You don’t know me – but you met my wife recently. You probably won’t remember. She came to see you in the care home you share with about 30 others. She was wearing greens and a mask. You made her feel very welcome: you offered her a cup of tea which she couldn’t accept. She told me a little bit about you when she got home. Nothing personal or confidential, of course. She just said that you were wonderful friends. And told me how you kept each other going.
One of you is 92 and the other is 94. I can’t remember which way round. You sit together most of the day, in comfy chairs in a large sitting room with a decent view of the garden. You tell each other stories and share memories. You are not the best listeners, if we’re honest. But you are great story-tellers – and the best of friends. You cackle at each other’s jokes; you make mischievous comments about your fellow residents; you play little tricks on your carers. So they say, anyway. All to pass the time, which you do cheerfully, and always together.
Truth be told, you seem to have a lot of the same conversations. If one of you goes out of the room, and returns ten minutes later, you greet each other like long-lost relatives. And loop back into a familiar conversation. Like an old juke box on free play.
It seems that you both struggle to remember things from the here and now; from this hour to the next. But longer-held, deeper memories abound. And you share them with each other freely. And often. The past is more present than the present. Who knows how much of it is real memory; how much is made and re-made in the telling?
There is a danger here. I am treading a very thin line. I want to go somewhere that threads its way safely between the ankle-breaking rabbit holes of sentimentalism or pity or projection or just being condescending. I may get my foot stuck and be guilty of these and more. I hope not. But if I am, I sense that you would forgive – and forget.
You see, I imagine your talk as a kind of charm. I picture it casting a safety spell around you. I see your joyful daily endorsement of one another turn solid; a talisman against – whatever. Are you aware that there is threat outside the enchanted circle of your chat? Who can tell? You don’t seem to be fearful. Not of anything. Instead, maybe the diurnal rituals of shared remembering insulate you from the harder truths of the present.
Others around you are exposed. By their knowledge or their ignorance. You are exposed too. Yet, you seem to move together in a different place. One of dignity and innocence; of knowing insouciance. In this state, I see your vintage minds shining bright with hope and love and laughter.
Are you sheltering in some woozy, magic kingdom? Are you hiding there together? No. If you are hiding, it is in plain sight of extinction’s alp. There: I see you rambling on together – equipped with all the careworn kit of the years – cheerfully talking your way across the rocky ground beneath that final incline.
This is guesswork, of course. After all, you were just a 30 second comment. But you lit up my mind in that short time.
What I imagine, from this brief window, is two lives wound around each other in a shared present; two friends bound by talk that is potent with memory. I imagine the two of you together in your chairs side by side. I picture you laughing.
And I wish you protected.
PS I hope you don’t mind that I changed your names.