Funny the way some things happen when you really don’t expect them to or maybe they don’t happen when it just seems impossible that they should not do so.
For instance, my parents have been married for forever, or so it seems to me, although sometimes I wonder what has kept them together. They seem to have few interests in common, and their disagreements and verbal clashes are notable although they seem to keep it all in the family, as it were. I cannot remember a time when we were ever told by our parents not to let the sun go down on our wrath, and certainly we had no example of peacefulness or forgiveness to encourage us.
Having said this, I must add that in the matter of a respectable and well provided home we had no reason to complain. Father was a good provider and Mother a competent housewife. Both were caring parents as far as we children were concerned. It was only in their personal relationship that there was a complete disharmony. So we were quite sure that when the last of us left home they would part company, whether they simply separated and went their individual ways or were divorced. We didn’t really expect them to divorce as they both spoke against breaking a marriage in this way, but nonetheless it was a possibility.
They did not separate, nor did they move into a smaller home. They kept the old rambling house sitting in the midst of a far from labour saving garden. Little grey-haired, grey-skinned Mother moved jerkily from room to room, whisking her feather duster among the many ornaments, rubbing at the windows, straightening and tidying although there was no one to disturb the cushions or read the books. She clattered in the kitchen paring and preparing, serving attractive and nutritious meals which the two of them pecked at before feeding them to old Shep, somnolent in the sunny porch.
Accompanied by old Shep, Father tended the garden: snipping, hoeing and mowing as the season required. When we visited we noticed that the heavier tasks were now left undone but Father refused any assistance. He remained fiercely independent and seemed to view any offer of help as a personal criticism.
Visiting was seldom an enjoyable experience but we felt that it was needed, so we divided weekly visits between the four of us and compared notes to ensure that we should suffer no unpleasant surprises. There was no telephone in the house and when people get older a fall may be a disaster. These visits were the only occasion when Mother accepted the help of any of us. She entrusted us with her shopping list. Father did his own shopping.
We were a close-knit four: two men, two women; two married, two single. We had always stood together, observant of the moods of our parent’s antipathy, and this continued in the years of our independence. Until the unthinkable happened.
It was Deidre’s turn to visit. She found Father sitting in the garden with Shep. He was quivering with indignation.
“That woman,” his voice was shaking with rage, “that woman is refusing to do anything! For two days we’ve had nothing to eat or drink, and she is just sitting there smiling and doing nothing!”
Deidre’s heart stopped. She asked where her mother was, but Father ignored her, simply repeating what he had already said. She ran indoors. Mother was sitting on the floor in the dining room. Her feather duster lay across her lap. She smiled up into Deidre’s face. Deidre knelt down. The smile was fixed; there was no recognition in Mother’s eyes, no pulse in her arm. Deidre closed her mother’s eyes, pulled her cell phone from her handbag and dialled emergency before returning to her father.
“Father, Mother is dead. Didn’t you realise that she was dead? Come inside and I’ll make you some tea and a sandwich while we wait for the ambulance.”
Father started up, clutching at Deidre’s arm.
“Did you say dead? Cecily’s dead?”
Deidre nodded, taking his arm to help him stand and walk. Instead he flung himself down beside Shep, burying his face in the dog’s neck.
“How could she do this – how can I live without her? I have never cared for anyone else!”
His sobs shook his frail form. Deidre shook her head. Life can be funny sometimes.
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