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.

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.