Sunday, April 10, 2011

breakfast call

‘The woman on the phone said I had to get down on the floor and press up and down on his chest, but I couldn’t, not with my condition.’
I’m sitting with Steve on a broad yellow sofa; from our position we can see and hear the crews working on his father in the kitchen – the calm requests and comments, the beeping of the metronome, the passing of seconds and then minutes as relentlessly as the sweep of the second hand on the clock above the doorway.
‘See his feet moving? Is he conscious?’
‘No. It’s a mechanical thing, because of the chest compressions. Are you sure you don’t want to come and sit a bit further off, Steve? It’s an upsetting thing to watch.’
‘He’d want me here. I won’t leave him.’ Steve inhales wetly, then looks down to the tissue in his hand, absently watching it turn over and over in his fingers.
‘I knew something wasn’t right,’ he says. ‘We’ve got this routine. Dad gets up at half five, comes down to the kitchen, has a cup of tea and takes his pills, puts the washing on, sets out the breakfast things, then comes up to run me a bath and get me out of bed. But when I opened my eyes the house was quiet, and I looked at the alarm clock and it said half past eight, so I just knew something had happened. He’s dead, isn’t he?’
‘We’re doing everything we can, Steve. You’ve got the best team possible in there. If anyone can help your dad it’s them. We’ve just got to wait and see.’
‘But I know he’s dead. His tea was cold. There’s nothing you can do. I just wish I could’ve done something myself, but it’s difficult enough to walk, let alone get on the floor.’
‘You called the ambulance, Steve. That’s the main thing. You did everything you could.’
‘He’s dead though. I can’t believe it.’

In contrast to the crowded kitchen off to our left, the sitting room stretches out around us cool and quiet, thrumming with order in the early morning sunshine, every picture and ornament, cushion and cabinet freshly dusted and meticulously placed.
‘You keep a lovely home,’ I say to Steve. ‘How long have you lived here?’
‘We moved when my mum died. About ten years now.’
‘It’s so bright.’
‘Yeah. It really catches the sun.’
‘Lovely garden out there, too, by the looks of it.’
‘He never stopped.’
He runs up against the idea of that, and pauses a while. Then he reaches for the phone on a side table.
‘Can you call Janice for me?’ he says, handing it over. Then: ‘Wait. No. I’ll do it.’


Time slips slowly through the house.

In a neighbouring garden, some children come out to jump on a trampoline; their shouts rising happily on the bright blue air.

The activity in the kitchen changes, becomes less focused, more contemplative, post event. The metronome is switched off. The lead paramedic comes in and kneels beside Steve. He says they did all they could and gave him every chance, but it was probably just too long since he collapsed. He says Steve’s Dad has died, and he’s sorry. He says he knows it’s no consolation, but in his experience, by the look of everything, it would’ve been quick.
‘I’m sorry for your loss.’
‘It’s not your fault.’
The team withdraws, the kitchen gets tidied, everything the same – the cup of tea and the handful of pills on the breakfast counter – but now Steve’s Dad lying on the floor beneath a blanket, his head on a pillow.
‘I want to kiss him goodbye but I can’t get down there,’ he says.
‘Shall we make your Dad comfortable on this sofa?’
‘No. He wouldn’t want that. He wouldn’t want to mess it up.’
‘We can put sheets and things down.’
‘No. Could you just lift him up so I can kiss him, then leave him back where he is?’
‘I’ll talk to the others.’

Frank gets a scoop stretcher from the truck. We load Steve’s Dad onto it, then lift him up onto the counter. I bring Steve into the room; he hobbles over and kisses his Dad on the cheek.
‘I’m sorry, Dad,’ he says, over and over again.
His Dad’s face has the haughtiness of death, a wax representation of the man that was, but easing imperceptibly, like the impression of a footprint at the edge of an ocean, succumbing grain by grain to the dissolution of all things.

‘You can make him comfortable on the floor again if you want,’ says Steve.
We lower him down.

In the neighbouring garden, the children are called in to breakfast.


Derrick O said...

good post today :D

Spence Kennedy said...

Cheers Derrick! :)

Henry said...

Oh Spence. What a sad situation to be in. Poor chap.

Crosby Kenyon said...

We do succumb grain by grain, don't we? Good thing that most of the time it's that slow.

Lynn Hanbury said...

Lovely post. I lost my Dad earlier this year and missed being with him by minutes when he went. I felt so guilty for a long time but reading this brought it home to me, that life goes on whatever happens. Thanks for posting this :)

Crimson Ebolg said...

Heart-breaking. But beautifully written. You have a real gift for prose Spence.

I always imagine that you're British, but I am never quite sure. You stories have such a refreshing sense of placelessness that makes them utterly relate-able.

