© Milton Taylor
Winner, 2014 The Blackened Billy, Tamworth NSW.
“Remember our mother?” With gentle demand
He fondled my fingers and squeezed on my hand.
“Of course I do, sweetie.” I smoothed back his hair.
“Remember our mother? Remember her, Claire?”
Remember our mother? I couldn’t you see,
For William’s past eighty and I’m thirty three.
He’s suffering dementia, life’s horrible curse.
He’s frail and bedridden. And me? I’m a nurse.
Dear Willie’s a favourite old patient of mine.
He thinks I’m his sister and that suits me fine.
When seeking assurance for ‘some time, somewhere,’
He ends with the question, “Remember that, Claire?”
My proper name’s Kath and it’s okay with me
If our Bill thinks I’m Claire, - well, it’s Claire I can be.
I play out my part in this innocent game
Where I’m Claire for the purpose. And what’s in a name?
“You shouldn’t have favourites,” they said from the start.
“Their passing will hurt you and weigh down your heart
And wrench your emotions while leaving you scarred.
Step back, keep your distance, it’s not all that hard.”
It’s not all that hard? Oh, that’s simple to say
To someone who deals with them day after day
And shares in the details of memories set free.
You shouldn’t have favourites! That’s them telling me!
Let them sit with Willie and not be affected
By flashbacks and stories and yarns recollected
Of school friends and workmates, in hard times and fair.
Let them turn their backs on, “Remember that, Claire?”
Remember? Remember? I don’t – yet I do,
For when Will reminisces, I travel back too,
Where spaces and places of muddled recall
Give comfort; and he and I don’t mind at all.
“Remember our brother? Our big brother Jack?
He went to the war, Claire, and never came back.
Poor Mum was heartbroken long after he’d died,
But hid it completely; our mum never cried.
“Remember the fishing hole, mucking around
And ducking each other? We all should have drowned!
And trapping them bunnies and shooting with dad?
Oh, those were the days, sis. What great times we had.”
And thus it continued, our daily routine
Of William recalling the things that we’d seen
With sister supportive in all that he said
Whilst fondling his fingers and stroking his head.
And comments were made that his spirits would lift
When I came in each day at the start of my shift.
He’d spark up and softly, contentedly say
“Oh, Claire love, I knew that you’d come back today.”
Late yesterday evening I said my goodbye
And he spoke with that faraway look in his eye.
“I hear mother calling. I hear her! Don’t you?
I have to go, Claire, and you’d better come too.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, my darlin’, don’t fret.
Our mummy says she doesn’t want us there yet.
She’ll let us know later just when we should come.
Let’s wait ‘til she calls us, then run home to mum.’
But I knew in my heart that he’d pass on that night
To a mother’s warm welcome and all would be right.
So I squeezed on his hand and I smoothed back his hair
As he whispered, “It’s mother! Remember her, Claire?”