My Dad went back into hospital on Christmas Eve and died five days later, so it’s been a difficult time for us.
A couple of years ago, when things started to get difficult for him, I wrote a piece that was largely about him. Had no intention of doing anything with it, it was just something I wanted to do at that particular time. I’d completely forgotten about it, until the other day. And it struck me that this was probably the time to bring it out, and publish it here.
I go into the garage, looking for Weedol. I haven’t been in there for years and without the old car it looks huge. And suddenly, as I look around, he’s there. My Dad, or at least the Dad he used to be.
His woodwork tools, rusty and covered with cobwebs, are laid out on the workbench alongside a glass jar containing nails and screws. Edging shears, spade, fork and rake, equally rusty, are neatly hung in their designated places on the hooks along the side of the garage, where he always put them back after they’d been used. His garden was immaculate back then, now we have to resort to Weedol. I wonder if he realised he’d just hung the garden tools up for the last time, whenever that was, or how soon it dawned on him that he wouldn’t be using them again. The spiders in here have had a field day, undisturbed for years, leisurely taking over his domain and making it their own.
On the floor, alongside where the car used to stand, there’s an empty compost bag and laid out on the top are some bulbs covered in dry soil. I’ve no idea what they are. And the hanging baskets, which used to look spectacular when they were decked out in their summer finery, are stacked up in a corner with their chains dangling down in a rusty tangle. It all makes me feel incredibly sad.
I’m standing looking at all this when I hear a noise behind me. I turn to see Dad in the doorway, shuffling in on his walking frame.
‘Did you find it?’ he asks.
‘Yes’, I reply. ‘It’s right here.’
I expect him to turn laboriously around and head off back to the house. But he doesn’t. He stands there and looks around.
‘I should clean the rust off these tools,’ he says, ‘but I never seem to have the energy these days.’
‘I can do that Dad,’ I say. ‘I’ll do it in the week, next time I’m here.’
I expect him to go, but he doesn’t. He stands there for a minute, looking down at the concrete floor, lips pursed. Then he says the one thing I’ve got no answer for.
‘I wonder what your Mum would make of this.’
He’s said this, or something similar, a lot recently. A silence descends on us both. I don’t know if he means the rusty tools, or the walking frame. I can’t keep on ignoring it but I struggle for a response.
‘I don’t know Dad,’ I say finally. ‘But I expect she’d understand.’
He doesn’t reply. But he slowly turns the walking frame around and starts to make his way back up the path.
‘Dad!’ I call after him.
He turns his head to look at me.
‘Let’s go to the garden centre,’ I say, surprising both of us. ‘Let’s get some plants and put these hanging baskets up again. Remember how Mum loved to see them in the summer?’
He nods his head – and then he smiles, for the first time that morning. It takes so little, I think, to make a difference to his day.
‘Race you to the car!’ he shouts over his shoulder, as he shuffles towards the house.
‘You used to give me a head start,’ I reply, laughing.
‘Bugger that! It’s every man for himself now!’
And for a moment, he’s back again, my Dad.