Esther Newton’s latest prompt asks for a story around silence
Silence; a much misunderstood sound
Martin Thomas, the nursing home manager smiled at Greg, as he pulled the curtains back, letting in the sunshine. ‘Your father’s settled in well. He’s sleeping a lot but he’s happy to sit in his chair.’
‘Has he spoken yet?’ Greg’s anxiety was palpable.
The unctuous tones of the manager filled the room. ‘Not yet, no. But it’s early days. And losing your mother had to be a shock.’ He turned to the old man, who was staring at his lap. ‘See Norman, the sun’s out. Maybe we can go for a walk later?’
Norman Oldscombe looked up. Nice curtains, Betty. You always wanted floral. Look they’re waving!
Martin stood back from the open window. ‘Ha, he’s smiling. He understands even if he doesn’t speak. You like the birds, don’t you Norman?’
No nets, though. Maybe we can go and buy some later? He shook his head. No, not today. It’s Doris’ birthday, you’re right.
Martin frowned. ‘Does he not like birds?’
Greg took his father’s hand; it was frozen. ‘You love birds, don’t you, dad? Always fed them didn’t you?’ He held his father’s rheumy gaze, searching for a response.
You do too much sewing, Betty. See how rough your fingers are. Perhaps if we rubbed in some hand cream.
Greg felt his heart jolt as his father gently rubbed each finger. He lent forward and hugged his father’s frail shoulders, a tear sliding off his cheek and landing on Norman’s neck.
We’d better get that coat. I think it’s going to rain, you know. Can’t have your hair getting wet, can we? Go all frizzy. You remember Boscombe. That holiday when Greg was tiny? You got so cross when we got caught in the storm. How we laughed!!
Greg stood back, wiping his eyes, while Martin fiddled with the window, clearly embarrassed. ‘It’s good to see him happy. Having you visit clearly helps. Shall we push him into the garden for a little bit of air? You can sit and talk.’
They manoeuvred the old man into his wheelchair. As they did so he indicated the toilet so Greg eased his father through the door. Gingerly Norman stood upright and picked up the comb from the shelf over the sink. While he combed his hair with slow methodical strokes, Greg and Martin helped him onto the toilet.
No one met the other’s gaze: Martin’s mind drifted to the lunch menu and what they were going to do now the fish hadn’t been delivered; Greg thought about the indignity of his very private father having to be helped to the toilet by his son; and Norman?
You always said I had the best hair of any man, didn’t you love? You flatterer. Maybe we should go to the beach. Listen to the sea, Betty, like in Boscombe? You’d like that.
The silence echoed around the small spotless room, broken only by the sound of Norman relieving himself.