She is dying.
I visit the hospital, into the lift, past the signs advertising phones and TV at your bedside for as little as £3 per day. I enter the ward, pausing to cover my hands in an alcohol spray, speak to the nurse, am directed to the room.
There are three of them and her. She lies there, a nurse by her side. She lies. My grandmother. My dying grandmother lies there.
I switch on my smile. I have a role to fulfil. I am to tease her. I am the fool.
Her breathing is laboured – an oxygen mask on her face not easing it, pipes in her nose. Her arms covered in bruises – failed attempts to draw blood.
She tries to speak. Pauses. Breathes deep. Forgets.
Children. TV. Bilko. The court martial. Harry Speak Up. Dancing. Remember, when he dances? Snow. Sun. Warmth. Water, would you like water?
The cup on her table. The straw, lopsided – the stem of a broken flower.
She raises her hand. her leg twitches. Involuntary kicks.
A nurse comes in. Puts out tablets.
Gesture. Ask. Would you like help to?
Head shakes. Later. Not now.
I look at her notes. Still smiling. Still talking.
Her instructions. On admission.
She is curled, lying on her side. The way my youngest daughter lies on her side.
I still smile.
I will not feel.
Her skin is thin.
I will not feel.
She speaks. Stops.
I reach over take her hand. We do not kiss. We never kiss or embrace. But I take her hand. Squeeze.
- Take care, I whisper knowing it annoys her. But this time she just looks. No protests that she’s been taking care of herself for years. No fire. Just a look.
I will not feel. I still smile,
- I’ll see you soon.
I will. I will see her soon and I will not feel.
I leave, wave. She lies in the bed, curled in the bed like my daughter, and her eyes are closed, and I wave – but she is not seeing. I am waving goodbye. This feels like goodbye.
Outside my sister and I hug. We cry.
We remember. Holidays. Car trips. Her odd life as a joke teller in dance halls. She used to be a round woman, hearty, mischievous, vibrant. Today, she lies. Small.
I did not feel.
Until I had to.
I am home now. A hundred miles away. With my wife. With my children. I held them close.
I am waiting for the call.