before & after

Alf and Audrey have been married sixty-odd years.
‘You should’ve seen her when she was young. Blimey O’Reilly, she was hot stuff. Fantastic at tennis, running – you couldn’t keep up with her.’
He shakes his head.
‘You can’t go on what you see now,’ he says. ‘You gotta think back a’ways. And it weren’t that far back, neither.’
He’s struggling to cope. Audrey’s dementia has reached the point where she leaves the house at night, sits in the armchair, crying, or talking to people who’ve long since died.
Alf is mentally intact but physically failing. He’s lost a lot of weight, keeps falling, can’t keep on top of things.
‘I don’t want her in a home,’ he says. But other than a live-in carer, which they couldn’t afford, it’s hard to know what to suggest. The wider family aren’t in a position to help.
Alf nods towards the mantelpiece.
‘That was us when we got married,’ he says.
It’s a double-framed affair, each photo behind a heart shaped mount, The World’s Greatest Grandparents in cut-out lettering between. In the first picture, Alf and Audrey are just married. They’re both squinting and smiling in the bright sunlight. Audrey has one arm hooked through Alf’s; in the other she holds a bouquet of roses so large and vigorous I half expect to see roots. In the second picture, the two of them are elderly, face to face, holding hands, probably in the same garden though it’s hard to tell.
‘I’m the handsome one on the left,’ says Alf, then leans forward. ‘D’you know what? We had our great-granddaughter  over the other day, and she was looking at that picture. She’s a funny little thing, very serious, very solemn. She was frowning away at them pictures, looking from one to the other and back again. And eventually she looks up at me and she says: ‘What happened?
He laughs, settles back in the chair.
What happened? she says. Just like that, straight out with it, no messing.’
He sighs, watches me put the picture back on the mantelpiece.
‘Life, mate. That’s what happened,’ he says.

4 thoughts on “before & after

  1. It wasn’t particularly fast, I don’t think, Sabine. I think things were pretty much okay through their eighties, when the 2nd photo was taken. But Audrey’s dementia really started to take hold after that, and Alf’s health declined.

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