Heart-breaker

I pick up Arnie from school. He has done eight days in Reception now. He can’t believe school is five days long and the weekend is only two. “It’s not great, is it?” I say, “but that’s life.”

The reception children queue up at the school gate and wait for a parent to claim them. There are four or five kids who look just like Arnie so my arm is in a semi-permanent wave until the right Arnie appears. I’m reminded of what Dad told me about being evacuated. “They lined us up in this hall and we waited for someone to pick us. I was the last to go.”

“What did you do today?” I ask Arnie after he has peed up the nearest tree outside the school. Arnie has not yet acquainted himself with school loos.

“Nothing,” Arnie says. This is disappointing. At least last week, he told me whether he had apple or pear.

We drive to pick up Grandad from my sister’s place. We are going to take him to have a blood test. Arnie is happy because there are Haribos. My car is a Haribo landfill.

“What did you do today?” I ask Grandad when he has negotiated the five metres from front door to car.

“I had a terrible night,” he says, “flailing around like a ship on high seas. I think it was the sleeping pill. Or the statins. It’s getting worse and worse.”

“Did you eat?”

“I had some toast and Ella was here but she’s gone to work and I’ve been trying to call all morning, where were you?”

“Nowhere,”  I say. Grandad looks at me like I look at Arnie. His face says really?

Grandad can’t believe the clinic. He loves a shiny new health centre. “This is fantastic!” he says running his hand along the surfaces. You would think we had touched down at Vegas.  He doesn’t know where to sit. There is too much choice!  Black or red? Arnie too is delighted. He springs into the play section, ‘the germ repository’, as my husband likes to call it and sucks at toys. The only other person in the waiting area smiles and Grandad whispers to me, “Everyone loves Arnie, don’t they?” I hope the lady doesn’t hear. She is just being polite.

The blood nurse calls Dad’s name and I say, “You don’t want us to come in, do you?” but he does, so we go through with Arnie hiding between my legs.  The blood nurse asks Arnie if he wants to help and he nods. He has to say the magic words, “ready, steady, GO!” as the needle goes in. He bellows it as if starting a race and the blood creeps up the tube. I feel woozy but Grandad is fine, he says he’s had worse. Chatting to Dad, the nurse calls his blood ‘claret’.

I try to reassure Arnie. “They did this loads to me when I was pregnant,” but he looks at Grandad’s distended stomach, and I can see he is thinking, Is Grandad pregnant now?

“He’s a heart-breaker,” the nurse says and Grandad agrees, and I hate that phrase – why would I want my boy to upset people? – but I like this blood-nurse and her magic so I ruffle Arnie’s hair uneasily. She has finished but Dad stays in the chair. He’s too busy watching an imaginary roulette ball spin around.

“All I want to know is; how I can get better for the knee op?”

“Well, what have they told you?”

“Nothing.”

I say, “Let’s wait and see the results of this first before we worry about your knee.”

The blood nurse looks at me and I look at her, then Arnie tugs me to go. He wants another sweet. Or perhaps he needs to find another tree. Grandad leads from behind. I think, Heart-breaker.

The end of the world

Arnie is worried about the end of the world. He is changing out of his Batman suit and into his Spiderman pajamas. He has just brushed his teeth. Mini is already in her bed in Arnie’s room although she is not yet asleep. They are sharing because Grandad is sleeping in Mini’s room. Ray is in his room painting models of fighting men from the year 40,000. Granddad is downstairs watching the news.

“The end of the world is not for a long time, is it?” Arnie asks. He holds my hand. I connect the question with finding Grandad prostrate on the floor yesterday. This must be it.

“Nothing for you to worry about,” I say briskly.

“But when will it be?”

“Never,” I lie.

Downstairs, I tell husband. I say I thought the kids were enjoying having Grandad here. I wonder if they are worried about him too. They know he has changed. He used to play ball with them in the garden or push the swing. He would draw pictures of cats for Mini and make playdough superheroes for Arnie. He used to read “We’re going on a Bear Hunt.” Perhaps Arnie senses that it might be an end of an era. He is our emotional, intuitive boy. The one on whom our hopes of a great future rest. The one who will take us in when we are old, unlike Mini who will say, “I want my house back,” or Ray, “Sorry mum, too busy with warhammer to feed you…”

It isn’t until sometime later, that husband looks at me and says, “Oh. When Arnie was eating dinner, he spilled a bit and I said, ‘it isn’t the end of the world...do you think it’s that?”

Dinner

Dad won’t eat my lightly smoked salmon wrapped in parma ham, new potatoes and peas. He says, “It’s fine don’t worry about me,” but he sneers at it and prods it. “Just do me a sandwich,” he says. I hear, what is with this twatty middle class food? 

