This is what condensation looks like. Sitting in a room looking around at the condensation of a life. A life whittled down to the barest bones, you’d think, but really there could and will be a bit more whittling to be had. Though that would be a new level of ruthless. The day will come, and I hope it’s not too soon, when I will have to start condensing my own life, though in reality I suspect by then someone else will have to do it for me and I can only hope (hope, because prayer doesn’t work) that whoever is in charge of that process isn’t a nasty cunt.
It’s incredible how quickly the nose adapts to the smell of urine. Fresh or stale, flat or funky, it’s all still urine and it hangs in the air like a cobweb on the stillest of days; there’s no way round it, you’ll have to just go straight ahead. You could scrub those floors and boil wash those sheets 24 hours a day and you’d never get rid of it, not properly. And every time I come I can almost feel my nose start to do stretches and lunges, just to warm up. It doesn’t make it much better but like all such experiences you may as well get on with it, we’ll all end up there sooner or later and then what will everyone else be saying about our urine?
Actually her room isn’t too bad at all but it just shows that with enough condensation you really can squeeze a life into a room. The rest is just memories and they seem to be fading faster every day though the tough ones, the best ones, are stubborn and ingrained and perhaps they’ll be there until the very end. I hope so. The others are mainly photos. Photos and paintings and flowers; flowers that look like they should be on their way out. No books to speak of, she never was a big reader, and a slim collection of music: some crap, but rescued by Lady Day, Sinatra and poor old Matt Monroe; he liked to drink too much but at least never had to live like this. Croon away, Matt, she likes your stuff and it puts a cheeky little smile on her face.
I shift down the corridor where the air is fresher. A door is opened and a smiley carer walks in. Awful dance music is blaring out but no one is complaining. If it was me I would have shot the radio by now. Muffled voices drift out from various corners. The same questions, the same suggestions but there’s no point in pleading; if you’re not set in your ways by now then you never will be. They try hard, some are cheerier than others, but they all try hard. The nice lady I asked for help didn’t hesitate for even a fraction of a second. Cheers to you. I’m not sure how happy they are in their jobs and I would never be so rude as to inquire, but working in places like this seems to be either vocation or desperation.
It doesn’t feel right to me: stretching out a life for as long as possible, all the while chipping away at it, boiling it down to the lowest common denominator and then, all of a sudden we switch from condensation to evaporation and it’s all gone. Is she enjoying her twilight years, sitting there in her room? It’s hard to tell but she does perk up when ‘the wife’ turns up. I think she senses that I’d rather be far away; I’m too impatient and too much of a wanker to be very useful but I suppose if wifey finds it supportive then I can throw myself in, once in a while.
We’re off now, after a dramatic interlude. We’ll be back again, and again and so on and so forth. I dread being somewhere like here, much rather do myself in on a tide of ill advised self abuse. But that would be a shame as I have so many things to be happy about. And so did she, and so does she still. Happy to see her family and recall those bits of her life that made it worth living. It will all come to a crunch, this care home crisis (it’s a crisis now, it will become an apocalypse soon), but until then she’s safe and warm and there could be a lot worse. There’s always a lot worse, but I’m still trying to imagine what a lot better might look like. Here’s to you, mother-in-law.
G B Hewitt. 13.07.2019