Tag Archives: Carer

Lost Connection

Now published by Fearlessly.co.uk

alone man person sadness

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I was alright in mid-June apart from the weather which was typically Scottish. Charcoal clouds were scribbled over the only green hill that formed part of our view. The air was thick. A warm breeze swayed the vertical blinds and they clattered together.

“I can’t concentrate.” I said, saving the document I was working on. I put my lap-top on the couch and got up to close the window, but Helen began coughing. She sat forward, red faced and I thumped the top of her back, careful to avoid the line where the nerve pain started. “Are you alright?”
She shook her head. “Not…”
“What can I do?” I asked.
She pointed to the window and wagged her finger.
“You want it left open?”
She nodded.
I hurried to the kitchen and edged a glass between last night’s dinner dishes and the cold tap. I filled the glass with water.
“I need to clean the kitchen,” I said when I returned.
“You said you’d do it later.”
“I know, but it stinks.”
“It’s just last night’s dishes.”
“It’s disgusting.”
“I’ll do it then.” She sighed. “You try to do too much, and you need to work on your dissertation.”
“It can wait. Besides, I can’t have you struggling to stand at the sink.” I kissed her cheek. “You worry too much.”
“You’d be better going up to the university to write. There’d be less distraction.”
I shrugged my shoulders, sat down and I lifted my lap-top onto my knee. The blinds rattled.

I was in the kitchen a couple of hours later when I heard the letterbox snap shut. The mail flopped on the floor. It was mostly junk, a Farmfoods leaflet, money off coupons for Domino’s, you know the likes, when I heard the Post woman’s footsteps echo down the stairs in the communal hallway. I considered opening the door and pointing at the sign above our letterbox: NO JUNK MAIL. But I didn’t. I realised for the first time, I couldn’t.
“Anything for me?” Helen called from the Living-room.
“Something from the council.” I took it through to her.
“Maybe it’s about the wood-worm.”
“It’s too soon.” I said. “Although it would be my luck to have the council ripping up floors while I’m trying to write a dissertation.”
Helen opened the letter. She raised her eyebrows.
“They’re coming to lift the floor, aren’t they?”
She nodded.
“When?”
“In a fortnight, and they want the house empty.”
“What about us?”
“They’re putting us up in a hotel. Guess we have some packing to do. Should I ask some friends around to help?”
“No!” I said too quickly. I even surprised myself.

***

At the beginning of July, the weather was still drab but there had been the odd rumble of thunder in the distance. I couldn’t help wishing it would hurry up, if only to clear the air.
“Could you pop over to Peter’s and ask him if he’ll run us to the hotel on Monday?” Helen asked.
“I’ll just finish packing this box.” I said laying an ornament on a piece of newspaper and triple wrapping it.
“I’ll finish that.” Helen said.
“It’s okay, I’m nearly done.” I snapped.
“Sorry.” She backed away and I felt a pang of guilt.
“I’ll go in a minute.”
“I’d go myself, but I can’t do the steps.”
“I know that.” I threw the wrapped ornament into the box and turned away from her.
“What’s wrong.” Helen sat on the floor beside me. “Are you crying?”
I hid my face from her. “I can’t go.”
“Go where? The hotel?”
I let out a sob.
“Kirsty?”
“I can’t go to Peter’s.”

***

By the time we got to the hotel the following week we could barely see a foot in front of us. The fog was thick and white, and our world shrank to the size of the cave we were temporary living in.
“What time are you meeting you tutor?” Helen shouted from the other room.
“In ten minutes, at the bar.” I sat on the toilet and my stomach cramped. I emptied my bowel. Again.

***

“Sorry I’m late.” My tutor said and ordered us a pot of tea. “How are you?”
“I’m well,” I lied but I wanted to run back to Helen and hide.
“How’s the dissertation coming along?”
“Fine.” I said a little too loudly and I felt everyone in the bar look at me. I waited for them to laugh. In my mind they did.
“Are you in touch with your classmates?”
“I’ve been too busy.” I lied because I felt too stupid to say that some of my friends hated me now because I was apparently the teacher’s pet. I felt stupid saying that they were horrible to me – and now I was lost.

