The present –
I know I’m coming to the end because I’m not thinking about sex all the time. In fact I don’t think about it much anymore. Maybe I think that I miss it, the urge, the anxiety, the application, the dream. All of that I miss! That’s why I know this is the beginning of my end. Since I was fourteen, seventy years ago, I’ve lived with it and now I miss the constant itching urge in my pants and that’s a fact.
It’s warm and my bed is comfortable, but this is not my home. It’s the home, a home for old buggers who live here until they go out in a bag. Don’t get me wrong, they’re really nice here, they look after me and will even help me undress if I let them. Of course, I don’t, that would be tempting fate.
This House is in a decaying avenue in a miserable town. Well perhaps not all that miserable, there is something graceful about the decaying Georgian crescent that sweeps down the hill to ‘Swallow House’ I’m not sure what kind of Swallow the man had in mind but it certainly swallows up the inmates. The house once stood in the countryside and it still has a large walled garden. The house itself still has the ghost of glories past. The slate long roof, the slender Georgian windows that sit so sweetly in the sandstone walls. Despite all this dilapidated grace, once in, you’re in until you’re out, if you get my meaning.
My fellow inmates are largely of the gentler sex, forty in all including just eight men. There are also eight cottages in the grounds occupied by ancient, and not so ancient married couples. I see little of them, except when I spy into their golf buggy world when strolling, actually hobbling, round the grounds.
My earliest companion when I arrived was Geoff who’s from another planet, he is brilliant, brilliant in a geeky way, but at least he’s compos mentis, unlike some of the others who are all totally hopeless old farts, not gah-gah exactly, but more of them later. Geoff and I are allowed out but we have to sign the book and say where and when we’re going. We sneak a pint or two about twice a week and Geoff likes his fish and chips and rather fancies the lady who makes the chips. I feel she rather gives her profession a bad name as she has to be fourteen stones, two hundred pounds or more.
The door closes and the pretty carer sings ‘goodnight’ and the cold loneliness sweeps over me, actually it never leaves me here because I know that even my son and the grandkids in America like to love me from a distance. I weep without tears, I find it hard to be alone despite the nice carers and the safe house where I now live, swallowed up and wrapped away like the useless old bastard that I’ve become.
I want sleep to come, so I can dream of my lovely wives, I loved them both. Now all gone, mourned for everyday and every night. How I loved them, how we laughed and planned and kissed, held hands and made love. How we bought things in those homes and how Johanna and me loved our son. How Margaret my first, held me up when we lost all that money. How I held her as she died. That was black back then, my heart hurt with every beat, I wanted to die.
Of course, I did not die, and in less than two years I was in love again. At first I felt I was betraying Margaret, but Johanna helped me feel alive again and even joined in my still saddened vigil of her predecessor. Johanna brought a selfless light that made me feel reborn and when our son David arrived it was a pinnacle of enormous joy.
It’s difficult to sleep because my leg hurts. My leg is the reason I’m in this ‘home’ for the hapless and hopeless. I was right as rain, living a robust life when I got pissed and fell down the stairs and broke my leg in two places. Shit, it hurt, I remember being so bloody cross as I lay hopelessly half way down the stairs – arse in the air and completely unable to move. I stayed there for eight hours till my cleaner came next morning. I must say I made a complete balls of things and it’s true I was very unwell for quite a time. Anyway David rushed from the States and made me promise I’d sell the house and move here. What a cock-up.
I wish I could go to sleep, this wretched leg really hurts. I’m not an alcoholic, I just like a drink now and again, but having nearly killed myself it’s hard to persuade David that I can look after myself. It’s my fucking fault. Please, please can I go to sleep!
Morning comes early with first light, even the feather footed dawn wakes me up to face another day. Sometimes I feel I must make the best of it, other days I lay motionless, waiting for nothing. Nothing is a bugger, neither friend nor foe but I hate it nevertheless, nothing is a friend of loneliness, nothing makes me lazy, nothing makes me afraid. As I lay here dozing I can listen to it, bumping in my ears, things tinkle and creek, I’m not sure where. I hear the staff rattle the first tea cups of the day, the door open and close, and clatter of the dustmen.
Margaret and Johanna tussle for my dreamy awakening, and then I wake up to the cold reality. I stumble out of bed to face the day. The girls mumble as they melt into my morning, ‘dress well there’s a good boy’ they say in chorus. ‘Watch out for those stains now’ say Johanna.
I stretch and feel my gammy leg, I see myself potbellied in the mirror, a haircut vaguely in the style of Julius Caesar. I’m still me, however my eyes are smaller than ever, supporting outrageous bags. Without my glasses I have a marked resemblance to Mr. McGoo. After a non-too athletic stretch, I sit in my en-suite bathroom contemplating the working of my much abused digestive system. The girls of my dreams have departed, they’re not allowed in here. This is part of my morning ritual. One fall and they’ll have some unfortunate carer to hold me up as I struggle into my underwear. Men’s’ underwear, now there’s a trial, y-fronts zed bends and all. Invented by a virgin who wanted to stay that way! Whoops! I’m being sexist. After shaving and showering, and shouting to an enquiring carer as to my being alive and well, I dress carefully. My check shirt, my brogue shoes which get ever more difficult to get on, they are not a pair in the traditional sense. Since the accident of my army days I’ve had td to have a special shoe for my right foot. It takes an age to put on and take off, I have a special shoe horn. The shoe horn is one of my dearest possessions. If I lost it I don’t know what I’d do. All this takes an age. Today, I select my smart tweedy jacket and silk handkerchief! A final check in the mirror and John Betts is ready for the day.
Today nothing is not allowed. ‘Cummon you old git, remember your Sergeant-major of all those years ago; Shoulders back, chin pointing down, neck in your collar and stand straight, bad leg or no. Right!’ Off I go, hobbling on my walking stick down to start a new day. Pretending I have something to do.