I screamed from my bed. No, it wasn’t my bed. Not even my bedroom. It belonged to this bloody care home I was living in. I glanced around my tiny room. At the dying flowers in my vase, the framed family photographs, the television playing another idiotic antique show. But he wasn’t here. Where was he?
“Is Ed coming up?” I glanced up at David.
The carer smiled down at me and pointed to a pillow printed with mine and Ed’s wedding photo. “Don’t worry, Daisy. Your husband will be with you any minute now.”
“Fuck that, I’ll find him myself.” I tried climbing out of bed, running my good hand along the bed rail failing to find a grip.
“Daisy, you can’t walk. You had a stroke, remember?” Saule spoke in broken English with a thick Eastern European accent. She took hold of my good hand; her skin was so soft.
I blinked, clearing the eyes from my tears, as Saule’s pretty face dissolved into view. How old was she? Early twenties perhaps? Although she wore a touch too make-up, she was a beautiful young lady with blonde hair that dangled in curls, a heart-shaped face and a slender figure. I used to be gorgeous like Saule. What had happened to me? When had I become so ugly and old? When had my teeth become crooked? My hair short, grey and greasy?
I jumped back, as a car screeched into sight. Was that him? I looked out the window, as a blue Toyota Yaris reversed into a parking spot. My heart flew.
Saule smiled, displaying her lipstick-stained teeth. “Edward is here. I’ll get the hoist.” She hurried out and David watched her leave with wide eyes and a daft smile plastered across his face. He caught my gaze and snapped away.
“You were looking at her bum, weren’t you?”
His eyes widened as his cheeks flushed. “No, I wasn’t.”
“And you’re a rotten liar, like my Edward,”I reached up to stroke his chin, “I like your beard.”
He laughed and pushed a swathe of hair from his eyes. “You mean my bumfluff.”
“But you’re so skinny,” I stared up and down at his matchstick body, “doesn’t your girlfriend feed you?”
David threw his head back and cackled. “Me? A girlfriend? Good one.”
“Why is that funny? All handsome lads like you should have a girlfriend.”
“Tell that to my ex. She’s the one who left me.” His shoulders slumped down.
“Stupid cow,” I threw back my bedsheets, “is that why you were looking at Saule’s bum? Do you like her?”
“I wasn’t looking at her bum. Anyway, who cares whether I like her or not. She’s dating this big Russian bugger.” He straightened up, as she returned, shoving in the machine they would use to hoist me out of bed.
Saule snapped on gloves and muttered in her native language. David frowned at me and ran over. I couldn’t hear what they whispered, but I saw the lad hesitate before stroking her arm. She smiled, staring at him in the eye, before smirking and poking him in the stomach.
Turning to me, she grinned. “We’re going to get you ready.”
After they washed and dressed me, they transferred me into my recliner wheelchair. David brushed my hair while Saule spritzed me with lavender perfume.
He held a mirror in front of me. “And here we have our beautiful lady.”
I grimaced at my reflection. “Take it away.”
He obeyed and took my hand. “Are you feeling better now?”
I nodded. “Thank you, darling. You’re so sweet.”
David straightened up and smiled. “Just doing my job,” he turned to Saule, “are you feeling okay now?” He stroked her arm again.
She nodded and smiled, poking his nose. He snickered and smiled shyly. Ed and I were like that once.
My ears perked up. Was that my husband singing down the corridor? Or a cat with its tail stuck in the door?
“Hello, my darling.” Red-faced, rotund and with a shock of grey, curly hair, Ed burst into my bedroom.
“Oh God, here comes Father Christmas. He’s only missing the beard.”
Ed cackled, his many chins wobbling. “Father Christmas? I’m not that fat, am I?”
“You’re not far off.”
He sniggered and kissed me. His breath stunk of the fish he was always eating. It was like being back at home where I had to eat fish every single night. It was the only thing Ed could cook.
He wheeled me into the lounge. I blinked at the bright lights, as I looked at the massive armchairs spread around the edges of the room. Two other residents snored away as the widescreen TV blared on. On the far side, ceiling-to-floor windows displayed a well-kept garden. Ed placed me at the back.
He beamed. “My word, you are looking beautiful today.”
“What’s beautiful about me? I’m a hideous, disgusting thing.” I buried my face in my good hand.
“I don’t like seeing you upset. I want to see you happy.”
I growled and shook my head. Easy for him to say. He wasn’t the one wearing a nappy. He wasn’t the one in a wheelchair. He wasn’t the one living in a care home.
