JUNE 7, 2013

I’m crouched down in front of Mum in the corridor entrance to the home. She opens her eyes and I tell her we’re going out in the car. I just have to hope this means as much to her as it does to me.

The manager crouches down beside me and tells me, almost conspiratorially, that Mabel’s bedsore is responding well to treatment. Apparently, it’s now very much smaller than it was. Well, that’s good news. Well done that state-of-the-art airbed and rigorous turning routine.

In the car, I notice that one of Mabel’s soft shoes has come off in the process of getting her on board. As I’ve already circled the car about four times in the boarding process, I’m loathe to get out again and go round to the passenger side, so instead I lean across Mabel in order to put on the shoe.

“What are you doing?” says a voice. I sit up smartly. These are the clearest words that Mum has spoken in weeks. I show her the shoe in my hand. “I’m putting this shoe back on your foot.”

“Oh,” she says. But that’s fine. Any more words from Mum right now and we’d be in in an overload situation.

We drive into the country and park at one of our usual spots. It’s slices of banana loaf today and Mabel shows an appetite for the stuff. “It’s like feeding a donkey strawberries,” says Dad from the back seat. He too will be aware that for several trips in a row, Mabel was not swallowing the food that went into her mouth. So, again, this is a move in the right direction.

I go out for a wander in the wood and come across a bird caught in a cage. It takes fright at my approach and rushes around the enclosure. Is it an owl? When it calms down a bit, I see it’s a hen pheasant. I see also that the top of its head is in a terrible state, feather-bare, skinned and bleeding. For hours - or days - the poor creature has obviously been bashing its head against the steel bars of the cage in an effort to free itself. Not without difficulty, I open the cage door. And although the bird is now cowering at the opposite side of its cell I feel that when I wander off it will relax enough to find the way out. Two minutes later it has indeed flown off. Result!

Returning to the car, Mabel spots me and cracks a creaky smile and gives me a definite wave. She recognizes me, I’m sure she does. In any case it seems like weeks since she’s either smiled or talked, so this is indeed a happy day.

Sitting in the car, I start to sing ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’. To my surprise, Mabel joins in. At least she would seem to be trying to get out the words ‘Yankee’ and ‘Doodle’. I start again:

“I’m a Yankee Doodle (she silently mouths that) dandy.
A Yankee Doodle (again Mum moves her lips) do or die.
A real live nephew
Of my Uncle Sam’s
Born on the fourth of July.”

“What’s the next line? Help us out here, Dad.”

The back seat nightingale obliges:
“I’ve got a Yankee Doodle sweetheart
She’s my Yankee Doodle joy.”

Ian and I together:
“Yankee Doodle came to town
Riding on a pony.
I am that Yankee Doodle boy.”

Not demonstrative enough, I reckon. So the next time we get to the chorus I give it some welly, while trying to keep Mum’s attention with an emphatic delivery, my arms in the air, fingers outspread and shaking:

“I am that Yankee Doodle…
I am that Yankee Doodle…
I am that Yankee Doodle bo-o-o-o-o-o-y-y-y-y-y!!!!

Well, I enjoyed it. I hope Mum did too.

Back at the home, I’m reminded by the manager that a senior carer is retiring after 26 years working in this building, though the business has changed hands in that time. “So Ilene is being let out of her cage at long last,” I say jauntily. I’m asked if I would like to sign Ilene’s card. I write: ‘Thanks so much for all the care you’ve given Mabel over the last four-and-a-half years,” and I draw an arrow from the word Mabel to the cartoon picture of the woman on the sun lounger enjoying a huge pina colada.

I wheel Mum into the lounge. Edith looks at Mabel then up at me. “Is she bored?” she asks me.

“Don’t worry, Edith, it’s me she’s bored with. Not you. I’ve not been giving her enough booze.”

“She’s bored with both of us,” says Edith, laughing.

I’m laughing too. Mabel may not be laughing but she’s been smiling and talking this afternoon, which has been great to be part of.

As I exit the premises I feel there is a song in the air. Perhaps it’s only me that can hear it, but that’s fine for now.