Anonymous said...

that is so sad, poor man.
I hope one day he will be able to reflect and appreciate the respect you all showed to him and his dad.
thank you, not just for the way you tell it, but for the way you care too.
best wishes,

Gentrie said...

Like the new format....thought I was on the wrong site for a minute.

Sad, and so poingant, nice.

Anonymous said...

The poor, poor man. You've really brought home Steve's point of view (and reduced me to tears). Thank you. - A

mark said...

Another great post.

I really like the new design.

Take care

Becca said...

Oof. Poor Steve. There will be a lot more of this over the next few years, as it gets harder and harder for people to access care other than that provided by aging parents.

I hope he has a strong support system in place.

You're a good writer, Spence. People like me and Steve are very often quite invisible to the world in moments like this. Having our stories heard is terribly important.

Market Research said...

Nice post. Really loving. Keep it up.

Blair Ivey said...

On the fence about your new look. Cleaner, but more antiseptic and a bit less inviting.

Writing hasn't changed, though.

Conundrum said...

That's a good post. I worked on the ambulances for a year so I've seen this kind of thing quite a few times. You captured the scene very well. I never did get used to it, which is why I dont do that any more. Good post, I really enjoy reading your blog, keep it up.

Mike said...

That one brought tears to my eyes.

Very well and thoughtfully written, as usual

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks for all your comments. I really appreciate the trouble you take to stop by and post something.

I definitely got the impression that Steve had a strong network of family and friends. His closest friend turned up soon after to help, and I know his aunt was on her way. In practical terms, his disability was significant, but he did have a part-time job, and wasn't dependent on outside care agencies, so even though his dad did a lot for him, I think he'll be okay. Living in the house on his own after such a long and close relationship with his dad will be tough, but he struck me as a resilient and adaptable kind of person, so I think he'll make the change.

A dreadful way for him to lose his dad, but then there are so many variations on a theme. Given a choice, I think I'd rather be there in the house than a spectator at a more protracted and clinically remote death. But you can only go with the facts of it. The aftershocks of guilt are a particularly tough aspect, though.

On a happier note - thanks for the feedback about the new look. I just wanted to freshen things up a bit, so I used an old header that I'd made a couple of years ago. I think I might try something else, but I hope you'll bear with this one until I get inspired.

Thanks again for all your comments. :)

LifeLemurs said...

This was incredibly sad but wonderfully written again, as usual.

You really do convey individuals well. I think the reader gets a great sense of each scene and almost feels a part of the story, as if we were sitting there with you.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks very much, LL!

Baglady said...

Really moving and beautiful post, Spence. Thanks for sharing. Hope Steve will be okay.

Spence said...

Thanks Baglady. :) x

Akseli Koskela said...

That's a very sad tale, but I'm glad you told it. Poor Steve, being unable to do more.

Lynda Halliger-Otvos said...

Thanks for another incredibly encompassing post, Spence, your style resonates. My tears fall nearly every time you pop up in my window; it’s helping me grieve my sister.

Spence said...

Thanks very much, Akseli. I was impressed by Steve's bravery - sitting where he chose to sit, witnessing the trauma of the resus because that was the best he could do.

Very sorry to hear about your sister, Lynda. Hope you and your family are bearing up. It's a horrible thing to go through - and no easier for the certain knowledge that everyone has to face it sooner or later. So far I've lost two friends and my dad. It does change you, but then I suppose life is a constant series of changes, and the best you can do is adapt.

Thanks for the comments. x

jacksofbuxton said...

My paternal Grandfather went very peacefully sat in his favourite chair,Radio 4 still playing.

When I go I don't want mourning or tears,just memories of my life for the important people I have.

I don't want a big service,some vicar,who never knew me,talking about a god I don't believe in, wasting the money I want to leave behind for my children.

I don't believe in reincarnation ( and I didn't believe in it when I was a hamster either) but I do believe that we are like a flower.You come from the ground,blossom and then allow nature to take your seeds to create another flower.

Like the new lay out as well Chief.

(must stop saying chief.It's that Boat that Guy Built,where he keeps saying Chief.This winds up Mrs Jack,so I obviously only say it 435678920 times a day.....)

Spence said...

I share your view of funerals. I'm def going to go for a natural planting in a woodland plot, with a booze-up in the local hall after (although I'm still in denial that I won't be there for that). I fancy a tree rather than a memorial - an ash (no pun intended).

If I want to wind up Mrs Kennedy I'll sing 'I am I said / I am I cried' &c (even though I hate that song, too). If she wants to wind me up, she'll say 'Yas indeed' like the awful Mr Cheeseman character they brought in to Dad's Army to cover up that Walker died.