On reflection

‘Hey, gorgeous’.

I ignore him. He can’t be talking to me, because nobody calls me gorgeous these days. I’m the invisible woman, over fifty that is, and though in my head I’m still in my twenties, the reflection in my mirror tells me otherwise.

‘Hey, gorgeous.’

I look across the ward to see who he’s talking to, and yes, it is me. I suppose when you’re in your eighties, as he is, your standards of gorgeousness drop, through necessity. I giggle.

Phil is propped in his chair, wearing nothing but a father-bear-sized disposable nappy. Baby bald head, baby pink skin, except for his forearms, where tattoos betray his merchant seaman past. He beckons me and I glance at Dad, lying, shrunken, silent, and I know he won’t need me for a while. I pass Stephen, cancer yellow, snoring.

‘What is it, Phil?’

‘She stood me up, you know.’

I’m not sure what to say.

‘Oh?’

‘We went blackberryin’ together and we caught trout in the creek. We had such fun. She said she’d marry me.’

‘What happened?’ I always join them in the moment of these stories rather than snap them back to reality.

‘Sat’day we was getting married. I waited and waited in the church but she never come.’ His faded blue eyes fill with tears. Has he been dreaming or is he in his distant past? I know where he was on Saturday. Same chair, same ward. Different nappy, perhaps.

‘Maybe she’ll come next Saturday?’ I say. His face brightens and he gives a toothless laugh, before running his tongue around his gums.

‘Get me teeth for me, love.’

Oh God. ‘Where are they?’

‘On me locker.’

I rummage through lollies and wrappers, through open packets of biscuits, and lemonade bottles smelling faintly of rum. He’s had many well-meaning visitors. I sort through Get Well cards and stained tea cups. No teeth.

I try the next locker and there they are, their rictus grin shining in a glass of water.

He fits them in his mouth, but they give him a woodchuck look and every time he tries to speak, the top set falls out. I’m beginning to have my suspicions when Stephen wakes up and smiles, showing his gums, and I remember where I’ve seen that woodchuck before. I whip the teeth out of Phil’s mouth and scald them under boiling water before sliding them back into the glass and replacing them on Stephen’s locker. Good thing these men are all non compus mentis. No one will believe them if they tell tales, poor sods.

I turn back to apologise to Phil, but he’s asleep. I sit at Dad’s bedside and in the silence my mind reflects on my own youth, on the exquisite joys and pain of falling in love. And I think maybe they’re not so silly, these old men, for living in the past while they wait for death.

On reflection

Jackiet

Joined April 2007

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