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A Day in The Life..
The first rays of early morning light crept through the half-closed curtains, snaking across the musty carpet, and illuminating the dust-motes that swirled through the air in a brilliant shaft of light. The rest of the room was still shrouded in the stuffy, closed darkness that preceded dawn, and the sleeping figure in the bed had yet to be disturbed by the soft whispers of daylight. As the light crept further into the room, it illuminated the old-fashioned, peeling wallpaper, the cluttered night stand that was haphazardly perched beside a worn looking chest of drawers. The frozen smiles of the faces of the figures in their tarnished silver framed photographs that adorned the top of the cupboard seemed to thaw and almost sparkle as the light reflected off their dusty frames.
He opened his eyes with an abrupt suddenness, staring up at the cracked and peeling ceiling above. The sharp reality of the morning hit with a bittersweet taste, as the memory of his familiar dream faded away, the details trickling through his mind like sand through cupped fingers; the harder you tried, the faster it slipped away. However clouded and forgetful his mind was of late, the sweet clarity of dreams never faded. How peaceful it would be to live in a day where dreaming never ended, to sleep, to rest….
With the usual exertion, he slowly heaved himself out of bed, a cacophony of joint cracking and stiffness accompanying his descent. Feet cushioned by worn slippers, he shuffled to the bathroom, his outstretched hand aware of the rail that curved around the wall, ready to grip in an instant. He fell often lately. The bathroom was cold and damp and he felt chilled to his bones as he went through his ablutions. Like everything now it seemed to take an age. Several times he found himself forgetting what he was doing in the middle of doing it; brushing, cleaning, -and he would shake his head to clear the confusion. The little pills, one red, one white, one pink, two yellow. Almost familiar friends by now. Precisely twenty minutes in the bathroom; no matter what else had changed, eight thirty would find him downstairs at the kitchen table with tea and porridge, his staple breakfast for the past twenty years. He had stopped going down for the daily newspaper, he often forgot something crucial; keys, hat, money. Instead he sat looking out the window at the forlorn garden, the empty chair opposite often drawing his gaze the harder he tried not to look
The kitchen was a hazard these days, with its maze of clutter and piles of junk, a guaranteed hip displacement if he put a foot wrong. The clock on the wall seemed to relish the slow tick of movement, the tiny increment of minutes that measures out the day. On the far wall the grand cabinet with its matching sets of crockery seemed like a tribute to an era gone by, a fading symbol of grandeur in a fading home.
His daily walk was preceded by the laborious task of finding his hat, coat, stick, keys, then shutting the front door and fumbling to fit the keys in the lock- the shaking never helped much.
The walk down to the seafront could only be described as a triumph of will- there we often days when he never made it at all; recognising defeat he would shuffle slowly once around the green and return But on days like this, the draining walk was worth it ten times over. It was at times like this that he felt as if the cool salt air would wash away the cobwebs and trappings of his head and for one glorious instant, he was himself again. The wet slick spit of sand glistened and shimmered while the white flecked surf threw gusts of spray up into the air to touch the wheeling gulls above.
Sitting on their bench, he could smell the floral musk of her perfume, almost hear her tinkling laugh mixed with the roaring of the surf, and his stiff and lined hands would feel as if they held hers gently clasped, fingers intertwined. Then the crash of the waves or the cawing of the gulls would shake him from the half-dream and he would pull his cap lower over his head and hug his arms in closer for warmth as he sat on the bench by the sea, very much alone.
He could feel the stiffness in his joints, as he walked slowly along the pathway, head down, and his stick cautiously testing the concrete. It was as if the oil had leaked away, leaving a stiff, creaky, broken down machine. That he could cope with, but in recent time the rust had begun creeping into his mind, eroding the cogs and levers and pistons. Memories of who he was, what he had done, what he had seen, became blurred, indistinct as though some part of the engine had fallen away. And it scared him. Not that he would let on. No, he was far too proud for that. He was not afraid of dying; he had lived a full life, had experienced what life had to offer. It was coming to the end and being nothing more than an empty shell, void of memories, of feeling, of who he had been, of those he had held dear- dying truly alone. That was what haunted him the most.
The house was cold and empty when he let himself in. What had he been expecting? Life had long gone from these rooms, the only tribute to the fact that the walls had once seen joy and sorrows, good and bad times, were the photographs that clustered on the mantelpiece- small squares of remembrance that kept him sane.
Microwave dinner in front of the TV, the radio coughing out the evening news; these small daily occurrences were the only indications that time was passing. He knew he ought to be eating healthier, the GP had warned him of the consequences of eating package meals night after night. But the thought of trying to cook up a meal in the kitchen reminded him two much of a happier time when dinner was an event, just the two of them. Instead he ate the half-heated meal on the plastic tray as the room darkened around him and the sports channel switched from motoring to football to snooker. He found the evenings increasing difficulty to pass; he knew the telephone would not ring, no-one would appear at the door, and no letters would push through the letter box. His hands shook violently as he stirred the tea with a spoon; the spasms seemed to come more frequently in the evenings. Some part of him still hoped the phone would ring, that there would be a knock on the door that something would happen to break the repetitive cycle of his evenings.
He could hear the sounds of next door through the sitting room wall; the chatter of the children, the exasperated sighs of the parents, a hum that sounded like a hoover being passed over worn carpet – the sounds of a busy, living modern family. One of the older children, Jenna, Joan Jean? - No, even that he couldn’t remember –used to stop by now and again, just for a chat, or as she was passing she would give a friendly wave over the hedge. That had meant so much to him, just to feel like someone cared. But the young have their own lives to live, to experience, to change, and who would bother now with a broken, slow old man?
Turning off the living room light, he began the weary ascent up the stairs, puffing and wheezing by the third step. He really should think about investing in one of those chair lifts. That would have made her laugh, to see him strapped in like a toddler, being lifted up the stairs. By the time he reached the top step he felt his legs almost give way. Slowly, steady now-to the bedroom. That night some strange impulse came into him as he walked slowly over to the dresser and, with a creaking and creaking that seemed to echo in the silence, he bent down to pull open the bottom drawer.
Her blouses lay folded in neat piles, cream, rose, pale yellow, lavender, some with delicate lacework around the collar. Light woollen cardigans took up one side of the drawer; underneath which he knew lay a number of square cream jewellery boxes-she had always been the careful one. He picked up on of the linen blouses gently in his hands and just held it to his face, inhaling gently. A scent, he felt was stronger than a memory, more real than a photograph. Proof, that she had lived and breathed and moved. How long he stayed there, he didn’t know. As he lay in bed that night, his chest heavy, his body aching and stiff, his mind was far away. Away, by the sea in peaceful dreams of times gone by, of memories that his sleeping brain seemed to unlock, in which he was happier than he had ever been.
And perhaps he would stay there.