‘Wake her up!’
‘She is awake, Dad.’
‘So she is. Is that her talking?’
‘Yes. She’s talking to Clarence.
‘She’s like her mother – she’d talk to a lamp-post.’
Bernadette was cheerfully engaging with the dementia patient in the bed opposite.
‘How are you doing Clarence?’
Clarence held his forehead in a very woeful attitude and then responded in a heavy West Indian accent:
‘Under pressure! I’m under pressure!’
The small ward was home to four elderly men all suffering from their own version of dementia:
My father - whose mind transported him to his 'Happy Place' (the pub) each day. He referred to the nurses as ‘barmaids’.
Austin, a second old Irishman, who frequently asked for whiskey but settled for a cup of tea.
Clarence who regaled his second wife with joyous memories of his first wife and then wondered why he felt 'under pressure'.
Sidney - who watched all activity like a hawk and claimed ownership of everything on the ward:
‘Hey, that’s mine!'
‘No it isn’t Sid.’
‘Yes, it fucking well is!’
Clarence was about to launch into an elaboration on his ‘pressure’ for Bernie's benefit, when my father intervened.
‘Give me the wallet now.'
Bernadette stood up slowly and processed to the bed – appropriate ceremony and solemnity for an appearance by the wallet. I was about to liken the wallet to something I had recently seen at Beamish Museum, but I stopped myself. Dad brought the battered pouch very close to his worn out eyes, surveyed its shape and rubbed its surface. My mother had been instructed by him to send the wallet in with two twenty pound notes in it. Bernadette was the nominated ‘keeper of the wallet’ for the day.
Dad removed a note. He shook it, pulled it and creased it a little to ensure that it was a single note. I thought he was about to do a magic trick. He then held it so closely over his eyes that it resembled a little mask. Bernadette hovered over the bed. Eventually Dad gave up on his attempt to see:
‘What is that one?’
‘It’s a twenty Dad.’
‘That’s mine!’ shouted Sidney.
Dad removed the second note from the wallet and went through the same routine. My mother had told me that he wanted to give some money to me for the girls.
‘And what’s that one?’
‘That’s a twenty as well Dad.’
‘Give that back!’ shouted Sid.
Bernie rolled her eyes and smiled at me.
Clarence distracted Sid for a minute or two.
‘Hey, you can have everything I have. It’s yours. I don’t need the pressure!’
Dad was waving the two notes in front of his face in one last check that neither of them was stuck to another note. He placed the original twenty into his mouth for a moment – like a cashier using that little clip on a till before giving change for a large note. He replaced the second note in the wallet and waved the wallet for Bernie’s attention.
Bernie took the wallet and processed back to her armchair.
Dad could hear that Bernie was back in place.
‘There,’ he said as he took the note from his mouth and handed it to me, ‘split that one. Ten each.’