Bill had immersed himself in a life of fortune cookies, tarot cards, and horoscopes, he’d looked for hidden clues in the boxes of crossword puzzles and read between the lines of books across different religions in a lifelong dedication to gleam the meaning of life; but nothing prepared him for the reality of these tiny moments of deterioration that seemed to increase daily.
It started off with not remembering if he’d brushed his teeth in the morning, and soon his hands couldn’t grip the toothbrush anymore so later he wondered if he’d soaked his dentures, and rising out of bed soon became as problematic as getting into it.
The walking became the most difficult, a difficultly that crept up on him, which he ignored with increasing worry at each weary step. Walking became a gamble, a game of trying to remain upright where the consolation prize was a bad back that lasted between falls when his legs finally gave way.
Because of his weakened legs, Bill stopped going out in the daytime for fear of stumbling in front of strangers; and his legs made the impromptu, prostate-induced nightly visits more and more treacherous, sometimes he would find himself limping along in the dark with a trail of liquid staining the carpet behind him and would have to wake Margaret to help him change.
During the day he would sit in his high-backed, shiatsu massage chair, which his children James and Alice had bought for him, and watch football. Sometimes they would show reruns of old matches, and in sitting and reliving the past, he could forget about the frailty of his legs for small moments until it was time to pee again.
When James and Alice visited the next day he took ten minutes to make it downstairs to greet them with his walking stick struggling beneath his diminishing weight.
Alice smiled, gave him a kiss and held out her arm for him to hold. He ignored it in silence. To take her arm would be to admit he was no longer the same, to admit these changes would allow them to settle in and invite other tiny changes to come along.
‘How are you dad?’ said Alice. She hated watching him struggle; hated seeing her mother slowly deteriorate in his declining footsteps; hated that they refused to move to a bungalow on the pretence that they were settled in their terraced house with the steep stairs they struggled with every day; hated how they refused to have a downstairs toilet and stairlift fitted on the grounds of cost, although she knew the real issue was the illogical truth that age had instilled its little foibles that made everyday tasks so difficult and shameful; she hated how each time she tried to get nearer to hold and support him he would push himself away.
‘I’m fine.’ he said. He finally slumped into the massage chair and settled down to watch the 1974 FA Cup final where Liverpool went on to thrash Newcastle 3-0.