We Were Young
Entry by: kevley
14th August 2015
I had been rung up at 8.30 on the Sunday morning. I was still asleep and listened to the voicemail a couple of hours later. I needed to listen to it twice before it sank in. It was from the Care Home where my father had been for the last few years.
It said that my father was seriously ill and that I should come as soon as possible. It also said that they had been in touch with my sister in Canada.
My wife Fiona found me sat at the kitchen table, staring at my phone. When she asked what was up, all I could do was play the voicemail again on speakerphone, so that she could listen.
“Don’t worry, Bill” Fiona said, “I will make all the arrangements. I will ring Zoe and tell her”.
I had composed himself a lot when Fiona returned half an hour later to say that Zoe would take the train tomorrow.
Fiona offered to drive me up in the afternoon, but I said No, I would rather catch the train that Zoe would be on tomorrow and go with her.
I told Fiona he didn’t need her to come and so she dropped me off at the railway station the following afternoon.
Zoe already seemed a bit frazzled when I sat opposite her; she half-smiled in greeting, tidied up some of the books and papers she had spread out on the table in front of her, and then went back to her screen.
"A moment, dad, please" she quietly said, without really looking at me.
I settled back into the chair, and tried to make myself comfortable. I got my phone out of my jacket's inside pocket and put it on the table in front of me. It was tiny compared to Zoe's, but then I did not use it much. I checked to see if there were any more messages from my sister.
Going to catch the first flight there
That was still the last one, and that was now over 12 hours old. Or maybe longer.
I heard Zoe's tablet or laptop or whatever snap shut.
I looked up and she was looking at me, waiting for me to say something.
I simply stared back, thinking where had all the time gone that my one and only baby was now all grown up and obviously well in control of her own life.
"Well? Any more news? How are you feeling?"
"No, no more news. Your aunt is getting the first flight from Canada. Nothing more from the Home. I am OK, I guess."
"Have you rung them this morning to see if there has been any change with grandad?"
I paused. I hadn't rung myself. I couldn’t face doing it.
"You got Fiona to ring, didn't you?"
"Yes, I admit I did. She said they told her there was no real change, but he hadn't had much to eat, or much sleep in the night".
I gave Zoe a weak smile, admitting to myself that she knew me too well. I thought I might as well get the difficult bit over and so asked:
"How is your mother?"
Zoe looked out of the window for a few seconds, I could see the anger building up in her lips, but she seemed to be making a conscious effort to let it go before she turned to face me again.
"Look dad, it's probably not a good day to get into all that. You both were young, I was very young...isn't it time to be thinking about grandad?"
She tried to smile at me, but there was still too much of a scowl.
I muttered under my breath, "I was only asking" but she was already looking at her device again.
There was a bing, and I looked out of the window, thinking Zoe might want some privacy
"I think that was your phone, dad".
I picked it up and opened the case and woke it up and read the message.
"It's your Aunt Jane. They are on the flight."
"Who is coming with her? All of them?"
"No. your uncle has important business he can't leave"
Zoe and I smiled at each other. We had heard this excuse many times before.
"Zach isn't coming either. But the two girls are."
Zoe just nodded at this, and went back to staring at her screen.
I looked out of the window again and thought about what Zoe had said about her mother and I having been young.
I had been fairly young 25, when I left her mother for Fiona.
That was a similar age to when my dad left my mum for another woman. Which is why I get uncomfortable asking Zoe about her mum, as I am instantly taken back 30 years to my dad drunkenly asking me how my mum was, a few years after he'd left her, and I even more drunkenly physically attacking him whilst screaming "You broke her heart, you bastard" until I collapsed in tears, and my dad gave me a final kick to my side before walking away and leaving me.
That was definitely the low point in my relationship with my father.
15 years ago my mother died and he did pop up at the funeral, but kept at the back, out of the way. Jane went and had a good talk to him, but I just grinned at him when she tried to engineer a big reconciliation.
Since then we have been in more and more contact over the years, but mainly when Jane was back in the country to arrange it.
Five years ago, his second wife died and Jane even managed me to talk me into going into the funeral - which wasn't too bad, as I had only ever spoken to the woman about half a dozen times in my life, and I even got a new job out of meeting one of her nieces there, so I still have some fond recollections of the day.
"Dad, dad, we're nearly here"
I must have been so absorbed in my memories that I appeared to be asleep to Zoe, as she was gently waking me up.
I looked at my phone again - no new messages - before putting it back in my jacket pocket.
"Families, eh?" I said as Zoe was looking at me, as the train slowly came to a stop.
We got a taxi from outside the station and I told the driver the name of the hotel we'd booked into.
"Aren't we going to the home first?" Zoe asked, so I told the driver the name of that, and he nodded in recognition and set off, through the town centre.
Father and daughter sat next to each other in silence for the short journey. He looked out of the window again, recognising buildings he had visited when he was young - the old swimming pool, now a shabby looking DIY shop; the old police station site that he was surprised to see was now quite a smart looking cul-de-sac; and the closed down and boarded up pubs. Every single pub they drove past was no longer in business, had not been touched since and were all slowly succumbing to the elements.
The taxi pulled into the Care Home grounds.
Zoe had already pressed the buzzer and a member of staff had opened the door for her whilst I was paying the driver and then looking round the grounds, and over to the park on the other side of the road. That is where Jane had introduced me to Zoe's mum, when they were all young and carefree, and the woods at the back of the park could well be where Zoe was conceived.
I turned round and hurried to the door that was being held open for me.
"Aunt Jane is already here" she whispered.
We were shown the way to his father's room, and on the way Zoe tried to work out how long it was since she last saw Jane. A long time we both decided. I only every saw my sister every few years now, and then not for long. I had never bothered to travel to Canada to meet her husband and friends, and since our mum died she didn’t come back to this country for as long or as often. I missed her on her last visit, as she only spent a couple of days visiting dad after he moved into the Care Home, before travelling round the Low Countries. I had not been bothered enough to come and see either of them.
I entered the room before Zoe, and stopped in the doorway.There was a bed along the back wall, and there was a small figure laid on their back in it. I had to keep looking before I recognised my father. He was much thinner now, not only in his body but also his face. I went closer and was shocked by how old my father was.
There was a woman with her back to us, looking out of the window.
I went over and said "Hello sis".
"Hi. I am just looking out at the park. Remembering when we were young." Jane turned round and walked over to Zoe and gave her a hug.
The two women chatted for a few minutes before Jane decided that Zoe should go back to the hotel and have a meal with her cousins, whilst she and I would stay and keep vigil.
"You got here quick" I said eventually. My sister was still staring intently out at the park.
Jane turned and smiled at me. "Or maybe you didn't. I thought you would have been here yesterday."
Jane went back to look out of the window.
"Have they said about...well, you know..." I couldn't think of the right words to say.
"I assume you mean how long he's got. Or do you mean how long will you have to stay here?"
I got up and went to stand by her.
"Both, I suppose".
"God knows. A day or two. A week at most. But, you know Bill, God knows. Literally." She looked me straight in the face, and then smiled.
“When we were young, you were such a bright, happy boy, and so religious Bill. We were so close as well, a real brother and sister. Do you never wonder where it all went so…”
“Wrong?” I finished her sentence for her, and as I did so, I turned back and looked at the frail and pathetic lying motionless, barely breathing on the bed.
“Life made it all go wrong, sis. We all stopped being young, and believing everything we were told. That was the start of it all”.