TCP and Pond's Skin Cream

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
This was written about my beloved nan, who recently passed away.

Submitted: December 02, 2011

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Submitted: December 02, 2011




TCP and Pond's skin cream


She lay there, tucked under crisp white sheets like a doll in a big girls' bed. Her chest rose and fell with the rhythm of a mechanical bellows, beeping machines charted her lack of progress.

They told us she was gone, that it was just a matter of time. 'Too much organ damage, and her age is a big factor.'

I passed the hospital chapel several times a day. Conveniently situated opposite the cafe, it saw far less traffic than the counter with the unappealing array of overpriced pasties.

She was more than a mother to me, this woman who had never had a Mother's day card with my name written in it. I always joked, bought her 'not-mother's-day presents' and hoped she knew how much she meant to me.

We drank endless cups of coffee. After the first three days we copped on to the fact that, if we continued, we ran the risk of running out of money. We commandeered one of the relatives' rooms in ICU, draping our books, magazines and toiletries everywhere. The staff may have considered having us evicted when they noticed we were bringing in our own coffee and milk in, just availing ourselves of the paper cups and hot water from the restaurant machine.

Crosswords were completed, conversations were had about things we found safe to talk about. Occasionally, one of us would have a morbid turn of thought, wondering how they got the bodies of the unfortunates who didn't make it, being as the y couldn't wheel them out down the corridor past the grieving families. Some sort of service elevator, we concluded. Then someone cried in the room next door and we felt guilty for laughing when so much hung in the balance.

We took turns to go in and talk to her, telling her the minutiae of our days. It is incredibly difficult to keep up a dialogue with someone who is completely unresponsive. She was Nan-shaped, but not her. It was as if someone had created a lifelike replica but forgotten to make it do anything. I wondered where she had gone. The woman who'd put boiled onions in the stuffing for years, unaware that we didn't like them. The girl that she once was, the woman she'd become who laughed at rude jokes and held my hand when I gave birth to my son. Soul, life force, spirit; heaven, perhaps? Why, then, were we sitting around the container, the worn-out vessel of her body. I began to pray to a God I didn't believe in to just let her go so we could grieve.

Then, against all medical expectation, she woke up. Opened her eyes and tried to speak to us. It sounded like she was saying 'Home.' We couldn't work out if she wanted to go home, or wanted us to go and leave her in peace, stop assailing her tired ears with our trivial tales of life without her. All the time she'd been lying there, still, her soul must have been lurking around. No heaven, no separation of body and spirit. I knew it all along, as a rational being, but I'd still hoped. I felt even more crushed than I would if she'd quietly slipped away. At least, then, I could have believed she'd gone somewhere better.

Guilt set in, thinking that I'd almost wanted her to die so I could stop coming to the ICU, waiting for something to happen. I willed her to improve, then, so she could be moved to a ward. She was unlikely to ever leave the hospital, the doctors told us, but we agreed that anything was possible, now. They'd been wrong before. Just when we'd worked out a rota for looking after her when she came home, she died. We saw her, lying in that same bed, all the machines silent. There was no presence in the room, no feeling of her, just the useless simulacrum left in her place.

When she was cremated, I didn't cry. Nothing could touch me. She was gone. Every so often I'd get a whiff of TCP and Pond's skin cream, even though there's none in the house. I spray air freshener. When I see her standing at the foot of my bed at 3am, I know it's just a dream.

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