For this man, I’m just the lovely lady who comes in once a week and plays Ludo with him. He has no idea why I visit. Perhaps, he thinks, I’m a community volunteer, like those do-gooder older women in pale lilac cashmere cardigans, widows, who seem to spend all their free time knitting more pale lilac cardigans and drink tea.
I don’t quite fit the bill. I believe that’s why he thinks he picked me.
‘You don’t wear lilac’.
‘It doesn’t suit me’, I replied on my first visit. I like strong colours. Dark. Purple. Statements of intent. I can show this side of me now.
‘My wife used to wear lilac all the time, such a nondescript little thing.’
I didn’t comment on this. I simply let him be and that’s how we became friends of sorts.
I go to the care home every Thursday afternoon.
I wear a chunky cableknit cardigan in deepest aubergine, a robust no fuss acrylic beast, buttoned up all the way, and still I’m freezing. They keep the visiting room quite cold. I know it’s deliberate, to limit the time I can spend here. They think of it as an act of mercy. Nobody truly wants to come, so they are trying to ease the pain, make it short and sweet. Turn it into a manageable hour, that will slot in nicely into just about anyone’s busy schedule.
There are always plenty of biscuits, none of them with chocolate. Not even a hint. Chocolate leaves stains, and we wouldn’t want that, would we? Weakest tea, just slightly dirty water, really. Lukewarm. Apparently, full-bodied hot infusions leave stains, too. Stains that wouldn’t come out in the communal washing, and we wouldn’t want that either.
I often wonder: What do we want, then? Life, diluted. Bland and tasteless. Sanitised. All the colour, all the mess and heat taken out?
‘I don’t like shortbread’, he says, as he scoffs another two fingers out of boredom.
I nod quietly and put the game on the table. It requires a little bit of set up. I unfold the board and smooth it flat with my fingers.
‘My wife never liked Ludo’.
He says this every time. Did she not?
‘She always insisted on playing Monopoly’, he adds, as per usual. ‘But -’
‘But Monopoly takes far too long’, I finish the sentence for him. He nods in perfect agreement.
He talks a lot about his wife.
‘She died’, he says, then shakes his head. ‘Long time ago.’
He always leaves a heavily pregnant pause after that.
‘Dementia’, he eventually reveals, like I hear this for the very first time. ‘Wouldn’t wish that to my worst enemy.’
Again, I know, there’s more to come. I’ve been here before.
‘In the end, it was a blessing, when she finally slipped away.’ He stops for a moment, looks down, stares at his empty hands. No ring. Never did wear one. Two seconds later, he eyes up the remaining heap of cheap biscuits on the white paper plate.
Blessings come in all sorts of disguises, I guess.
‘Peace’, he mumbles, trying to push another two shortbread fingers into his mouth. He chomps. Lately, he often forgets to close his mouth while he’s eating. I believe, his next words are: ‘Who wouldn’t want peace?’ And I know, he doesn’t expect an answer.
‘I’m green’, he suddenly says in his firm and demanding voice as he picks up all four of the green tokens from my side of the table. They look like little people made of wood. I sometimes imagine, that there is a tiny wooden heart inside of each and every one of them, simply waiting, waiting for the spark of life.
Green is my favourite colour. Always has been, but some things never change. Not even after nearly fifty years of marriage. I was never allowed to choose the green tokens. Not then, not now, that I’m the lovely lady who comes in once a week to play Ludo with him.
‘You’ll be red’, he orders and places the four red tokens onto the board right in front of me. One by one.
Red. Again. It’s okay.
Can I be frank here? I think I prefer this new setup to being his wife at home. Once a week, for a cold hour, feels just about enough.
Britta Benson is a happiness & poetry blogging, circus skills instructing & common butterfly following German, a writer, performer & linguist thriving in Scotland, her chosen habitat since the year 2000. Read more of Britta’s work at– Britta’s Blog – Letters from Scotland and Odds & Ends.
We would love to read your work. Interested? Please READ our SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.