I knew something was wrong with Mum way before anyone else. Those little signs that people missed, the strange vacant expressions, forgetting where she'd put her reading glasses (usually found on top of her head), the absence of the sparkle in her eyes that used to transfix you to the spot. Gone was that razor-sharp wit that could cut you with a knife. No one seemed to notice. It was only after a trip to London to see my parents, where I pleaded with my father to show me the paperwork from a recent memory test, that the diagnosis was there written in ink: early onset vascular dementia.
So that was it, the horrible creeping realization that things were only going to get worse, and that little by little, this lovely clever lady would silently melt into the shadows and disappear forever.
Geraldine started to turn up at my parents' house regularly. I would call Mum nearly every day, and mum would say that she couldn't talk on the phone because Geraldine had just dropped in for tea and was visiting her from Ireland. The fact that Geraldine, Mum's batty Irish aunt, had been dead for nearly fifty years, didn't seem to bother her. As far as she was concerned, Geraldine was a constant visitor and was, quite frankly, becoming a bit of a pest.
“Look mum, why don't you tell her that you're busy and that she can't keep turning up like this unannounced," I would say. “Well, I tried that, and she got very upset with me.” Mum would retort.
I sighed. “Ok,” I said playing along. “I'll call you later when she's gone."
Then, on a recent visit to see my parents, something weird happened. I dropped in on the way back from a meeting in London and rang ahead to tell them that I'd be there at around four o'clock.
Dad answered the phone. “Um, darling, just to warn you, Geraldine is here. I'm off to the club for a swim. Be patient with mother, she's trying her best and today is a good day.” He sounded strange, disconnected and slightly sad. “No worries, Dad, I'll make sure Mum is ok. I'll tell Geraldine to get on the next flight home to Ireland." I laughed nervously.
As I sauntered up the garden path to their pretty Victorian terrace, nestled in a quiet corner of Kew, a feeling of unease hit me, something wasn't quite right.
I knocked on the front door and heard familiar laughter coming from the dining room and the clatter of plates. Then I heard the low murmur of my mother’s voice, but there was another voice as well…. a voice I couldn't place. I rang the doorbell, and my mother flung the door wide open, with her arms outstretched. She had a huge smile on her face.
"Darling, lovely to see you - come in, have a cup of tea. Geraldine's here." I froze and slowly walked down the hallway. As I approached the dining room I saw two teacups, a cake-stand laden with all sorts of cakes and sandwiches. A bright red lipstick mark adorned one of the teacups. “Oh dear," said Mum. “Geraldine must have had an early flight, she's left in such a hurry, look, she's not finished her tea, and how rude, she’s left the patio door wide open!”
© Atty 2021-08-19