June 2015 – funeral pyre – Mr Oldham’s Solution by John Pilling

Mr Oldham’s Solution

by John Pilling

Mr Thomas Oldham listened politely to the young social worker explaining to him that things really couldn’t continue as they were. She fully realised, of course, that parting from his wife after some sixty years together might be a little hard at first but he must accept that she knew, from long experience in these matters, that it was the best thing for both of them.

In answer to his question, no she wasn’t married. She thought long term relationships tended to stifle personal development. Social services would find Mrs Oldham a place and be in touch.

* * * *

Mr Thomas Oldham listened politely as his doctor explained to him that things really couldn’t continue as they were. The deterioration was progressing quicker than expected. He would need to think about how he would manage.

* * * *

Mr Thomas Oldham listened politely to his son Colin explaining to him that things really couldn’t continue as they were, and silently cursed the chain of events that had led to this conversation.

He’d fallen again that morning, his leg giving way beneath him when he’d been carrying the tray with their morning tea. The sudden crash had frightened Mary and he’d been unable to get to his feet quickly enough to prevent her shouts being heard by their neighbour. Colin said,

“A man of your age, nearly eighty, can’t be expected to look after a woman with advanced dementia all by yourself.”

“That woman, as you call her, happens to be your mother… and my wife.”

“I’m aware of that dad, but I’m also aware that she hasn’t the faintest idea of who you are, and hasn’t had for months.”

“She knows me sometimes, and I don’t look after her by myself… we have carers coming in.”

“Yes, twenty minutes twice a day? Mum should be in a home where they know how to deal with people like her.”

“People like her… what does that mean?”

“You know exactly what I mean, Mum needs to be with people who have been trained, somewhere safe and secure… look what happened this morning.”

“That was an accident.”

“Yes, but if you’d broken something you could have been lying there all day, what if mum had needed you? It won’t do Dad. Now Iris and I have talked things over and we think we should look round and find a good home for mum. Once she’s settled, you can put this house on the market, it’s far too big for one person.”

“I see, and what do I do?”

“You come to us. We’ve no room where we are but there’s a much bigger house for sale near us, if we sold as well and put the money together we could buy that. We could easily convert one of the bedrooms into a little bedsit for you, you could pay us a bit of rent from your pension and either Iris or I could drive you over to see mum whenever you wish. What do you think?”

“Well,” said Mr Oldham very politely, “It’s nice of you and Iris to offer to have me.”

“Then you’ll think about it.”

“Oh yes…I’ll certainly think about it.”

* * * *

Deep in thought, Mr Oldham wandered around the house occasionally brushing his fingers over an ornament or bit of furniture. Eventually, he wandered out through the patio doors and did a slow tour of the garden finishing at the little shady alcove where Mary had loved to sit. Finally, nodding to himself, he made his way into the cellar room beneath the kitchen.

Afterwards he made two cups of tea and took them upstairs to where his wife was lying in bed, her fingers plucking aimlessly at the covers.

“Here we are love,” he said cheerfully, “nice fresh cuppa with a bit of something in it to help you sleep.” Putting one of the cups on the bedside table he put his arm round her shoulders and helped her sit up whilst she drank, afterwards letting her gently back against the pillows.

“Colin’s been round again,” he said sitting in the chair by the bed and taking her hand in his. “He was wondering how you are…sends his love, he’s a good lad. Oh and the social have been round asking if we need anything…”

He continued to chat, quietly as he watched her sinking deeper into sleep, at the last moment, her eyes opened and she whispered.

“With me?” he leaned forward and smiled at her.

“Of course love,” he said “always.” She smiled back and for a moment the old Mary looked out at him then her eyes closed again. He stayed holding her hand feeling her pulse slow until she gave a faint sigh and it stopped altogether.

The stuff had cost him a lot of money but it was painless…and quick. Getting up he hastily drank his own tea then stretched out next to his wife taking her hand as he felt the deadly chill moving swiftly through him.

Downstairs in the cellar under the kitchen, a candle burnt through a cord and a little spurt of flame started to grow.

* * * *

“There was nothing we could do sir…the house virtually exploded, talk about a funeral pyre … the old man must have been stockpiling stuff for months, we just couldn’t get near it.”

The chief fire officer sighed.

“Alright Tim” he said, “send me a report.”


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