Waiting for Treacle Tart
Matron secured herself into her apron. She took the hand-made card her children had presented her with that morning from her bag and slipped it into her pocket. It was the sort of thing the old dears like to see, and anyway, she wanted to have it close to her.
During the hand-over, Stella, the night-shift matron had wished her luck, and couldn’t help offering her opinion, “Personally, I wouldn’t bother celebrating these sorts of occasions, as any deviation from routine just causes problems.”
But there again, there was a reason Stella preferred to work nights. The still hush of the dayroom, the solitude of the corridors, broken only occasionally by small dramas, bladder incidents, night frights, all of those discomforts associated with the tail end of life. Stella mused that, on the whole, the nights were more organised, there was less scope for upset, and if they wanted to have a quiet weep into their pillowcases, it rarely escalated any further.
Dawn, the day-shift matron, liked to pander to the whims of her charges. And why not? They had precious little time left. She felt a little like an over-indulgent mother of these aged ones, so unlike the rules and regulations mother she was with her actual children. But of course it was different, she was preparing her children for life, these old ones were at the end of theirs.
A gaggle of old women were wending their way down the corridor to the day room. It was a time consuming process. The manipulation of walking supports, the careful placing of sensibly shod feet onto the non-slip floor took time and concentration. All the while they worked their mouths with surprising vigour.
“Joe has sent me a card!” “It will be so lovely to see the new great-grand…”
"Do you think there will be ham? I do like a nice bit of ham. Or salmon, now that’s a treat, although I’ll pay for it later…”
They looked and smelt like the last of the summer roses; colourful, but slightly unkempt in the vestiges of their finery.
There was a choice of activities today and by far the most popular was the Mothers’ Day Lunch. An accommodating pub around the corner was putting on a spread, and perhaps some of the children and grandchildren would come along to brighten proceedings even further. The lunch was in fact open to all of the residents, but of course those who had been, or actually were mothers, were the guests of honour.
There were a number of residents who had made the decision to stay behind. There was to be story-telling and iced cakes later, so much more what they would enjoy. These residents had not made such an effort with their attire.
As the gaggle finally emerged into the dayroom, heralded by giggles and snatches of half-remembered anecdotes, the contrast between the day-outers and the stay-at-homers became apparent. The bright perkiness of those on their way out to lunch had the plastic cheer of artificial flowers, while those slumping in their chairs had the appearance of overworked plasticine, colours reduced to a muddy, grey, lumpiness.
The gaggle continued through the dayroom and into the foyer, their talking never ceasing but becoming fainter as they moved ever closer to the waiting mini-bus. What a day they would have; a day to remember.
A sunny conservatory overlooked the driveway, and here, those who hovered between sleep and dream, life and death, liked to spend their days. Their cold blood was warmed by the sun and every now and again something of interest flickered past the window.
“Thank goodness that lot are clearing out,” grumbled an elderly man attempting to control his newspaper. His eyesight was such that after a few minutes of attempting to decipher an article he would be exhausted and have to rest. But for now he still had enough energy to jab his thumb towards the gaggle, making painfully slow progress onto the mini-bus.
“We might get a bit of peace now.”
“What?” was the simple inquiry of an even older man, more skeleton than flesh. Knowing the limitations of this ancient gentleman, for who even a one word utterance was an endeavour, the man with the newspaper explained, “It’s Mothers’ Day, Jim.” Then, remembering the ancient one’s deafness, he raised his voice a notch, “It’s Mothers’ Day, Jim.”
“Ahh.” The ancient one nodded his head and closed his eyes. His eyelids red in the golden sunlight. He’d had a mother once. Fragments of memory drifted across his mind. He saw a cat on a wall through a kitchen window and floury hands in a bowl. Soapy hands scrubbing at his grass-stained knees. Floury hands making the pastry for his favourite treat, treacle tart. He smiled as he recalled the dusting of flour on the end of his nose. And, yes, he had her now, long, white fingers travelling across the keys of a piano. Such beautiful music. “Sit still and listen Jim, we’ll have a slice of treacle tart when it’s cool enough.” Sitting in the warmth of the late afternoon sun, mother playing Clair de Lune and waiting for treacle tart; perfection.
And so the day passed. Jim awoke momentarily, startled by the slamming of the minibus door. The returning women were less of a gaggle, each wrapped up in their own thoughts. The day had been…well, what had they expected? At least there was a pot of tea going, and a slice of tart.
Dawn changed into her coat and carefully transferred the card back into her bag. It had been a successful day; and what burnt offerings was she to return home to? She contemplated the ritual Mother’s Day meal prepared by her children as she started down the drive. And there was Jim, still in the conservatory, in the very last light of the day. Was he waving? She waved at him and picked up her feet. She wanted to be home.
Jim sat in a moment from long ago; in the last warmth of the summer afternoon, listening to the sweet sound of his mother playing for him, waiting for treacle tart. He moved his fingers through the air, in time to the music.