DUTY OF CARE
We’re swapping cigarette cards. Having furnished us
with coffee, walnut cake, my wife’s across the lawn,
dead-heading flowers, whilst his, still belted in the car
sits expressionless, seemingly content. Incontinence pads,
apparently, are not infallible. He smilingly declines to put
our three-piece suite at risk. We sort through job lots
knocked down to him round rural auction rooms.
He’s weeded what he wants to keep, but offers up
the cheap-o surplus, well within the purse range
of the clientele who’ll browse around my market stall.
‘Cricketers, 1928’ issued by W.D. and H.O. Wills,
John Player’s ‘Struggles for existence, 1923.’
For these I barter scarcer cards I’ve saved for him,
stuff that I daren’t display on open sale for fear
of kleptos, Churchman’s ‘West Suffolk Churches.’
Half a set of Taddy’s ‘V.C. Heroes of the Boer War’
plus sundry oddments which he checks out carefully
in fat, hand-written notebooks. Every so often
his gaze averts to the unmoving figure in the car.
From time to time he hurries out to button or unbutton
a garment, murmur a few words, never leaving her
until he’s pressed a kiss upon an unresponsive cheek.
“Chairwoman of the Inner Wheel. Golf Club captain,
switched off like…like,” he once told us, groping
for the phrase, “ A bloody bedside lamp! I mean,
I could get carers, but the woman cared for me.
Look at this suit. I ruled the roost in board rooms,
but I’m useless with an ironing board. She’d not
have let me out like this…” most of his phrases
taper off in bafflement. Haggling complete,
I help him load the residue, “ I’ll take her to the weir
on the way home. The sound of active water
sometimes makes her smile. Keep an eye out for
Mitchell’s ‘Regimental Crests’, I’ve almost got the set.”
‘Duty of Care’ by Peter Wyton won first prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (February 2019) judged by Mandy Pannett.