Castle Pillock 4
There is sadness around Castle Pillock at the moment. My beautiful friend Leila had a brain haemorrhage five weeks ago. Until now she’s been in a specialist unit fifty miles away, and not allowed any visitors apart from her husband and son. A few days ago she was transferred to our local hospital, and I was finally able to see her.
Leila and I have worked together for thirteen years. For eleven of them we sat opposite each other. We have seen each other through reorganisations, restructures and, the latest buzz word in local government, rewirings. We have also seen each other through the pain and glory that comes with averagely maladjusted offspring; the loss of a father each; her mother’s slide into dementia and my mother’s into an increasingly cantankerous and defiant old age; her husband’s heart bypass; a couple of very ill-advised love affairs on my part; a completely unfounded disciplinary hearing against her at work. We’ve sat in each other’s kitchens, sitting rooms, gardens and occasionally bathrooms, putting the world and everyone in it to rights. Last Good Friday she invited me to dinner and I was serfectly pober until the fresh air hit me, my backside hit her front step, and we laughed so much the taxi driver had to get us both up. And there was that New Year’s Eve at mine when we lost her until she was finally located, with the cat, fast asleep in the bath.
If you have read some of my stuff on here you may have already met Leila, or a part of her. She is the ‘evangelical smoker’ in Daisy and the Chalet Woman, although she is also obsessively tidy and always beautifully groomed – the character Kati’s slovenly habits are all mine. When she was in the specialist unit she had nicotine patches the size of dinner plates, but there are no patches for brandy or champagne or cannabis. Leila and I have very different outlooks on life in many ways. I don’t smoke anything and Leila’s idea of a good book is something with a lot of photos of David Bowie. She and her husband were regulars at The Hacienda in the 1980s and I have always regarded nightclubs as one of the inner circles of hell. But for thirteen years it’s worked. It’s worked.
I have only known two other people who had brain haemorrhages, and both died. For the first week and a half Leila was barely responsive and I started grieving for my friend. Every other night or so brought another brief conversation with her exhausted and devastated husband and son, or with the tearful and bewildered young woman who will become her daughter in law in a few months’ time. But Leila didn’t die, and the grieving turned into waiting, and Googling for information, and sending emails round concerned colleagues, and organising a card and a collection. And finally she was within reach, and I was so delighted to have the opportunity to actually do something.
I listened and nodded when her husband told me she was still very confused and talked a load of old nonsense most of the time. I fully accepted that he needed to ‘re-introduce’ me and be there during my first visit. I willingly accepted the instruction that when she told me she’d just got back from visiting her mother, or was just stopping briefly on her way to visit their friends in France, I must bring her back, gently, to reality and remind her she is in hospital and she is not well.
With a bit of guidance, I could cope with this.
She knows that she knows someone called Jane and that I am that person. She knows, I think because her husband has told her, that we work together. She thanked me for coming to see her and looked at me with a vague curiosity, like a child on her best behaviour. I asked her who sent her one of the cards displayed on her locker, a saucy item involving men’s bottoms, and she got it down, looked at it, studied the signature.
‘Who sent it, Lee?’ prompted her husband.
She closed it. ‘I know who sent it.’
‘Can you tell Jane who sent it?’
‘I can. If I want.’
‘Not to worry,’ I offered, heartily. ‘I bet I can work it out…’
I told her that James sent his love, and misses her terribly. James is the third member of our gang at work. He shares with me a fairly encyclopaedic knowledge of old song lyrics, and on quiet Fridays we waste tax payers money and have competitions over the instant messaging system, first one to fail to come up with a lyric on a given subject buys the drinks. He and Leila share an intimate knowledge of Manchester’s Canal Street and several of the characters therein, and their gossip definitely falls outside the local government electronic communication rules and could never be entrusted to instant messaging.
Leila looked at me, puzzled. ‘I didn’t expect that.’
‘Didn’t expect what, love?’
‘James. I mean, I hardly know him.’ She looked vaguely disapproving. ‘Hardly his business, really.’
She emptied out the carrier bag containing her dirty washing, insisting that her mother had put her son’s wedding invitations in there. Patiently, her husband explained it was just the washing. ‘I know that,’ she said, as if reassuring a very dim child. ‘But if we don’t get these on the train, none of us will get back to work.’ Suddenly Leila was there, winking at me, shaking her head in exasperation, ‘Honestly, men and multi-tasking, it’s pointless even to start.’ And then she was gone again, and someone else said, ‘And don’t forget my dad’s coming tonight to pick up his suit.’
We sat in silence for a several moments, her husband defeated, while I began to realise the enormity of my arrogance. What sort of a pillock thinks they can just cope with this? This isn’t a bit of disorientation after being very poorly. I looked across at her husband. Impatience, anger, grief, desolation. How little I had understood.
We have to believe that somewhere in there the threads are dangling, and we just have to find a way of joining the ends together again. The veil that is over my friend’s eyes when she looks at me must be tugged gently and persistently, to make it slide back. Next time, when I go on my own, I’ll go earlier in the day and she won’t be so tired, she’ll be more alert. I’ll take in the nice hand cream we’ve bought with part of the collection, and see if she remembers how she once put that very brand on her hands during a meeting and the tube made a farting sound and ever since we’ve called it Fart Cream, although it’s bloody expensive and smells divine.
And if she no longer finds that funny?
It seems so selfish to grieve for my own loss, but I can’t bear the thought of losing the part of me that she carries, or the part of her that I hold: shards from a different time, held in storage against the day we finally recover the rest. Today people have said to me, ‘It’s good then, that she recognises you, she still knows who you are.’ I don’t know how to explain it to them. It’s like watching a 3D film without the glasses. Everything’s fuzzy and there’s no depth.
I guess we just have to keep trying.