How to Stop the Rust

I call Mum late in the day, after a walk which takes me to the top of the farm and gets me out of the ‘office’ and my head out of itself.  When I look at the huge views up there, something in my thinking stretches too. My thoughts get sticky and bottlenecked hunched over my desk, staring at a screen.

I put her on speaker so that I can move around the kitchen and prep supper as we talk. My moving keeps the conversation going, lends fluidity. Otherwise chat sticks and falters.  That happens as a person’s memory frays; continuity is harder to keep up; you need to remember the past to remain present. 

Her camera is on so I can see her. She is still in her dressing gown. It’s 4pm where she is.

‘Are you dressed?’ I ask

She neatly sidesteps my question by distracting me with something – that on some subconscious level – she knows I’ll be more interested in:

‘I am reading a very good book’, she tells me.

Every time she tells me about whatever she is reading, she tells me she is a very slow reader.  She does it again now. And, again, I explain why: ‘you had a stroke, Mum, it broke the link between your brain and your eye’.

Each time I do, she sounds astonished, ‘Really? Gosh, I never knew that! Nobody’s told me that before; thank you for explaining why, that’s such a relief.’

There is such grace in this acceptance – of her compromised reading, of the fact nobody, apparently, bothered to explain the reason for this. 

I ask her what her book is called.

She picks it and squints at the title and battles to read.

‘Put your glasses on, Ma’, I say. And she laughs then, ‘oh yes, that might help’.

Where has this humour come from, I puzzle? 

There is a lowness about her which she cannot articulate and I cannot recognise. Her hiding from the world because things have been ‘a little too much’ smack of depression, remind me of the learned response that manifested whenever she got sick – when she’d hide in bed. Or disappear into a book curled tightly into a chair, like a comma, as if punctuating an hiatus, a life on hold.

But this chuckling at herself is new so it is hard to name this mood as something sinister and clinical. 

One day she tells me, ‘I just don’t feel like getting up in the mornings and it is so unlike me!’ She sounds outraged; ‘I have never been one to lie in bed in the mornings! All my life I have got up first thing, with the birds! All my life’, she insists.

And I think of the countless, countless mornings when we tried to cajole her up, standing by her bed in a darkened room pleading with her to get dressed, brush her hair, put a slick of lippie on. As if painting on a smile might help.

Glasses on, she articulates the title slowly.

‘Do it letter by letter, Ma’, I say as I think how strange to be coaxing mum to read across the ether on a tiny screen. The world has been turned on its head.

‘The … Warmth of the … Heart …. Prevents …. Your body from …. Roasting. Roasting?! That is a funny name for a book.’

Puzzled, I do a quick scooch around the Internet and and find it on amazon: The Warmth of the Heart prevents your body from Rusting: Ageing without growing Old.

‘Rusting Ma’, I laugh. ‘Rusting! And if you don’t get up and get moving, you’re going to rust too. Now, get up’.

And she laughs. A proper laugh that starts low down and ends in her eyes.

I know.

Because I can see her.

2 Responses to “How to Stop the Rust”

  1. Addy Says:

    Aww bless her. It is such a shame you cannot be closer to spend time with her. Is she so far away?

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