Not Fade away by Val Portelli
A great Rolling Stones song, and one of the greatest forms of true love
Today was one of her good days. Underneath her frail body the beautiful girl of my dreams still resided.
‘Do you fancy a cup of tea, Grace? It’s a lovely day. We could sit out on the patio if you like.’
‘Thanks, Brian. That would be lovely. Can you bring it out when you’ve made it? I’m still a bit slow so I’ll start making my way now. Two sugars, and cake would be nice.’
Her radiant smile still lightened my heart, and the fact she was getting her appetite back was encouraging. She’d never been fat, but her once robust figure was now almost scrawny, and the clothes hung off her emaciated frame.
‘OK, but be careful. You’re still very weak and some of those flagstones are a bit uneven. I don’t want you falling.’
‘Stop flapping, man, and just do as you’re told.’
The words sounded harsh, but she was laughing as she said them, and I was happy to oblige. Keeping half an eye on the kettle I watched her rise carefully from the armchair, and make her way to the rocking chair before collapsing into it with a quiet sigh. However much she tried to hide it, I knew the effort it took to walk even that short distance. The sun felt warm as I placed the tray gently on the table next to her, unsure if she was dozing as she sat with her eyes closed, an open book resting on her lap. For a while she didn’t stir and I was able to study her unobserved.
Her skin was still smooth, but seemed thinner somehow, and several bruises were visible on her arms and legs. Her newly washed hair glistened in the sunlight, which caught the grey streaks threaded between the mass of jet black which she’d always tended with such care. Now it showed some straggly ends and was in need of a good cut. Would a trip to the hairdressers be too much for her? Perhaps I could find one who would come and do it at home.
‘What are you looking at?’
Her voice interrupted my thoughts although her eyes remained partially closed.
‘No gentleman would figuratively strip a lady with such an intrusive examination.’
‘Sorry, darling, but you’re still beautiful, and no man could resist gazing at you. How are you feeling? Would you be up to it if I could find someone to give you a trim?’
‘First he flatters me, then he implies I look a mess,’ she said as she ran her hand through her hair. ‘You’re right, though, it definitely needs doing but I haven’t had the energy before. I wonder if anyone does home visits?’
‘That’s exactly what I was thinking; I’ll have a look later. Here’s your tea. Is it warm enough? I’ll make some fresh if you like.’
‘No, it’s fine, except it’s very sweet. Did you put sugar in it?’
‘Yes, two spoonful’s as you asked.’
‘But you know I don’t take sugar. You’ve been making my tea for years so you should have learnt by now. Did you find the biscuits?’
‘I thought you wanted cake. Shall I go and find some?’
‘No, cake will be fine. I tell you what, let’s forget the tea and have a glass of wine. The sun must be over the yardarm somewhere. I wonder where that expression came from? I’m so forgetful these days.’
‘It’s not surprising with all you’ve been through. You were always so active, it must have been hell doing nothing all those weeks in hospital, but at least you’re home now. I’ll go and see what we’ve got.’
As I rummaged through the sideboard for the Christmas left-overs, I wondered if I was losing my marbles. I knew she didn’t usually take sugar, but had assumed she asked for some as an energy boost, or perhaps I had got it wrong. Discovering an unopened bottle of Chardonnay, I picked it up, found two glasses and the corkscrew, and took them into the garden.
‘Would Modom like to taste the wine?’ I asked, flourishing the dishcloth like a waiter. ‘It’s a cheeky little number, grown on the south side of the allotment with just a hint of smelly socks. Shall I pour?’
‘I thought you were making tea,’ she replied as I opened the bottle. ‘Never mind, it’s nearly five so let’s be decadent. Did I tell you I bumped into Father yesterday? Well, I didn’t actually speak to him, but I saw him when I was walking along the cliff top. I called out but he didn’t hear me.’
‘Whose father? Do you mean the priest? Your father died nearly twenty years ago.’
‘I know that, you daft lump. Did I say Father? I haven’t been to church in years. Old Father Jack must be retired by now. I bet the new man is all modern and doesn’t say mass in Latin. It’s probably all Hallelujahs and happy, clappy. Still, I would quite like to go one Sunday. Would you take me?’
‘Of course, sweetheart. Whenever you feel up to it. Cheers.’
‘Cheers. Ooh, this is nice. I hope you’re not trying to get me drunk so you can take advantage of me, you wicked man.’
The memories of that lovely evening helped to sustain me in the weeks that followed. It was the last night I spent with the woman I loved before the terrible disease reclaimed her, and I became a stranger she didn’t even recognise. As I stand here by her grave with a bunch of her favourite flowers, I remember the woman I lost twice. Which was the hardest? I hope even in her darkest times she understood my love for her would never fade away.
© Voinks January 2020