My laptop hard-drive crashed the other week, so when the call came, it seemed an apt time to put the work on hold and spend a few days with my father while Mum was away. Dad and I get on pretty well so most of the time we happily tinkered about in house and garden, walking down to the village for supplies, or heading into the city. That part wasn’t so easy for Dad. He hasn’t been allowed to drive for a couple of years and he doesn’t quite grasp why his license was revoked. Previously a surveyor (given to accurate assessments) with an impeccable driving record, he would guide me out of the driveway: ‘Easy does it; turn now; don’t clip that car’; onto the highway and across multiple intersections: ‘Not yet, not yet, now go!’ I don’t suppose it matters to him that I’ve been driving for 35 years.
Dad’s fine as long as he’s in the moment. It’s going beyond the moment that’s tricky: remembering what happened five months, five days or five minutes ago, and anticipating what is about to happen in the next day or the next half hour. It was hard for him to recall when Mum was coming home so we gnawed on that question several times a day. There were some funny moments — when the number of knives required for our simple meal kept growing; when I decided not to remind him how to eat a boiled egg (perhaps as a child he gouged the yolk out one end with a knife) — sometimes tinged with irritation (mine): ‘No, I don’t know why there’s tea coming out of the hot water kettle’; ’No, as I said, you don’t need the overnight bag’ (packed with its wild medley of items); ‘we’ll be back in a couple of hours.’ Now and then, when we were hungry and one of us was clumsy, there was exasperation.
The best times were when Dad was absorbed in the garden, whistling as he planted out spring veges, or mowing the lawn; the start of our Scrabble game, when Dad was making bold, logical moves, and before he started forgetting that he’d already thrown in the last hand, and the hand before that.
Also, walking companionably along the wild, shingly beach which offers its finest gifts to those who know only this moment now.