***

It was January 2018 before I realised, I had social anxiety. I was standing in the back garden of our new home, inappropriately dressed for a blizzard but poised, perfectly still with a camera in my hand. Through the lens, I watched a robin on the fence have his breast feathers whipped up by the wind as flurry of snow danced around him.
I clicked.

***

“What time is everyone arriving?” Helen sticks a tahini dip covered finger to my mouth.
“That’s amazing.” I lick it from my lips. “Two o’clock I think.” I finish breading the cauliflower and pop it into the oven.
“Are you feeling okay?” She asks. “With, you know, people coming around?”
“I will be.” I tell her. I lift my purple headphones from the table. “I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.” I go into the spare room and close the door. Before I press play on the app, I check to see how many people will be joining me.
12,351.

Find a quiet space where you feel comfortable. Sit on a straight back chair or on a meditation cushion. When you hear the gentle chimes of the singing bowl, close your eyes.
Breathe in to the count of five.
Hold.
Breathe out to the count of five.
Hold.

 

My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal – Book Review

‘…he misses the photograph of Jake and he has to close his eyes to remember it. He holds on to Big Red Bear and thinks about all the things he didn’t say to his mum. How long will it be for her to get better? When is she coming back for him? […] Will she come back? Where is she? Where is Jake?’ (My Name is Leon. p.78)

Kit_de_Waal_—_My_Name_Is_Leon

Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, My Name is Leon (2016) by Kit De Waal is a heart tugging, sad yet hopeful book. Set in England the late 1970’s – early 1980’s, Leon and his baby brother Jake are living with single mother Carol.  Leon’s father is in prison and Jakes father is married and wants nothing to do with Carol or the child. Carol is terribly lonely and desperately unhappy. Struggling with deep depression, the mother’s fragile state leaves her  unable to care for her children :

Leon has begun to notice things what make his mum cry: when Jake makes a lot of noise; when she hasn’t got any money; when she comes back from the phone box; when Leon asks too many questions; and when she’s staring at Jake, (p.12).

After Carol takes to her bed, Leon, at just nine years old,  takes on the role of carer and parent. Through the eyes of this young boy, the reader watches his world fall apart, fragment by fragment.

Eventually the boys are taken into care and find solace in the home of Maureen, an experienced foster carer with a deep love for both cakes and children. Maureen is a lovable character who feels a deep affinity for Leon, even though Leon is highly suspicious of anyone in the care system, but when Jake is adopted, it is Maureen who picks up the pieces.  It is perhaps her honesty rather than her role as parent that soothes Leon in his most difficult times:

‘Now listen carefully because I want you to understand something and I don’t say this to all the children because it’s not always true but with you it’s true so you have to believe it. And when you believe it you will stop grinding your teeth […] You will be all right, Leon.’ (p.55-56).

But when Maureen is taken into hospital, Leon is left with Maureen’s sister Sylvia, a less motherly role model than Maureen but with a desire to please her sister none the less. Their relationship is strained and often uncomfortable, but soon enough Leon finds comfort in a new friend, Tufty. Tufty is a young man who looks after a plot in his father’s allotment. The man and the boy form a friendship that grows alongside the seeds that they plant in the garden, so when they both find themselves in the midst of the Birmingham riots, they naturally come together to save each other. 

This is a coming of age story unlike any other, it is not a happy ever after but hope for a child and his future. 

I love this novel, it is clearly written with believable characters and honest emotions. At the start of the novel I was concerned about the character’s point of view – a third person limited perspective from the child’s perspective – but it is cleverly done. While the reader gathers glimpses of emotions from inside Leon’s head, there is still enough distance to feel the tug of the story from the outside. It is as if the reader is holding the child’s hand and experiencing his life with him as it unfolds. Brilliantly done and brilliantly written. Go Leon. 

 

The Impracticality of Home

This story was highly commended in the short story category for the Carers UK Creative Writing competition 2017. To purchase the anthology in which this story appears, click here. Carers UK provides carers like myself helpful information and support.

