By starlight

28 Nov

You can trace his methodical progress, step by shaky step. He’s always been a determined old bugger, my granddad Johnnie. The trail starts on the bedside table, the bedtime slot in the pillbox full of last night’s tablets, just where the last carer left them for him, untouched. The bed guards are still up; the catches must have been too fiddly for his arthritic fingers, and you can see the scrunched blankets where he shuffled down to the foot of the bed and turned onto his stomach to lower himself to the floor. His emergency alarm hangs off the bedpost, no more assistance required. A few unsteady steps to the walking frame, stowed in the alcove out of the way since his last fall.

The peg on the back of his door holds a crumbled medical gown, abandoned in favour of the much-loved threadbare brown dressing gown. Scratches on the door frame recount an argument with the recalcitrant walking frame, and the skewed hall table tells a similar story. A discarded potato masher lies in the centre of the kitchen floor, incongruous until I spot the floral tin with the spare door key, dented from its undignified retrieval from the top shelf. The key swinging from the lock, door still ajar.

Outside, the frame sits abandoned at the point it became a liability, at the bottom of the steps he hasn’t managed to ascend in more than a year. Once he’d conquered his Everest, he must have perched on the garden wall for a rest. A barren winter patio pot has sprouted a couple of hated cannulas, their colourful tops poking up like crocus buds. And then onward down the path, footprints in the snow merging into a jumbled groove as his tired feet began to drag.

I know where I will find him; right down at the bottom, out from under the trees with a clear view of the sky. His face has a knowing peace, without the pain and the bedbound frustration. I know I should call someone, but not yet. I lay down on my back next to him, just like we did when I was a child. Thinking back; a winter evening, last night he must have seen Orion march proudly overhead. Now the dawn is already bleaching the sky, but the morning star, Venus, hangs on the horizon. I lay back, holding his hand, and together we watch it rise slowly over the shed.

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