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These pages are a collection of stories from the Writer's Group at Box Hill U3A.

A Promise Fulfilled.

"Come on old love. We'll get you into bed," said John as he gently guided his wife up the stairs to the bedroom that they had shared for over sixty years. Leading her by the hand he sat her in the old padded armchair that stood by the window overlooking the garden. She sat patiently while he slowly undressed her, taking his time, so as not to frighten her.

She touched his cheek with her withered hand and smiled. He knew by now that it was her way of letting him know that she recognized him. It wasn't always like that. Sometimes he saw a vacant look as if nothing registered at all. It broke his heart. "

Opening the top drawer of the dressing chest he took out the prettiest nightie that he could find and slipped it over her head. Gently picking her up he laid her in the already opened bed. The sheets had that lovely crisp fresh smell about them, that only comes from being dried in the open air. Looking down at her he thought with gratitude, about the wonderful times they had shared during their sixty years of marriage. Pulling the covers over her he bent and kissed her. She smiled and closed her eyes.

" It's all right dear," he said. "you're safe now." She would soon be asleep. He went slowly downstairs and found his son David, head in hands in the big armchair. He looked up and said.

"We have to talk Dad. You must see that it's time to make a decision about Mum. It's impossible for you to go on looking after her. She needs care and attention, twenty four hours a day. Aside from anything else, it's not fair on you. The longer you leave it the harder it will become. Soon it will wear you down and what happens then, if you need care. Suppose you decide to do some gardening. You might only be outside for a short while, but she could pop out through the front door again, like she did today. We were lucky this time that the neighbours saw her at the end of the street and brought her home."

" I'm sorry Ben, I just can't do it." He was adamant. " I know it doesn't mean much nowadays, but when we got married it was for better or worse, in sickness and in health. We both promised those things."

" Look I had a talk to the doctor while you were upstairs. He's coming to see you tomorrow. He has lots of information about some really wonderful places that can care for her. Some of them are quite expensive, but Jean and I both agreed that we will be only too happy to help out."

Dad looked up and said grumpily, " I don't know why you and Jean can't have us there when I think of all that we've done for you over the years. It's not fair."

David had been through this before and knew that his Father didn't really expect or even really want to move in with them. It was something that he clung to, a sort of last resort when there was nothing else to say. It was heartbreaking for all of them. He realized his father was trying against all odds to stave off the inevitable.

" It's impossible Dad. The problem would remain the same. You'd be there with Mum on your own until we came home from work. You can't expect Jean to give up her job to stay home with you all day. Apart from that, we have to consider the children. You know how noisy these days young one's are, and it wouldn't be fair to disrupt their lives. You would hate it."

After his son had left, he sat for a while reminiscing. Had they come to this after all the happy years together? He knew his son was right, but couldn't bear the thought of being separated from his wife. He went into the bedroom. Janet stirred and smiled. It was tragic really. She didn't even know him half of the time. Sitting in the old armchair he thought about their life together. He remembered being separated from her during the war and coming home and planning a family. How happy they were when Ben was born, and how they'd cried together when their little daughter had been stillborn. They'd shared happiness and sadness but through it all their love for each other had sustained them. Gently stroking her cheek he said, "It's going to be all right dear. I'll keep our promise never to be separated." He went downstairs and made a pot of tea.

*                        *                         *

The sun was shining as another new day dawned. A few people passing the old house on the corner on their way to work, remarked on how beautiful the garden was. Blackbirds were singing as they dug for worms and somewhere a dog barked. There were sounds of children at play in the house next door. Suddenly, the shrill ringing of the telephone broke the silence in the old house. It was David ringing to tell his father that the doctor would be round for a talk at eleven-o-clock. He heard the click of the answering machine. "We're sorry that we're not able to take your call. Janet and I have gone on a trip together, as we promised we would before we became too old." Please leave a message after the tone".

Pam Carpenter