Three weeks and four days since I’ve last seen him. We’ve heard from his sister that his decline has been rapid in that time, she says he speaks little during her visits. Time on the frailty ward has not only made him frailer it has mixed up his mind and scrambled his memory. I’m prepared for the worst.

Sadness makes me irascible as I park the car and stalk the hospital corridors. The nurse on duty says visiting hours haven’t started, and do we have an appointment? I tell her I’m on my way to catch a plane, that we’ll only be half an hour, and I walk on while she says something I deliberately fail to hear. The head of his bed is inclined and he is sitting up. He’s wearing pyjamas, white cotton with a blue stripe, the same as he might have worn when he was a boy. His lips are dry, and his fine silver hair is stuck to his head like a baby fresh out of the womb. His left eye doesn’t seem to open properly, the other is open just a slit, the new baby adjusting to the light. Except I am watching the slow process of being unborn.

I sit to his left and he twists in the bed to get a good look at me. ‘I know you,’ he says. ‘Are you still working for the women?’

So much for the dementia; many of those closest to me don’t even remember I’m still working for the women.

He turns to his other side and takes a long look at Mum – I can’t decide what’s in this look, suspicion maybe – he lingers, the lazy eye opening wider, wakening in wonder, before turning back to me. ‘How’s your mother?’ I tell him she’s fine.

A passing nurse (a different one to earlier) says he has refused breakfast, and might he eat some toast for us? Yes, let’s try him. The man in the next bed shouts to the nurse for a piece of wire. I think I’ve mis-heard him, until he says it again. ‘When you’re brining him toast, bring me a piece of wire for to fix the hook on this dressing gown.’ Hard job being a nurse.

He eats a quarter of a slice of toast and takes one tiny sip of blackcurrant cordial. Then he leans forward and pushes the table (it’s on castors) to one side, pulls his blanket free, and says, ‘I have to go. I have to go with you now.’

One pyjama leg is pulled up to his knee, a urine-filled catheter snakes out from it and under the bed. I’m afraid it’s going to come undone and leak. I hold his hand and tell him I am not going anywhere. It is not a lie, not at this very moment. He rests back onto the pile of pillows and closes his eyes. His breath is so shallow it’s hardy perceptible. He could be a corpse.

‘I shouldn’t be here,’ he says quietly, breaking the silence. Mum asks him where he should be. ‘In heaven,’ he says. I can neither agree nor disagree, I can only cry.

3 thoughts on “Unborn

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