Bobbing for Apples
My dad snatches at memories, like he’s bobbing for apples in a barrel. Just when he thinks he’s caught one, it slips away, under the surface. Then he gives up, sighs and stares out of the window.
One night, I leave him downstairs, watching the news, and go to bed.
“I’ll be up in a while,” he calls after me.
That’s before. Before I find him sprawled across the stairs like a fish at low-tide, flapping and gasping.
“I needed the loo. I slipped. I’m sorry,” he half whispers.
Today is Monday. Pension day. I wheel him down the high street, past the bookies and put the breaks on outside the off-license.
“Why are we stopping?” he asks
He forgets he’s a drinker as if he’s forgotten a pair of trousers. Oh yeah, he says. Oh yeah.
Later, I park the car outside the house and he thinks he’s being kidnapped. Refusing to get out, he fights me like a man possessed. Not like that girl in The Exorcist - this is much worse. These demons take up root in his cerebral cortex and it seems no amount of coaxing or praying or drugs will entice them to leave.
I try to feed him solids - but his mouth mistrusts them. Protein shakes pass muster - just - scrambled eggs are ushered around his toothless mouth by the dessicated tongue as if they were unruly children. Finally, he spits them out in my hand.
“I’m sorry,” he gasps.
Downstairs, I stare at my Cheerios spinning around the lake of milk like that water ride at Thorpe Park. Bumper Boats, I think they were called. Looking after dad is like that I suppose; clinging to out of control boats, spinning and bumping into one another until the ride stops. I hold his hand but wonder what good it’ll do.
“What’s your name?” he asks with a smile.
I wrap the rosary around his purpling fingers and rest my head on his chest once more. I offer him a can of beer, forgetting myself, that I’ll be the one holding it. I forget lots of other things too: his medication; to shave that spot under his chin; to check if he’s wearing his hearing aid before we go out. Mostly though, I do alright.
A few weeks later, he’s carried out of the front door, draped in nothing but a red blanket. Mum rushes to cover him where his feet peep out.
“I wanted to make him warm,” she says. “Silly, really.”
Not silly. Not silly at all. Only as silly as bobbing for apples in the dark, toothless; memories swirling all around you and not wanting to get caught.