Monday, May 11, 2009

who will be there?

‘Are you the man who stole my chairs, my carpets and my pictures?’
‘No. My name’s Spence and this is Rae. We’re from the ambulance.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yep. Your neighbour, Sheila, has called us because she’s worried about you.’
‘Every last stick of furniture gone, the carpets, everything. It’s an absolute scandal. Are you sure it wasn’t you?’
Margaret leans forward and scans me with eyes so ancient they carry only a memory of blue. She is sitting in her coat, buttoned up, ready for the off, her battered old brown handbag clasped on her lap. Sheila is standing next to her with one hand on her shoulder, as if she is posing for a plate photograph.
‘She’s not herself,’ she says.

Out on the ambulance, Margaret settles into the seat and brightens.
‘Are you taking me home?’
‘Where is your home, Margaret?’
She gives the address we have just led her out of.
‘Do you know why we’re here today, Margaret?’
‘I haven’t the faintest idea,’ she says, drawing her handbag closer to her. ‘All I know is that some man came and took my furniture and he had no right to it. I think it was you. I think this is all part of your stupid game.’
‘The reason Sheila called us out was that you don’t seem yourself. She says you’ve been very confused these past few days.’
‘Confused? My dear, I was fifty years in the government. I think you’ll find I know precisely what day of the week it is.’
Her eyes bore into me, two topaz stones set in a weathered mask.
‘And I want my furniture back.’

Later in the journey she asks me again where we are taking her.
‘To the hospital,’ I say. ‘You need to see a doctor.’
She pauses. A confusion settles on her, then lifts, then settles again.
‘Will my parents be there?’ she says. ‘My elder brother Jeremy?’
‘How old is Jeremy?’ I ask her, as gently as I can.
‘Forty,’ she says.
Then she looks at me, and smiles, as the ambulance floods with time.


Frosty said...

Short, and bittersweet. Lovely

Ben said...

"as the ambulance floods with time." is a wonderful line, very powerful!

Gerry said...

In case you don't know how good that finish is - it is.

Anonymous said...

I love these conversations.

I know its tough to see these bright people so confused and 'not themselves'. Theres something liberating about the lack of fear the confusion induces.

Mike said...

"as the ambulance floods with time"...evocative and pertinent yet sparse; you really have a gift with words and the EMS community ("witnesses to the human condition in all its misery and glory") are lucky to have you chronicling our everyday.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks v much for all your comments.

Louise - I know what you mean about that liberating feeling. Even though it's hard to see people losing their sense of reality, still it's strangely reassuring to see that the normal run of time can shift like that, and people we love who are long dead be brought to life again and stood waiting for us somewhere.

:) Sx

uphilldowndale said...

Another cracker Spence

loveinvienna said...

I agree with everyone else, that last line is excellent. It's nice that they can drift off into a world where they can still see their family around them :)

Liv xxx

Anonymous said...

I recognise my mother in her confused state of mind, the words could have come from her own mouth!
She is 89 and has a usually-mild-type of dementia but she certainly has those episodes.
Still lives on her own (with carers coming in) and still is a pretty determined lady who mostly knows her own mind. It is so sad to see her in confusion though.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks UHDD & Liv!

Hey Anon! It's great to hear that your mum is able to live on her own - a testament to the efforts you and the care team are able to make, as well as her own strength of spirit, I would think. Hope you're both doing okay.

Thanks v much for the comment.

sebbie said...

Recently my father told me he had seen my friend (dead these last sixteen years). I wish I had been so assured in my response.

I hope the health professionals he meets in his decline are as sensitive as you.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Sebbie

Margaret did strongly remind me of my grandma, especially when she became quite confused towards the end of her life. She'd refer to people in the room who had died years ago, and not seem to see you in the present. It's a terrible thing, but also a powerful affirmation of the strength of family bonds. I wouldn't say I believed in ghosts, but these twists of consciousness come pretty close.

The Phil Guild Guide said...

Same feelings I had reading that piece -- bittersweet. You are gifted. Remarkable, the description -- two topaz stones set in a weathered mask. And how you ended it let me go with empathy for the old woman even if I haven't seen her with my own eyes. I just happen to know her plight because you shared it.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks PGG!

I particularly appreciate you saying about 'empathy'. I would say that's pretty much top of the list of things I would aspire to (and the thing that I find hardest to hold on to). The demands of the job - life in general - make it hard to step aside from my own concerns and preoccupations and see things from a different viewpoint, especially if sometimes that viewpoint is not one I'd understand.

In Margaret's case it was easy, though. She was such a lovely old lady, and she did remind me so strongly of my grandma!

Thank you so much for your lovely comment, and for reading the blog.