“Daisy, should I explain why I think you’re beautiful? Because you’re my wife and I love you. You’ve been my wife for sixty years. Sixty years to the wrong man, am I right?”
I wiped my eyes. “You’re not the wrong man. Never.”
“Thank you, sweetheart,” he squeezed my hand before delving into his backpack and pulling out an A4 photograph of an oil portrait of a young girl, “I painted a portrait of our granddaughter. Tamsin is such a special girl that oil colours don’t do her justice, but I think I captured her essence well.”
I rolled my eyes. “Gordon Bennet. He paints one portrait, and he thinks he’s William Gainsborough.”
Ed guffawed. “I’m not sure about Gainsborough, but I can hold my own. Anyway, how are you?”
I stared at him. How did he think I was? “Brilliant. Last week I was dancing the Foxtrot. Next week I’m going skydiving.”
My husband roared in laughter. What an unattractive noise, like if somebody had dropped a drum kit from an airplane.
“You do still have your wonderful sense of humour. Anyway, last week I was at the Bowles club as usual. I won for the first time in weeks. Same can’t be said for my weekly chess game with our grandson. He seems to be beating me more and more these days. I’m not as sharp as I used to be. And this morning, I was at the fishmonger’s and I laid eyes on the loveliest piece of sea bass. It made for a delicious lunch.”
I rubbed my temple. “Oh lord, doesn’t he go on?”
Ed chuckled and placed his hand on the top of mine. His palms were so rough. “I’m sorry, my darling. What would you like to talk about?”
“Do you know the lad who takes care of me? With the long, shaggy hair? He looks like he’s stuck in the 1960’s.”
“Do you mean David?”
“He’s such a lovely lad. I want to find him a woman to take care off. And I think he likes someone,” I leant in, “the Eastern European girl who looks like Grace Kelly.”
“Do you mean Saule?” Ed scratched his head.
“Shh.” I growled, as she walked in carrying a box of nail varnishes.
“Do you want me to paint your nails?” She asked.
I held up my hand. “Yes please, my darling.”
Saule sat next to me. “What colour would you like?”
“Wine-red, just like yours. They’re so elegant.”
“Thank you.” She delved into the box and withdrew some nail varnish.
I stroked her silky-smooth hair. “I wish I had hair like yours at your age. She’s a pretty girl, isn’t she, Ed?”
“Beautiful.” He agreed.
I splayed my hand on the armrest, as the cool varnish coated my nails. “But her boyfriend must call her that every day.” I frowned. Was that David peeking in through the doorway? He was looking at Saule again, with that daft smile on his face. He caught my eye and backed away.
She looked up at me, before resuming her artistry. “I don’t have a boyfriend anymore. He left me for another woman.”
“What a stupid man, he is. If I had a woman like you, I would never give you up.”
“You do have a woman like her. You have me.” I jabbed at myself.
“I know my dear, but my point is you would have to be a fool to leave a beautiful girl like Saule.”
She blushed and finished with my nails, before screwing up the bottle.
“David wouldn’t do that.” I muttered.
Her head snapped up. “David?”
“He’s a handsome lad. You should get a drink with him.”
She smirked and waved her hand. “He has a girlfriend. He’s had a girlfriend for a long time now.”
“No, he doesn’t. The stupid cow broke up with him.”
“Really,” Saule scratched her head, before standing up, “do you like your nails?”
“They’re beautiful. Thank you, sweetheart,” I said.
“You’re welcome.” She skipped out, almost charging into David in the doorway. He stepped to one side to let her pass, as she stepped to the same side. They continued dancing together, before he squeezed past her and headed over to me. He laid my dinner on my table, before walking away. I pursed my lips, as I saw the mush in front of me. Always the same. Dry mash and pureed vegetables and meat. Baby food. I wasn’t a baby.
“My love, shall I help you eat?” Ed held up the spoon to my lips, but I turned my head away.
“Please, Daisy, you must eat something.”
I opened my mouth and half-gagged as the mush coated my tongue. Not even babies would want to eat this.
Ed sighed. “Try and eat properly.”
How could he expect me to eat this tasteless mess? “I don’t want it. Why can’t I eat normal food like you?”
“It’s not safe. You might choke.”
“Bollocks.” Why was I so broken? I couldn’t even eat like a proper human being.
“It’s not bollocks. I think it’s the truth.”
