Wednesday, April 29, 2009

contents of a fridge

After the death of Mrs Dorothy Cheeseman’s husband Harold following a brisk but inelegant struggle with prostate cancer; and after an efficient funeral on an averagely sunny day in a square-cut crematorium with adequate attendance and foliage, undercut somewhat by a vicar who could not pronounce his R’s and A Nightingale sang in Berkley Square (Harold hated London); and after six months had fallen from the calendar like so many dead leaves; and after the health insurance that Harold had arranged with his usual prescience had fattened up the joint account overnight, Mrs Dorothy Cheeseman – acting on the instructions of their only daughter, Claire, a woman who had obviously hooked all her genetic ducks from Harold’s ancestral pond, especially a talent for organisation and a thin-lipped approach to problem-solving, (but Claire’s edginess in company could only have come from Dorothy, whose own particular terrors had grown exponentially since she was eight years old at her father’s Christmas work’s do, 1948, when she was pushed up first on stage to collect her present from Father Christmas and threw up three bottles of apple pop and a crab-paste sandwich into his sack) – Mrs Dorothy Cheeseman, widow, sold the family home and moved into the manageable, one bedroom flat Claire and her silent partner Ben had arranged for her just a simple bus ride away from their front door on the other side of town.

And now her sciatica was playing up.

She had been sitting on the sofa looking out at the newly planted communal lawn for a few hours. The washing line had one plain white tea towel fluttering there, but no-one seemed bothered to add any more or take this one down. She watched it for hours. The sun moved across the grass and changed the angles of its shadows at the edges, until the ache in her leg – a cramp that spread from the root of her hip to the heel bone – forced her to get up, move about, find an aspirin. She swallowed the pill with a glass of warmish tap water, then suddenly picked up the phone and dialled 999.

She let the ambulance people in via a short struggle with the entry phone, then sat back down on the sofa.

When they came in they seemed to fill the room completely with their bags and their bulky jackets and their overloud characters. Mrs Dorothy Cheeseman wished she had not bothered.
One of them, the older of the two, a man who reminded her of Harold’s German business associate Klaus, with the same squashy features and crooked teeth, except Klaus was always on the verge of clasping her round the shoulders to draw her to him, and smelled of yeast and pipe smoke. But this man only touched her lightly round the wrist, and smelled of disinfectant. The other ambulance man, a squared-off chap who looked as if he should be outside sawing logs, drew up a stool and sat quietly.
‘I bet they think I’m a fool,’ she thought.
She told them about her leg. And, no, she hadn’t been to a doctor because she had only just moved here and these things were not easy to sort out.
She looked about the room and realised with a low-down stumbling feeling that she had not made the bed. In fact, all her clothes were strewn about the floor. She had been meaning to have a tidy up. What would they think?
‘I’m so hungry,’ she said to them. ‘I haven’t had a thing to eat in days. And I can’t go shopping because of my leg.’
She had been expecting to be scooped up and rushed to the hospital, but the men in green did not appear to be in any kind of rush. Were they always this slow? The old one carefully wrote down the facts and figures whilst the short one fussed about with blood pressure cuffs and thermometers and blood sugar kits – though what all this had to do with a leg she could not possibly say. Suddenly the short one seemed to be finished with all that. He packed his kit away, stood up and asked if she would like a cup of tea, then wandered off into the kitchen to get it. Dorothy tried to listen to the old one talking on in a quiet voice about options and such, but her attention was really focused on the kitchen.
‘I haven’t any food at all,’ she suddenly shouted out to him. ‘Not a thing.’
But when he looked in the fridge for the milk, Dorothy knew exactly what he would see: two spotted rashers of bacon, a tub of marge, and a dried-out slab of Leicester cheese.


BenefitScroungingScum said...

Spence your posts are always beautifully written but something about this one is so achingly poignant. Hope you and yours are all doing well
Bendy Girl

RapidResponseDoc said...


Matt M said...

What a great first sentence/paragraph. It looks like you forgot to close a parenthesis, though.

Gerry said...

It would be good if the power of writing like this could recall us to attending to our neighbors' isolation and despair. Telling details pile up here like a hard winter's snow. Good work, Spence.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks BG! Really good to hear from you. Everything's good here, especially now the sun's shining like it means it. Hope you're well. Sx

Thanks for that, RRD!

Matt - you're quite right about that bracket. I was experimenting with a really long opening sentence, and I think the closing bracket got lost in the undergrowth. ;0)

Hey Gerry!
Thanks for the lovely comment. I'll get the next round in...

(wouldn't it be great if we were all sitting in a pub garden right now?)

uphilldowndale said...

So sad,so sad

petrolhead said...

There's something about elderly people like Dorothy that make me want to chat to them until you guys arrive, they just seem so lonely. What happened in the end? I hope she got the help she needed.

Spence Kennedy said...

It certainly didn't feel as if Dorothy was getting much attention from anyone. Her flat was in a mess - the kind of distracted mess you see when people slide away from their normal way of living without noticing themselves.
She didn't need to go to hospital, especially on that day, when it was busier than ever and teetering on the divert. We arranged for an on-call GP to give her a visit at home, and made social services aware via Control.

The cup of tea seemed to help, though!

Hope you're well

loveinvienna said...

A cuppa always helps :)

Excellent post Spence. So very sad. I've found this one of the hardest aspects of being a Carer. When the resident drifts for a while and suddenly "lucidity", shall we call it, returns sharply and they realise with horror that they've had an accident/have dribbled their dinner/can't remember what their Carer said 30 seconds before. The switch between drifting and reality is horrible for them as they realise they are losing parts of themselves everyday. And for a Carer who actually cares... seeing them start on that downhill slope is saddening.

Goodness I'm morose today. Sorry :)

Liv xxx

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Liv!

I think if I heard a missile strike had been launched and we had five minutes - I'd make a cup of tea. Probably stand outside and admire the vapour trails. Say 'At least it's not raining.'

It is sad to see people go through these things. But there's consolation in the fact that at least you're doing your bit to make things better. You'll never be able to solve the problems of the world, but at least you'll be able to take care of whatever comes your way, to the best of your abilities. And if everyone could say that, what a utopian world it would be!

Pause for harp music or a swig of something (tea?)

BTW - we have a purple laurel in bloom outside our house right now. It's a great time of year.

Hope you're well and everything's good in Vienna Austria.

LoL Sxx

Anonymous said...

Its always good to take a step back to try and see how it can look from the other side of the Bp cuff.

A lovely post Spence, thank you.

Spence Kennedy said...

Cheers Louise!
:0) X