Today has been a good day, my colleague tells me. But the stair lift broke last night, so when you get up we’ll make the long journey downstairs which takes almost an hour as you try to lift your feet and I try to keep you steady. It’s my job to keep you alive. It’s my job to care for you.
I care. But maybe not enough. It’s just that on a day like this the sky beckons and the trees point achingly up into the blue, piercing the endless freedom with their black branches. I can hear the birds outside, but they never stay. They sit quietly for a moment looking in to our window with their black, beady eyes and cocked heads as if to taunt me because they can fly away but I can’t.
I care. But maybe not enough. As you grasp my arm and lean on me looking into my eyes for reassurance, I smile at you as gently as I can as if to say ‘don’t worry I’m here’. Then I carefully bend down and pull up your knickers trying not to look anywhere that I shouldn’t because then I’d make you feel worse and I know you already feel humiliated. So humiliated.
I care. But maybe not enough. But sometimes as I swing you round into your wheelchair so that you can wash your hands grasping at what independence you have left, you say you wish you were dead. I have no reply, and in that minute I wish I were anywhere but here.
Every day I prise open your fingers in the hope that this time, you might move them. But half of your body is in a permanent cramp, no better than the day you came home ten years ago. The carers and I consult one another in whispers. We speak about what works for for one another and recount success stories, there are some who have made miraculous recoveries. Always something new to grasp for, something else to try. We hope you will be one of them, but in our hearts we know that’s not going to happen.
Yet you are still here, still stubbornly trying to persevere and in my saner hours I am glad for you. It’s a testament to the life force in all of us. So we do our exercises with those machines they gave you to prevent muscle atrophy, the foot massages for the blood circulation, the reading aloud to alleviate your boredom and to fill the silences of lost hope.
We’ve gone through so many books, together. At first it was the classics naturally, we both liked Dickens and disliked Evelyn Waugh. We laughed our way through Jerome K. Jerome and I got to know things of a different era. But today’s choice is John Updike. He’s our favourite. A brilliant writer, a creative genius. An oddly sentimental man who sees parallels where others do not. He teaches me words like ‘magnification’. He lifts the veil to the poetry behind the prose of city they call New York. One day I’ll go again with different eyes. He shows both you and I, how lonely we all are.
And then you sleep to the sound of my voice. Finally you go to bed and I do too. Just us. In this big house. Alone.