1. Leaving

They’ve gone into a home. We clear their house over several slow weeks, of their things and their habits preserved. Tea pot with cosy, thimble collection on wooden mini-shelves, faint talcum and rose petal bathroom scent, the Orkney chair, systems and routines, unused gift sets. Marquetry and knitting are traces of hobbies, photos tracking 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. She didn’t take much. Perhaps the past was too huge to carry. All strength left for now, for each day of keeping hold.

He struggles to remember home, where he left files, boxes and items meticulously labelled. Watches, shillings, a set of garden bowls, a waistcoat – half Rennie in the pocket.

In the home they celebrate an anniversary, and all there relish its tender occasion. 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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