Wednesday 27 June 2018

No Longer Me

By Jo Dearden

iced tea

The TV flickers in the corner of the room.   They leave it droning on all day.  I can no longer see it very well or understand what the people are saying.
 I am sitting in a hard, high-backed pink chair with a plastic covering. We are not allowed nice soft comfy ones in case we spoil them. I gaze at my fellow inmates.  Most of them look half-dead in their wheel chairs with their heads slumped forward. Every now and then one of them cries out but no-one seems to take any notice. I can no longer speak or make myself understood, so I try to smile and accept my fate.
 It is stiflingly hot.
I think they want to make us feel sleepy, so we don’t make a fuss or complain.
I can hear the faint tinkling sounds of a piano being played.  I was once a very good pianist, but my second husband wasn’t interested, so I stopped. I don’t know why I let him bully me, but anyway, my arthritic fingers wouldn’t be able to press the keys now. I can still hear the music in my head, which gives me a little grain of comfort.
A young lady in a blue apron comes into the room pushing a tea trolley. She hands me a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive. I have forgotten how to lift the cup.  I crumble the biscuit in my hands and gingerly put a piece in my mouth. The sticky chocolate starts to melt on my lips and fingers and begins to drip down my blouse. At least they still try to make me look nice. That was always important to me, wearing nice clothes with a pretty scarf or necklace.
‘You all right Joan?’, the tea lady asks cheerily. I smile showing my chocolaty teeth. Anita, the Hungarian care worker is always kind to me, not like some of the others who swear and call me a filthy old lady when I wet my bed or do something worse.
No, I am not all right, I am no longer me, but no-one here knows who I was before or even cares.
We are just sitting here waiting for something to happen. We are like lost travellers, all confused and have no idea what to do.
 I hardly ever see my two daughters, yet they always tell me that they came yesterday or the day before. They never liked their step-father much. He found it hard to treat them in the same way as his own child, who could do no wrong in his eyes. Sometimes I close my eyes and try to see myself as I once was.  It is all so hazy now. I can remember the accident though, as if it happened yesterday.
It was beginning to get dark when I was driving home from the hairdressers. It had started to rain. I was not used to driving at night, but it was the only appointment I could get and if the stylist hadn’t kept me waiting, I might have just got home in the light.  Everything looked different in the shadowy gloom. I began to panic as I wasn’t sure I had taken the right turning. I saw a driveway up ahead and decided to try and turn around there. I didn’t see the little girl with her mother walking back from school. I heard a bang and then a lot of shouting. I tried to get out of the car, but I had forgotten how to open the door. The little girl was crying but thankfully seemed to be unhurt.
You stupid cow, you could’ve killed us,’ yelled the mother.
She strode towards the car as I sat frozen inside, unable to move. The woman wrenched my car door open. I tried to say I was sorry that I had lost my way, but somehow the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. It appeared that I had driven into the gatepost at the bottom of their driveway.
‘Just stay there. I’m calling the police’, she screamed into my face.
I was taken to the local police station for questioning. I tried very hard, but I couldn’t remember my name or where I lived. After what seemed a long time, my elder daughter, Isobel arrived. I heard her say that I would pay for the damage and yes, my mother won’t be driving anymore. Oh God, one tiny mistake and I get my freedom taken away. I smiled weakly and let Isobel take me home.
Anita lifts the cup of luke-warm tea to my mouth. I start to cough and splutter. I let go of the crumbled biscuit. The gloopy gunge lands in my lap and a dark splodge appears between my legs.
‘Oh dear Joan. We’d better change you’, says Anita as she offers me both her hands to help me out of the chair. I stumble down the corridor towards my spartan little room with its too narrow single bed, clutching Anita’s hand.
I lie down on my bed and hug my teddy bear. I bury my head in his snowy white fur. Anita tries to pull off my stained trousers, but I resist her. ‘Ok Joan? Would you like to have a nap?’, she asks. I nod and turn my head away from her. I hear her quietly close my bedroom door. Tears begin to roll down my old crinkled cheeks. My arms and legs are covered in large dark bruises that look as though I have spattered myself in blue and purple paint. I can’t stop falling now and my limbs are like fragile twigs. They have tried giving me a walking frame but every time I see it I can’t remember what to do.
I clutch my teddy even tighter to my thin bony chest. I can’t remember his name but perhaps he never had one.

About the author

Jo Dearden trained as a journalist with the Oxford Mail and Times.  She did a degree in English Literature with creative writing as a mature student. She co-edited her local village newsletter for about ten years. She also worked for a number of years for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. She is currently attending a creative writing class, which is stimulating her writing again. Jo lives in Suffolk.

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