It was the warmth that woke him and he instinctively tried to clench his bladder muscles to stem the flow although he was vaguely aware that it was probably pointless to do so. He slowly opened his eyes to a room half lit by early sunlight, diffused by the curtains hanging in his east facing downstairs bedroom window. Slowly he rolled onto his left hand side and looked at the digital clock on the bedside cabinet. He knew it told the time, but, this early in the morning and not yet fully awake he couldn’t have told anyone what time it was, or even what day. He rested for a second or two, gave in to the ache in his bladder and with a deep sigh allowed the inevitable to happen.

Coming round a little, the old man gripped the handle fixed to the side of his bed and laboriously got himself into a sitting position. Thankfully the pad and incontinence pants had done at least part of their job and the bed was only slightly damp. He leaned forward, elbows on his thighs and tried to put some order into his mind. The routine, at this time of the day, every day, was the same. He knew that someone would turn up to help him at some time, they always did, but he wasn’t sure who it would be or if he’d even know their name although he was aware that he would know them. The square mattress protector that he slept on had moved during the night and he eased it under his bottom, fluffy side up. When he took off his night pants and changed to day underwear he wanted to be as dry as possible, but if you’d questioned him as to how he knew this he wouldn’t have had an answer. He spent five long minutes removing the tight fitting pants and the pad inside it, which was heavy with acrid smelling urine, before resting again, eager now to at least have his shorts on before anyone turned up. This was the time of day that he felt most vulnerable and although again he wasn’t sure why or how it mattered, he knew that he hated people seeing him like this.

His clothes were within easy reach, placed on a chair in the order that he would put them on, boxer shorts, a polo shirt with all buttons undone and a pair of elasticated waist jogging bottoms. In his more lucid moments he smiled wryly to himself at the thought of the jogging pants. Already 20 minutes or so into his daily routine he hadn’t even started to dress, although thankfully he still remembered how to. Dry now he eased the protector from under his bottom and careful not to tumble forward, began to ease his shorts over his scarred ankles, up past the knees which showed evidence of the surgeries carried out on them, over his thighs and constantly aching hips before adjusting them around what he guessed was his waist. The daylight was getting brighter and he was beginning to feel a little more “with it” but the urge to pee again was growing. He knew there would be a bottle in the drawer of the cabinet, he never forgot that and as quickly as possible, always mindful of his precarious position on the bed, he retrieved it and held it to his body to capture the slow trickle of urine he passed. For now he’d forgotten why he needed to pee so often, but, at the same time, he knew there was a reason and that it would probably come back to him as the day wore on. As he started to ease the shirt over his aching shoulders he heard the kitchen door opening and allowed his arms to drop. Here was help, he though to himself, relaxing slightly. The bedroom door opened and a small dog appeared “Now then Maxie” he said, quietly pleased with himself for remembering its name. Following behind the dog was a man who he recognised and had known for a very long time, but the name wouldn’t come.

“Morning Jim” the man said “how’s it going today”?

Jim pondered, the internal fight to get the right words out a constant problem.

“Usual, could do with some help getting this on, if you don’t mind”.

“The shirt”?

“Aye, that’s it”.

After he had dressed the old man pushed himself upright, struggling as he did so but without asking for help and slowly made his way to the bathroom aided by his walking frame and followed by his helper. He settled in the chair in front of the sink and looked in the mirror. Taps, flannel and soap were forgotten as he looked at a face he hardly recognised. Sifting through the jumble of images popping up in his head he remembered a wife, not with him anymore but whose name he couldn’t remember without delving deep into the often hidden recesses of his brain. He remembered work, growing tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers but if you’d told him, just at that minute, that he’d also once been a pig farmer and later a shepherd he would have been surprised,  until the happy memories of those times replaced the ones he was currently experiencing. What should I be doing now he thought and like a light switching on he turned on the tap, running it until the water warmed up and, using a soaped flannel, as he had since he was a child, washed his face and neck. His helper had been in the kitchen preparing breakfast and putting a load of washing into the machine which someone else would take out at lunchtime.  He came through to see if Jim needed help getting to his chair in the living room.

“Are you done Jim”?

“Aye lad, I’ll be through in a minute, is chair squared up”?

The helper went through to the living room and checked the absorbent pads under the blanket covering the comfy armchair where Jim spent much of his day. They were dry, so he straightened them and replaced the blanket that acted as a protector for the chair before returning to the bathroom as Jim was about to cross the threshold.

“Haven’t you forgotten something”?

Jim looked up, confusion momentarily showing in his eyes.

“I don’t think so lad”, he said.

“You haven’t combed your hair, you look like Bob bloody Geldof”.

Jim smiled, he hadn’t a clue who Bob bloody Geldof was but he knew by the look on his helpers face that he must be a bit of a joke.

