It’s a beautiful day and we’ve driven north to Loch Drumore on the side of Mount Blair. Mum must be hot in her long green coat, so I undo her seatbelt and with the usual difficulty slip her right arm out of her coat sleeve. This gives me access to her cardigan, which I undo at the neck. “Is that better?” I ask. Mum smiles slightly, or at least I like to think she does. It might be better still if I went round to the passenger door and slipped off the other coat sleeve as well, but moving uncooperative arms in and out of sleeves is not easy and the coat has to be back in position by the time I transfer Mabel from car to wheelchair at the end of our excursion. So I leave it at that.
I hand Dad his tea and make to put Mum’s on the dashboard to cool down, but she gestures for it, so I give her the wide plastic cup to hold. She knows the tea is hot, because I’ve emphasised that it is, so she doesn’t try and drink it. While pouring my own cup I almost drop the flask, so loudly does Mabel squeal. I realise she’s spilled her cup of tea onto her legs. “It’s hot!” she wails. Has she scalded herself? I doubt it. Her trousers are made of a thin nylon material but she hasn’t spilled enough onto her upper legs to do any damage. Besides, the liquid’s not even close to boiling. Nevertheless, if the coat had been covering her front she would have been fine. I must make sure there is a towel in the car for the summer months, one that can lie like a rug between Mum’s cup and legs. To help Mabel get over the incident I feed her cake, and soon the front of her pink cardigan is strewn with crumbs. As I brush it down, I realise the cardi is not her own, so it must have come her way via the generosity of another resident’s relative. This reminds me of something I want to tell Dad.
“Remember Ros and Annette?” I ask. Dad tells me he does. “Well, Kate and I attended an event that Annette and her friends had organised to commemorate that it’s two years since Ros died. As well as sharing food and fun, the people who came along were invited to select an item of Ros’s clothing and given the opportunity to make a donation to a woman’s cancer charity called Living Well which Ros had helped to set up.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” says Dad. I was an honorary lesbian for the afternoon. Nothing wrong with that either. In my experience Ros and Annette’s friends are a group of people who mutually support one another in an inspiring way. I tell Dad:
“One of the women observed that Ros’s black jeans might fit me, and as it happened they did. So I came away with two pairs of Levi 501s and I put on a pair at the first opportunity, which is to say just before we came out today.”
“I see,” says Dad, who should be able to at least glimpse my jeans from where he sits on the back seat.
“Pity I didn’t ask for Mabel to be dressed in the other pair. Because the thick cotton would have had a much better chance of absorbing the hot tea.”
As we’re talking, I notice that I’ve dropped a few crumbs of care home cake on to my lap. I make to brush them away but don’t make a smudge-free job of it. Damnation! But I don’t think Ros would disapprove too much, after all the cake has been made by the care home’s chef using fresh and wholesome ingredients. No, I don’t think she’d grudge me my comfortable seat here by beautiful Loch Drumore. Ros was in her mid-50s when she died. I am 54 going on 55. Oh, the privilege of being in what would seem to be robust good health. Please, universe, don’t let me take anything for granted.
A swallow flies by. I point it out to my parents and ask Mum if one swallow makes a summer. She doesn’t reply. I ask Dad if 54 or 55 swallows make a summer, or if the full 501 are required. Without waiting for an answer over and above Dad’s philosophical smile, I go outside and return from the loch with a swan’s feather, which I give to Mum before driving back to the home. Then I make sure she’s comfortable in the lounge before taking off (without breaking any arms) her coat and hanging it up in her room. When I come back, Mabel smiles and tells me: “Duncan found a five-pound note today.”
That night, I dip into The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam. My lovely partner, Kate, was a friend of Ros’s and both the anniversary of her death and the clothes event has stayed with her as well as me. I have in mind a particular verse. And when I find it I read it aloud. Not just for Kate, but for Annette and Mabel too. Well, let’s face it, for us all:
“Look the morning breeze has torn the rose’s dress,
The nightingale is in an ecstasy at the rose’s beauty;
Sit in the rose’s shade, for many such
Have come from earth and to it returned.”