Colleen has a Master’s degree in English Literature and is an author of stories and articles focusing on the dynamics of human relationships
Ever-increasing longevity, combined with the wish by and for the elderly to remain in their own homes as long as is feasible, has become recognized and respected. However, the primary factor is the competent and compassionate support of caregivers. How if at all should these caregivers be rewarded?
In my first story of 730 words titled “Angel of Deception” raises the question as to whether the central interaction has a victim. Might it simply be two human beings bolstering one another through some of lives struggles?
In my second story of 540 words titled “The Garden Song” at some point, the human component can begin to pervade what began as a natural arrangement. A little girl sees her family disintegrate, seemingly during one evening.
Short Story: Angel of Deception
Jenny is self- employed, running her own business as a home-caregiver. A would-be actress, she has nevertheless gained a contact base of acquaintances who trust and respect her. This has given her the opportunity to promote and sustain her business, elevating the traditional home-help into an upmarket service for a few well-off aged clients.
Jenny opens the file-folder of client ‘Clayton’.
She writes up attendance notes about each of her clients after every visit. These include as much personal information as she can glean in her friendly way; including names of relatives, past, and present, careers, relationships, likes, dislikes, triumphs and struggles.
By this means, she ensures she is able to talk to her clients about their lives and memories, while always keeping her own in abeyance. In time, she becomes so close to her clients that they freely confide, cry, laugh and love her. In effect she becomes their seraphic visitor.
She treasures all her clients, loves caring for them, delights in doing that one extra task which might make each feel valued. Now, reflecting on all she has managed to learn and record about Mr. Clayton, she flips up a mirror and begins applying her makeup. She is meticulous with her turnout, not only face hair and nails, but also her crisp freshly laundered and ironed uniform.
Her scan through the Clayton file reveals a total of 56 visits during the last year; hence his selection for action. Thus, Jenny feels sure that client Clayton is eager to find some means of profound fulfilment. He is 98 years old and she cherishes him; indulging him in this need, at his time of life, seems the least she can offer.
Today, her makeup is intended to create an illusion. Instead of enhancing her happy demeanor, she applies clots of mascara to her eyelashes, gel to the eyelids, and dark rouge beneath. She does not brush or bun her hair or apply lipstick. As a final touch, she applies hair conditioner to her cheeks and around her mouth; this will cause the skin to relax and sag. She now looks tired, miserable, and tearful.
It is Time For Her to go Forth to Begin Her Angelic Labours.
Arriving at Clayton's home, she lets herself in, sings her “Morning Mr Clayton, lovely day” except today she lowers the tone of her voice. Her first job is to prepare his favourite coffee, served with fresh cream horns. This brings her close enough to his failing eyes for him to see her wretched appearance.
She goes about her chores, dusting, tidying, sorting the mail, emptying the trash, filling the dishwasher, bedding and blankets etc. However there is that overall ingredient she excludes; that being Clayton’s deepest need; talking with his Angel Jenny.
Clayton inevitably becomes distraught; he has been shocked by her appearance, and instinctively knows that Jenny is distressed. This is his opportunity to give support, advice, sympathy whatever, and he calls out to Jenny to sit with him.
“Oh, Jenny, my dear, I can see you're upset, please tell me your troubles, I want to help”.
Jenny explains that she would never want to burden such a lovely man with her troubles, but Clayton probes gently.
She begins to cry, as would an angel child and rubbing her eyes, tells Clayton her partner has walked out on her after racking up debts on their joint credit card. She knew nothing of his spending, but now believes it was sparked by an affair with another woman.
The credit company is now requiring immediate settlement of the balance. She has closed the card, but does not have the means to pay the balance, other than to borrow.
Clayton insists on dealing with the problem; he contacts his bank and transfers to her enough money to cover the debt.
A Lovely Day
This has been a lovely day for Clayton. He is thankful that life continues, and his heart is warmed. He has been able to help the most cherished person in his life.
This has been a lovely day for Jenny. She has brought true happiness into the life of a lonely old man.
Arriving home, she updates the Clayton file, and flags it for further action in six months’ time.
Short Story: The Garden Song
Seeing them walk up the path towards our house, I was reminded of warriors. Still, I chided myself; that was silly. These “enemies” were my aunties, my uncles. We always enjoyed every holiday at one another’s homes.
Uncle Duncan and Auntie Adele were my favourites. Uncle Duncan would hoist me up close to his chest, then bounce me up and down until I said “Hello, Unky Dunky”
Aunt Adele, born in France, wore a rich, soft perfume. As a treat, she would pour a drop on my finger, then urge me to smooth it behind my ears.
Then there was Uncle Owen and Auntie Glad. He was small and pale, saying little. In contrast, Auntie Glad seldom stopped talking.
Each of them was nice in their way, so why should I feel uneasy? Still, I hid behind the coat-rack, praying no-one would notice. First, I heard Mum open the door, then a few quiet greetings. Chairs were drawn out from the dining-room table. Then, I heard what sounded like Mum bringing out a teapot and plates.
“Help yourselves to tea and scones.” She said.
After a few strained pleasantries, Uncle Duncan said, “Brenda, this should be straightforward. As there are three families, once you have sold Mother’s house, we can divide the proceeds three ways.”
There was a silence. Then my Mum said, “We”, Duncan, “We”? Did “We” leave school at sixteen to look after “Our” Mother after her stroke? Did that same “We” stay here in this house in order to do what was needed, which by that time meant everything? Now, am I meant, with my husband and little girl, to sell what has become our home, then find some flat? Is that what “You“ are suggesting?”
Then Mum, seeing me in my hiding-place, said, “Go upstairs to bed, Angel.”
I did. Still, how could I think of sleeping, hearing raised voices from the front-room? I knew Grandma’s death had brought this about.
I missed her, remembering mornings when, before Mum and Dad were awake, I would run down to the kitchen to find Grandma wrapped in her dressing-gown, making tea. Although her every movement was slow, she would make tea for us both.
After a few sips, I would ask, “Can we sing ‘The Garden Song?”
“Yes; you start, since you know nearly all of its words now.”
And we would sing ….
A Few Weeks Later
Somehow my uncles and aunties had been transformed into enemies.
An agreement was made. We were allowed to stay in our house, but Mum and Dad had to pay my Uncles an agreed amount arranged by someone called a solicitor. After that there were no further visits, although we all lived within a few blocks of each other. In time, even memories became vague.
Then, one night, I tried to recall the words of the song grandma and I sang together. Still, although the melody came to mind, I found I could remember only the first four lines of what I had once called “The Garden song”.
There is no harvest for the heart alone; the seed of love must be, eternally, resown.
— Anne Morrow Lindbergh
© 2017 Colleen Swan