Runner up: Cedar Heights

By Clive Boothman

Clive says: I live in Kendal with my wife and have spent a lot of time reading and writing poetry. My other main interests are cycling, hill walking, yoga and painting. This will be my first story to be published

Beyond the chimes of Sunday bells, the view from the lounge windows floats away – to where the sun straddles the hills and creeps to the town. To Cedar Heights, where the carers have been helping people into armchairs.

My eyes wander over to Rommy and I know him well enough to guess that the distant look in his eyes will be of the coming weekend’s mountain biking. He’s broad shouldered which helps him cope with the frail people with dementia and Alzheimers who live here.

To my left a conversation has started.

 “No dad. You were alright till you were eighty.”

“So how old am I now?”

“You’re eleven by eight.” Did a twinkle of mischief light up Tom’s face?

“That’s eighty eight isn’t it?” John smiles.

“That’s right.”

“And when did I start with this?”

“It started when you were eighty but you had a fall last year and it’s got worse since.”

From beyond the chairs, at the opposite side of the lounge, a woman’s voice, one used to getting what its owner wants. “I can’t stay here any longer…”

It’s only been a few minutes since breakfast and at first there’s silence. Then, from the other side of the glass panelled doors: “Where do you want to be Mary?” 

Will lopes in, pushing a wooden medicine trolley.

“Somewhere more comfortable.”

“I’ll fetch some cushions.”

“I’d rather be in my room.” 

“Will they find a cure?” John resumes.

“Maybe,” Tom replies. “They’re still looking.”

“I hope so. I don’t want you to get it.”

“Neither do I dad.”

Television has drawn some people into its news and gossip but has turned others off, into the day’s long doze.

Sooner than you imagine, it’s time for tea and the guests are brought to the tables. They’re quietly expectant, apart from Sue who’s sitting upright, eyes peering towards those at her table. It’s a more excited Sue. Yesterday she’d been either asleep or staring with streaming, red-veined eyes. Now she’s rapping the wood with a metal spoon.

Then I notice the drumming is in rhythm with the light that has started to flicker, sending shadows of the lampshade up and down the walls. Some of the guests have started to follow the patterns with their eyes. 

“Are you all right Sue?” Grace inquires. “You’re making a lot of noise.”

Joy, too, has gone over and is bending, at eye level with Sue. “Oh, Will,” she calls. “There is something wrong with this light.”

There’s a startled gasp of breath from the other three guests who realise that Sue is ignoring the carers and her noise is getting louder. She’s showing no signs of stopping.

 “What’s that?” Sue exclaims. “Look, it’s the light.”

Soon she’s banging out another rhythm on the table. “Light, more light!” she shouts as the light carries on wobbling.

When next I look up, there are four or five carers in the room and the Home Care Manager Julie is approaching Sue who’s still in a trance.

There’s a lull as the spoon rests and a conversation resumes in the background.

“Where am I?” John asks, in the expectant silence created by Will rummaging amongst the bulb packages.

 “You’re in Cedar Heights dad,” Tom replies. “Best place for you.”

 “You’re very kind,” John grins.

And just as suddenly as it stopped, the spoon starts banging again and again. Sue’s look is even more determined. “More light, more light!” she shouts as her teatime companions stare on.

And now I remember what people have said about Sue, that she used to be the restaurant manager of the market town hotel six miles away.

“Come on all of you, all hands to the pumps! And fix that light will you? How can we serve food when you’re all just sitting around?” she’s ranting, her eyes raking in everyone, carers and guests.

“Ooh, what’s happening to her?” one of the women exclaims.

“I’m the only one round here who can hold down a proper job. The rest of you…”

“Stop that noise will you?” John growls.

I see Tom placing his hand on John’s wrist. “Don’t get yourself excited dad.” 

Then things begin to happen. ‘Room 19,’ is all Julie says as she nods to Rommy, Joy and Grace.

Rommy swivels a wheelchair while the others whisper into Sue’s ears, touch her arms and ease her from the chair. She gazes, then complies. As she’s manouevered away, she looks up at the bulb Will has taken from its shade. Now the only light in the lounge is the television. 

Sue is already through the door and is booming to the empty corridor: “Light, more light…Endless streams…. Light, more light! “

I remember that as she’s led to Room 19 she’ll pass the sign on the wall: 

If you’ve met one person with dementia you’ve met one person with dementia

I’d guess that for those moments of what looked like ecstasy she’d been having the time of her life. 

I recollect my own day’s peace and quiet. For me, it was sunrise, from the hotel bedroom window. There, in the east, sat the day’s fireball, its orange spreading to consume as much horizon as it could. It climbed the town’s streets and tree-lined roads, to the lily pond below the ornamental gardens, the horse chestnut, sycamore and oak trees. Highest of all, seeming to support the whole of the sky with its carpet-like branches, was the tallest of the Home’s cedars.

I’m hoping it’s something peaceful like this in each of their minds now, but I’m not confident of it.