Kathy Page on The Perfect Day

Page recounts an outing with her aging mother and father and the spaces between them @ Carte Blanche.

It’s a warm day in late May, just perfect, and I’m as hopeful about this outing as I am desperate: the two of them, the three of us, we’ve always squabbled. Wrangled is probably a better word. 

Over the decades there have been huge eruptions, and long, siege-like silences, along with a great deal of routine sniping, and, though peace has occurred, it’s not the norm. I have tried—and failed, sometimes spectacularly—to do differently. Yet none of us have ever quite given up, and here we are again, crowded, this time, into my father’s small room in the care home.

All three of us know that time is running out. In two days’ time I fly home across the Atlantic, and I shan’t see my parents again until the next visit in September—if I do so: they’ve reached that age. What we want is simple enough: the afternoon spent in some kind of harmony, enjoying each other’s company and sharing the casual pleasures of existence. This must be possible, I told myself, as my mother and I climbed the stairs. And I think I yearn, as well, for something to hold onto—a memory or a talisman, proof of some kind.

Dad’s room bristles with furniture: the bed, two large armchairs, one smaller chair, TV, side tables, bookcases, walker. Almost ninety, he only recently moved here. He needs a lot of help with practical things, forgets the day of the week, but remembers swathes of nineteenth-century verse. He has abandoned brilliantine and allows what is left of his hair—bright white and very sparse—to stick straight up, the pink scalp gleaming through. Imagine also some lop-sided bifocals, slipped halfway down his nose. It’s an owlish style that I somehow like, though it’s disconcerting that our eyes now meet dead level, instead of me having to look up.

My mother is the same age but forgets nothing at all, still lives independently, and even rides a bicycle now and then. Once beautiful, still proud of her appearance and very well-presented, Mum has always been a fighter. She is tiny, sharp-eyed, vigorous and fitter than many people my age, but she’s never been strong on sympathy or patience. I can tell from the set of her jaw as she watches my father prepare for the drive—the slow lifting of each swollen foot, its painstaking insertion into a shoe positioned just so, the push downwards, the grind against the shoe horn—that she is both bored and appalled.

Image:  Sean Bradley at F-Stop Magazine

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