freshly made tea
The young woman in the small bare room was waiting. Out of the window was a bright sky. Another great day. People talked of drought. She’d been on a late the day before and this was an early start, but she had the weekend off and it was easy enough sitting with this old fellow.
He’d been in some sort of institution most of his life. He allowed the attendant to wash, shave and brush him; dress him, do his shirt buttons, help with the waistcoat. He’d appear for meals and eat cautiously. Just enough. He was thin, likely the weight he’d been when, chivvied by pals, jingoism or patriotism, he joined up.
He inhabited dull routine day after day. Come bedtime, pyjamas buttoned tidily, the night staff tucked him in tightly. Sometimes his thready voice cried out of dreams. They gave him the sedative he was written up for and he’d settle back into a flinching sleep. Like he was now: muttering and wincing slightly.
His story was that he had no story. Card after card in various hand-writing and inks summed up his life with the repeated word ‘Neurasthenia’. Now it was ending and she was to sit with him until it was over.
He was one of the men, a ghost of one, whose nerves were wrecked by war. She remembered war poems she’d done at school and that book by Vera Brittain.
His soft thin hair gave his head a vagueness. His skin was blue-white, pale and smooth over bone. His fingers had stopped fretting with the sheet now and the troubled whispers were fainter.
She daydreamed about going to Mike and Gill’s with her boyfriend. Somehow take one of the kittens home on the bike.
Something brought her attention back. Silence. He’d gone.
Although he was unknowable, she felt sad for him, his lack of life, his long years of distress.
He would miss a beautiful summer, another in the decades of lost summers.