When my mother sleeps, her colour drops, her cheeks sink and only the slight movement of her breath under the bedclothes shows she is still here.
Today though, Ruby the cat, Ruby Dubes Ma calls her, each a favourite one for the other, insists on being stroked. An occasional finger from badly purpled hands, a left-over from a hospital stay, responds to Ruby’s lick and manages to ruffle some fur. The purr is pure contentment. Hard to say who is more pleased, Ruby or Ma. Both faces equally inscrutable, one a death mask and one a sphinx.
This day will never come again, hung over as it is with grey clouded, midge-filled sky in a garden full of bumble bees. The Boxer is in bed. The effort of getting out of it valiant but futile.
“Can’t I just be bedridden?”
I point out that this is not an easy option and brings many disadvantages. “Besides, you’re not.” The ‘not quite’ is perhaps understood between us.
Anyway. We decide on lunch in bed, why not? But in the making of it she has gone back to sleep and I haven’t the heart to wake her…not yet, soon.
For five days I have been surrogate for my sister, now her prime carer (sole carer, to be more accurate.) Hard to be a fish out of your own water. All the times the positions were reversed and my sister moved in to my house in order to facilitate our holidays, I gave it the briefest of thought.
The district nurse called in ‘on the off chance.’ I should have solicited her help. Another pair of hands to effect the monumental effort of getting from the bed would have proved without doubt that a king’s fund bed would make life easier. Usually only for the bed-bound, I’m told. The buck is passed and she has recommended a visit from occupational therapy.
We have reached a workable truce, I think, the baby and I.
What’s that lovely expression from Nadine Gordimer, our ‘covenant of living together’, a phrase that at present I find impossible to let go.
When I first mentioned it to Sunny Boy, he immediately thought it applied to him, us, and it does. But oh, it so applies globally, a two way stretch, a fluid working agreement for the mutual benefit of all.
I can hear Sunny Boy’s voice of reason in my ear…sounds like compromise which means no one is happy. And yet a covenant implies agreement drawn up between people..signed sealed delivered and promises kept.
I will not bomb your children if you do not bomb mine; I trust my government to do their homework on flammable substances and firms who clad buildings (on the cheap?) because they have mine and my family’s and friends’ best interests at heart. In return I will be a dutiful member of society. I will not sell you down river and shaft our peace agreement to further my own ends. And so on.
It’s when you reach impasse that troubles start and posturing begins. So many people take up a stance, an intransigent stance and then the outcome is doomed.
Whatever led from grandmadom to politics? Working truce. That was it, and compromise. Backing down rather than standing on a high horse, trust, love. Yes, love would cover it.
The new state (for me) of grandmadom doesn’t even get a google red squiggle – and I thought I’d invented a word.
The birth of a baby; a real baby, not the book, that must now wait, no time for all that now. The infant progeny needs limelight for the phosphorescent glow around her. True colours. Time has a new feel to it. I wonder if Lewis Carroll had witnessed the looking after of Alice as a baby and knew all about murdering it, beating it gently on the baby’s back to get her to sleep. That blissful state of exhaustion. Not the fractious feverish search for comfort that an empty belly or a belly that is too full gives.
Today we uncovered black toads as I moved the bins to get the pram through. A mother and baby, I’ll be bound, sheltering under the bins outside. It’s is so dry here and oh so hot, they were a complete surprise. At first I thought some animal had flattened its body in the narrow gap between bin and pebbles and deposited its scat, about to issue the usual warning to mind your step. Instead it was much more of a proclamation. The jet black colour of the little pile had me fooled, till I moved the bin some more and discovered the mother a larger black sponge and something too regular about the folds. Beside I’ll swear the mother blinked. Slowly and deliberately like some primeordeal remnant. Perhaps a grandmother herself.
They’ll probably burn to a crisp, if they don’t wake up and find their exposed predicament or I’ll cover them. Something about the heat and the strange loop of time will help me forget.
A warm breeze plays about my shoulders. The slight rustle of leaves is cooling like running water. Birds sing for evening and I wait. Wait for the heat to go, wait for the request to change the nappy, nurse the baby, make the tea. (dinner, now that they live in the south.)
New rules now I am both mother and grandmother.
The covenant of living together is a concept discussed by Nadine Gordimer in her book The House Gun. It implies the give and take of any relationship. Gordimer includes the government in her covenant and asks if the state should share responsibility for what happens to its citizens. The state in question is post-apartheid South Africa. Decades of violence and the casual keeping and use of guns have a role in the story. As does the decision to ban capital punishment. It is a complicated tale of love and betrayal, but she asks if the state too hasn’t betrayed its own citizens.
Perhaps we should be asking questions of our government. Where does the responsibility lie after the fire in London? With the dismantling or destruction of the NHS? With the extrication from Europe with complete disregard for the impact on anyone? Child poverty?