Went to see mum today and it was incredible. Maybe someone gave her a shot or something; music therapy? A magic pill? She instantly recognised me. And she was happily alone in her room in her recliner chair, feet up.
I know, most unusual. The other residents were doing art. Mum was watching the ABC. She looked bright-eyed; her teeth were gleaming and white; her clothes were spotless; coordinated. She was wearing that white linen shirt with her jet and silver necklace. Clearly, she’d looked out of the window, seen that it would be a lovely autumn day and she’d dressed accordingly. She’d matched her shirt with a pair of black slacks. Her ankles weren’t swollen like they normally are; they were slim and tapered nicely into her shoes. She’d done her make-up and her eyebrows were beautifully shaped. I wish you could have seen her. I know she’s 86 but she looked vital and fresh.
‘Hello, it’s our Jude! How are you?’ she asked. ‘Two visits in two days. Must be my lucky day. It was good to see you yesterday when we went to the podiatrist.’
At this stage, amazed, I had my mouth open, remembered to close it; breathed. Mum was back. You know what she’s like these days. By the end of a sentence she usually can’t remember what she started out to say. And yet she remembered going to the podiatrist yesterday. Reggie, I know. I couldn’t believe it either.
‘Are you taking me out?’ She lowered the footrest on her chair and flicked the TV off with the remote.
Yes, Reggie, the same remote that she talks into because she thinks it's her phone.
‘Yep, we’re going to the hairdresser’s,’ I said.
‘Oh, thank the lord,’ she said. ‘I’m sick to death of this place. Yes, I know. I’ve got to live somewhere and the food’s generally good. There’s the occasional day when the cook’s off and we might get something a bit congealed but mostly it’s good and I’ve got nice people to sit with in the dining room.’ She was very talkative.
Next, she darted - yes, I know, but she did – out the door and down to that breezeway where her friend, Joyce, was sitting with the others, painstakingly colouring in a photo-copied outline of a butterfly. Joyce didn’t look up or acknowledge her but mum gently pinched the top of her arm as she does.
‘Joyce,’ she leaned down and spoke into her ear. ‘I’m just going out with our Jude to have my hair cut. I’ll be back by dinner. I’ll see you then.’ She kissed the top of Joyce’s head. ‘Come on, Jude,’ she said.
You know how we normally have to hold her hand? Well, today, she just slung her bag over her shoulder and set off. In the right direction.
I raced after her. She’s got those long legs and I had to half trot to keep up. She was holding the lift door open for me when I got there. When we got down to the ground floor she went over to that desk with the visitors’ book, looked back over her shoulder at me, pen poised, and asked me what time we’d be back. She signed herself out, Reggie, and then she undid that security bracelet they wear, slid open the glass window at the nurses’ station and put the bracelet just inside on the ledge.
She stepped past me – Reggie, I’m telling you I haven’t seen her move that quickly in years. But this is even better. She keyed in the security code and was off down the road and standing by the passenger door of my car. I'd parked in one of those three hour spots close to the main street. I couldn't believe she knew which car was mine.
‘What time’s my appointment?’ she asked.
‘Two-thirty,’ I said.
‘Come on then,’ She looked at her watch. ‘We’ve got twenty minutes.’ Yes, she worked it out. Hard to believe.
On the way over, she filled me in on Dorothy. You know Dorothy. The writer. Well apparently she’s dropped about twenty k since she gave up her wine and now she’s lost the will to live – yeah, ha, ha - and is refusing food.
‘She’s not long for this world,’ mum said. ‘I think this is her time. Sad.’
I know, Reggie. I couldn’t believe she was taking any interest either. It’s been ages since she has.
She greeted Danielle, the hairdresser, like an old friend. Gave her a hug and wished her Happy Easter.
‘You’re having Easter at the same time as us this year,’ she remarked. Danielle's Greek. Couldn't believe mum remembered.
‘How did you know that?’ Danielle asked.
‘I read it in the paper the other day,’ she said, walking ahead of us towards the salon at the back of the house. Danielle and I looked incredulously at each other and tripped along after her. Danielle has only ever seen the confused mum. Mum automatically sat in that hair washing chair and leaned forward while Danielle wrapped a cape around her shoulders. While Danielle washed her hair, mum closed her eyes and relaxed. She was almost purring. When Danielle had finished, mum got up, unassisted, and sat in the other chair facing the mirror.
Danielle took about an hour to do mum’s hair and as usual, after she’d finished mum looked brilliant. She preened a bit, smiling at her reflection in the mirror.
‘Beautiful!’ she said. ‘Hasn’t she done a good job, Jude?’ I agreed that she had.
After I’d paid, Danielle told us to wait a second. She went inside and returned with a plate of Greek pastries dusted in icing sugar, and a couple of eggs that her kids had painted. Mum was rapt and gave Danielle another hug before we left.
Then, Reggie, mum amazed me by asking if we could pop to the shops and buy her a new handbag.
‘This one’s donkey’s years old,’ she said. ‘It’s ready for the bin.’
We went to that shop in the mall. She chose - yes, mum, not me - this black travel shoulder bag. Well, I can’t think how else to describe it. It’s light and practical; It’s got lots of compartments; $80. Yeah, she doesn’t spend money on anything else.
Later, back in her room, she carried the rubbish bin out of the bathroom and put it next to her black chair. She sat down with both bags and sorted through the old one. You know how she carries dad’s wallet and comb around? She took them out of her old bag and put them in a side compartment in the new one. She swapped her lipstick, brush, wallet and specs into her new bag, upended the old one and tipped the detritus into the bin. She placed the old bag onto the floor beside her and, smiling to herself, she spread her long fingers out and enjoyed the feel of the new one, pleased with it and herself.
It was getting close to five and that announcement came over. ‘Attention all residents. Dinner will be served in ten minutes. Can you please make your way down to the dining room?’
‘Good,’ she said. ‘I’m absolutely starving. So, I’ll see you soon then?’ She got up out of her chair and ushered me out the door.
‘Don’t you want me to take you down?’ You know how lately she doesn’t even know where the dining room is?
‘No, love. There’s no need. I’ll see you next time. But thank you. I’ve had the most glorious afternoon.’
She gave me a hug and kissed me on both cheeks, you know how she does, and waved me off.
That was all bullshit actually; a story I fabricated to help me get through the rest of the day after mum didn’t end up getting her scheduled haircut. Given her advanced dementia mum no longer has control over mind or body and sometimes grossly undignified accidents happen. Yesterday, one happened just as we arrived at the hairdresser's.
Sure, we can do a smoke and mirrors thing with mum and make her look ‘great for her age’ in that instant when a photo is taken, if you don't look too closely into her eyes.
(With apologies to Yann Martel, author of The Life of Pi.)
You can read about an earlier trip to the hairdresser's with mum here.