Shapes of anger
They arrived at his front door. Toeing the doormat. It read: “Home Sweet Home”.
“Thank God your driving didn’t send us to the morgue Marjorie”, Cyril cajoled. “Oh for heavens sake!” she pandered, taking the bait “if you could see more than two bloody feet in front of you perhaps you could chaperone me, like a real man”.
Cyril smirked. Their feud was familiar and ongoing. The picked at one another predictably. It was gentle and reassuring. It was the last tangible vestige of their committed 50 year marriage. The last shabby signs of their love affair. It allowed their teetering minds the luxury of terse wisecracks and the occasional, guttural cackle at the other’s expense.
The vigilant wage of their trivial war on one another kept them young. Despite the 76 long years of life they’d endured. Cyril’s failing eyes, Marjorie’s stooped back. The tense moments in their relationship added a spring to their step. They were eager. Witty. Sometimes cruel. Mostly just bored old fuddy-duddies putting their deep, dense knowledge of one another to some kind of use before the grave.
They were still waiting at the door.
“Well it’s not going to open itself is it princess?” said Cyril, fussing with his handkerchief and walking stick, too proud to ask for help. Marjorie stood resolute, despite being bent over and puffing. A pair of stubborn old ducks.
Marjorie glowered as she rang the doorbell. It startled her. Chorusing with the formality of a Sunday sermon, Marjorie and Cyril straightened up and fiddled with collars, gloves and other personal effects.
A man opened the door. He wore clusters of fine wrinkles like rivers on a map. The skin on his neck had begun to sag. To Marjorie and Cyril he was in the congenial territory of middle age, but to the youth he was old. His expression shifted as he greeted them:
“What on earth are you two doing here? I mean, how?”
“We flew,” said Cyril. Marjorie nodded in agreement. For this encounter she had changed teams.
At this abrupt admission they stood and stared at one another. There was all at once everything and nothing to say. The years had killed small talk and pleasantries.
“I thought we had decided… You wanted this!” Kevin said in a long slow way that still couldn’t keep his pillowy features from shaking in exasperation.
“No you did,” whispered Marjorie as tears curdled in the deep corners of her eyes. “You wanted this and thought nothing of how it would affect us. Demean us. You betrayed us!” she accused.
The party of three battled with old loyalties under new terms. Cyril and Marjorie’s anger was palpable and they were indifferent to the constraints of their age. Friends had begun to die around them, yet they lived with a vengeance.
Marjorie noticed, that the last few years had crippled Kevin, rather than nourished him. She knew that she and her husband were beyond repair.
Kevin could have just shut the door on them, threatened to call the police and been done with them. Old bats, storming Kevin at home in leafy Glen Waverley. A suburb with manicured green nature strips, low fences and numbers on letter boxes, loud and clear.
But he didn’t. He couldn’t. And they knew it.
Their appearance made his blood boil. He felt spirited, alive. He wanted to raise his voice and shout at them, self-righteous bastards, for daring to come all the way here and disturb him. After everything.
He still couldn’t quite fathom how they made it here in the first place. Looking so sharp. Full of spite.
Lately his own life had taken a subtle turn. Morphing into comfy slippers, dulcet tones, feigned interest in his stories and an unabating exasperation at his slow forgetfulness. While holding up cues at the supermarket. For failing to use the ATM. Fumbling with his wallet.
Seeing the crumpled faces of Marjorie and Cyril awakened some distant part of him. Thorny memories. A youthful virility. And for that, he ushered them in with reckless glee.
Marjorie and Cyril sat on the familiar lounge setting. The mahogany coffee table winked at them in greeting. Cyril’s face, previously stern, grew slack with confusion. He groped the sides of the armchair, searching for reassurance. Rubbing the upholstery he remembered. It was his chair. One of the few safe places that was only his in the world.
Marjorie too, eyed the room with wonder. She asked for tea and couldn’t remember why she was crying. She dried her tears and settled herself on the couch. When Kevin didn’t move to get refreshments she made her own way to the kitchen (down the hall to the left). She knew where everything was. She boiled water and fetched teacups.
Kevin felt a sting of guilt. It had been almost three years since he’d visited them after the initial battle over this very house that they were fawning over. Still somewhat sound of mind, then they had failed to understand his decision. The benefits of round-the-clock care. That he might be able to get some sleep at night.
Now they couldn’t even quite recognise where they were, or why this place made them feel so happy. He couldn’t muster any of that initial anger, but they still made him feel young. With-it. Silent tears danced on Cyril’s cheeks. Blank eyes happy, but defeated. Marjorie brought tea. She served it on her favourite tray, for once sanctioning the use of her finest china. Those few minutes were endless. Time passed and re-doubled in strange curves.
Before Cyril and Marjorie came to, Kevin slipped out to make a phone call. An angry phone call. He dialled Sunshine nursing home and asked to speak to the manager on duty. He reported that his parents, Mr Cyril and Mrs Marjorie Phillips had ‘escaped’ from the residence.
“How do I know? How do I KNOW? Well they are sitting her patting couches and staring at walls in my home!”
“How am I supposed to know how they got here? Isn’t it YOUR job to be watching them. Isn’t that what I’m PAYING for!”
He vowed to visit them more often.