by Tony Domaille
You can roll your eyes in your mind. Sometimes you have to do that. Rolling your eyes is rude, and I’m not rude. In any case, Star is my sister and I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
I roll my eyes in my mind often with my sister. Star isn’t her real name. It’s Jeanette, but when she took up with what I call the Save the Earth brigade, she changed her name. All her friends did. Alan, Mike, and George became Orpheus, Dolph, and Pye, whilst Amy and Caroline became River and a symbol no one can pronounce. Their Earth names, the say. They’ve renounced their given names as part of saving the planet. How my sister being called Star is having a major effect on global warming is beating me, so like I say I roll my eyes.
‘You do know that burger you’re eating is murder,’ said my sister.
I stopped chewing. ‘I ordered at the counter. I didn’t shoot the kid serving.’
She rolled her eyes. That wasn’t lost on me because she doesn’t try to spare me like I spare her.
She said, ‘Rearing beef releases excess methane into the atmosphere. The poor animal is executed, in a horrifyingly inhumane way, and the meat is transported in vehicles that pollute the atmosphere. Then it’s sold in disgusting fast food outlets, like this one, who don’t pay their taxes and so exacerbate poverty and poor life outcomes for millions. It’s actually mass murder.’
I put down my burger. In truth, it wasn’t the best thing I’d ever tasted, but now it seemed to have even less appeal. Star took a bite out of the falafel, vegan wrap which she was shamelessly eating, even though she had bought it elsewhere.
‘Star,’ she corrected.
I sighed. ‘Alright, Star. I thought we were meeting to talk about Mum’s care, not for you to lecture me about my role in exterminating humanity.’
‘We are,’ she said.
‘And it was your idea to meet in Burger King,’ I said.
She shrugged. ‘I was just saving time. Me, Orpheus, and River are staging a sit-in here from four. I thought it would save on faux shoe leather.’
I glanced at my watch. Three fifty-one. I definitely didn’t want to still be there when three aging hippies, incapable of basic clothing coordination, started shouting slogans and accusing the police of holding up a fascist state.
‘I think mum should go into a care home,’ I said.
Star nodded. ‘Me too.’
‘Really?’ I said. ‘We never agree on…on…’
‘On anything,’ I said.
Star closed the wrapper around her wrap. I guessed she was saving some for the sit-in. ‘That’s because you’re a bourgeoise shit who doesn’t give a toss about anything but his own comfort. But we agree on this.’
I was about to point out to my sister that this bourgeoise shit paid for Mum’s care at home and looked after the bills for her bungalow. I also regularly subbed my sister who hadn’t worked in more than a decade because she wasn’t prepared to pay taxes to the capitalist system. But I saw Orpheus and River coming in and decided a retreat was a better plan.
‘Okay, Jeanette,’ I said, just to aggravate her. ‘You enjoy your sit-in, and I’ll go visit Mum and deal with all the arrangements for her, just like I always do.’
‘Good,’ she said, and then rose to hug her friends and exchange air kisses.
Not for the first time, I thought about what it must be like for her as I drove to her bungalow. A son totally wedded to the accepted norms. Job, house, car, holidays, and everything that can be enjoyed with a substantial salary. And a daughter with dreadlocks, the dress sense of a bag lady, and not a penny in the world but pockets full of causes. Two people brought up exactly the same way yet living and seeing the world totally differently. I thought it must drive her crazy to have a child who lived with such alien views and acting in ways that were often embarrassing. Now to add to her troubles, I was the one who was going to be telling her that her independence was going to be taken away.
Mum is only in one of two places when I let myself in. Her bed or her chair, and I knew the drop in carer wouldn’t arrive to help her to bed for a couple of hours yet.
‘Hello, Tom,’ she smiled as I entered her living room.
‘How are you?’ I said, kissing her forehead.
Mum said she was fine, but we both knew that wasn’t true. She was virtually immobile, almost always in some pain, and dementia was just starting to take hold. We both knew she couldn’t continue to live alone, and that day-care wasn’t enough. Now we had reached the time when we were going to have the conversation no one wants to have.
‘Mum, I have something I need to talk to you about,’ I began, and I told her as gently as I could that Jeanette and I felt it would be best if she had care all the time and that meant going into a care home.
I thought she’d be upset. I thought she’d be resistant. But she listened carefully and then said, ‘I’d like to have lived out my days here, where your dad and I were happy, but I know I can’t be on my own anymore. Don’t worry, I won’t make a fuss.’
I gave her a hug and made us a cup of tea. I wanted to talk to her about what to do with her home and everything around her. Eighty-five years of life, sixty-five with my dad. She was surrounded by so much of monetary value, but also by so much that must mean a great deal to her. It occurred to me that when everything was sold up, there would still be plenty of money left, even after the care home fees. I didn’t need or want anything, but there would be enough to set Jeanette up for the rest of her life. I found myself rolling my eyes because I knew she would give it all away to her causes.
‘What are you thinking, Tom,’ said Mum. ‘I can see things turning over in your head.’
‘Just about your home, Mum,’ I said. ‘All your stuff. You know you’ll just have one little room where you’ll be going?’
She smiled and shrugged. ‘It’s only stuff.’
‘It’s your whole life, Mum.’
Her smile was replaced by a frown. ‘Oh my, Tom, I thought you knew me.’
I was confused. She really didn’t seem to be bothered about leaving behind almost all her possessions and the home she and dad had worked so hard to buy and improve and keep. For a moment I tried to imagine how I’d feel if I had to give up all those things myself, and it felt horrible.
‘I thought you’d be upset,’ I said.
Mum took my hand. And then she told me things I never would have thought she would say. She told me that my sister and I were her greatest pride. That nothing hanging on a wall, standing on a carpet, tucked in a cupboard or in a jewellery box gave her the tiniest fraction of that pride. She told me that her greatest love had been my dad, and nothing on Earth could come close to that. And she told me that she had loved her life but that the world she had known was gone.
‘In what way?’ I asked. ‘Surely you don’t miss twin tub washing machines and outside toilets and no central heating.’
She laughed. ‘You are so materialistic, Tom.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with liking nice things,’ I said.
Mum squeezed my hand. ‘But it’s not the nice things that make this wonderful world. It’s the people, and the time we spend with those we love. It’s hearing the birds sing, seeing the stars, being moved by music or art or kindness. And it’s leaving things unspoiled, not putting ourselves first and knowing you’ve helped people who couldn’t help themselves. What makes this a wonderful world is putting everything before the so-called nice things. We used to do that you know.’
‘I love you, mum,’ I said.
‘I love you too, son,’ she told me. ‘But do me a favour, will you?
‘Give your sister a little leeway. I won’t pretend I like the way she looks a mess, or the antics she gets up to some of the time, but she just wants the world to be wonderful.’
I nodded. It was the first time I’d heard Jeanette mentioned in years without rolling my eyes, visibly or not. And I was a little ashamed that I’d spent so long dismissing her causes and beliefs because she presented as whacky. I wasn’t joining any sit-ins any time soon, but for the first time in my life, I found myself questioning what really does make a wonderful world.
About the author
Tony has written a number of award winning plays, published by Lazy Bee Scripts and Pint Sized Plays, that have been performed across the world. He has also had a number of stories published in anthologies and magazines and Café Lit. You can follow him here - https://www.facebook.com/tonydomaillewriting/