Thursday, 31 May 2012

As Soon as the Lights Went Out

As soon as the lights went out there was a soft click of a door closing, followed by the sounds of shuffling, slipper clad feet.

“Martha? You there?” Gerald’s usually booming voice was nothing more than a hoarse whisper. His eyes darted left and right searching the gloom.

“Over here. “ Martha shouted.

“Ssh, Martha, for pity sake keep it down. They’ll hear us.”

“Ooh, I forgot.” Martha giggled in replied.

It took Gerald a good five minutes to cross the lawn and his breath was short by the time he reached her. He wrapped his arms around Martha and kissed her gently on the cheek. Taking her hand he guided her away from the building. Their progress was painfully slow; inwardly he cursed his once tall, muscular frame, now bent and frail. Still, he shuffled on. In his mind he was back at Goose Green, treading a careful path, avoiding the enemy. Despite his eyes not being as sharp as they had been in his youth, he had no difficulty guiding them both down the dark path to the lake.

 “Look Gerald, stars, look, stars in the water.”

A smile tickled the edges of Gerald’s lips. He remembered the first time he brought her to the lake, she had said the exact same words – in fact, she said the same thing every single night they made it to the lake.

“Oh, Gerald, it’s beautiful. How did you find this place? Can we come here again?”

 “Of course we can sweetheart.” Gerald reached out and stroked her silver grey hair, letting the fine, sparse locks slide through his fingers. He remembered her hair being thick, curly and a dazzling chestnut brown.  He felt a tear running down his cheek, he wiped it away.

With ease she sat down on the bank and wriggled her naked toes in the warm water.

“Did you bring a picnic? I’m so hungry.” Martha looked up at him in anticipation.

“I certainly did,” he said, handing her a plastic box.

He marvelled at the dexterity of her fingers as she nimbly removed the lid of the lunch box. It took him ages to get into the damned things. He was glad it was dark; at least tonight he wouldn’t have to recount to her why one of his hands was missing. Briefly, the memory threatened to overwhelm him. He could all but hear the Argentine bombs exploding and the crack, crack, crack of small arms fire.  He’d been forty five when the SB-33 AR mine had taken his hand off. With all the strength he could muster, he pushed the thought aside.

“My favourite,” she said, spaying him with a mouthful of crumbs. When she had finished the cake, she lay with her face turned to the sky. Sitting on the ground next to her, he watched a puzzled expression cross her face.

“How old am I Gerald? I’m old aren’t I. We’re old aren’t we?”

“Yes, sweetheart, we are.” Unsure how much of reality was making its way through her Alzheimer’s, he was wary over what to say next.  “Come on sweets, let’s go home.”

He struggled to his feet, and then helped her get to hers.

By the time they got back to their daughter’s house, the place they now called home, his legs ached and his breathing was coming in painful gasps. Before he could open the door, it was opened from inside.

“Dad, why do you keep playing this game with her? She won’t even remember by the morning? Look at the state you’re in.” Jane, their daughter passed him his inhaler then helped them both up the front steps and into the house.

When Jane had settled her mother in bed, she came and sat with her father.

“Why do you do it Dad?”

“Because it lets us both escape, for a short time, from this prison of old age, disintegrating minds and bodies, and lets us recapture a time from before you were born.” There was no harshness in his voice, but he made it clear that he would brook no more discussion on the subject.

Later in his room, the inhaler having done its job, he rested against his pillow. He wondered how much longer the jailer would be setting them completely free.

© Lindsey Chapman

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