1. Leaving

They’ve gone into a home. We clear their house over several slow weeks: their belongings and everyday habits preserved. Tea pot with cosy, thimble collection on wooden mini-shelves, that vague floral and talc bathroom smell, the Orkney chair, unused gift sets, systems and routines. Marquetry and knitting once crafted by their hands, photos mapping holidays and occasions; her diaries. Worn garden chairs, side by side in the porch.

They’ve gone into a home, where bedrooms are labelled, corridors darkened by heavy fire doors and lounge lined with chairs in rows. The smell is cooked dinners with tones of disinfectant.

It surprised me, the clean break of leaving, because she didn’t take much. Maybe the past was too huge to carry and her focus could only be for now, for keeping on. 

He struggles to remember home, where he left files, boxes and items meticulously labelled. Watches, gold sovereigns, a set of garden bowls, half an indigestion tablet in a waistcoat pocket.

In the home they celebrate an anniversary, and the whole place celebrates. The sons and their wives even dance. He remembers them, both doctors aren’t you? Hard to know who’s who, as family visit. A baby draws smiles, easing stilted chat, until they’re gone in a rabble of guilty goodbyes. But there is something of home about all of them.

Here they are safe and cared for. If he doesn’t know where he is, he can reach for her, as he has for 65 years. When he turns his head, she is beside him; he is home after all.

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