Now as an Anchor

I think it as a walk across the lawn to pop the SD card out of the spy cam we have secured to the thin thigh of a sapling in the garden, “Shall I bother?”

When I slide the card into my laptop’s hard drive, I’ll bear witness to the wildlife that tripped and ran and scuttled across the lawn late at night. I will see the silver stripes that Nike-tick jackal’s sides, the pewter backs of badgers which gleam in the glow of the moon, the chalk white lines that mark a male bushbuck.  I’ll see what time they were all there, to sip a drink from a tank set into baked ground, a lick of salt from a rust coloured tablet that hangs from a post: 01.54 am. I have watched the quiver of porcupine quills rattle past the lens, the duck and dive of bats. One night the camera even caught the stealthy tiptoe of a beautiful serval who stopped to listen to the night exactly where I needed him to pose: directly in front of the frame: click. 

Shall I bother to show mum the images on my screen as I download them? Will she make sense of this complicated story of my night camera and the game it tracks? Will she understand why it’s there? 


Will she remember tomorrow?


I slot the card into my laptop and click through the images as I sit beside her and a shadowy night of black and white reveals the clear profile of four legged traffic.

I stop at the honey badgers, a large pair who circle the salt to lick. I tell her how they will clear the stage of any other animals for their ill humour, their habit of biting attacks. I describe how I have borne sleeping witness to their clearing the garden when they wanted the salt to the themselves, how they circled on bush buck ten, twenty, times their size and how the antelope fled with a kick of dainty heels. 

I do this because I have promised myself: I must try to remember to make her Now count. It can be hard to do this: to remember.  To bother. To have the patience to slow down to explain. Sometimes it takes her time to grasp a thing, sometimes she must ask questions to understand, sometimes the same questions over and over and I must steel myself: don’t snap the answer: spell it out patiently and with interest, as if it is the first time you have been asked this question. Do not make her feel stupid for though her intellect is in tatters, there are still bright ribbons of it there in the dark. 

Why do I bother though? Apart from the fact that kindliness may make me feel almost as good as it does her. Aside from the fleeting rush of seeing her face light in amusement or interest or bright engagement which might even be sharpened by some deeply buried memory: I know my father will have described the bad tempered badgers to her decades ago. I know he will have made her laugh when he did. 

I do it because she has no Past. I do it because it is simpler than it may at first sound: I have to make her Now count. As brief as that Now is. As fleeting and thin so that by tomorrow it will be frayed and fuzzy and by the day after that it will vanished altogether and if I remember to be patient, I will be showing her the images from my spy cam again and I will be describing what the camera does and where it is and why we choose to have it in the garden. And understanding the by now regular habits of my nocturnal visitors, I’ll probably be describing the badgers bad manners all over again.

But without her Now what is she? Where is she? And in the absence of cementing, however briefly, the fact of her Now, what am I? She is lost and I am devoid of empathy: this could be you, I keep telling myself worriedly. One day my children may need to gift me my Nows day after day after day, over and over and over as some thin substitute for a Past that no longer exists. A curious fact of time: I must take time to build what is to make up for what has gone.

I have said to my husband, ‘imagine not having a past, how would you feel?’ I do it party because I cannot imagine what that must be like and wonder if he can. I do it partly because in elucidating this awfulness, of a vanished history, I want him to try to understand how unmoored my mother must feel.  I need him to empathize with me as I must with her.

Without a past we bear no ballast. We must always wonder who am I? Who are you? Where am I? Why am I here? What am I to you? My mother asks me these questions all the time. And then she says, ‘Did we come here on a boat? Have we docked in the harbour yet?’ 

I try to pin her down with Now: I try to lend weight to her thin ethereal disappearing present in the hope of making it stay.  Drop an anchor. But the slip and slide of dementia is too heavy and too fast and no matter the gravitas of that Now, I am your daughter, it always becomes part of an invisible past.

Mum laughs when I describe the animals antics of our nocturnal visitors – the sharp toothed, short tempered badgers, the jackals and the dens they dig on the farm where I have found pups staring at up at me, the porcupines who raid the vegetable garden at night and leave an unholy mess of chewed stalks and ransacked maize and my delight is soured not only because I know I almost didn’t bother but because I remember, just because there is no memory, it does not mean there is no sense of humour.

In all of this, she can still see the funny side of things. 

2 Responses to “Now as an Anchor”

  1. haitiruth Says:

    Thank you for your beautiful writing about these terribly difficult times you are experiencing. I just read your last three posts, and cried. Ruth,

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