Dyce was laying in bed, listening to the radio, when the phone rang. ‘Dyce, it’s dad. Mum’s just got out of bed and she’s stuck. She’s got a terrible pain in her side.’
‘Has she fallen or anything?’
‘No, she was just getting out of bed.’
‘Where is she now?’
‘Half standing and half sitting on the edge of the bed.’
‘I’ll come up now. If she can’t move we’ll call an ambulance.’
Dyce put the phone down, got dressed and after a quick cup of coffee, drove the twenty minutes to his parents’ house. His mum had managed the short distance to lounge, still in night clothes and dressing gown. She was pale and cheerful as ever.
‘It’s silly really. I must have turned awkwardly trying to get up. This pain in my side.’ She pointed vaguely to her groin, ‘and I couldn’t move.’
‘How is it now?’
‘Well, we got into here somehow, and as long as I stay still, it’s not too bad.’
‘Best try to find out what’s wrong. Shall I take you to the hospital?’
‘If you think?’
It was a struggle to get her down the three outside steps into the car. Dyce drove slowly and carefully. It was only half past eight on a Saturday morning and there were plenty of carparking spaces at the hospital.
‘I’ll get a wheelchair.’
Dyce wheeled her into casualty, and went through all the paperwork with the lady behind the glass panel. He vaguely wondered what Mum’s religion had to do with anything. Her mother had been lapsed catholic, and she’d been a congregationalist, whatever that meant. He noticed C. of E. had been entered.
‘Could you wait over there?’ indicating a row of seats, ‘someone will see you soon.’
Dyce got his mum settled, expecting to wait a while. He was pleasantly surprised a few minutes later. ‘Mrs. Dyson, please,’ a voice called, and then again. Dyce spotted a young nurse looking inquiringly. ‘Could you come in here please?’ and indicated a small office.
‘What’s happened to you, Mrs. Dyson?’
Dyce’s mum told her story which the nurse recorded in a few brief lines.
‘You’ll need an X-ray. Take this and please follow the green line.’
Another row of seats at X-ray, and another woman behind a glass panel. Dyce handed the over the request form. Again only a short delay, ‘Mrs. Dyson?’ The woman behind the panel wheeled Dyce’s mum away for her X-ray.
Dyce was left to ponder what was going on. It was just after nine o’clock. Mum had not been well for six to nine months, losing weight and being generally off it. Nothing had been found by the specialist. It had been a mystery, maybe until now. Hospitals were strange places. However familiar you were with them, when it came down to you as the patient, there was always the fear. Fear of the unknown, mostly. Fear of finding out. Fear of what they will do to you. They were pleasant enough, the staff, but it was a job after all. Still it was quicker than he’d expected. There was always that smell. The smell and the fear.
Dyce’s thoughts were interrupted as his mum was wheeled back. ‘Thanks Jackie, nice to see you again, you’ve been very kind.’
‘Remember me to Mr. Dyson, won’t you? Could you wait here five minutes?’
Dyce sat and watched this little encounter, as if on a street corner, doing the shopping, meeting someone you haven’t seen for ages. Jackie disappeared.
‘I went to school with her mother. They lived a few doors down from us.’
‘The number of people who used to live down your road.’ They laughed at the family joke. She could be on a trip out somewhere, Dyce thought, rather than in hospital.
Jackie reappeared, ‘They aren’t quite right, we’ll have to do them again, Mrs. Dyson.’
‘Trust me to be awkward.’
Dyce sensed she was almost enjoying all this. Was it the attention she was getting? It wasn’t that much. Was it a cover up, so she didn’t worry about what was really going on here? No, she was just being mum, pleasant whatever. How would he be? He wasn’t sure; terrible probably.
‘They’re OK. this time. Could you go back up the green line. See you later.’
We will probably never see her again, thought Dick, stupid thing to say. No point being difficult, he could hear his mum. Who cares about being difficult at a time like this.
Back in casualty, they waited to see the doctor. Now, there were several other people sat around, murmuring, and the television in the corner was on, without sound. A small child stood watching it. That’s right, treat us like bloody children. Dyce was struggling to put a good face on things. A wailing voice came over the intercom, like an Imam calling to the faithful, and there looked to be a few in. The murmuring stopped, as everyone wondered whose turn it was. A young couple with a baby eventually got up, and walked to room 4, where an Asian boy, with a stethoscope around his neck, was peeping round the doorpost. Why do we behave so well in these stupid queues? Dyce was amazed. You tot up all those that were there when you arrived, and all those that came after you. You assume everyone else does the same. When it’s your turn, you hesitate politely, and by a silent common consent, off you go, to your fate. Different to a pub with a rush on.
The young Asian boy was courteous and brief, ‘There’s a fracture in the hip. Here are some pain-killers. I’ve made arrangements for you to revisit the specialist tomorrow afternoon.’
‘At least I wasn’t admitted. You have to be thankful for small mercies. You remember Jackie, Albert and Joan’s girl? She took my X-rays. It was all very quick, I must say.’
