This bit of gallows humo(u)r is, well, an interlude in our own Shakespearean tragedy.
Sunday’s visit with my husband was difficult, especially since I’d gone to see him after a pleasant few hours’ brunch with my friend Karolyn. She and I had empathized and giggled over our similar lots in life. When I left I was in a good mood, but when I arrived at the facility where Peter lives and headed toward his room a nurse coming towards me shook her head. “Peter has done even more packing up this time,” she said. And good morning to you too, I thought. I let that slide for the moment.
Peter was in the dining area, just finishing lunch. He did his usual surprise act when he saw me. “Oh, it’s you!” he said. “Where did you come from?”
“Out there.” I pointed to the entryway. “Are you finished? Have you had dessert?” There was still food on his plate, not surprising since he doesn’t like the meals.
“Oh, yes” someone said,”he had a scone with a beer in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.”
“A scone and a beer? What would your old granny say?” I asked. He shrugged and gave me his exaggerated fake wink.
It was a pleasant day so we went outside to the gazebo. After a few minutes of idle chat, I took a deep breath and prepared to have another Talk with him. A month ago he’d asked if he would ever get out of “this place.” Since he’d asked directly I answered as plainly as I could hating, hating, that I must do it. I explained again that because of his falls, plus his wandering and getting lost, I couldn’t take care of him at home anymore. “I can’t lift you when you fall,” I said, “and I couldn’t always find you when you got lost.”
“But I don’t fall,” he said, “and I’ve never gotten lost.” I raised my left eyebrow. “Well, I don’t remember if I did.”
“I know you don’t remember, but that’s part of the problem. But you can’t help it.” I put my head on his shoulder and patted his knee. “I know you don’t want to be here and I don’t want you to be here either. But this is the best answer to a bad situation.” He was quiet. Tea, I thought. A cuppa cure-all. “Let’s go in and I’ll make us a cup of tea,”
I was shocked when I opened the door to his room. The nurse was right. He’d created even more mayhem than usual. This was the day same he’d gone so far as to hide his tv set. I bit my tongue to keep from saying what was on my lips. “I’ll make tea after I tidy up,” I said.
“I’ll help! What shall I do?” he asked. I nodded towards the bed where he’d stacked every single thing that that would fit. “I’ll put these clothes away, shall I?”
“Good idea,” I said. He hung up his shirts neatly, making sure they were buttoned and straight, while I put everything else away. Forty minutes passed before I fixed tea.
Peter frowned while he sipped, lost in thought. “It’s funny,” he said finally, waving his arms around, “I’m healthy all over the rest of me body. It’s just me head. I can’t remember anything.”
“We could chop off your head!” I said.
As quick as ever in his best Cockney accent, he said, “Off wif ‘is ‘ead!” And with no hesitation, he began to belt out,
I’m ‘Enery the Eighth, I am,
‘Enery the Eighth I am, I am!
I got married to the widow next door,
She’s been married seven times before
And every one was an ‘Enery
She wouldn’t have a Willie nor a Sam
I’m her eighth old man named ‘Enery
‘Enery the Eighth, I am!
We laughed and laughed and, for the moment, nothing else mattered.
2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist.