an imminent collapse

‘The whole thing is just so bizarre!’ says Roy, smiling broadly and tipping his head back, the wicker chair beneath him creaking alarmingly, any moment threatening to collapse beneath the sheer volume of his body and good humour. ‘Bizarre in a sorry kind of way!’
He’s driven over with his wife to help with her mother’s discharge from hospital. She’s been independent for years, he says, up until an unexplained fall a month ago. Things have gone downhill since then.  Her back is painful, the meds aren’t helping. She’s more forgetful, less with it.
‘You have to watch her with that damned cooker,’ he says. ‘Tick! Another worry for the list!’
Roy’s easy humour is in marked contrast to his wife, who looks pale and tired, running on empty. She jumps when the phone rings.
‘Yes. No. I’ll call you back’,  she says, then hangs up. ‘I hardly know who I am these days,’ she says. ‘It’s like I’m two people.’
‘Both of them wonderful!’ says Roy. He pushes himself up (I can’t believe the wicker chair doesn’t explode into fragments), walks over to his wife, and gathering her to him, encloses her in a bearish hug. She doesn’t put her arms round him in return, but keeps them tucked in, closing her eyes, looking in danger of falling instantly asleep, until her mother calls to her. She goes up on tiptoes to give Roy a kiss, then heads back into the bedroom.
‘I hate to see her like this,’ he says, sitting back down. (Very inadvisably. Just opposite is his mother-in-law’s riser-recliner, a piece of furniture so robust you could safely use it as a birthing chair for an elephant; for some perverse reason, though, Roy persists with the most delicate chair in the house.)
‘Do you live nearby?’ I ask him.
‘Not so you’d notice,’ he says. ‘What with the traffic and everything.’
He squeezes his eyes shut and rubs his knees, as if thinking of hours lost in traffic was the most deliciously indulgent thing a person could do.
‘Still,’ he says, his eyes suddenly wide again like an enthusiastic shopkeeper throwing open the shutters. ‘Can’t be helped!’
I carry on writing for a while.
‘You know, it wouldn’t be so bad if she lived in one of those warden assisted places,’ he says. ‘You know about them?’
‘I’ve seen a few.’
‘Because they’re so much roomier. They’re built for it.  She can’t even use the bath here anymore. She needs a wet room, and a toilet with special handles. This place is a regular obstacle course! It’s a hazard! Mind you, I was surprised to find out how the system works. Apparently you have to bid for a place. Bid for it! Like it’s eBay or something.  I know there’s a squeeze on budgets and all that. I hear about all the cuts. But to me – that’s all crazy accounting – don’t you think? That’s just passing the problem down the line.’
I tell him I think he’s right. I don’t understand the short-termism of the whole system. It’s a shame, but that’s how it is.
‘And people are living longer,’ he says. ‘That’s another thing.’
He shifts in the chair, oblivious to the sounds of imminent collapse beneath him.
‘Not that she’d move even if there was a place,’ he says. ‘Too many memories here, that’s the problem. But the way I see it, life is all about change!. Nothing stays the same, does it? And if you try to stop things changing – well, they go ahead anyway! So you may as well make the best of it!’
He smiles, gesturing expansively to the air around us in the living room, as if there was something there we could both see if we looked hard enough, something other than the furniture and the photographs and the souvenirs on the mantelpiece, something immediate and real and true. Then he relaxes his arm again, and shifts his position; the wicker chair crackles and snaps.

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