The Revelation

March 9, 2012
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I wheel the old lady in front of me, careful to stay on the path and not snag her sticking-out feet on anything. A moment of forgetfulness and I might accidentally brush them on a passing flowerpot. It won’t hurt her –she’d wearing three layers of socks underneath those boots- but my eardrums will suffer for it. Last time I didn’t concentrate hard enough, I was reminded about it every day for three weeks.
I have the unfortunate biology that this woman is my grandmother. I wouldn’t be doing this duty if she weren’t. She spits and moans and glares at me, the dementia setting in and decaying the kind woman I once knew. Or maybe it is the liberty of old age, the loss of responsibility allowing her such behaviour. I don’t know.
This is my chore of the morning; take grandmother for a stroll. It allows her fresh air and allows me breathing time. Even a distraction as poor as this is better than the alternative. Back home it is crowded, pressurised, claustrophobic. My parents are no longer relaxed with each other, every move they make seeming to be on each other’s nerves. Sometimes I wish there were more of us children, to share the stress between. But there’s only me and my brother, Mitch. And grandmother, of course, because she now requires the care and attention demanded by a three-year old.
I wish I could sink into the background, unable to hear their arguments. Blend in with the wallpaper and other things that go unnoticed. Mitch just grunts, texts on his mobile phone and skulks off to his room. He lives a virtual life on the internet and social networking sites, absent in all but body. He’s lucky he can escape so easily. That leaves me with the aftermath, trying to run a household, study for school and look after my elderly, very ungrateful relative.
I know the inevitable is coming when we reach the front drive of our house. I feel it in the air, somehow, like the closeness of a looming thunderstorm. I exhale, wheeling grandmother inside the house and leaving her in the conservatory where she likes to sit. It is coming, today the day those words are finalised. The last piece of the puzzle slotted into place, completing an already-formed picture. This is just a formality, a rite of passage, a confirmation that Mitch and I have been expecting for months.
I used to pity those other kids at school, seeing good students turn into bad rebels, results of coping strategies in reaction to their parents’ divorce. I never imagined I’d be one of them. I allow myself a smile, thinking that this side of the conversation, I still am the old me, the pitying me. I am not one of ‘those kids’ just yet.
“Helen, go and fetch your brother.” My dad barks, his hands covering closed eyes and massaging his temples. I do not need to be told twice. My parents are in the living room, my father standing by the fireplace whilst my mother is perched on the couch, jauntily sitting upright because she feels she has to be strong. She does not know I have already seen her trembling lower lip by the time I climb the stairs.
Heavily, my legs plod, my body moving in slow motion. I wish I could move quicker, get this out of the way. I owe that much to Mitch. I knock on his door and he grunts permission to enter. As expected, he is playing on his computer, listening to music and texting all at the same time. As expected, there is no sight of today’s homework – another indicator of our future status. ‘Those kids’. The ones that rebel and forget about school.
My little brother looks at me, tells from the look in my eyes that now it is time. I am sorry, I have never been good at lying. We walk downstairs in silence.
In the living room, our father has joined our mother on the couch. They make no contact. No holding hands, no shared glances, no ankles touching. Little signs of affection that used to make us brother and sister embarrassed but secretly happy. Now, it is as if they are strangers sat in the waiting room of a doctor’s surgery, anxious to hear bad news.
Like a parody, two dinning room chairs have been dragged into the room, positioned to face the couch head-on. Mitch takes one, I take the other. Despite the five-year gap between us, both siblings childishly hook our feet under the chairs, rest our hands in our laps and cast our eyes to the floor. We are defeated.
“Helen, Mitch.” Our dad starts, his voice thick and heavy. I am glad to see that it is not easy for him, to say the words that will change our lives forever. “Your mother has something to tell you.”
I glare at him angrily. He is too cowardly to make it a joint statement, instead leaving it up to mom.
Something in my mind, although irrational, begs it not to be a divorce. Please say we’re moving house. Please say she’s pregnant. Please say anything that isn’t what we all know it is.
And it’s not divorce. It’s cancer.

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