And now to write…

I was planning to spend the morning writing, but instead I am at the nursing home watching my mother.

When I rang her all she would say was sick, then hang up. I wasn’t sure that she even knew it was me she was talking to. I know her hearing has been especially bad lately. So poor, that she responds to your questions with answers that clearly reveal she has not heard what you have asked. It makes conversation virtually impossible, and so I just listen to her. She is content with that. In the past she needed to have me tell her stuff; entertain her with stories of the outside. Now she merely needs me to hear who gave her a shower and what they were served for lunch the previous day. The fish on Mondays is her favourite. She complains about Leonie, the cleaner with the turned down mouth, who moves her stuff. She tells me about Joyce who, in her demented state, eats the paper napkins and other inedible items set out on the dining table. Lately my mother just likes to have me nearby. She likes to see me. She likes to hold my hand with hers.

Mostly I prefer not to hold hands. It is too restrictive. It means I have to stay put. But, I have to let her have my hand, today. She is child-like and small in the already small bed. She has many pillows around her, seeming to compete with her for bed space. They threaten to dislodge her from the bed. They are hospital white. She groans and moans. She has her legs up and then down. I look at the portrait behind her bed of her mother sitting at a dressing table arranging flowers. It is the image of a woman in a dark green full-length gown, almost with her back to the artist. Her auburn hair is loosely tied up, while her hands work on the bouquet. It is serene. It tells of time spent in a garden and then in a house. It tells of making a home. Flower scent. Jade velvet robes. Dark wooden boards. Dressing tables. This picture hung in my parents bedroom when I was a child. It has always looked over my mother as she has slept. With her always. Offering its solace.

I return her watch which I had taken to get a new battery. It has a gold chain band and a simple small black face. It slides on to her wrist and, as she feels me replace it, she fingers it to see its face and read the time. Her skin on her hands and arms have all the wrinkles and strange patches of old age. She has barnacles and seborrhoeic keratoses. She has flakes and protrusions. On her skinny arms, she has the stuff of witches. I take off the stiff leather-banded watch I lent her, with its hard black band so unsuited to her. She is pleased to have her old watch. It has no second hand. It does not count in seconds. She loves to know the time. Intimately. On a good day she will have the egg timer on to tell her how long it is till lunch, or dinner, or till I might arrive or I might leave. It is always set, ticking down the moments till something or other. Till Ready, Steady, Cook. At Langham Street it told how long till morning tea should be served, how long till the start of the ABC News, how long till Alex should come in from the garden and have his shower, how long till it was time to turn the sprinkler off and move it round the back. It was the tracker of tasks. Now it is silent.

There is the hum of the air conditioner set to heat the room. Twenty five degrees. It is stifling hot, while outside it is crisp and clear and cold. Outside the room there is life, rushing on. Even in the nursing home dining room, a few metres away, there is more activity. The old and demented are getting ready to eat. My mother has her curtains drawn to block out the sun. She is still in her pink cotton nightie. She has refused her shower today and is not drinking enough water.

Doing Tax…

My tax return is late. Horrendously so. And so the later it gets the more I want to put it off. My desk is a mountain of papers and receipts. Looking through the bank statements that I have printed off the computer I am seeing entries that remind me of a year ago. In my head I have trouble trying to recall whether my father was alive before or after the end of the financial year. And does it matter? I have my father’s deceased estate stuff to consider too. I have a file of his papers where he made notations in a demented way on bills. Squiggly question marks near amounts owing. PAID writ-large with a flourish beneath it. Success at the post office. Everything paid through the post office. The old person’s only way to pay.

I imagine him in the queue, socks to his knees, pants too high. He is an impatient man and the queue bothers him. Waiting has never been easy for him. Like Blackboard in Mr squiggle. Muttering beneath his breath Hurry up. Not that he has other errands to run on a shopping day. This is the big one. The paying of bills. Finally at the counter, he softens because he needs the assistant’s help. He could easily be screwed. But they know him. He has been coming since the post office became the place where old people pay their bills. When they no longer sent cheques.

He forgets to pay the HBF bill and the health insurance is unpaid. This means that when my mother ends up in hospital because of a turn (she simply sank to the floor like a puppet with its strings cut in the very same Post Office) and she is asked whether she has private insurance and she answers yes and they divert her to the private hospital, she is turned around again because they are Not Financial. When I attempt to sort this fiasco out, over the phone, the insurance company will not tell me how much they owe because of privacy concerns. When I tell the I am a day away, down South on holidays, they are unmoved. I just want to pay their bill with my credit card over the phone but they cannot release the information I need.

My father is driving to the wrong hospital to visit my mother. He is eating pan-fried fish with sliced banana for dinner. The neighbours are looking in on him. He is still in the garden till the sun is going down.

My mother yo-yos between the hospitals till her insurance is sorted out. The private hospital won’t take her if she’s not insured and the public hospital wants her to go to the private hospital if she has insurance as she claims to have. Daddy’s been a member for fifty years, she says.

I hate the insurance company and tell them so when they inquire at the end of our heated phone conversation as to how well they have helped me today. They promise to pass on my complaint but I never hear from them. I hate you, do you hear me. Hate you.

Back in the city, I realise it is time to be their nominee and take in the form to prove I am their enduring power of attorney. Child becomes Parent.

While my mother is in the hospital the neighbours begin a roster system whereby the evening meals are delivered to my father. He is eating well and loves the attention. Evey afternoon he drives to see her. On one of these occasions he rams another car in the hospital car park but ignores it. A bystander sees the white Subaru Forrester crawl away and takes his number down. He gives it to the owner of the damaged car. Later Dad gets a summons about the accident and it becomes clear that he no longer even has a current licence. It too has been unpaid.

Sometimes he stood in the queue and then when he neared the front of it he turned around and walked out.

Now I am doing his tax. In the blue folder with all its pockets I push out the rectangles of paper with his handwriting on them and replace them with my own headings. I notice the poor spelling. The new labels make more sense to me. The last folder has a pocket I label Death. In it I put his funeral bill and wonder if he can tax deduct it. I think of the more expensive Enviro coffin we got him, knowing he was a believer in recycling. But a tax deduction; now that would really please him.