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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Control (01/30/06)

TITLE: A Happy Week
By Val Clark


I press the button and glance at the clock. I have three minutes. If nobody comes in three minutes…. I sigh. Experience has taught me, nobody will come.


‘Nathan, this is ridiculous. It happens every time.’

‘Shh, honey, you’ll wake her. I’ll go and get a nurse.

I force my eyes open. Even that has become an effort.

Narelle snatches a tissue from the box by my bed and wipes the dribble off my face. At first she is rough. I watch the anger seep from her and her ministrations become gentle dabs.

‘Oh, Mum. I’m so sorry that it had to come to this….’

I try to reassure her with a smile that all is well. That she doesn’t have to feel guilty. That everything has a beginning and an end. That I am simply coming to an end. And a beginning.

Nathan and Narelle leave the room.

‘Lord,’ I pray, as sheets are changed and I am un-ceremoniously cleaned up. ‘How much longer must I suffer this indignity.’

Patience, my child. His voice echoes softly in my head.


Narelle very gently squeezes my hand, gaunt with yellow, mummified flesh. She smiles bravely. She has all her teeth. I can’t remember the last time I wore mine. I don’t even know where they are now. Though I do remember Matron putting them in a box the day they took me off solids.

‘No reason for keeping these out now, is there Joy dear?’

Narelle opens a container of mango ice cream. She spoons it into my mouth and uses the side of the spoon to wipe the bits that have escaped onto my face. I try to help but sometimes keeping my head still takes more effort than I can muster.

I remember playing Airplanes with her and smile.

‘What’s so funny, Mum?’

She places her ear next to my mouth. ‘Planes,’ I breathe.

Narelle laughs and dips the spoon into the ice cream.

‘Here comes the World War One flying ace Joy De Vere.’

I open my mouth and splutter with laughter as the spoon enters. There is ice cream on the bedspread, on Narelle’s blouse, on my chin.

She chuckles as she cleans up. ‘Oh, Mum.’

Then the tears start.

Nathan closes his book. ‘Next Saturday we’ll take you for an outing. The beach, we thought. You can feed the seagulls.’

And watch the sun set. I can’t smell the kelp on the breeze or hear the waves but I can watch the sun set.

Silently I pray, ‘Thank you, Father, that I have my sight.’

I motion with my hand. Narelle comes close to listen.

‘Oh I’m as happy as can be expected, Mum.’

Nathan kisses me on the forehead. I know he dislikes visiting this place, but nevertheless he comes and I love him for it.


They pick me up on Saturday.

‘How has she been?’ Narelle says.

Matron fusses with her watch. ‘Oh, really happy this week.’

I have not been happy. This week I feel surrounded by idiots and have struggled to be thankful.

I sit in the back of the car relishing every wonderful sight. We park. A sea breeze ruffles my clothes as Nathan lifts me into the wheel chair. He carefully maneuvers the chair down the concrete path. We sit on the edge of the sand. Seagulls mass around us, feeding on scraps of bread in a mad frenzy. I suck on the piece of bread Narelle has placed in my mouth.

Nathan doesn’t complain when he lifts me into the car but I feel his body stiffen. He is quick to take off his jumper and put it in the boot. He crashes the gears.

Narelle pats his arm and I watch the tension in his neck ease.

‘Next time we take Mum on an outing let’s remember to get the staff to put her in a nappy.’

‘Nappy!’ My daughter turns to me. ‘Is that what you were trying to tell me, Mum?’

I nod. I want to say, ‘You and every member of staff I could get to listen,’ but I can’t.

‘Oh, I’m so sorry, Mum. How awful for you.’ Her eyes tear up.

Sadness and unnecessary guilt. She must learn to let go and live with what is inevitable. Just as I must. As I am.

‘We’ll have you home and cleaned up straight way.’

Home. Oh, how I longed to be home.

Soon, child, soon.

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This article has been read 1186 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Chelsea Pietsch02/08/06
Haha, brilliant and funny in a more subtle way. You captured the characters well, and gave an interesting take on the subject. Thanks
Lynda Schultz 02/08/06
Powerful. I am not often moved to tears, but this one did it.
Suzanne R02/09/06
Oh, this is SO sad ... and yet so true...... It beautifully sums up 'control'. Aging ... ugh....

