It was still dark when I left home this morning, dark and wet. The ocean has an unusual, restful stillness at that hour – the atmosphere was so expectant I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see a whale break the surface of the liquid grey. I shared the promenade with a few other early risers as I made my way to the wharf. There was a white-haired couple briskly walking a very happy dog. There was one guy staring optimistically out to sea, hands plunged deep in his pockets, looking for any sign of the one thing there was not: surf. A likely lad ambled past with a cigarette tipped from his lips, his insouciant lope suggesting a man just returning to his own bed, not one just leaving it. A couple of runners gamely squinted against the rain, and I envied them, knowing that today I am unlikely to get the chance to follow their lead.
I’m on my way back to Nana’s. The Vinnies truck is coming to pick up some of Nana’s furniture, books, kitchenware and… shoes. Lots of shoes, most of them still in their boxes, all barely worn, if at all. It’s a pristine collection spanning several sizes – clear evidence of a woman willing to suffer for her art. In Nana’s case, this was always her appearance, so it’s been a particularly twisted irony of Alzheimer’s that her interest in all matters of grooming was one of the first things to go.
I was there all day yesterday. I actually can’t believe how much stuff there is. It’s a one bedroom flat, for crying out loud – where is all of it coming from?? Every single inch of storage was in use, every surface covered. Every cupboard chock-full of Nana’s things. I must have texted Kate twenty times yesterday trying to ascertain what to keep for her and what to consign to the Vinnies pick up.
It’s later now, and I’m sitting at Nana’s small dining table. A hulking Adonis (oh yes, do come in!) has just been to collect Nana’s fridge with his contrary and near-retirement assistant. I wish they were here to take everything away; I want this to be over. Now I wait. The Vinnies truck is coming ‘at the driver’s discretion,’ sometime between 8 am and 3 pm today. I’m hostage to the schedule.
It’s a funny little place, this “village” (who are they kidding? It’s a block of flats). Since I’ve been here doing the pack up, at least half a dozen residents have stopped by to ask how it’s all going and to find out how Nana’s settling in up north. Most of them have a knowing, sympathetic shake of the head to offer me, too.
“It’s an awful job,” they tell me.
“Back again?” they say.
“You still here?!” they cry.
It’s nice that everyone’s so sweet and encouraging – Dot, or “the eyes and ears,” as Nana started darkly calling her, even brought me over some chicken soup last night, afraid I’d not eaten all day (I had – there’s a shop across the road, and George and Layla made me a ham and cheese roll and talked me into a slice of Layla’s apple cake) – but what’s strange about this is that I never once came across Nana with any of these people. Without exception, I knocked on the door to find Nana all alone. Did the party start once I was gone? Or is it only Nana’s absence, and the underlying meaning of my protracted task, that is responsible for the belated flurry of activity at her door? To my great relief and their group credit (you haven’t seen news travel until it’s in the hands of octogenarians), they took charge of the fridge situation in seconds – mere minutes passed before I had someone pledging to pick it up. Dot wanted the fridge but her cupboards are too low, so next she volunteered to take a lamp off my hands. It’s a good one, so it’ll be heading up to Kate, but I consoled Dot with a mirror and a snazzy two-slice toaster. She wandered back to her flat gazing at herself, and I must say, having caught sight of her reflection as she went, she looked quite pleased.
There’s an interesting cast of characters. Nana’s neighbour to the right is only about 55 years old. What in the world is she doing here? I just don’t understand it. You might think it’s because she’s guaranteed quiet neighbours, but you’d be wrong – the lady on the left is stone deaf, and her TV is up so loud it’s like morning prayer in Mecca. I can’t comprehend why someone so young is living in this environment… I mean, Llew’s parents are both much older than this lady, and I think they’d have a fit even just driving past. Forget it. And a comparatively youngish man stopped by the other night to tell me Nana was a good golfer (she must have been talking up her game, because I know for a fact she hasn’t played in at least a decade). He then apologised for the skinful of beer he’d been drinking all afternoon and stumbled away. But again, he struck me as kind of young for these digs – no wonder he’s drinking. Boy, I’d drink too.
But I think my favourite is the woman at the window. On every single one of my endless trips down to the bins, there she is, a floating head between the vertical venetians, not waving, not smiling, not talking, just watching. And then she makes a big noisy production of letting the venetians drop back into line, as if to say no, no, she wasn’t being a nosy-parker at all. She was just… adjusting the blinds. Checking the weather. Closing the window. Oh, I didn’t see you there. Oh, there you are again! And here am I! What a coincidence! Yeah. Sure. I’m onto you, lady.
Two hours down… only another possible five to go…