 

The Impracticality of Home

I sit on the sill of the bay window watching the midday sun wink in the rooftop puddles. A small red helium balloon bobs over the roof of the neighbouring hostel and the sound of a child crying echoes in the alleyway below. I turn around and look up the narrow cobbled road, dotted with bikes and benches, brown haired tourists in matching ponchos, and a road sweeper. The shh shhhhh shhhhhhh of the brushes of his machine hiccough as they suck the remains of somebody’s late night shenanigans. I hug my knees letting the warm breeze that sneaks through the crack in the window touch my face; while the smell of charred meat, chip shop grease and warm bins curls up my nose. The blue curtains billow.

We’d both picked those curtains, trailed for hours around all the charity shops just to find a pair that was long enough for the main window in our new home. Our first home together. Our, we-don’t-care-if -we’ve-only-been-going-out-for-six-months overpriced flat in the centre of a busy student town. I remember sitting on the threadbare sofa, watching her stand on the sill stretching right up to the curtain pole to clip the curtain on to each tiny little hook. ‘Be careful,’ I said and she screwed up her face and told me, ‘I’m the D.I.Y person, remember?’ and I shrugged my shoulders because, in fairness, I could barely hang a picture straight.

I hear a horn tooting and I push the window open wide. It isn’t the patient ambulance service, it’s just a taxi. I hear a thundering of footsteps descending the stairs in the hall. The front door vibrates as they pass the landing and head to the ground floor. I see four of the neighbours burst out the main door in a flurry of neon feather boas, grass skirts and permed wigs and I know tonight is going to be a noisy one.

It was the third flat we’d visited and the best value for money by a mile. I was intrigued by the hand carved double bed on stilts in the small room, while she fell in love with the old Persian rug that covered most of the solid wood floor. ‘It’s a good size,’ I told the estate agent as I sat on the sill and looked around. One of the walls, papered with a grey brick effect looked dated but quirky; the mismatched cushions scattered randomly on the sofa and chairs could easily have been ours and the gap in the wall where a T.V was meant to sit, would be perfect for the plant I’d bought you for our one month anniversary. ‘We’ll take it,’ she said, standing in the centre of the room with her arms stretched wide open. ‘Are you sure?’ I asked, ‘It’ll be noisy.’ And she laughed and ran to the window where some dude in a straw hat sat directly below us playing Wonderwall on his guitar. ‘What’s not to love about that.’ She said and I loved her a little bit more.

The letterbox snaps and a pile of junk mail flops onto the floor along with two white envelopes and a pink one. I can tell from here it’s get-well-soon cards. I wish they sold, ‘I know you’ll never be the same but if you ever need anything just ask’ cards, or, ‘Congratulations on learning to walk for the second time,’ cards. Get well soon is a little presumptuous but I suppose if that’s all there is then…. My phone vibrates in my pocket. I’M HERE! In square letters across the screen. I look out the window to see the top of the ambulance pull up outside the tall heavy iron gates outside the flats.

I remember when we moved in. ‘This place has better security than Buckingham Palace,’ she’d said, as she held the gate open for me to pass through with another box before humphing it up twenty-four steps. ‘It’s your turn next,’ I shouted and kicked over a half empty can of Special Brew that was sitting on the stair.

I run down the stairs as fast as my legs will carry me, past the wheelie bins, over-spilling with junk from the Chinese Takeaway next door, through the black iron gates and to the back of the ambulance where the driver has just opened the two back doors. There’s a smile on her face as big as mine and I reach out my hand as she steps onto the platform and the driver lowers her slowly to the ground. She takes a step forward and wobbles. I grip her hand a little tighter as her feet test the un-even road. It’s shaky at first but we clear the cobbles and edge down the strip of the gutter to the gates. I type in the code twice before I can turn the handle and push it open. She kisses me softly as she passes, and I can’t believe I haven’t kissed her here for over two months. ‘Are you ready?’ We stand at the foot of the stairs. ‘How many is it again? She frowns and I notice her face looks a little paler outside of the hospital bed. ‘Twenty-four.’ I say and take the first step. I hold out my hand.
“One…….