David, in his early seventies, is finally preparing his mother’s home for sale. It’s a great sadness to him that he never managed to persuade her to move to a smaller property rather than her large Victorian house. She’d been alone in it for fifty years since his father’s death until her own recent death in her nineties. Her loss still feels raw. No matter how hard David tried, she refused to move; there was always a good reason or an excuse that allowed a further postponement. David finds it ironic that he’s now in the same situation; his children are pressing him and their mother to downsize. He wonders if they know that the familiar makes life more comfortable.
David is clearing the garage that’s been used as a dump for all those things no longer needed or of sentimental value or that might, one day, be useful. He laughs as he sees a pile of broken deckchairs. How many times did Mum say she’d repair them? As he moves the last deckchair, his laughter dies as he discovers his father’s wheelchair. God, I can see him hunched in this bloody chair like a prisoner; the image in my head is indelible, as if man and chair were fused into a single entity. Why is it still here? Sweeping aside the dust and cobwebs, he sees that the chair is as mundane as when it was purchased. The chair was cheap because Edward believed he would recover and walk again. It’s heavy and could only be pushed. The seat was padded red leatherette, now ripped and stained, and the back was canvas, now threadbare with age.
As David stares at the chair, his emotions move from sadness and regret to the rage and frustration he’d experienced as a young man. I didn’t understand why Dad was so optimistic that he’d get better; but Mum said it was true, so that was it. I didn’t realise that back then, the patient was often the last to know, or understand, what was wrong with them. Mum was given, in private, a different, more realistic prognosis, but was asked to keep the secret that Dad was dying because it would depress him. It’s hard to believe that such a plea was made and accepted. Mum’s heart was broken; she lived a lie and never told Dad the truth. It was only after his death that I understood what had been going on between them.
David wants to sit in the chair but is irrationally afraid that somehow he’ll be contaminated, harmed by some lingering disease. Finally lowering himself into the chair he weeps, tears rolling down his cheeks, and he gasps for breath. Mum and Dad were lying to each other for all those wasted years; they must have known that it was all pretence. Does love allow a lover to lie to protect their loved one from the truth? I don’t know.
© Phil Cosker 2022
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.