“I wasn’t asking what you fucking think.” I knocked the spoon out of his hand and onto the floor. My hand flew to my mouth. I hadn’t just sworn at Ed, had I?
Sighing, he retrieved the spoon and placed it on the table. “I’m sorry, Daisy. I know you don’t like it.”
I sniffled. I didn’t just look like a witch. I was a witch. Swearing at my husband who was only trying to help me.
He called David back in. “Daisy doesn’t want any dinner and I best be leaving. Can you put her back to bed?”
I grasped for his hand, as my heart thudded against my ribs. He was leaving because I had sworn at him. “Please, don’t go. I’m sorry I said that.”
Ed smiled at me. “I don’t remember what you said, but I best be heading home now.”
“Take me with you. Don’t leave me here.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, my love.” He kissed me and walked away.
I stared up at David. “Why am I like this? I didn’t used to be like this.”
He held my good hand and stroked my cheek. “You’re an elderly woman who’s had a stroke and is living in a care home. If that were me, I would be unhappy too.”
I blinked the tears from my eyes, as he wheeled me into my bedroom, where Saule waited for him. His eyes lit up as he saw her and together they transferred me into bed. I stared at another bloody quiz programme on TV. David shouldn’t be caring for an old hag like me. He should be caring for a young lady like Saule.
I yawned as I woke up. What time was it? What day was it? I flinched away from the overhead lights. Was I in the lounge? When had I come here? Hadn’t I fallen asleep in my bedroom? A young lady laughed.
On the other side of the room, squished into one of the massive armchairs, David and Saule pulled silly faces while taking photos together on their phones. The lad’s arm was ever so tentatively wrapped around his colleague’s waist. She leaned into his body with her free hand resting against his knee.
“Hello?” I called.
David ran over. “You okay? You’ve been asleep all day.”
“What day is it?”
Thursday? I thought it was Monday. I could never keep track of time in here. Rubbing my eyes, I looked around. A stupid property programme blared on the TV, while the other armchairs laid empty except for the two snoring residents.
“Is Ed here?”
David looked around, as singing bounced from the outside corridor. “I think I hear him coming now.”
As if on cue, my husband burst into sight. I reached out, as I stifled a sob.
“Ed is here. He’s really here.”
“Hello, my darling.” He hugged me and I clung onto him, while layering his face, his neck, his shoulder, whatever I could, in kisses.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
He sat down beside me. “Sorry for what?”
“I said something bad. I don’t remember what, but I upset you.” I sniffed.
Ed shrugged. “I have no idea what you mean. So, we shall say no more about it.”
I rubbed my eye, as I smiled. He always was a rotten liar. “Can you take me home now?”
He pulled at his collar. “Shall we have some dinner first?” He glanced at David who ran out, followed by Saule who giggled and prodded him in the back.
“My word, you are looking good today,” Ed said.
“You always say the same old rubbish.” I spoke into my chest.
“But you look wonderful.”
David reappeared with my dinner and laid it on the table.
More pureed muck. Delicious.
I looked over his shoulder. “Have you asked that girl for a drink yet?”
He ran a hand through his hair. “It’s not a good idea to get involved with people you work with.”
“Bollocks,” I took his hand, “you’re using that as an excuse. You obviously like her and she’s single. This is your chance.”
David shifted on the balls of his feet. “But what if she says no?”
“You shouldn’t let something like that stop you. She might say yes, my dear boy,” Ed nodded.
“I can’t put myself through that again. Not after last time.” The lad examined his fingernails.
I cast away his hand. “Is this still about that stupid cow that left you? You’re not Queen Victoria, you don’t need to wear black for fifty years.”
“Let me know if you need anything.” He walked out.
“This young generation,” I shook my head, “why do they make everything so complicated?”
“It’s a different time,” Ed scooped up some puree, “shall we eat something?”
I leaned back in my chair. “I don’t want it.”
“You need to eat. You’re losing weight.”
“It’s revolting.” I glowered at the brown mush. Never mind babies, a dog wouldn’t eat this.
“I know you don’t like it, but it’s good for you.” He tried pushing it to my lips, but I clenched my teeth together.
“Daisy. Please open your mouth for me.”
“I don’t want to. Why don’t you fucking listen to me?” I sent the spoon crashing down to the floor.
Ed breathed in. “Don’t swear at me like that. I didn’t come here to be sworn at.”
“Because it’s all about what you fucking think, isn’t it?” I chewed my nails. I had sworn at Ed again. I hadn’t meant to do that, had I?
