Just a year ago, mum would line seven glasses of water on the shelf above the kitchen sink and make dad drink them during the day.
“He doesn’t drink water,” she would say, “so I make him drink all seven glasses each day.”
On Friday I call in to have coffee and take mum and dad shopping. There is a two-litre bottle of Solo – fizzy lemon drink – open on the sink.
“She’s drinking one of these every couple of days,” dad says. “She insists that we buy three bottles every time we shop. I can’t stop her.”
Checking the label, there are 28 grams of sugar in each serve. I tell dad that he has to stop buying it.
Already it’s hot outside. Mum is sitting with woolen socks and moccasins on. I suggest sandals. She doesn’t know what they are or if she has any.
“You have some mum. I’ll get them.”
I find her sandals in a drawer at the bottom of her wardrobe and bring them to her. She looks strangely at them and puts them on.
She has a nasty ulcer on her foot. It needs a dressing and a doctor.
Finally dad has reached his limit. He has organized and assessment. My sister and I turn up unexpected at the appointed time. We both sense that we are not welcome there. We both sense that the people who do these assessments look on us as the greedy daughters who want nothing for our parents but want only to divide their assets. That is how we feel we are seen. We are there because we want to make sure the assessor gets the correct information from them. My sister says my dad is the dumbest smart man she knows.
The last assessor told me how well my parents were doing. What a lovely couple they were and how well they were managing things together.
The assessor was a nurse. He was about our age and he was gentle with mum. She responded well to him and laughed at her mistakes.
“What year are we in?”
“What day is it?”
Mum is strategic. She gets the day and the date from the newspaper on the table in front of her. She knows the season. She recognises that he is holding a pen and that he is wearing a watch on his wrist. But when asked to draw a clock face on a piece of paper and put the numbers in, she is muddled. She draws the clock face and puts numbers in. When asked to put the hands in for twenty to four, she puts in the four with a small hand pointing to it then looks hard at what she had drawn.
“I am missing something … a twenty … there is no twenty.”
He moves her quickly past her mistakes and onto the next set of questions.
“What did she like doing.” Blank. “What was the name of her daughter in America.” Blank.
She covered up, she used humour; she was sweet and compliant. When asked if she ever got angry she fudged an answer. When she was asked about the cleaner she said how lovely she was; how she had known her family forever and how she did a wonderful job. She didn’t mention that she has cut her back to two hours a fortnight and that she is not allowed to clean the kitchen, the bathroom or the toilet and that she follows her around putting two fingers in the air behind her.
He asked her if she thought she could manage on her own. “What if it were just you alone, no Bruce?” That was the question that everything else hangs off. What if any thing happened to dad?
Two years ago dad had a bad flu. I called in to see him. Mum was bringing in logs of wood from the wood heap at the end of the garden – for the only heating they have in the house – one at a time. What if he gets sick in the winter ahead? Could she keep the fire going?