a cup of strong tea
George nudged open the lounge door with his foot and carefully entered the sun-drenched room. He crossed to where Vera was sitting and placed the two cups he was carrying onto the occasional table next to her. She smiled at him as she always did.
It was Vera’s smile that George had noticed when her slender form had entered his grocer’s shop forty years ago. Her vivid, red hair framed her beautiful face and her green eyes sparkled as she acknowledged his joke about calling the fire brigade.
Time had worked relentlessly upon her, replacing each red hair with one of grey. The sparkle had faded from her eyes and she no longer appreciated his humour although the smile remained as genuine as ever.
George reminisced about Vera as he reclined in his chair. He couldn’t quite remember when her hair had started to lose its flaming appearance. He wasn’t able to recall when she last laughed at one of his witticisms as she insisted on calling them. One thing of which he was sure was when her eyes stopped glistening. It was soon after those visits to the doctor’s.
Vera had had a couple of panic attacks six years previously because she had become confused by what she was doing or why she had entered a room. The doctor did some tests and after two or three more visits he diagnosed her illness. Vera wept as the prognosis was explained to them.
The feelings of panic had increased in frequency as Vera’s disease worsened. She became more fretful; her personality changed. She wandered the house at night unable to sleep. When Vera had been annoyed with George in the past, she sulked and stayed very quiet. It came as a nasty shock when Vera’s illness made her aggressive and violent. It was then her eyes lost their twinkle.
George couldn’t leave Vera on her own for too long as she became unsteady on her feet even falling a couple of times. On one occasion she banged her head on the side of their television. He winced slightly as he glanced at the scar on the side of her face.
Eventually George was himslef unable to go out unless a neighbour sat with Vera who had now taken to wandering into the street and forgetting where she lived. She no longer recognised danger but this problem soon went away when her legs wouldn’t support her at all. This was about the time she lost the power of speech, cutting George off from everyone except for the occasional chat to the doctor or supermarket cashier. A now placid Vera had become safe to leave for a few minutes at a time because she would only sit in the chair and stare ahead.
When Vera couldn’t use cutlery, George had to feed his beloved wife with puréed food and soup. Eventually, Vera forgot how to use the toilet and George had learned how to change nappies and he had to single-handedly undress, bathe and dress Vera whilst she slumped helplessly in his arms. She smiled at him but it wasn’t really Vera. The glorious, feisty young girl he once knew had long since died.
George recovered from his nightmares, rose from his seat and approached Vera.
‘It’s time for your pill dear!’ he said prising Vera’s smiling lips apart. Holding the cup to her mouth he made sure she swallowed before sliding back into his chair.
Watching Vera enter sleep for the last time, George whispered ‘goodbye my darling’ and sipped at his own drink, forcing himself to swallow.
A cup of strong tea
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