A Short Story by Monica Clarke
She had decided to nurse John at home after his stroke. She had wanted to do it. Yet she was afraid.
Fear, fear. Fear of everything. Fear of not being able to understand. Fear she might misinterpret his needs when his life depended on her understanding. Fear of not being understood by him. Fear eroded her abilities. Like that morning when he got out of bed to go to the lavatory. She lay in bed watching him struggle into his wheelchair, feeling too tired to get up.
Bathroom door opened, she heard him grunt. Wheelchair brakes squeaks. Another grunt. She listened, following his movements from the sounds echoing from the bathroom. Then silence. No sound. It took a while for the silence to sink through her thoughts. Suddenly her heart started racing, contracting and pinching inside as she heard his cry. A constricted cry in the back of his throat. Again. Very softly this time. She ran to the bathroom door. Tiny bathroom. Fit for one person at a time. No space to get past. ‘John, do you need me?’ No response. Only the smell of fear.
Peeping through the open door, she saw him standing up against the wall with his legs touching the very hot radiator. Wearing only his vest and boxer shorts. Simply standing. Stick in good hand, paralysed hand hanging against the radiator. ‘John, do you need me?’ This time there was panic in her voice. Still no answer. He stood, mesmerised with fear, staring at the blank wall above the bath. A rubbery statue on two wobbly legs, one faltering with paralysis, the other wavering in fear. Another little cry, like a wounded animal. She, too, became paralysed.
Both of them stood there, for how long, she did not know. At last, some movement. Her eyes watched in slow motion. Faeces. A brown mass running down the inside of his leg, slowly through his shorts, onto the floor. He’d had to use his whole mind to stop his bowels from opening. But he had lost the fight. Then he started to cry. No sound. No tears. Only his shoulders were shaking. Deep sobs inside a big chest blocked up with sadness. Misery so heavy, it hung around him in a cloud. ‘Please,’ she pleaded. ‘Turn yourself just a bit. Sit on the toilet.’ He did not hear her. Wads of fear had stuffed his ears.
Eventually, he allowed her to sit him down, even if it was in a soft cushion of excrement which vulgarly stared her in the eye as she dropped down to clean up. Then, looking at her big man, crying in shame and embarrassment, her resolve deserted her. Her knees gave in. She sat on the floor in front of him and cried too. When the moment had exhausted itself, within the quiet which follows such storms, they looked at each other, two middle-aged lovers sitting in crap and tears. He started laughing first. Then she too laughed. What else was there to do?
© Monica Clarke