She Doesn’t Know Me by Kate Stear
She doesn’t know me. She’s drifting backwards again. She goes further back with each
passing day. It is painful to watch, and hurtful. She doesn’t mean it, she can’t help it. She
laughs at her own confusion. She’s back again! For a few minutes she is with us all again.
Happy and smiling at her granddaughter; the same one she didn’t recognise just moments
ago. She looks at photographs of Christmas’ gone by. She doesn’t know the little girl with
the dark curls. Wait a minute, she looks familiar she says, but no the name doesn’t come to
her. Maybe she knows the man with the kind, blue eyes but no she can’t reach him right
She reaches for her shoes. She’s agitated, she looks to her one constant, her daughter. She
wants to leave now. Return back to the safety of the home she recognises, the home that is
familiar both now and in her world that she keeps returning to. She is lost here amongst the
present. She remains polite and calm but I know underneath she is desperate to leave our
world and return to the one that makes sense to her.
She mumbles now. We no longer have long discussions about which books we are both
reading. We no longer put the world to rights. Her world is a different one to mine now.
She fiddles. She has always fiddled but now she takes a keen interest in what she is fiddling
with. Before she would chat away whilst pulling at a button or running a zip up and down
but now she fiddles with a determination, a deep concentration.
Her deep brown eyes flick around, darting back and forth, sometimes nervously, mistrusting
of those not in her world. We want her to feel safe and secure but we don’t speak the same
language anymore so reassurance is difficult. She’s had a nice day she murmurs. She is
restless so my mum takes her home.
She sits in her garden, on her all too familiar wooden bench, next to the ornamental bird
bath. The birds are singing and the sun is shining. Her silver hair glistens in the sunlight.
She has never been grey, she’s always had lovely hair, silver waves like those of the ocean.
Her skin is the colour of warm chestnuts, glowing and healthy looking.
For a few seconds nothing has changed. I am eighteen years old again and have popped in
for a chat and a slice of her delicious sponge cake. I will tell her what I am reading, I know
she will want to know. She will tell me about the latest novel she has borrowed from the
library. The library which she runs for the ‘old ladies’. Normally a hardback book not a
paperback that I would read. She will make a pot of her strong tea and we will drink it in
proper teacups with saucers. She will be dressed in a smart skirt with a pretty blouse and a
neck scarf. Always ready to receive visitors. Always with her lipstick on.
Yet no, we don’t do any of that anymore. I see the vacant look in her eyes. Her eyes the
colour of dark, melting chocolate. She doesn’t know me. She won’t be telling me about her
latest novel or make me a pot of tea. She is as always, dressed smartly though. Some things
never change; mum has made sure of that. There is no homemade cake today, just a scone
from the supermarket.
I sit beside her and take her hand, rough with age, long thin fingers that would once have
moved at the speed of lightening, click clacking with her knitting needles. She smiles at me
and I talk to her gently. I will tell her what I am reading and she will nod in the right places
and maybe sometimes in the wrong places. I get up to leave and she says “thanks for
coming” like I am a formal visitor, not her granddaughter.
She is lying in a hospital bed wearing a clinical gown, not her usual pretty cotton pyjamas.
There are tubes and machines all around. The nurses are polite and friendly but they wear a
knowing expression. She is an old lady and very frail and we must not expect too much. She
is comfortable they tell us. Her eyes tell a different story. She looks frightened. This is not
familiar to her, she will want to be at home.
She doesn’t eat very much. She must eat as there is nothing of her. She has always been
very slight and small boned. She is stubborn and pushes the food away. This is unlike her as
she enjoys her food. Living alone was never an excuse not to eat properly. A hearty
breakfast, a light lunch followed by a good dinner has helped this tiny lady reach the grand
old age of ninety two.
The phone is ringing. I am in a deep sleep but gradually consciousness arrives. I hear a gentle
lady on the other end telling me to come. It is time. I dress quickly while my husband follows
me asking me if I am ok. There is no time to talk. I must go. I am willing myself to drive
quicker but know that I must get there safely. The roads are deserted at this hour of the
morning. It is dark and still.
She is lying in that hospital bed. The tubes and machines are no more. This time she is
peaceful. The fear has gone. She is once again still and quiet. She is not agitated. I do not
cry. I am glad she is no longer frightened and haunted. She has come a long way. She has
travelled a long journey on that pathway. She seemed impatient to get there recently,
wherever it was she was going. It was as if someone was waiting for her. I do hope he was.