The four of us on the Mum rota travelled across counties to help her reach her frame as she wobbled to the commode. After weeks of taking it in turns to sleep on her bedroom floor we chose her care home in two days. During those nights she had talked to her long dead sisters about watercress picking, singing ‘it’s time to get up,’ until we opened the curtains so she could see the moon and stars. She promised she would try and sleep, pulling her duvet up to her chin for at least five minutes.
The Prime Minister announced lockdown on Monday and on Tuesday we moved her to the care home, the bruises from her falls still purple. She’ll be safe there, we thought. I ordered name labels for her clothes, but they didn’t arrive in time.
In the home she put on weight and laughed, told the residents, ‘Come on girls,’ as they exercised to Joe Wicks in the morning. The Home let her get up at five and she ate two breakfasts with the ‘old crocks,’ as she called them.
They banned all visitors, but we watched her progress on the Home’s Facebook page. They posted each night. The residents made Easter bunnies, coloured-in, chatted and enjoyed afternoon scones. Arthritic fingers grasped large brushes to paint the insides of simple shapes. Black and white photos from their happy past were shared.
I tell her she’s doing well. She tells me she can come home but the only problem is she no longer has a car so someone will have to do her shopping.
Across the county Dorothy, her only remaining sister, catches the virus in her care home; dies alone in hospital. At eighty-four the church on the hill would’ve been packed to celebrate my auntie’s life; she was much loved, a WI member for seventy years, a master baker who knew all the stories in her village. Her funeral is small, her grandchildren and extended family absent, but as the hearse winds through the lanes, villagers gather by front gates and bow their heads. My cousins carry such grief, unable to hug each other at the windy graveside.
On Facebook someone is wearing my mum’s cardigan, and this undoes me. Each night I scan the photos, not for smiles, but to identify her wardrobe. For three nights she’s absent from Facebook. She has a temperature and I wonder if she’s been locked in her bedroom. The next day we Skype. She asks, ‘Has Dorothy died?’ and once again, I say yes.
Throughout the days, between the gaps in Skype calls, I wonder how she is and what she understands. And then, as the death toll is revealed across the care sector, her Home goes dark. With new government guidelines, they are changing procedures, spending more individual time with each resident. There is no time for Facebook photographs now.
I send them gloves and chocolate and prayers.
Grace Palmer writes both flash fiction and novels with work published in Magma, anthologies and e-zines. With an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa, curating Novel Nights, Flash in Hand & teaching fiction, her middle name is busy.