Dyce had listened to his mum describe her morning, twice. Dad looked relieved. Dyce suspected they knew something serious had happened, but they were safe from the knowledge of what for another day.
It was a brilliant summer’s day, breathless and hot. Everyone was sat around the back yard, waiting for Dyce to announce that food was ready. Dyce’s mum was sat at the table, in a high winged armchair. It had been a clumsy affair getting her there.
Wheelchair to the front door and one on either side through the house. Anyway she’d made it and was now presiding over them all.’How’s it going, Dick,’ his brother had sidled across with more beer.
‘Are you referring to the fire, the meal or life in general?”
‘Just the meal will do. Is there a drumstick ready?”
‘Try that one, it looks burnt enough.’
‘Mum looks better than the last time we were over.’
‘Yes, she seems to be holding her own doesn’t she. Nobody ever looks too good in the hospice, I have to say.’
‘My first time. I wasn’t keen.’
‘Bit funereal for me.’
‘How’s dad?’ ‘Don’t know really. He seems alright, but we haven’t talked it through at all. How can you tell?’
‘I don’t know.’ Dyce saw the fleeting desolation on his older brother’s face. For someone so eloquent, he sure gets stuck for words.
‘Come on Dick, we’re getting hungry.’ Sheila had arrived.
‘Get the buns organised and we’ll do the kids’ burgers first.’ The queue was six including Chris and Andy.
‘Tomato sauce?’ Sheila held out the bottle and the queue moved over to her.
‘Right let’s get mum hers. What would you like mum? Will a drumstick do you, and a bit of salad?’
‘Put a drumstick on here, Dyce. Thanks. Right everyone, come and get it.”
There’s enough here for a small army, thought Dyce. Why do we always cook so much. We always finish up with stuff not eaten. Mum won’t eat anything. It’s a ritual. When did we start doing this? Mum and dad never had barbequeues. We really used to enjoy it. Now it’s a chore. I have too much to drink and finish up trying to eat all the food that’s left over. Dad taught us that. We never had empty plates as kids.
‘Is it cooked alright?’
‘Yes,’ a small choir replied, or certainly a chorus. Dad and big brother in the bass section, Andy a baritone and the rest a variety of tenors and sopranos.
‘Come on Dick, get yours now.’
Dyce found a spare place. It was a way of spending time. The garden had been a godsend this summer. Plenty of boys wanting to play soccer. Dyce had most of his evenings occupied. That and a few lagers.
‘Can I just talk to you for a second?’ Dick made a quiet request to his dad. They sauntered up the garden.
‘Oh, we’re doing OK.’
‘Yes you are. How will it turn out, do you think?’
‘She might get better, some people go on for years.’
‘Yes. What if she doesn’t?’ Dyce was in unknown and inhospitable territory, encouraged by beer and wine.
‘We’ll just have to see.’ Dyce glimpsed the merest slip in his dad’s mask. He did the unheard of and took his dad’s hand in his. No response. Doesn’t he realise that mum won’t last the year out. Her body’s riddled with the stuff. What’s the hospice been all about? Why do we need the district nurse every morning and night? How can we face up to it with all this silence? Christ, what a shambles.
‘She might die, dad.’ His dad nodded, more or less, pale faced, wetness in his eyes. He stood and walked back to the family party.
‘We can put the bed in the dining room, downstairs. She’d have her own room, and yet be part of the family Christmas, right next to the kitchen.’ Dyce and Sheila had made his dad an offer over coffee one morning. Dyce had been to see the head guy down at the hospice, and it could all be fixed. Hospital bed, nursing support the lot.
‘Will they take her back when the holiday is over?’
‘Yes, we think so.’ Dyce’s dad wasn’t convinced, but had gone along with their enthusiasm.
So Dyce’s mum had variously joined in or watched the Christmas proceedings from her bed. And then she’d taken a turn for the worse.
‘I think she knew what she was doing. She may have been a bit muddled, but I’m sure she had it in her mind to come here for Christmas and then die.’ Sheila had informed the doctor.
‘She has pneumonia, Mrs. Dyson. It might be best to gently let nature take its course, don’t you think?”
So they were all taking turns to sit with Mr. Dyson at the bedside as Dyce’s mum gradually slipped deeper into coma. Dyce took the evening shift, a bad time when his mum could rave restlessly. He took a little scotch. A nurse had started to stay through the night.
They’ve all been terrific thought Dyce. Mind you, you couldn’t go on for ever with this amount of help. Sure sign of a short term commitment. Bit like politics. But it’s good for us tonight, and maybe tomorrow. She can’t last much longer. His own bedroom was a condemned cell. Sleep constantly disturbed by imagined footsteps up the stairs. The nurse waking him gently. ‘It’s time.’ It hadn’t happened yet, tonight maybe. A vision pushed its way into his head. He’d swapped places with dad, Chris
was sat where he was and Sheila was in the bed. He shook it off. They’d phoned big brother. He’ll be here in the morning.They sat quietly, just the click of the morphine syringe.
