It took one moment, one brief and fleeting second, a pause, the space of a single heartbeat, to change forever the life of Neville Hargreaves. He and Belle had not so long ago celebrated forty years of marriage and now Belle was gone. The driver of the car, shocked and upset, couldn't recall the events leading up to the accident. Neville, like a boat cast adrift, was unable to grasp just how much his life was different now. Sitting on the edge of a strange bed, in a strange room, he clutched an old leather suitcase to his chest, a single familiar landmark in an alien landscape.
Neville could not longer recall the snatches of a conversation he overheard as he sat in the kitchen, hands wrapped around a mug of tea them, not long after Belle's funeral.
"He is hopeless. He can't do anything for himself," whispered his oldest son. "Even simple things…making a phone call…it's beyond him."
"He doesn't even seem to be able to wash himself…or to shave. How on earth did Mum manage? It's like looking after a child," added his youngest son.
The truth was that Belle had been compensating for Neville's dementia for a long time. With her help Neville seemed to be as vital and competent as ever. She protected him and shielded him from an increasingly bewildering world that was slowly and silently shrinking.
Now that Belle was gone leaving her sons to discover their father's illness. They knew its name and symptoms, but neither seemed to have Belle's patience in helping Neville navigate through the days.
"You will be much better off in a home with trained people to care for you. People that understand what is happening to you," said one son, in soothing tones, while the other nodded in agreement. "You'll will be safe. We can't be around twenty four hours of the day to check that you don't hurt yourself, or someone else." Neville simply looked over his sons' shoulders, his eyes searching for Belle.
With an almost obscene haste the sons contacted a number of care homes, just far enough away from their own homes, giving themselves a perfect excuse not to have to visit too frequently. They visited each, taking Neville along, carefully watching his face for signs that he might like it there. Both sons were aware this was not what Belle would have wanted. Both struggled to come to a place of rest with their decision, conscious of an unspecified flaw in their characters. That they loved Neville was not the issue, they just doubted their ability to look after him as well as Belle had.
Katie was working an afternoon shift at the Wellsprings Care Home on the day that Neville arrived. She thought she would look in on him and see how he was settling in. Sitting on the bed, the suitcase held in front like a shield, he looked so lost.
"Hello, Mr Hargreaves. My name is Kate. Would you like me to help you unpack?" He surrendered the handle of the suitcase into her outstretched hands.
Neville's sons had packed the case, choosing the clothes carefully, trying hard to remember which clothes Neville wore most often, packing the trousers and jumpers that he was comfortable in. Lying on top of the clothes was a framed photograph of Belle and Neville taken not so long ago. It captured a spontaneous moment when they glanced at each other, love reflected in dimples and smiles, nestled in the crumpled fragility of a labyrinth of wrinkles.
Kate carefully wiped the glass with her hand and stood the frame on the bedside cabinet. Beneath the picture frame rested a Bible, large and leather bound, the first page filled in by Belle's confident hand over forty years ago. It was well thumbed, with small scraps of paper, old calendar clippings, faded photographs and small inspirational cards sprinkled throughout.
Neville smiled as he saw the Bible. He might never really realise that Belle was no longer with him, but she was present in every scrap of paper in their Bible. If he closed his eyes and listened carefully Neville could hear Belle reading her favourite Psalm. Yes, he could definitely hear her reading.
Kate, opening the Bible to her favourite psalm, had begun reading, "Oh Lord, you have searched me, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise. You perceive my thoughts from afar…You are familiar with all my ways."
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