She should have known when they dug out the roses without asking, or when they fussed when she fell. There was hardly a scratch on her, but they jumped at it like she’d signed herself off. Hovering like vultures they were – darting their eyes round her wee house making some kind of inventory of the good and the worthless in their heads. They thought because she couldn’t hear, that she was oblivious. But she wasn’t. You don’t have to be able to hear to understand when you’re being pushed out of your life-time home, just to make it easier for everybody else. It was like some terrible sacrifice – their convenience over her happiness. She hadn’t lost her mind, she hadn’t had a stroke. She could still get on the train to Bangor and back. A few times in the day once – she’d stuffed too many groceries into her pull-long trolley, and no-one offered to help her down, so she just stayed on until somebody did. That’s the one bonus of being really old and small – invisibility. Well, usually a bonus, sometimes not.
So here she was, sitting along the side of a once-magnolia room in a cabbage-smelling home, with absolutely nothing to do. She still woke up early every day, ready to polish, weed and clean, but then she remembered where she was. She knew it wouldn’t be long at this rate before she forgot who she was too. Here she’s just ‘pet’ or ‘dear’. Not Patricia, definitely not Paddy, as her husband used to call her. Maybe he was lucky to die before this first slow death of being ‘in care’ happened. It’s like the worst waiting room you’d ever be in – the only way out is in a coffin.
Oh for a duster, or even a potted plant to water. Oh for a reason to live, to feel useful. Most of the others have given up and just sleep all the time. Some have descended into permanent reminiscence. Maybe it’s easier for them that way.
The relatives come dutifully every Sunday afternoon, sit with their milky tea in dirty cups, wave their arms about and pretend to be interested in her. They probably do care, but their lives are already full, so it’s hard to squeeze in a deaf ninety-year old, however nice her dinner set. The one good thing was the visits from the school children. They looked uncomfortable and stared from time to time, but they had youth on their side, which was like fresh air blowing through this fusty old place. And dusty too, if they’d never let her at it. She still had uses, if anyone noticed, and if they did, the home would be a tidier, more shiny place to be. It’s these little things that you can live for, however old you are, however much you just wish you’d never been moved on. She’d find a duster, she’d get up early, and she’d find her purpose again, even if nobody else noticed.