Well done - it is magnificent.
Georgiana Daniels02/11/06
Yeggy, is this you? This is so well written, I want to cry because I feel your characters are real people. This is one that I will never forget.
Kenn Allan02/11/06
This one hit close to home - I serve as caregiver for my mother who suffers from Alzheimers and she LOVES her ice cream. Thanks for misting up my vision.
Debbie Sickler02/11/06
Yeggy, this was a very good look into the experience of aging. You really expressed her thoughts and feelings well and brought me into her life.

I did have a little problem with this part though:

"Nathan doesn’t complain when he lifts me into the car but I feel his body stiffen. He is quick to take off his JUMPER and put it in the BOOT. He crashes the gears.

Narelle pats his arm and I watch the tension in his neck ease.

‘Next time we take Mum on an outing let’s remember to get the staff to put her in a NAPPY.’"

The words I put in all caps aren't used in the US, so it was a bit confusing. Also, the previous paragraph they had just started enjoying the beach. I was a little slow figuring out that he was putting her back into the car at the end of the trip. (Maybe I'd have figured it out more easily if it wasn't so late here. lol)

Otherwise, this was a very touching and insightful story. It reminded me of my great-grandmother who unfortunately didn't receive proper care in her last years.
Lynda Lee Schab 02/11/06
Great POV. Heart wrenching, really. My sister-in-law works in a nursing home & is continually outraged by staff not taking the time to properly care for the patients. Sad that we don't even know half of what happens (or doesn't happen) in nursing homes around the world.
You've written a realistic piece and the reader can't help but connect with the old woman. Well done!
Jan Ackerson 02/11/06
Stunningly written--and your last line was the clincher. I can see her, running into the arms of Jesus. Top notch!
Linda Watson Owen02/11/06
If I could write prose like you do, Val, I'd use up every pen in the universe! I'm speechless!
Anita Neuman02/11/06
This is beautiful and sad and hopeful and so well-written. Wonderful work!

('jumper' caught me off-guard, too, but 'boot' helped to clarify things so by the time we got to 'nappy' I was okay.) :-)
Deanna Wessel02/11/06
Powerful story. I also found my eyes clouded with tears...remembering the times...good & bad...near the end of my sister's life. Thanks.
Laurie Glass 02/11/06
This piece is dear to my heart as I have worked with the elderly in the past. Your story is realistic and thought-provoking. Well done.
Debbie OConnor02/11/06
One of the best entries I've read--you brought tears to my eyes. Sweet, poignant, intelligent and realistic. Well done!
Joanne Malley02/11/06
This makes me think of both my grandparents who died 9 days apart in the nursing home a few years back. I was right there with you reading your well-crafted story. Great job describing the feelings of the caregiver and the aging parent. :)
Sandra Petersen 02/12/06
I have to confess, I read about a third of the way through and had to begin to put my thoughts down. How sad and sweet! You captured the emotions of mother and daughter very well! You have also captured very well the indignity of having to stay in a medical facility. Having to depend on overworked staff for basic needs like going to the bathroom and being cleaned up afterwards. To be fair to the workers, they often have so many patients to have to care for, that they become a little rough and insensitive. Not totally uncaring, though. And I have played the part of the daughter feeling sadness and guilt, too. I liked the hopeful refrain of "Soon, child, soon." This gets my vote for one of the best of the week!
Beth Muehlhausen02/13/06
Extraordinary!!! Magnificent!!! Emotion, imagery, flow, character development....all wonderful. Touched me deeply with memories of my mother's last days with Alzheimer's.

There was an ice cream parlor down the street from my mother's nursing home...where for a moment as I fed her peppermint stick ice cream, something came back to life. My mother's bright eyes told me all was well. Within a few weeks of our ice cream party she met her Maker.
Julianne Jones02/15/06
I've nursed elderly patients and I'm sure at times was one of those idiots that didn't understand. Very realistic and moving. And so nice to read "Jumper" and "Nappy". We use nappies here but wear a jersey. Nice to be reminded of my roots. Well done.