Ilona Bowyer, work awaiting critiquing

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Poppy Lodge

After four long months, Marie began to dread her weekly visits to Poppy Lodge. It wasn’t so much that Angus was deteriorating. In fact, his depression had almost completely subsided. The nursing staff were even commenting on his jovial nature. “He’s always smiling, that one is, come rain or shine”, they’d say, as they fluffed up his cushion and straightened the bed. Marie never knew how to respond to that. It felt like a punch in the stomach.

The first time she’d noticed there was something not right about him was on their last wedding anniversary. He’d driven off to buy a loaf after promising her breakfast in bed. An hour into ‘Sunday Brunch’, Marie’s back was starting to ache, and she checked her phone for messages. How long can it take to pop to the shop? Remembering his good intentions, she tried to push her annoyance aside.

When he still hadn’t returned an hour later, she slid into her clothes and walked out onto the driveway. Blinded by the yellow sun, she shielded her eyes and searched the streets for any signs of an accident. For a moment, she looked back at her house, unsure what to do.  She began walking up and down the road, hoping for somebody to notice and ask if she was ok. When she felt her shoulders burn, she figured she’d go back inside in case the phone rang.

It was a young couple that found his parked car among trees during their weekend stroll. Still holding onto the steering wheel with both hands, Angus had looked up with inquisitive eyes. “What happened to your car?” the woman asked, while her boyfriend instinctively walked towards the boot and inflated his chest. “Why, what’s wrong with it”? Angus asked, suddenly alarmed.

It wasn’t until the next day that he told Marie what had happened. He had just pulled onto the M3 when he realised he didn’t remember where he was going. “Why were you on the M3”? Marie asked. She would never get used to the long silence after asking simple questions. She felt like she’d scolded a child each time he recoiled, embarrassed of never knowing the answers.

It’s not like she didn’t try. She’d even stopped going to yoga on Monday nights after she returned home one evening to find him sitting quietly on the settee reading a book, while all the taps were running.

But when she ended up black-eyed and bruised because he thought she was an intruder, he gave her no other choice. Since he left, the house had become a museum. Open twenty-four hours, souvenirs and photographs now memento moris. Once she was certain he was never coming back, she began redecorating. She even painted the bathroom and had the tiles re-layed.

Three months in, he had stopped expecting her. He would no longer look up from his magazines when she arrived, and she would quietly sit next to him for 45 minutes each day. “I’m a married man”, he said to her after a few visits. “I’m flattered, but you’re wasting your time, love”.

She never told anyone that sometimes, after a particularly difficult visit, she wished he’d died instead. She’d much prefer to be a widow than a discarded thought. At least she could finally mourn her loss without the pep talk of the nursing staff. “Don’t be sad for him. He’s in a happy place!” they kept saying, without realising that it’s not him she was feeling sorry for.

The now familiar guilt crept up in the most unexpected moments. She could be enjoying a glass of wine, or smile at a child on the bus, when the memory of him jumped out at her. Instantly, she was pulled back into the sobering reality of visiting hours and family craft sessions in the common room.

She never thought that one day, all of the resentment she felt towards him would shift. Marie had arrived at the visitors’ room at the usual time, between lunch and singing class. She was gasping for a glass of wine, so was irritated when she found his usual chair was empty. When she had to ask the duty nurse to give her directions to his room, she felt ashamed of her neglect.

Once she’d opened the door, her heart sunk at the sight of towering newspaper piles and sour smell from empty milk bottles all surfaces of his room. Taking in the scale of his decline, she felt afraid of taking a glimpse into his cluttered mind. Her eyes jumped from torn up magazines to empty wrappers and bottle tops, as she felt even more shame. For the both of them.  

She felt the presence of someone approaching and turned to see a man in his forties, dressed in purple mopping the floor. She was just about to walk away when he spoke. “He’s trying to get his memories back.” The man entered Angus’s room and had a good look around. “He’s holding onto everything he’s got. They all do it”, he said, without looking at her.

She eventually found him on a park bench, a half eaten sandwich hanging loosely from his hand. “Great timing,” he said when he saw her, and wiped a blob of pickle off his knee. “I’ve just come back from a week’s holiday in Menorca.” She sat down next to him, and they both looked at the pond ahead of them. “Oh yeah”, she asked. “Did you have good weather?”