“I didn’t say it was, but I want to see you happy. I’m trying so hard. Can you try too? I hate seeing you like this.”
“There you go again, always talking about yourself. What about what I think? What about what I feel? You fucking abandoned me in this hellhole, because you didn’t want to deal with me anymore.” My face screwed up, as my throat burned. Tears brimmed on my eyelids. I shouldn’t be saying this, but I couldn’t help it.
“My darling, you know that’s not fair. I’m an old man. I can’t take care of you.”
“Because you don’t want to take care of me. You hate me.” I screamed from my heart, as the emotion coursed out.
“Obviously, I hate you, that’s why I visit you every day,” he stood up, shouldering his backpack, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Can I have a kiss before I go?”
I turned my face away, as he planted a kiss on my cheek. His breath still stank of that damn fish.
“I love you, my darling. Can you say it back to me?”
I continued staring at the ground. Ed walked away.
The next few hours blurred past. David and Saule fed me, comforted me, held my hand, hugged me, before returning me to bed for the night. I clutched onto my special pillow, as my lip quivered. What had I done? Why had I spoken to Ed like that? I sniffled. I loved him. He was only trying to help. I hacked as a lump lodged in my throat, as my palms sweated, as my heart screamed. The tears flowed down, as I sniffled and bawled, crying like a baby. That’s exactly what I was. A baby. I ate like one. I wore a nappy like one. And I cried like one. The only man who ever loved me, I had sent him away. I thrashed on the bed, burying my face into my pillow. Ed was gone and it was all my fault. And I was alone. All alone.
“Daisy should we get you out of bed now?”
I woke up. David stood over me with his hair as wavy as ever. “Why? It’s not like Ed is coming to see me.”
“He’s on his way now.”
“You shouldn’t lie to an old lady like that. He’s not coming here again. He hates me.”
David sat beside me and wiped away my dried-up tears. “He’s here every day because he loves you. He’s loved you for sixty years.”
My voice fell to a whisper. “He only comes here because he’s obliged to do so. He hates me.”
“He doesn’t. He loves you.”
“How you like Saule? But you won’t do anything about it.” I looked him in the eye.
David took my hand. “Why do you care so much about this?”
I stared at him. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m fucking miserable. I’ve driven away the only man I’ve ever loved. Because I’m a wretched old hag. I love him so much and he doesn’t deserve a crazy witch like me. He always said that I’ve spent sixty years married to the wrong man. He’s wrong. He’s spent sixty years married to the wrong woman. And I can’t let you make the same mistakes. Ask Saule for a drink. Please. For me.”
I held my finger to my lips, as Saule pushed in the hoist. “Ed has just arrived. We’ll get you out of bed.”
I shook my head. Why were they still pursuing this cruel facade? He wasn’t here. They were all wasting their time.
A few moments later, David and Saule took me into the lounge.
“Do you want a cup of tea?” She asked.
She headed out and David chased after her.
I shook my head. Nothing had changed. The same bright lights, the same residents snoring away, the same TV playing the same crap. The same old witch who had driven away her husband.
“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do…”
I snapped to the corridor. Was that my husband singing? No, of course it wasn’t. Stupid, crazy bat.
“I’m half crazy, all for the love of you.” Ed burst into the lounge.
My mouth dropped open, as my stomach flipped over. He was here. I squealed, as the tears flooded down. He held onto me, as I clung onto him. As usual, he stunk of fish, but I could have breathed in his scent all day long.
“I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I love you, I shouldn’t have said that, I love you, my darling, please forgive me.” I spoke in between sobs.
He grinned. “And as usual, I have no idea what you’re talking about. In fact, I was writing a poem about you. Would you like to hear it?”
I gagged at the thought, but I was saved by Saule and David clinking two cups of tea onto the table.
“Let us know if you need anything,” David said.
“Anyway, do you want to hear my poem,” Ed cleared his throat,
“Sixty Years to the wrong man
To some that is a terribly long lifespan,”
“Shut up Shakespeare. Look.” I pointed at the departing David and Saule.
“What is it?”
“Look. They’re holding hands. “
Dedicated to the real life Edward and Daisy. Continuing my series of real-life inspired stories following David the carer and the different residents he meets.
With thanks to my many readers who helped improve this story: Kristina, Jessica, Krista, Petya, Cecelia, Jannet and Alexandra, your comments thoroughly hurt my ego but they made this story what it is now.