“Doe’s thar know, I’d forget me head if it were loose”

The helper smiled, he knew there was a level of truth in that statement that even Jim wouldn’t recognise.

“Come on, we’ll get you to your chair and we’ll run a comb through it, you never know, you might have a visitor later and you want to look your best”.

Jim smiled at that, sometimes people did call in to see him and most of the time he even knew who they were. While they were with him his mood lightened, the conversations they had triggered memories for him and he was able to remember a great number of things from his earlier life, not always in the order they happened though. After he’d been reminded to take his tablets Jim settled down to peel and eat his banana. His morning routine from this point was always the same, disrupted only by the fact that, once or twice a month, a different person shared it with him. A bowl of porridge appeared in front of him and Jim smiled again, he liked his porridge and he especially liked it prepared with lots of milk and a spoon of honey. Jim’s chair faced the patio doors which afforded an almost uninterrupted view onto the northern fells, providing a sense of peace and wonder to him. On the patio was his bird table and, as he ate, he watched his helper put out seed and a sprinkling of oats, which the pheasants that frequented Jims garden enjoyed for breakfast. Watching Jim at this time it was obvious that he was becoming more in tune with the familiarity of his surroundings and consequently he appeared more relaxed.

“Lots of finches about this morning Jim, young starlings too, it’s a great sight to see, now then, what day is it”?

Jim looked up as if the answer might be right there in front of his eyes; “Is it Friday”?

“No Jim, come on, we talked about this yesterday. Where was I last night”? said the other man, careful not to sound judgmental.

Jim concentrated hard for a couple of seconds before speaking again “Aye, that’s right, you were at dominoes yesterday, it must be Wednesday. Ee, my memory is getting worse instead of better”.

“Now Jim, you’ve had a wash and brush up, taken your tablets and seen that banana off, it’s porridge time”.

Jim had to eat bent over his plate, along with his legs his once muscular arms, that only a couple of years previously could have thrown a ewe into a sitting position in one quick movement, were now thin and covered in wrinkled loose skin, but he glanced up and grinned because he was coming alive and in his head a kind of order was forming. The television was on in the corner of the room, Jim liked the weather forecast, it gave him something to talk about and it reminded him how once the weather was important to his livelihood and the well being of his family. He finished his porridge, wiped his mouth, dabbed some spilled porridge from his shirt front and sat slowly upright. During these moments Jim didn’t feel too bad about living alone, he had a visit from family, who shared his caring duties between them, at least 3 times a day and, apart from the incontinence, he didn’t manage too badly especially on his better days. He’d spoken to his children about getting professional help but Jim was a very private, proud and taciturn man and he didn’t think he would be able to adapt to someone he didn’t really know seeing him when he was at his worst, which was mostly in the mornings. He did know, and it was something that he was very unlikely to waver on unless things got very bad with his mobility, that he never wanted to leave his home and go into care, even if it was into part supported sheltered living. Jim believed his home was his castle, they’d have to get him out feet first if it came to it.

“Cup of coffee Jim”?

“Aye, go on then, not too strong mind and not too hot, me gums are a bit sore”.

Jim sat looking out of the doors in front of him, the sky was blue, with cumulus clouds rolling over the top of the visible fells, it might rain, he thought, having forgotten the forecast he’d just watched that had said it wouldn’t, at least until that evening. As he watched the birds feeding and the small dog of his helper transfixed by their actions his eyelids began to droop and he rested his head on his hand which was propped on the arm of his chair. Thoughts, like flickering pictures you might see on an old jumble of newsreel randomly entered his head and just as soon were gone. He dozed for a half a minute or so before coming quickly awake and panicking slightly until he realised where he was. He could hear activity in the kitchen and then the footsteps of his helper coming back through with his mug of coffee and a plastic mug of squash, which sat on a table by his chair until he was reminded to take a drink to keep himself hydrated. The man left the room momentarily and returned with a bottle which he place at the side of Jims chair just in case he couldn’t make it to the bathroom in time, should he need to pee.

“Right Jim, that’s you sorted, at least for this morning, do you want owt else”?

“Nay lad, I’ll do for now, thanks again”.

The helper called his dog and after Jim had given it a quick stroke on the head as it passed his chair they left the room, closing the door behind them. Jim looked around quickly when he heard the latch shut before reaching for the television remote, scrolling slowly through the channels until he arrived at one showing re-runs of 80’s and 90’s quiz shows. He liked them, he watched them every day and they were always new and always fresh to him. An episode of “The Price is Right” was starting, a show that Jim had always liked. I wonder what he’s doing now, Jim thought to himself as Bruce Forsyth went into his  “Nice to see you” routine, he must be a good age by now, he thought to himself. Before the final contestant had made it down the stairs Jim was asleep in his chair, he’d stay that way, occasionally waking for short periods of time, until someone turned up to prepare his lunch.

© Colin Cross 2019

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file