‘..and then I woke up to find it was all a dream,’ says Carol as she vacuums around my chair, ‘lift your feet or I’ll never finish, honestly I don’t know why you watch this rubbish.’ Carol is no fan of daytime television.
‘It’s not all rubbish, some of it’s quite entertaining,’ I reply wishing she would occasionally move the furniture before vacuuming, ‘and anyway what else have I got to look forward to?’ You need to get out more,’ she says laughing, ‘anyway time you made yourself useful and put the kettle on.’
‘At least daytime telly makes more sense than your weird dreams,’ I can’t resist the dig because I’m sure she makes up some of her dreams to amuse me, they seem to get more bizarre by the day. Carol flicks her duster around the ornaments on the mantelpiece, all it does is spread the dust around if you ask me, which is a pointless exercise but one that Janet thinks I can’t do myself. “It’s too much for you Dad,” she says every day when she telephones, “just be glad we all care about you, most fathers would be grateful.”
The thing is Janet and Terry think I’m going senile, they think I can’t wield a duster or clean the toilet, they think that since their mother died I can’t cope. Suddenly I’ve become a poor old man who needs a ‘home-help’. It’s not that I’m ungrateful, I actually enjoy having Carol here on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, she brightens the place up and makes me laugh. She always has a brightly coloured bow in her hair and her sparkly earrings dangle down to her shoulders. I’ve never been someone who notices fashions, although I wasn’t averse to a pair of drainpipe trousers and brothel creepers in my youth, but Carol turns up in some way-out clothes. All the curtains in the street twitch when she arrives and only last week Janet popped in just as Carol was leaving.
‘Alright Mrs C,’ Carol said as she passed a dumbstruck Janet on the path, ‘I’ve seen to his nib’s lunch today so you needn’t worry about making anything. See you on Wednesday Len.’ And with that she roars off on her nippy little red motorbike, tartan tailcoat streaming behind her, orange tights clamped around the petrol tank, crash helmet emblazoned with a black skull and furry ears. I could see Janet tried really hard not be shocked and she managed to get her mouth closed before bustling around the kitchen making me a cup of tea that I didn’t want.
‘She’s no spring chicken,’ she muttered while checking dates on the food in the fridge, ‘she must be 50 if she’s a day. Are you sure she’s really suitable? The Council have a list of people who have already been vetted you know. Anyway you really didn’t need to advertise we never expected you to sort out your own arrangements we could have done all that for you.’ Janet was miffed, she was almost bristling and she reminded me of Fran.
‘Yes I know you could but I didn’t want to end up with some harridan who thought she could move in and replace your mother and anyway I’m not a complete dribbling imbecile yet you know. Carol suits me just fine thank you.’
Carol is my choice. She might be a bit unusual and not that particular about cleaning but actually she fits in well. I didn’t even bother interviewing her when she turned up that first day, she just sort of stood out from the others and like I said she brightens up the place.
‘I don’t think we would have got you anyone like that, the last thing we want is someone taking Mother’s place. We just wanted someone to take care of the house, we thought it would make your life easier,’ Janet said but admitted defeat and kissing my cheek said she’d be over on Saturday and left with a ‘don’t get into trouble.’ Trouble? Fine chance of that, considering I’ve only ventured as far as ‘The Black Horse’ twice since I slipped and fell up the front step last year and twisted my knee. I suppose that was what started this whole thing really. Janet said I couldn’t be trusted to look after myself.
‘Honestly Dad you shouldn’t be drinking in the afternoon at your age. What would Mum have said?’
I know exactly what her mum would have said and it’s not really repeatable in polite company. Fran used to like a drink or several when we were courting but somehow she got out of the habit of coming to the pub for a drink with me.
‘I’m not sure it’s very respectable to spend that much time in the pub,’ she’d say if I asked her to join me. We sometimes had a bottle of white wine with Sunday dinner if Janet and Terry came round, Fran somehow thought this sophisticated and made us respectable people. She had some outdated views did Fran. When she was first ill and on painkillers every day she wasn’t allowed alcohol in any case so I stayed home most nights, it didn’t seem fair for me to carry on as normal. Eventually I stopped going down to the pub at all preferring to have glass of beer at home. When she passed away I just slipped back into the habit of popping to the pub at lunchtimes and then reasoning that as there was no-one at home anyway I might as well stay out and have pie and chips at the pub as bother to go back to an empty house and cook for one. I admit I was more often to be found in the pub than at home. So when I missed the step by the front door and caught my knee on the doorframe, so hard I swear I heard the kneecap crack, I realised that perhaps I ought to rein it in a bit. It didn’t help that I was already feeling a bit arthritic but having to use a walking stick was embarrassing. I really did feel like an old man.
To be honest the house had started to get a bit untidy, it wasn’t easy trying to manage the cleaning while balancing on a walking stick. Washing up was the worst thing, I started letting it build up and used the excuse of saving hot water by only doing it twice a week, Janet would go mad if she popped in unannounced.
‘For goodness sake Dad it smells awful in the kitchen, you need a routine,’ she said nearly every time she came round. There was no point lying because I noticed the smell every time I walked in there but it was such a palaver standing by the sink, it just made my knee worse. It’s different now of course since they fitted me with a plastic kneecap, I had one of those health policies I’d forgotten about and they had me in that nice new private hospital pretty quickly. I’ve recovered quite well I think, I have Physiotherapy once a week and Carol doesn’t seem to mind helping me with the knee bends and stretches. She’s a bit of a diamond really and she does make the place seem more homely. Like an exotic bird of paradise, my neighbour Betty says.
‘Ere Lenny,’ Betty said last week over the back fence, ‘that Carol is a bit wild isn’t she? She was standing on a box cleaning your kitchen windows last week in red wellies and pink tights, me old man nearly choked at the length of ‘er skirt.’
‘She’s a bit eccentric that’s all but glad she cheered Stan up a bit,’ I said unable to resist a smirk.
I’ve started to take a bit more notice of what I wear these days, resurrecting a few colourful rock and roll tee-shirts from years ago, and a dab or two of that aftershave I had for Christmas doesn’t go amiss. Carol puts the hoover away while I put the kettle on. It’s Wednesday and she usually brings a couple of cream cakes with her and we share a cup of coffee after she’s tidied up a bit.
‘Wondered if you fancied coming down the pub on Friday night,’ I say while she’s pouring coffee, ‘there a live band on and they’re doing a curry and a pint for a fiver.’ She’s bound to say no after all I’m hardly dating material at 65 and she’ll probably think I’m just a dirty old man, but I’ve been thinking about it for a while and it won’t hurt to ask. We all have our dreams don’t we?
‘Well I never thought you’d ask,’ she says with wink, ‘I like a bit of live music and I daresay you could manage a jive now you’ve had your knee done. So the answer is yes Lennie, although don’t get the idea I’ll do anything for a curry and a pint,’ she laughs. I don’t think I’ll let on to Janet or Terry just yet, I’ll see how it goes first, but I can’t wait to see their faces when they see me riding pillion on Carol’s motorbike.