by Jay Merill
I’M IN A CARE HOME visiting my neighbour Rob who had a stroke some time back.
Rob is telling me he can walk now, only members of staff won’t believe him. The Snotties. They don’t believe in anything, as it happens. Who the eff are they anyways? He’s silent on these details but his eyes scream out what his thoughts are. They have this crisscross glare in them that’s one of Rob’s hallmarks. His mouth is now fixed shut but I can hear his teeth snapping together behind his lips. He is sitting up in bed the way he always does before the staff come in to strap him in his wheelchair and take him to the ensuite shower-and-toilet hidden behind the door. Or if it’s lunchtime, to the dining room.
At last though he opens his mouth again because he has something else to say; something he wants to shout about. ‘They’re bastards,’ he growls. ‘They have all the power. Oh yes. They like keeping me imprisoned here.’ Rob’s voice reaches a pitch of fury as he spits out these words.
Then it gets quieter. ‘They might think they have. But they’re so wrong. Such sad deluded souls,’ he says. Behind his words are the thoughts that they’re irreligious and why would he listen to them? Why would anybody?
‘It is wonderful news that you can walk again,’ I tell him. ‘I always knew you would.’
My eyes catch sight of a patch of purple on his veined and mottled leg. His good leg, that is, the one that still has a bit of movement in it. The other leg is underneath a flap of blanket, out of sight.
‘Those bastards don’t believe me. They believe in nothing. All they do is click their tongues, shake their heads. Say in snotty little voices, You’re mistaken.’
I keep my eyes well away from the sight of his purple patch; am conscious of staring at the ceiling. ‘So, where do you walk then?’ I hear myself say, considering for a second that maybe he hobbles round his bedroom to the window at night. Then I bring my eyes down to meet his, because if I don’t look Rob in the face it would seem like a dismissal. Which could be hurtful, uncaring even. The last thing I want is for him to think of me as just another snotty. When I try exchanging a glance though I find his eyes are half closed; conveying a sense of distance. He does not answer. I cough then ask again. ‘Where do you walk?’ See he still isn’t looking at me.
‘Up and down the corridor,’ he replies at last, his voice matter of fact.
The care home corridor is like a public walkway. You’ll always see people there. Staff with trolleys, patients in their wheelchairs, visitors like me. And at all times it’s brightly lit.
‘At night you mean? When it’s all dark and there’s no one around because it’s late?’
‘Yes,’ he shouts. After which he makes a spitting sound. Our eyes meet for a second then I look across at the window. I wonder if he’s suffering from delusion or whether it’s a conscious lie. Either way I think twice about contradicting him. Maybe most of us would be likely to fall into deception when reality has got too hard to bear.
‘It’s a hell-house here,’ Rob yells. ‘These carers are irreligious bastards. All God haters and deniers of the Truth.’
‘Well, I…’ My voice falters. I don’t know what to say for the best.
‘And you too,’ Rob screams out.
‘You’re another fucking non-believer. Just admit you’ve never seen an Angel!’
He rings his bedside bell and a nurse enters—after a minute or two—which makes Rob swear some more.
‘I’d like a coffee please.’ His voice is coldly polite.
‘Okay, Rob,’ the guy says and asks me if I’d like one too.
When he’s sipping his coffee, later, he tells me he’ll soon be getting out of here. And the more he walks the sooner this will happen. In the meantime nobody needs to worry about him. He’s on the mend. I hear a leaky sound and see coffee is trickling down his chin to the pad on his neck, which I’d noticed the nurse place there. ‘All the non-believers can go screw themselves.’
Rob is glaring in between the coffee sips. He is glaring at me. I wonder why I visit him when it’s clear it only increases his sense of humiliation and makes him angrier than he might have been.
Then pity takes him over. The thought of how non-believers are a lot worse off than he is offers him a sense of comfort. He’s not such a bad guy really. He’d like to help.
Pity is in me too, I realise that. That’s the reason I visit Rob, try to say nothing to provoke, am careful not to contradict him, and keep my eyes well away from the discolored leg.
I am looking at the ceiling again. It seems like the safest place. Then I hear Rob speaking.
His voice is soft with compassion now. As though he’s witnessing all the non-believers shuttling through the universe alone. They are isolated and in despair. Their position is hopeless. His is not.
‘I have the company of Angels,’ is what he’s telling me. ‘And that’s a Fact.’
Jay Merill is an award winning writer who also hosts literary events. Her two short story collections published by Salt, are ‘Astral Bodies’ and ‘God of the Pigeons’ and her latest fiction is forthcoming from, or currently in The Blue Nib, The Bookends Review, Hobart, Litro, The London Magazine, Lunate Fiction, PsychoPomp, Reliquiae Journal, Streetcake Magazine, Sublunary Editions and Nine Arches Press – Under the Radar. Twitter @JayMerill.