By Wendy Taylor

Nice day For It

‘It was a nice day for it,’Anna said.

Rob waited for her to continue.

‘I rode Roly over the back of the farm and down to the river today,’ said Anna.

‘That would have been fun,’  Rob replied.

He shifted his position in the wipe clean chair and stretched his long chino encased legs out.

‘Yeah it was. Roly was a bit of an idiot though.’ She laughed. ‘He pawed the water and tried to roll.’

‘Oh,’ Rob said.

‘He was okay once I pushed him out further and he started swimming.’

Rob nodded in acknowledgement.

‘It was a nice day for it,’Anna said again.

She leant back in her rocking chair and closed her eyes.

Rob reached over and tenderly brushed a strand of her silky hair that had slipped forward into her green eyes, back behind her ear.

Anna had always been good with horses despite her diminutive size. She had owned many over the years. Even during her pregnancies and while raising the family she rode. Nick and Fraser never missed out though, Rob recalled. She fitted events and trained the horses around her family commitments, even if it meant getting up very early each day to ride. The boys had shown no interest, preferring the standard rugby and cricket. Anna had been secretly pleased about this, as it gave her “Anna time,” and she came back into the family chaos, refreshed. 

Rob was there to help when he could, when he was not too busy on the farm. He had loved every minute of those times. A legacy of those times were the many photos lining the walls in Anna’s room and albums on her shelves that Rob pulled off to remind her and himself of who she really was. Not that Rob ever needed reminding of who Anna really was. She was in his soul, in his heart, every minute of the day. The hours Rob and Anna spent gazing at the photographs were special times and often resulted in laughter.

‘You had fun with all those horses over the years,’ he said. 

Anna did not respond, she had drifted off again.

This left Rob thinking about the horses Anna had owned over the years. There had been the lanky chestnut thoroughbred Henry, bay anglo Arab Ben and a range of cobs, Millie, Copper and Rex. All freshly broken in when Anna purchased them, she trained and nurtured them into reliable mounts for both beginners and experienced riders.  

Rob’s stomach grumbled. He had partaken of a cup of milky tea and a plain biscuit a couple hours earlier. He enjoyed a plain biscuit.  

Rob is grateful to the dementia nurses who always gave him a cuppa at three o’clock to tide him over. They were always kind to him and made him feel welcome when he arrived and checked on him during the day.  

Rob stifled a laugh. Anna always turned her nose up at the plain biscuits. She preferred the sweet fudge slice they served daily with her cup of strong black coffee. Today it had been citrus slices, Anna’s favourite.

His stomach grumbled again. A casserole in the slow cooker waited for him at home, large enough to last a few nights.

Anna stirred. She is back. She always flitted in and out of consciousness, her mind unsettled, unsure where it should be focused. The past, the present, the future? 

Rob is used to it now. Once it made him angry. He would snap at Anna, hoping his annoyance would pull her back from her muddle, to a rational being. Of course it never did. Now he let her flit, glad she was still communicating, sometimes current observations, but mostly rambles and faded memories.

‘Sandra is going out with Jake O’ Neill from up the valley,’ said Anna, referring to her friend from her teenage years.

Rob smiled. ‘I know the family well. He is a hard worker.’

‘And he’s pretty cute.’

‘Can’t comment on that,’  Rob replied with a grin.

He shifted position in his chair again. His backside was going numb from sitting for most of the day, the only reprieve a walk late afternoon, Rob pushing Anna in a wheelchair. He stood, stretched, rubbed his offending posterior and settled back into the chair.

The sun that had streamed enthusiastically through the huge streaky windows all day and early evening had sunk and the day room was clothed in shadows. A chill was descending quickly over the room, creeping around the occupants, stealthily. 

The heaters clicked on. 

Rob stood again. He pulled a soft lilac blanket that was draped over the back of Anna’s chair, wrapped it around her legs and smoothed the wrinkles with a light caress, then resettled in his chair.

‘Won’t last long, that relationship,’ Anna declared, talking about Sandra and Jake again. ‘He’s always looking at other girls. Sandra won’t stand for that.’

‘Have to agree with you there,’  Rob said, leaning forward and brushing the strand of hair back again.

Anna fell silent again, but not for long. 

Rob does not mind. He likes to hear her voice, soft and melodious. 

‘Might go into town tomorrow. There’s a sale on at that big department store in the mall. Nick and Fraser both need some track pants. Only last week I was buying sweatshirts. And Nick needs a larger school uniform. That is going to be expensive. And shoes, you need a second mortgage for those. Kids, they grow so fast.’ She gives an exasperated sigh. ‘Wouldn’t be without them though.’ 

‘Can’t agree with you more. Raising kids is an expensive business.’

