Murphy sits at Joan’s feet. Her hand finds his head and rests atop. Her fingers find their way through wiry fur to the bony skull beneath to massage his head. Her fingers are smooth and white. The fingers of an old woman whose hands no longer do work. Sometimes they wrap around a teacup, other times they rest on her lap. Her skin like latex. She once worked on the bodies of others as a physiotherapist. She would have touched a lot of skin. Kneaded many knots from muscles. Now she walks the corridors and attends any excursion she can. Anything to get out. The rest of the time she sits amongst the open-mouthed, the drowsy and the drooly.
She recognises us each time we visit, her face lights up, and she does not appear to have memory loss. The staff tell me she does. She cannot recall how long she has lived here. Today I find her standing outside one of the centre’s doors on a path through a manicured garden. Her hands come to her face that is breaking. I ask her, are you okay Joan, when I see her broken face. No I am not. I am trapped. I want to get away from here, she says, standing on the path and looking around, as if for the exit that is only metres in front of her. She has clear snot running from her nose and I say I will get you a tissue. No one wants to be without a hanky.
She takes it and holds it to her face. Murphy and I will walk with you, I say. Come sit in the garden. We sit. I offer suggestions as to things she might do. Others are inside playing Bingo after all. She is not the game-playing type. What about crafts or puzzles. Looking for ways to fill her time seems like asking her to pour sand into a bottle and then pour it out again. What would make you happy Joan? A dog.
Meanwhile a gardener is nearby and despite the heat is weeding, head down. Joan throws a question her way about her latest seedlings but the gardener doesn’t hear and so doesn’t answer. She is trying to make light of her tears now. I am sorry for being a bother. Joan tries again to question the gardener, and still she is not heard. She is an old unseen unheard woman, sitting. Beige and blending into paving. She is searching for conversation, for connection. She says she wishes she knew where the family of her dead husband were. Not her children, but still. She loved them, but they live far away and now do not visit. I don’t know where they are. Outside the gates somewhere. Her face is pained again like a small child lost. Gretel in the forest.
I wonder if audio books might be nice or even just the radio. There are so many interesting things on the radio, Joan. Like interesting matters. I don’t know how to use the buttons, she confesses. Come Murphy, sit here with Joan, and let her rest her hand on your head. Let her feel your warmth as giving and trusting as any human hand. Like family. He moves his head under her hand, shifts just a little to let her know she can leave it there as long as she likes. Good work Murphy.