Despite the pretty decor, the flowers, the family photos, some still, some ever changing and rotated by an eframe, and all of them witness to past happy major family events, where the subjects perpetually beamed at the observer, the room where my grandmother was to spend the last months of her long and productive life had to be likened to a prison cell. One could not escape the similarity, not matter how hard one tried. There were no bars on the window but the length and width and height of it gave it away. As did the lock on the door.
A faint odour of urine, like a strong brown colour, assailed me as I entered but it was so negligible that it was forgotten straight away. Nan did not know I was visiting and it would not have made the slightest difference to the situation if she had. She did not hear me knock on the standard thick fire door and did not notice my entrance either.
She was slouched on the corner of her single bed, her eyes closed, thin creased neck bent forward, her clothes clean if not pressed, her thin grey hair awry slightly, her treasured battered brown and cream handbag, clutched unconsciously in a fist. I called her title louder, noticing her hearing aid and both sets of false teeth on the bed side cabinet despite it being mid afternoon. I frowned at this. Nothing. Only when I was three feet away, did she visibly jump to become immediately annoyed. Which itself was soon replaced by confusion as she wiped the sleep from her eyes before focusing on her intruder.
She referred to me as nurse and, as I sat on a single hard-backed chair, I explained that I was her granddaughter, 'Little Bobby' I empathised until, there it was, at last, some semblance of the beautiful and no nonsense woman I had known in my young life. The woman who had been so particular about the condition of the backs of her chair legs and how they were not to be scuffed, the angel who fed me bacon and mashed potato every Saturday afternoon as my mother had offloaded me to give her some respite for one afternoon a week, the laughing and gorgeous woman whose presence in her old kitchen she undoubtedly dominated.
However, there was no domination now. Not in her last place of residence. At that moment, feeble in mind, tired, weary, battered and withdrawn, she looked at me disinterestedly through pale blue eyes as that momentary flash of who she once was, disappeared back into the choppy sea of confused consciousness that was now her only world. I spoke again of the past, touched her hand as if to press home the memories I was trying to evoke but this ploy only worked for a limited number of seconds before she, every time, sank back into her confused mutterings about how little money she had and shockingly, mentioning what bastards and fuckers they were to do that to her. Even holding up her empty purse for me to see how wicked everyone was that they had stolen her money. If it had not been so tragic, it would have been amusing. No other emotion or reaction would have sufficed.
She referred to me as a nurse again and reached across to her bedside cabinet and retrieved a twin-headed razor from a white china mug adorned with a colourful print of flowers before gently proceeding to stroke it dryly across her chin. And I could hear the rasp of the stubble.This was a bizarre experience and in that long second, I became confused as to how the young and delicate flower of her species, as I had remembered her in the few monochromatic photographs which existed, taken long before I was thought of, could have changed into the shameless woman who now sat before me.
What sequence of events could have taken place which would culminate in this once proud individual, a woman who had once occupied a high position in the Ministry Of Defence, to unblushingly scrap a razor across her chin in front of, to her confused perception, a complete stranger? What power in all the world could have so altered her perception, her sense of dignity, her perspicacity, her...nobleness to this extent? What could have brought her to this?
The urine odour returned quite suddenly and I heard an unwelcome noise. A slight hiss. It was time for me to leave, to fetch a carer and then to examine my own life with the assistance of a cigarette and a few tears in the car park with the horror that, at that moment, I could well be looking at my own future, perhaps some forty years hence. Yes, at that moment, I would never undertake any cosmetic hair removing work in front of anyone and that includes my husband. Had granny once felt the same? In her young and smooth days? I touched her marbled hands again briefly and offered my good-byes. I did not kiss her and she only offered me a look devoid of feeling, as if my beloved grandmother had already departed, leaving just this animated shell. "Good-bye nurse", she mumbled. Two months later, my mother blasted me with the news that she had died.