The Agèd P

My 90 year old mother is turning into a fruitcake. Her memory is that of a butterfly, her reasoning seeming to rely on two neurones and a single synapse. Currently she lives in old people’s home close to the centre of town. As I arrived today to visit, she asked, “Did you come by horse, dear?”
“No, mother, hitching posts are so difficult to find at this time of the day.”
The nebulous clouds inside her brain have given birth to the idea that the retirement home was built by my father. She holds onto this concept with a tenacity approaching obsession. As she loudly discussed my father’s building prowess would, in the past I have been deeply embarrassed for her as the other people listening in the communal sitting-room would know that this patently wasn’t true. From long, occasionally painful, experience of locking horns with my mother I knew there was no point in directly contradicting her. Therefore I’d swing in with diversionary tactics.
“You must be thinking of our house in Oxford, mother.” No less of a whopper as my father hadn’t built that one either.
Then I took a closer look at the people I was saving her from. Most of them were deaf, several gaga and the rest asleep. So I started agreeing with her, admired how beautifully he had built the West Wing and agreed that the turrets he’d thoughtfully put in were a particularly fine feature. I mentioned that the dungeon might perhaps be considered a tad unnecessary, although of course when he built it the children had been fairly young.
“Quite, dear. Everything is so beautifully proportioned.” Presumably referring to the stretching rack and manacle room.
The fact that she has floated off her trolley would be sad, had it not been coming on for such a long period of time, so we’ve all become accustomed to it. Years ago, when Natasha was 10, she found her grandmother wandering around in the middle of the night.
”I’ve lost my spaceship. I must get to it immediately,” said the frail grey-haired old lady, the antithesis of a space traveller in her satin nightgown and fluffy pink slippers. Natasha, who even as a child had great presence of mind, said that she felt the spaceship wasn’t quite ready yet and that grandma should go back to bed until Natasha called her for countdown. The fact my mother remained in bed until the morning was a testament to the success of the operation, although I do feel sorry for the rest of the shuttle crew who clearly had needed to launch without her.
She can be a bit startling at times. I was rambling on recently about having supper out, as she was telling me that she really must get ready to go to work, when I mentioned something about anchovies.
“But you don’t like anchovies, dear.”
Absolutely right. But how did that little flash of normality slip out of the homogenous soup of bizarre which has become her thought pattern?
The other thing that saves the situation from pathos is that were my mother firing on all cylinders, she herself would find the situation hugely amusing. She once ran an old people’s home with great brio. The pair of us were often to be found hooting with laughter over yet another escapade of one of her gerries. Years ago a mysterious male voice rang up to inform her that there was a bomb on site and that the whole house would blow shortly. My mother took the only sensible course of action. She rang the police, then summoned all the oldies into the sitting-room.
“There’s a bomb in the boiler room,” she announced. “Anyone for sherry?”
They spent an extremely pleasant afternoon eating hot buttered muffins and putting away a schooner or three. Mother would have found an undignified scramble for the lawn hilarious but unnecessary.
Seepage of marbles from the brain can have a hereditary element. The children feel that I’m already a little strange, so it is difficult to imagine that there’ll be a precise borderline, a moment when I pass from off the wall into truly weird as I get older. It’s reassuring that they will hardly notice the transition until I ask them truly bizarre questions and start fruitcaking away myself. Knowing this, I have every intention of staying healthy, staving that moment off to a long way in the future.
So I must leave you now, as I’m off to the gym. Health and fitness programme. Natasha, where did I leave my horse?

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About alisongardiner1

Writer of YA series of books. Broadcaster/podcaster Litopia After Dark.
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