My parents’ house has two front rooms. The smaller one is currently doubling up as a bedroom/sick ward for my terminally ill father. There’s never a clutter of collected tea cups or half-eaten biscuits as my mum busies herself tidying around us, an always-on-the-go highly strung mother hen, just about keeping it together for the good of her brood. The telly is often on, its volume muted, subtitles jerkily appearing out of sync. Now and again one of my dad’s favourite folk CDs will be playing softly in the background. When left alone, my mum sits beside my dad, maybe singing, always holding his hand.
The larger of the two rooms has always been known as ‘the good room’. We are only really ever in there at Christmas and New Year or maybe for someone’s birthday. It would need to be a special birthday though. Compared to the other front room, where the cream carpet has been turned a grubby shade of grey due to non-stop foot traffic over the past two weeks, this room is indeed ‘the good room’. If the nurse or the doctor or the carers turn up, we tend to decamp to the good room while they do their stuff. A couple of days ago my wife and I sat in silence, half listening to the muffled voices coming from the other room, but mainly being distracted by the tick-tick-ticking of an old clock above the fireplace.
“I hate that clock,” I muttered to my wife. “It reminds me of being bored at my gran’s.” I’d be waiting for the telly to start, 70’s TV being characterised by the epoch-defining girl playing knots and crosses with the clown – a screensaver before they’d coined such a term – listening to the ticking of the clock working against the clickety clack of my gran’s knitting needles and the smackety snap of her substitute for Silk Cut chewing gum, willing time to speed up and for something, anything to happen.
Now I’m desperate to slow time down. Turn it back even.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Outside, traffic flashes past on its way to wherever, busy people leading busy lives. And time goes on.
In the supermarket I meet my dad’s pal, a big, proper man’s man, and we burst into tears at the sight of one another. No one seems to notice.
The Chinese takeaway asks if I want a bag. Well, who wouldn’t want a bag for their piping hot, metal-cartoned food?
The woman in the petrol station asks if I have a Nectar card and do I want cash back and would I like a receipt with that? Tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock. No thanks.
Driving to my parents’ house I’m stuck behind a literal Sunday driver and I overtake him where I shouldn’t, pushing my old car to the extremes so that I can get to my dad before the nurse does. She has medication in her bag and the big news of the day is that he’s been ‘talking’ to my mum and my sister. ‘Talking’ has been put in inverted commas as he’s more communicating through a series of painful moans and heavy-armed points in the rough direction of his mouth, but still, the prospect of him being awake enough to be aware of who’s in the room is enough to make me press my foot further to the floor. Now I’m the traffic flashing past, a busy person leading a busy life.
I get to my parents’ house.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
This is hellish.