Today I arrived at mum and dad’s and they were not talking to each other. I made light of it with mum.
“So are you getting a divorce?”
She laughed but when I saw dad it was clear that he was struggling with her.
I joked with him too.
“Ok we are off now. I am taking mum to the lawyers now to discuss the divorce. Are you happy with a half share?”
“She can have the lot,” he said, “100%”.
Mum fumbled with her things. She has a cold and I think it takes its toll on her head as well. At first she couldn’t find the voucher.
“It’s in you wallet I think. At least that is where I saw you put it when I was here the other day.” I always try now not to assume control and try hard to leave her with some.
She found it in her purse and pulled it out. She read the name on it. “Coles Myer”.
“But I think we can use it at Target as well,” I said, again trying hard to let her see it.
The voucher was a gift from old friends. She told me the details that she remembered. They had moved to Geelong from America and he was a big wig in Target. They became friends. Their son was murdered and chopped into pieces. Mum spent time with her.
“Imagine how that would be, to find your son chopped into pieces”.
Mum was always befriending people who needed her help. It was her trademark then and something she still does. She only started talking to me again when it became clear that I needed her help.
She could remember the outline of the story but none of the detail. The names of her friends were lost too.
We drove into town and I asked her what she and dad were fighting about.
“His friend who takes him to the farm came up today and they were talking about things and they left me out. Then they went off to the shops to buy something to fix what it was they were working on and they didn’t take me. They didn’t even ask if I wanted to come and they left without saying goodbye”. From here she could segue easily into the story I heard each time we got into the car.
Your father is a lovely man but he had such a terrible childhood. His mother was … so cold and his sister and the one I helped so much and she didn’t even visit me last time she was in Geelong. The story shifts around but the details are the same. Sometimes she remembers a name and always she tells me how dad nearly lost everything and how he had cried. Today I move her on.
“Let’s think about what you want to spend the voucher on”, I say cheerily. “Do you want to buy something special for yourself?”
She has no idea what she wants or what she can buy with $50.00.
“You might have to put something toward it”, I say. “$50 won’t buy a great deal but let’s see”.
I have a plan. We will park in the Westfield carpark and go to Myer and Target. They are opposite each other and on the same floor. We enter the Westfield carpark from Brougham Street where the façade of Dalgety’s Wool Auction Room was left in tact.
She is so frail now. She walks slowly and finds it hard to balance even. I feel I would like to offer her an arm but I can’t. I fear rejection of the gesture. I will wait until she really needs it.
We make our way slowly into Myer.
“No-one will ever go into Moorabool Street,” she says, “with this here”.
She has no idea where we are and she would be lost if she were on her own.
“Myers is so big now,” she says. I remember her navigating around the material section. Guiding us in our choice of patterns. I feel privileged and sad to be guiding her through this strange place.
We find nothing at Myer and so we head back to Target. In Target I find a light summer cardigan. It is the colour of mushroom with a faint dark strip and it is light and long.
“You could wear this over a shirt and trousers or even over a dress for Sally’s wedding”.
She tries on the medium and the large and extra large and settles on the extra large one after taking off her jumper and trying them all on over her shirt.
Once again I smell that she has not washed properly and I wonder how we will ever tackle this problem.
On the way home she tells me that she will write to the people who gave her the voucher and will perhaps bake some shortbread for them. She should be able to pack it up and post it. She retells me the story of their son and how she helped the wife during the terrible time after they found him chopped up.
We drive home via the railway underpass. She has no idea where we are.
I drop her at home but I decide to go to the door with her. She fumbles around for her key. I kiss her goodbye and tell her I will pop up for a cuppa during the week.
I feel a great burden of sadness for dad. How he deals with this day in and day out I have no idea. I love spending time with her. Her love of cheeky gossip is still there and she still has a sense of fun. Her memory for most things is faded and muddled but she still has moments of great clarity. As we left Westfield she blithely commented:
“I used to work in that building. Behind one of those windows on the third floor. I had my own office”.