Sleep Walking 2
A cop patrolled the perimeter of the building. He looked fit enough. Even with me pedalling away furiously on my bike he’d probably outwalk me. But he looked bored with his duties, not really paying attention and his big nose was so high up in the air, he probably even didn’t think he’d an arse.
I scooted around a bell-shaped rhododendron that was more tree than bush. I was determined just have a peek inside. I catalogued reasons why I should just fuck off home. My da was already dead. There was nothing more I could do for him. I’d get arrested and that wouldn’t help anyone. I’d plenty of practice not helping anyone.
Often I’d stood in dad’s room and looked through the window—when he was still alive—out into the grounds, wishing, hoping, I was outside, rather than inside. I didn’t want to be there. Dark thoughts, guilt, followed me around, I wasn’t even sure if he knew me. Nurses judged him over-harshly. I just wanted them to do their job. The job I wasn’t paying for them to do. They thought the bent and hollow man with a beaky nose that was my dad, was cantankerous. They labelled him violent, not in one go, but a paperwork trail, bit by bit. Finally, they wouldn’t shower him. If it was anybody else I’d have perhaps found it amusing, or ridiculous, perhaps both. I’d done that thing we all do. Arguing my point to the care assistant, then the matron, then some high-heid yin on the phone. Trying to keep my own anger from spilling out and being labelled like father like son. It was a battle I was destined to lose. Take or leave it—with your dad in tow, was the only argument they needed to make.
Because dad was labelled such an outcast his single room was furthest away from the nurses’ station as they could push him. I couldn’t push away the feeling he’d be somehow waiting and I’d need to shower and dress him for the last time. I bit my lower lip and made a mask of my face so I wouldn’t cry.
I called it the dungeon, but that worked in my favour. Ground floor, the very end of a long corridor in the old building that hadn’t been fully modernised. Smelt of damp and pee, but do did the whole building. Beggars can’t be choosers was a lesson dad had taught me late in life. Peeling paint and old sash windows.
Crouched and gawking inside I suddenly lost track of the wind on my face, rain falling, my hands grasping the window frame and of the need to hide. The sense of myself vanished, mixed up with the hungry eyes staring back at me, some of the elderly groaning, one or two had worked a hand out from the wrapping of polythene. Arthritic finger-like claws waved in my direction seeking sullen recognition as human. The stench when I pushed the window up was a miasma of shit and rotting bodies. I cried out too, before stuffing a fist into my mouth, to silence myself.
Dad crouched on the floor with his back to the wall, knees drawn up and arms curled up tightly around his head. He balanced wearing only shit-smeared pants, like a carrion bird on a corpse and his wailing set off a cacophony of others. I shoved up the window up higher and stepped inside, knowing that I had to be quick.
‘Dad,’ I said, and his terror-filled eyes sought mine and there was a flicker of recognition.
‘Biscuits,’ he mouthed with wide jaw.
In a cupboard when I was wee was half-hidden a green and gold tin. ‘Biscuits’ was punched into it with a drill from his work. The final s, looping back, slippery and slapdash. Bad workmanship, he’d said with a smile, while holding out the tin, like holding out salvation.
‘Biscuits,’ I said, trying to watch my feet. There was no space on the floor and I stood, wobbling on an old man’s legs, he shrieked.
My dad’s chest puffed up. His head turned at an odd angle as he looked at me stumbling over bodies, nearer, causing pain to others.
I pulled dad into a hug, his head on my chest. His body thin as a bent blade that could be cut by my calloused hands. I pull him up by the waist and he rises ghost-like. In a pinch-tight grip, I stumbled backwards pulling him with me. He fell face down onto open lips, wrinkled tags of flesh, and shrink-wrapped body of a woman. Only swivelling greyish eyes told me she was still alive. She squeezed them shut as we passed as if we were ghosts.
Leaving him perched at the window I stepped over the sill and stumbled, almost twisting my ankle, as I found my feet. With the great cacophony of wailing I was sure the guard would come. I acted without thinking, leaning in, cinching dad around the waist and lifted him. He banged his head as I pulled him through the window. His right hand went up to the long slope of balding forehead and he rubbed it and frowned as if he was puzzled and was trying to work out what had happened.
Whipping off my coat I flung it over her shoulders and pulled him towards the fir trees. I think he was too mixed-up and stunned to be outside to complain. His bare white feet had grown long yellowish, horny, nails like some untended animal. He shivered and ducking under branches I picked him up and carried him to were I’d left my bike parked against a tree. My arms were sore and sweat washed my face as we lay together beside it, me gasping for air like a fish out of water.
Wiping my shit stained hand in the dirt, I hugged him hard when we sat up. No movement in the big house of the driveway. I stood him up and dressed him as best I could with my jacket, zipping it up and pulling the hood over his head. Wind blew and left him hoodless, but I concentrated on trying to get him sitting on the bike. Slowly, with my arm around his bum and one hand on the handlebars I guided him towards the tarmac and drystone dyke walls that framed the leash of road. .