Dyce didn’t sleep, the nurse didn’t climb the stairs and big brother didn’t come. How much longer can this go on, we’re all knackered. Dyce knew some people went on for years like this, after strokes. His dad had a morbid fear of having a stroke. His grandad had one, soon after moving in with them. Dad must have been eight or nine. I couldn’t do it, I’d be mentally wrecked. I am mentally wrecked. You never know what’s it store. I suppose you’d do it if you had to.
‘Go and have a lie down, I’ll call you when its time.’ And she had done, the district nurse. About midday. Oh shit, this is not happening. Jerky intermittent breaths. A sallow lifeless wasted body. I’d like to smack someone, someone who talks about beauty and dignity in death. What a load of cobblers. Dyce stood with his dad, both helpless in the moment.
‘There are things we have to do now. You need to call the doctor – to certify, you know.’
‘Yes, er right. Come on dad, we’ll go in the lounge.”
And the doctor had come and said some nice words. ‘The undertaker will need this.’
Oh, Christ the undertaker. ‘The Coop has always done for us, Dyce.’
The bed will need to go back.
Within an hour it was almost as if she’d never been there. The dining room returned to normal, her special washing bowl, soaps and towels back in their places. Sheets and nighties tidied away. What a fucking Christmas. We did well by her though. Big brother arrived.
Another sleepless night. All the stuff you have to do when somebody dies. It’s an industry, a production line. Dyce and his dad became joined at the hip for a week or so, doing this and that, calling for the odd one or several. Ha, he’d given the registrar some stick, good on yer, dad. Silly cow. And told the solicitor where to put his probate. He’d been upset when he’d seen her bank balance, he’d no idea. Why do old people save money? It all went to him. It was a cremation, OK as cremations go. One hearse from Dick’s house and back there for tea. Cousins had travelled. Aunts, uncles stayed at home, too far.
And then it was time to get back to work and for dad to go home.
‘We’ll come up and get mum’s things sorted out, you know, her clothes and things.’
‘Aye, all right, Sheila. Thanks love, thanks for everything, you know.’
I’ll be off. Keep the paper. Dyce’s dad was on the heart ward. Tubes everywhere, flickering TV screens, and the fear. Sister was nice.
The specialist had been straight enough. ‘Mr. Brown, your father, has had rather a large heart attack. The first couple of days are the worst.’
His dad had phoned him that morning, ‘I’ve just been to the doctor’s. Couldn’t sleep for indigestion. He wants me to go to casualty and get a heart trace.’ Here we go again, ‘Right, I’ll take you.’
‘Your father needs to be admitted, to the coronary ward, for monitoring.’ A bespectacled young man had been summoned by an even younger girl to look at the heart trace. Like policemen, noted Dyce. Why do they wear their stethoscopes as scarves, round the back of their necks?
‘Dyce, pop home and get us a clean pair of pyjamas. Chest of drawers in the back bedroom. Bottom one. And some toilet stuff.”
‘I’ll get you a paper as well.’
‘I do like putting on a clean new pair.’ Dick reflected on the music hall joke about women and clean knickers, in case they were in an accident. God, I hope not.
‘I’ve rung Steve, he’ll be over in the morning. See you.’
‘Yes, see you tomorrow, Dyce.’
The phone rang as the early evening news was finishing. ‘It’s for you.’ Sheila passed the phone over to Dyce.
‘Dr. Dyson, this is the staff nurse on coronary care. You’d better come.”
‘Why what’s happened?’
‘You’d better come up to the ward.’
Dyce knew what had happened. They never say over the phone.
‘He’s in here.’
His dad was lying so still. A sinking miserable stillness. So much for modern medicine. Two down and no cures. Pretty shitty really.
The staff nurse looked concerned, ‘How will you get home? Are you fit to drive?’
‘I need a phone.’
‘Yes, sure, in here.’
‘Steve, is that you? We’ve lost him. ………. Steve, are you there?”
‘Yes, I heard. Sorry you’ve had this to do, Dyce.’
‘You’ll be coming over then?’
‘There’s a ring, Dr Dyson.’ The staff nurse gave Dyce his dad’s wedding ring. ‘Come back tomorrow, to the admin block for your dad’s things, and the paperwork, you know.’
The hospital was quiet with most of the staff at home, with their families. It was a long lonely walk to the dark car park.
‘I’m so dreadfully sorry, Dyce.’ Sheila poured a beer.
‘Apparently his heart stopped suddenly and they couldn’t get it going again. I thought all that had improved. Useless lot. I’d left him with his paper, right as rain. Next minute he’s dead. What is the point?”
Visitors to the hospital the following morning, if any of them were taking any notice, would have seen two rather stooped, gloomy middle aged men with a small suitcase between them, walk through the foyer.
‘Lets get his things home, and then get on what we have to do.’ Steve had arrived at breakfast time. They would endure the grisly business of closing down a life, together.
‘It’s only twelve months since mum died.’