Hey Dad, at least you didn’t wee on your slippers. Well, I don’t mean wee straight on to them exactly, that would be weird. Apparently, it's a thing that happens to men when they get really old. They sort of dribble onto their slippers. Then they shuffle around in them, smelling of wee.
At least you didn’t do that.
And at least you didn’t have to live in one of those proper old people homes. The ones where stairs are forbidden. And the only colour that exists is magnolia. It’s like a block of flats with a ground floor only. Like no one over the age of fifty-five can manage to raise their foot above ankle height without toppling over. They have corridors and fire alarms and dull fluorescent tube lighting that buzz and flicker. If you’re lucky, some of them have a small garden with a bird feeder in and a bench. You could sit at the window and watch the birds and squirrels. You’d like that. You won’t be allowed to throw extra bread out for the birds like you did at home. The staff will tell you it attracts the rats. It’s against the rules. You won’t mind. Rats need to eat too, you’d say.
At least you didn’t live there.
The flats have an orange chord hanging in the bathroom so if you fall over you can tug on it and someone, dressed in a plastic apron, who will repeatedly call you ‘dear’ or ‘darlin’, will eventually come and get you back on your feet again. Back into your slippers. Do old people only ever fall over in the bathroom? And I say bathroom, but there’s not a bath in sight, just a walk-in shower behind an awful clingy curtain, with hideous rubber flooring that laps up the walls so the whole room can be washed down and sterilized.
At least you could still use your bath.
They have a small kitchen with a stainless-steel sink and lever taps, so you can manage them with your arthritic wrists. There’ll be just enough room for a microwave and a kettle. Not a normal kettle, but one of those tiny ones so you can only boil enough water for one person. Do old people only ever drink tea alone?
The fusty kitchen cupboards will be full of syrupy tinned fruit and custard. And large packets of prunes. No one even likes prunes. And mushy, ready meals which all look, smell and taste the same. And don't bear any resemblance to the glossy picture on the packaging. Anything that doesn’t take a lot of chewing, that’s all that matters really. For your dentures anyway.
They have a mock mantelpiece in the small living room for you to put picture frames on. Faded photos in faded frames of a fading existence. You would glance at them from time to time. Trying to piece together the memory that goes with them. Testing yourself to see if you remember where and when they were taken, or what the weather was like that day. Some days you can remember, some days you can’t. They’ll put the photos in a small cardboard box and give them to your family when you’re gone. Along with a carrier bag with your clothes in. A whole lifetime put into a small cardboard box and a carrier bag. Your family won’t know what to do with them. Your clothes will end up in a charity shop and the cardboard box will end up in someone’s loft. Or in the bin.
At least your photos didn’t end up in the bin.
They have a magnolia communal area which is heated up to just below boiling point, with a tv screen up on the wall. The sound is on mute and the subtitles are on. You can hold a newspaper up in front of you and stare at the print, reading the same paragraph over and over before nodding off. Some residents will be sat in front of a table with a jigsaw puzzle on it. They never get completed. Once a week one of the staff will play very old songs very loudly on a very old stereo that stands in the corner. Remarkably you’ll all sing along knowing every word to every song. Then they’ll turn it off and you will fall back into dull silence. Rustling your newspapers and fiddling with your hearing aids. Trying to stop them whistling in your ears. There’s always a faint smell of wee in the room. It might be your slippers.
The staff will wheel a trolley around at eleven and serve you a cup of milky tea in a plastic cup in a plastic holder. They’ll offer you a plain biscuit so as not to make your cholesterol level any worse than it already is. Like it matters. Like a four-year-old, all you'll want is a proper chocolate biscuit. You never get one. The staff hand them around in the staff room during their break. Then they'll come around and clear up the cold milky tea in the plastic cups in the plastic holders. Most of the residents will have forgotten to drink theirs.
At least you could still have a chocolate biscuit.
And the homes always have the same smell in them. Old people. They always smell of old people. Even if you leave all the windows open and let the fresh air in, they still smell of old people. I guess they smell of dying or death. That’s what the people who live in them are doing. They’re just dying. Just seeing out their days. Then the flats can be repainted with fresh magnolia and a new resident can move in to die.
At least you didn’t die in one of those flats.
Can’t believe it’s been ten years.
I don’t normally come to your grave at this time of day. The sun is setting. It’s getting late. I might stay and watch it for a while, it’s really pretty.
I miss you Dad.
But hey, at least you didn’t wee on your slippers.