Anybody home?

It’s lonely here outside your world. I trace your profile with my gaze, the familiar silhouette on the pillow beside me for more than thirty years.

One room, two chairs we sit together of an evening in the rumble of television’s tunnel journeying ever closer to a mysterious world beyond our own. I would prefer music, scrabble, conversation. Head back, jaw slack I notice his eyes are tight shut.

“Open your eyes darling,” I encourage. “How can you possibly know what in God’s name is going on? ”

I don’t understand why him watching television through closed eyelids should that bother me, but it does.

Beam in Scotty,” I joke, desperate to bring David back.

On good days the cracked vessel in which David resides releases the smart adolescent and child psychiatrist, the man he was, the man I married, my lover-husband and best friend, and we swap chit-chit before he sank turtle-like beneath the waves.

Has he even heard me, the stories I tell him, my questions?

“David, David, I’m talking to you.” Words roam, no sign of landing in his mind.

Is David—anybody—there? And if there is, is he who he was, or the he who he is now? The question tumbles many times a day. Each time, my answer shifts. All I know is I am lonely and miss him.

“Be thankful you still have him. You will miss him more when he is gone,” I tell myself, the breath of his human form, the endless chores of tending, the opportunity of purpose. I see myself padding the vacuum of this empty house oppressed by unnatural silence. His chair vacant, I eat alone.

I watch the effort of his emerging the crumpled human slumped voiceless on his dining room chair each breakfast, the snail energy it takes to pop back from inside his shell. By increments his head realigns with his neck. He snap-traps the drool sliding from the left corner of his slackened lips, retracts his left arm, always his left, through the armrest and creeps his blood-swollen fingers on the tablemat searching for his fork. His eyes are still shut, you see. He relies on feel.

No warning, without reason, all of a sudden, the David I married is back.

“Coffee please…,” Breakfast carries on as if he never WENT. “I’d like the marmalade, please. Do we have any plans for today?”

“He’s like a sea turtle,” I describe him to friends, “sinking then surfacing to life.”

Anybody home, I wonder of my David, the times he switches off. It could be minutes, half an hour or more, I find him, a statue frozen in mid-action sitting on his bed or chair, a sock dangling from his hand. Sometimes I catch him standing immobile, his face pushed against the wall. Can he hear or see me? There is no way I can get him to respond. Take today, Tuesday.

Breakfast over, well the eating part of breakfast, David flopped over with his face on the plate. I have given up trying to bully him to sit up. It’s best to leave him till he re-surfaces. When he’s that switched off there is nothing I can do. I cleared the table as best I could. Reaching awkwardly into a low cupboard, I lost my balance sending the butcher’s cart flying and me crashing to the floor. I hurt mostly from shock of landing on my back. Did David stir, raise his head? Not a muscle.

What if I really hurt myself, fell unconscious, I worry. How long would the two of us be alone inside our walls? This morning’s minor mishap is a wake-up call, one I’ve not yet thought through.

“Ah, he refuses to wear one of those press-button gizmos round his neck,” I second-guess the unspoken solution you’re offering me.

“If not him, then YOU wear one,” a voice whispers.

It’s a consideration I don’t much like the thought of, but I get the point.

I shudder when I recall Christmas two years ago. Speed-walking to catch the propane truck, I tripped and did a Stephen Hawkin flat face smack into the paving stones. Wham. Blood. Twisted limbs. Agony. Knocked momentarily to another world, my screams blended with the truck’s roar and gas hiss, and I lay there unheard. When the delivery men finally heard my “Help. Help” and carried me inside, David never raised his head.

I push that example away…too painful to face. Could I bleed and DIE, the house go up in flames and still he wouldn’t notice?

That puts me in mind of our holiday in Mexico three year’s ago. David stretched out on the sofa inside, me on the balcony tapping away engrossed in what I was writing. Seeking the perfect word I raised my head. Black clouds of smoke billowed from the French doors obscuring the room beyond.

Inside three-foot flames licked the extraction hood above the stove eight feet from David.

“David. David. Get out the room’s on fire.” And rushing in I yelled, “Get up. Get help. Quickly. Quickly.”

Struggling from the couch he made for the door, while I slammed a saucepan lid over part of the blaze—my bag of teas, spices, punched the phone to summon help.

“Reception. How may I help you?” The hotel operator drawled. “Now? Would you like someone to come up?”

“Yes. Yes. Immediately.” Was the woman nuts? Nobody appeared.

Then the greatest luck, two cleaners and a maintenance man happening by, rushed in and took control. Within half an hour the flames were doused, the smoke stains scrubbed and cinders thrown away along with the blackened toaster, extractor hood and frying pan. Oh the shame. It was me. My fault. I had switched on the burner beneath a bagged stash of precious teas, spices and special treats brought from home.

tomorrow when I lie alone

when I have no shirts of his to wash

when I clear one plate from the table

when the back porch swings empty

I will wish…

I will weep

stare into the laundry basket

seek his pair of shorts to add

search in vain for his missing sock

I’ll not complain

today I swear

promise only kindness

grumbling no more at

his snoring snuffling sleep

happy to still have him

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