Edith didn’t like living with her children. Any of them. Their constant kindness and concern for her welfare sometimes seemed to her to be one long act of revenge. An act of revenge for which she was expected to show constant gratitude. Her life was being prolonged as one long favour to her and she didn’t think much of it. The three of them passed her on like a parcel that was cluttering up space, each time that they had had enough. They never said that they had had enough of course, and they always asked her what she wanted to do, but each question begged the answer “Whatever suits you dear”. She was expected to fit in. To be seen and not heard. It was a kind of half life in which her choices had been taken away from her. Things that she used to decide for her growing family were now decided for her. They did their best, just as she had done for them, but their minds were elsewhere. Sometimes they would use her frailty as an excuse to patronise her but mostly they just took care of her like a second family dog, and since she never told them otherwise they probably thought that she was happy. And so she should be. Her body was kept warm, comfortable, and well fed, and she kept her intelligence, which was still sharp and needed no looking after, to herself. So long as she didn’t start wandering around in the middle of the night and forgetting who she was things would stay that way.
Tonight she was being taken out. Her eldest son, Peter, was going to wheel her down the road to watch a play at the community centre. It had been sent out by the local theatre in the same spirit of relentless goodwill that her family showed her- bringing professional theatre to the poor souls who couldn’t be bothered to make an effort to go to see it in its proper place. Peter had been full of it for the previous week. She had been shown the flyer and asked if she was looking forward to it several times a day. She managed to say “Oh yes! Thank you”, each time. The fact was that she wasn’t. First of all it was going to stop her watching her programme. This was her only bit of televisual independence each week when nobody would grab the remote from anybody else and the sound would be turned up, even though it really wasn’t necessary so long as she had her hearing aid switched on. Gran’s programme. Another favour- it didn’t even have a name when they spoke about it. A sop which allowed them to watch what they liked for the rest of the week. The second reason was more difficult. The thing was that Edith liked theatre. Really liked it. She had seen Gielgud, Richardson and Olivier in their prime and sitting in the cheap seats at the back of the Old Vic had opened up her world in a way that nothing else could. Gielgud had always been her favourite. His voice and his gestures had a wonderful subtlety and if she allowed her eyes to close she could still hear his voice as Benedick at Drury lane when she had fallen in love with him alongside Beatrice. As she listened they would fill with tears, forcing her to open them again. The comedy she was being taken to see (or dumped in front of as she thought of it) would be a far cry from that. You only had to look at the flyer to know what you were getting. It bore a lurid picture of a silly man staring straight out at you, with his hand over his open mouth, making a shocked face. Pantomime, she thought to herself bitterly, and not a pony in sight to pull the coach.
“Are you ready then mother?”
Peter was smiling at her. She had noticed that the word mother, and its distancing effect, had crept in over the last few years. He was waiting for her to look pleased. Of course she was ready. He had seen to that himself hadn’t he?
“Yes thank you.”
“Good, good good.”
Peter pushed his mother down the road, revelling in his good deed. It was deeply satisfying to be taking her out. She had always liked going to the theatre and this would be a nice change for her, give her a bit of a boost. It might not be the West End but it was better than nothing for the old lass and it was only down the road. A good laugh would be just what she needed. Of course he would be bored rigid himself, it all looked rather amateur if he was honest, but that wouldn’t matter for once so long as she was enjoying herself. It would be something to tell Katherine and Laurence as well- they were always full of what they did for mother when she stayed with them. When they reached the hall he wheeled the chair straight down to the front and put the brake on.
“Cup of tea?”
A glass of wine would have been nice, but before Edith had the chance to say so he had set off towards the tea urn. She sighed and cast her eyes over the set, a rather old fashioned arrangement of flats which had a feeling of second best about it. He would fetch her a bourbon biscuit with the tea, he always did. She couldn’t face explaining that she didn’t like them every time and she had learned just to eat them in silence.
“There you are mother. Isn’t this good!”
Edith smiled thinly.
“A nice treat. Thank you.”
Peter sat down and sipped his wine happily. It was all going well. This should keep his mother happy for a good while.
The play limped along towards the interval with the two actors making ever more desperate attempts to make up for the fact that the laughs weren’t there by gurning at the audience and pushing reality farther than it was ever meant to go. Edith sat stiffly and tried not to look as if she were pitying them. There were moments when she could see how things might have been if they had been given something decent to work with. It was no better after the interval, and as the predicable but terribly ill judged ending worked its way grimly towards the last line she began to look forward to her bed. Almost as soon as the applause, from people who should know better, faded away Peter was smiling at her happily.
“That was fun wasn’t it?”
Edith was silent. He touched her hand, anxious for confirmation that he had done the right thing.
“What did you think of it?”
Edith turned her face to his and glared at him from behind her pebble glasses.
“I thought it was stupid actually.”
Peters face fell.
“Did you really?”
“Yes”. Edith said firmly. “I really really did.”
She rode home in her wheelchair with a smile of grim satisfaction on her face. Sometimes you simply had to tell the truth.