Rob always agreed with Anna. He did not try to bring her back into the present but let her talk about her issues as though they were current even though they were often years in the past. She constantly leapt from decade to decade. Today she had already told Rob about incidents in her childhood as well as young adulthood.

She sighed several more times, an attempt to pull air into her lungs. She is tired. It did not take much to wear her out these days.

Rob smiled at her gently. He lets Anna dictate the pace of the day.

Six mornings a week he arrived at the dementia unit just after ten, having eaten a good breakfast of cereal and fruit and strong black coffee. He tidied his small one bedroomed unit, dealt with any laundry, washing or folding, made a packed lunch and walked the few blocks to the low slung brick buildings set in pretty perennial gardens that was now Anna’s home. The only day Rob missed was a Thursday when he did his grocery shopping and messages and attended medical and dental appointments. Anna always greeted him with a gentle smile. Sometimes she recognised him, but mostly not. She thinks he is one of the many volunteers that sit with the residents. She never noticed he was not there on Thursdays.

Rob reached over and took Anna’s hand in his own. He stroked it. It still felt smooth and youthful under his calloused fingers. His mind goes back to the previous conversation.

He fondly pictures blonde Nick, something in IT and red-haired Fraser, a history teacher,  who Anna had talked about as though they were still children but were in fact grown men. Neither were married yet, but have lovely sweet steady girlfriends. Both live down south. They visit as often as they could, but are busy with their frenetic lives. Rob was glad the boys were happy and settled. He smiled. Funny how he still thinks of them as boys.

A nurse bounced up, newly arrived for the evening shift. Her blue uniform that would be stained and crumpled by the end of her shift, still crisp. Her face was a tidal wave of care, eyes glowing, mouth upturned, smiling.

‘How does she have the energy to do her demanding job day after day?’ Rob always wondered. 

‘Time to get you back,’ she chirped

Rob knew this was code for, ‘time to get you to bed.’

Anna had already eaten, the food always current on trend as well as wholesome and filling. Midday dinner had been a luscious cheesy lasagne and the night meal an antipasto platter. 

Today, Anna had devoured everything much to Rob’s relief. 

Somedays getting her to eat was a challenge, confusion frightening her into fighting, arms flailing, voice rising. On these days they had to take the meal away before it was hurled across the room. A little later, a care worker would bring a wholesome milkshake for Rob to entice Anna to take sips from during the afternoon. She usually obliged.  

The nurse eased Anna to her feet. 

Tonight they did not have to change Anna from her clothes into her night attire. She had been a bit restless that morning and insisted, ‘today is a chill out, jim-jams day.’

They had let her.

She had on the plush pink dressing gown Rob had found on special last week, over cosy pale blue flannelette pyjamas patterned with dark blue dots. He avoided buying pyjamas with unicorns or puppies that were emblazoned on women’s night attire these days. It made Anna seem even more child-like than she already was. The blue ensemble gave her a certain air of jauntiness, more in keeping with her personality than cartoon animal prints.

  Together the three of them walked to Anna’s room, the nurse and Rob lightly guiding Anna, arms around her waist. 

Anna shuffled. She was very unsteady these days, her legs forgetful, wobbly, they often sagged without warning. This was not Anna. Rob does not dwell on this, instead daily, celebrating her essence, filling his heart with joy.

Rob remembered how Anna used to flit around the house, her constant anxious energy bounced off the walls and filled the rooms with her thrumming vitality. Anna had been usually clothed in sweats or riding attire, her hair pulled back in a high ponytail, swinging to its own beat. Make-up was only worn on trips to town. 

Rob noticed her slippers were bobbled and a hole was forming where her right big toe was pushing against the worn end. He made a mental note. ‘I’ll get a new pair tomorrow.’

The nurse eased Anna’s dressing gown off and settled Anna in bed 

Rob saw with his usual alarm, her frailness. However despite this, she had fought off infections thus far. The superb care that Anna received here from the nurses, caregivers and the resident doctor ensured Anna stayed in the best of health. Rob was thankful for this.

The nurse scampered off with a, ‘sleep well.’

Anna lay still. 

Rob brushed the stray strand of hair back off her forehead, yet again. He leant over and kissed her forehead. A flowery soft scent floated off her.

He never tires of spending time with his daughter. She has been robbed of time too early, like her mother twenty years earlier. Her devoted husband would be coming along shortly, once he had finished his day at the office.

Rob looked tenderly at Anna. 

‘I had a lovely day,’ he said.

Anna looked up at Rob, a brief moment of lucidity flicked into her eyes.’

‘Yeah, Dad, I had a lovely time too,’ she said. ‘It was a nice day for it.’

One thought on “Nice Day For It

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