The next morning, I say, “Shall we try to take you home today?” He says, “Oh yes, fine, don’t worry about me.”

“He can’t go home yet.” says my husband. I think, salright for you to say, you don’t have to dish out his drugs, give him food he refuses and wipe around the toilet that he misses so often that sometimes I wonder if its deliberate.

“You really do want more blow jobs,” I say.

“Seriously,” he says. “He’s not well enough.”

I pack Dad in the car with his two plastic bags and no clothes to speak of. When he tries to do the seat belt up, he can’t and he says, “I’m as weak as a baby.” He rolls up his sleeves and says bitterly, “My arms are like kittens.”

I say, “I like kittens,” and he does a half laugh, half snort.

I get the idea he’s not keen to go. I am not totally insensitive. Still Arnie wasn’t overly keen on school this morning, and Mini is always whinging about play school.

He says, “I’m frightened of ending up an old man, watching TV all day in a home.”

I don’t say what I’m frightened of.

I pick up the letters from the door mat. It is disappointing there is nothing from the hospital. I watch him wobble up the stairs. His flat is a disaster-zone. As always, I double-take: Has there been a burglary? Then realise, no, no, unfortunately nothing is missing. There are the books, socks, newspapers, photos, medicine packets, plates, and cups everywhere as usual. There are photos of me with my first husband. I find them embarrassing but if I say anything Dad will say, “Oh, but he is like a son to me.”

There are photos of Dad with Ray when he was a baby, and even more photos of Dad with Arnie and Mini. There are photos of Dad with Mum taken twenty years ago when they came to visit me abroad – the last time I saw her. I can feel her looking at me.

“Shall we go back to mine?” I say and Dad nods. We pick up some clothes and go back home.

The lift

I make up the sofa bed for Dad. I fetch him pillows, sheets and a blanket. The room looks cosy. He is not overwhelmed with gratitude but hey.

In the morning when I go down, he is sitting on the floor about one meter from the bed. He can’t get up, he says. I feel sick. It is a terrible sight: my dear Dad is on the carpet and he can’t get up. I remember when he was young, when we both were young, he slipped a disc while loading his van and the noise that came from just beyond the back door was terrible. This is different though. A whimper not a howl.

I try and help him but he won’t budge. It’s like he’s not even trying. The sofa is so near. It’s as though a boat is capsizing one yard from the shore.

“Why did you make it so dark?” he says. “I couldn’t see a thing and I fell over.”

I think, so now I’m responsible for the sky at night.

“You should have called me,” I say.

“I did,” he says.

I send Mini up to get my husband, the muscle. She disappears up the stairs, sucking her thumb. She knows this is important. Arnie comes down and looks frighted. I tell him, “It’s fine honey. Grandad is on the floor.” Ray comes down and starts reading his Warhammer book on the sofa.

My husband does not appear. I go up trembling.

“Didn’t Mini come up?”

“Yeah I told her off, she was pulling at the door.”

“Oh,” I say. Poor Mini. “Grandad’s stuck.” My voice is croaky. “He can’t get up.” It seems like the worst thing that’s ever happened.

“I’ll be down in a minute,” he says. I try to make my eyes say its urgent but he’s not looking at my eyes.

I can’t tell if he is playing a power game with Grandad – this is my house and I’ll come down when I like – or if he urgently needs a poo. I think its the latter.

Ten minutes pass. Grandad doesn’t want tea. Or a biscuit. He too is getting desperate.

Ray puts down his book and holds Grandad’s hands. I hover behind. Na-da. He will not budge.

“I’m a dead weight,” sighs Grandad.

Husband comes down brightly. He has an idea. He demonstrates the lifting manoevre we will employ on little Arnie. Arnie laughs and laughs. It involves the tickly elbows. He laughs bordering on hysterics.

“It will never work,” I announce. Me and Grandad look at each other. We are united, for once, in our mutual scepticism of husband. I get in position one side and my husband on the other. “He’s a dead weight,” I say.

But Grandad glides upright to his feet. He is Lazarus!  Husband is as smug as he is running late. “I can’t remember where I learned it but it was good, wasn’t it? I’d better go. Bye.” I want to say that this is the jam jar effect. One person does all the hard work to no avail only for the other person to come along and achieve it – based on the first’s efforts. But it wouldn’t be true, I have flapped but I have not done anything.

There is more news from Barcelona. My sister is staying somewhere near Las Ramblas and she is having a brilliant time.

Later that day, I see there were three missed calls on my phone from Dad at 4 am.