not to notice but I knew. You make your way down the street. You have turned heads now too, my love, nearly caused a few accidents, people driving to work and seeing you wandering down the road in your nightie, your silvery hair blowing in the wind. You don’t see that or the children laughing at you on their way to school. You make your way to the park where we used to walk our Meg. How she ran round that park. You used to get so cross with her for not coming back when she was called. And our beloved Kate would play on the swings over there where the benches are. And that is where our Kate finds you now. She sits by your side and takes your hand and you look at her and I can tell from the look on your face that you don’t know who she is.
Kate takes you gently back home. I am glad that you go with her. I watch her allow you the dignity of dressing yourself as she cooks up some soup in the kitchen. She hides a smile when she sees what you’re wearing. My old painting jumper. It was too big for me and it swamps you. Our Kate says nothing. You still look beautiful to me, my love. I watch her kiss you so sweetly on the head before she leaves for work.
I watch you, my love, take a screw driver to our kitchen. The one we longed for, planned so carefully and finally managed to afford. You were so delighted with it you squealed with delight like a child at Christmas. I loved it when you did that. I only ever wanted to please you. I know you are thinking about that time and preparing for it again in your bewildered mind. I watch you getting frustrated with the screwdriver, pulling doors off their hinges and piling them up on the floor. You never had much patience for these kinds of jobs. You go out to the garage and bring back the large, heavy hammer. I watch you but I can’t stop you. You start first with the doors, smashing them until they splinter. I can’t believe the strength in you. But you don’t stop with the doors. You destroy the backs of the chairs and then smash the teapot on the kitchen table, the one we bought on our caravan holiday in Yorkshire, the year Kate left home and went to university. Then I watch you stand and stare at the devastation and I know you don’t quite know what has happened now. I watch you take the pot of soup that Kate has so lovingly prepared and pour it down the toilet before sitting down to watch Countdown on the television. We used to watch that together in the afternoons. Take time out from our busy retirement to sit in companionship together. I would do the crossword and you would serve us both tea. I loved that time when it was just you and me. We were at an age when we knew it wouldn’t last forever and we were able to just enjoy the moment.
I watch Kate’s horrified face when she sees what has happened to the kitchen. You sit innocently at first turning your head away from her, upset, but I can see you are beginning to get angry with her. I hear you threaten our only daughter. I hear you but I know it’s not really you. You who were always so full of love. I hear you shout at her to get out of our house, that she is an intruder, a thief, that I am upstairs calling the police right now. I hear Kate tell you calmly that I am not there. That I have not been there for many years and I watch you both cry, holding each other weeping, tears of exhaustion and grief.
I watch you, my love, empty the drawers first in the kitchen, then in the living room, spilling out cutlery, maps, tablecloths. I watch you throw cushions across the room feeling down the sides of the sofa in a desperate search. I watch your anxiety rising and can see the demons in your head. I watch you turn your bag upside down, rummage through it before grabbing your mobile to make the call. You struggle with those tiny buttons on the mobile, not designed for old shaky hands, my love. We were so proud when we got our first mobile and sent our first text to our wonderful grandson. We didn’t know then that it was a hopeless task trying to keep up, that he had already moved on, that we were destined to be left behind anyway. I watch the police responding patiently to your call, keeping you talking long enough to find out where you are. You couldn’t remember your name and you gave the address of a house we left behind long ago. I watch Kate rush in to the house, panicked by the sight of the police car parked outside. I hear the policeman tell our Kate that this is now the third time they have been to this house in as many weeks. They are kind to her. I can see the concern in their eyes as they look around at the chaos of the room, you sitting in the corner looking like butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth and our poor, darling Kate at the end of her tether. I want to take you now, my love, but it is not your time yet.
I hear the police man say that you need special care and I watch as you gently caress our Kate’s soft curls, a fleeting lucid moment, as she sits down next to you and weeps in to your lap. SLQ
Watching by Amanda Zaldua was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Short Story Competition (February 2015)