As Tom sat at the gate-legged table things were slipping away.
His memory was not what it used to be, starting with the names of people he had known for years, and who now scrambled themselves up together so that he thought he was talking to one when actually he was with another altogether. Why the bemused looks? He knew exactly who he was with.
His children’s childhood had slipped away too. He thought of them more as friends now. He saw one or other of them most days. They made fun of his odd little ways, which he had always had, but which were emerging from their privacy more regularly nowadays. He’d taken to eating out every night because he had never cooked anything and had no interest in learning, and because he hated eating alone in the house. It always felt like being stood up every evening there.
Restaurants encouraged the odd little ways to come out. On his arrival at the Indian a pile of poppadoms and a tray of chutneys appeared swiftly at the table with a small bowl, warmed. He liked to eat out of a bowl. He had got this from the only other restaurant he went to, a Chinese. He would linger at this stage, prolonging the time away from the house. Once he’d ordered the main course the waiter would reach to take away the menu. He would snatch it back. He liked to keep it at the side of his plate for the rest of the meal. You never knew when you might want to consult it. He once asked for soy sauce to go with his chicken tikka (starter size). The young waiter had tilted his head to one side. He probably didn’t know what soy sauce was. Whatever the meal or restaurant, Tom always finished with one… yes ONE scoop of vanilla ice cream please. Variety might be the spice of life, but not when you were eighty seven.
His daughter had a thing about his wardrobe which had taken on an enduring quality. A purple jumper, which now hung generously about him, could appear every day for a month. Years ago he had sported a pair of towelling swimming trunks on the Thanet beaches for close on a decade. In the end his wife Mary had spirited them away to a neighbour’s rubbish bin. He had searched high and low for them. He had given up swimming (and beaches) shortly after that.
Around him in the dining room the dark green wood chip wallpaper was bare, the Welsh dresser’s shelves empty, the occasional tables unladen, the life sucked off them. And he was alone. Mary had died three years before suddenly. This was good for her but not for him he told people in the pub. She was an angel. Her domain was the home and she ran it really well. He had never before lived on his own.
At first he couldn’t imagine what he was going to do all day. When it turned out to be not very much he settled into it without self-examination. The afternoons dragged. He would sit in front of the TV with the twenty-four-hour News Channel on (sound off). The highlight of the day was at six in the evening when he went to the pub which he and Mary had frequented together for twenty five years. Now even their friends there had started to slip away.
After three years of this he was in a rut. He was going through the motions. So he was delighted when his daughter and son-in-law suggested they have his house enlarged, and sell theirs, and move into his place with their three teenage kids. He would move in with them while the works at his were completed. They could take care of him and he wouldn’t be lonely anymore. They would all be together. Light at the end of the tunnel at last. But now the solitary period of his life was slipping away to nothing he had become more anxious about it all. A new bed would never be as comfortable as his own. There was his bad back to think of. He was fine here really. So now his home was slipping away as well. He didn’t know if he was coming or going. People at the pub asked him when he would be moving out for the work. He couldn’t remember. Or he wouldn’t remember.
He lifted his head from his hands and saw a fresh spring gust of wind detach the last dead leaves from the Sycamore trees at the end of the garden. They settled on the bushy grass.
There was a knock on the front door, a key in the lock, and someone came in. He looked round.
“Hi Daddy… you ready?”
“Oh… Hello darling… Sorry, I wasn’t expecting you…Am I ready for what?”