MemoryI wake up with a start. The air is cold on my face, colder than it should be. Oh no, not
Pushing back the covers, I swing my legs over the side of the bed, feeling for my slippers with my toes. Stumbling down the dark staircase, clinging onto the banister, I see a rectangle of light from the streetlamp opposite where the front door should be.
I call upstairs. ‘Wake up, Dave. It’s Dad. He’s got out again.’
How does he do it? It’s locked and bolted. He can barely do up his shoelaces now, but he can open the door when he wants to. He must have seen me hide the key.
Without waiting for Dave, I pull on a coat over my nightie, exchange my slippers for Wellingtons and plunge out into the street.
I know where he’s gone. It’s where he always goes. At least that’s one less thing to worry about. Imagine if he got onto the railway line…
It’s more than half a mile from our house to the churchyard. A faint glimmer streaks the eastern sky and a blackbird carols from the top of a chimney pot. He and I are the only things stirring.
I pull the coat around me against the creeping chill of dawn and quicken my pace. By the time the wrought iron gates come into view, I am half running.
Down the central avenue, turning off to the right, past the recent tombstones with their too-clean faces and stark black inscriptions. Crisp brown rose petals from a faded bunch are strewn across a slab’s virgin whiteness. I shudder, only partly from the cold.
Breathing hard, I slow down. A hunched figure wearing striped pyjamas sits on a bench contemplating a large daisy in its hand.
The figure turns and stares without recognition. Then it turns back and resumes its reflection.
As I get closer, I hear Dad murmuring to himself. Always the same refrain; the words never vary. Even so, my heart turns over.
‘Do you remember the first time I kissed you? You really played hard to get. Always danced with that Billy Morton, but never with me. I got you in the end, though.
‘Got you to come to the flicks with me: Gone with the Wind it was. Stupid story, but you were keen to see it even though you’d seen it several times before. Imagined yourself like Scarlett O’Hara, even though you were blonde. All that romantic twaddle went to your head, so when I put my arm round you in the back row you didn’t protest. And when I kissed you, you pretended I was Clark Gable. Chalk and cheese we were, but somehow we made it work.’
He can’t tell you what he ate for dinner, but he can remember what happened sixty years ago as clearly as if it were yesterday.
‘Come on, Dad, time to go home. You’ll catch your death sitting here.’
Dad isn’t listening. He chuckles, cocking his head as he looks at the flower.
‘You had some funny hobbies. Pressing flowers, I ask you! I never understood what you saw in those dried up weeds, colours all faded. But you knew all the names.
‘You wanted to be a botanist, but marriage and children got in the way, held you back. I don’t know if you were happy. You kept on pressing the flowers, though. Whatever happened to your albums?’
Oh, Dad. They’re still in your room at home. But he doesn’t even know they are there. Never looks at them, just sits in his chair staring at the wall.
I sit down next to Dad on the bench and put my arm around him. He starts. Tears squeeze from the corners of his eyes and slide down his ravaged cheeks. Gently, I take the flower from his hand and place it back on the tombstone opposite the bench. We stand up and I help Dad towards the exit.
We meet Dave coming the other way, who throws his coat over Dad’s shoulders. Dad looks back a couple of times then allows us to draw him away.
Mum’s name was Daisy.