‘Morning John,’ Eleanor said, entering his small room.
‘Who are you?’ he snarled.
Life had been dark, colourless since John lost his memory. ‘I’m Eleanor.’
‘I had a wife called Eleanor.’
‘I am your wife, darling.’
‘Nah, you’re an ugly bitch. Eleanor was loving and kind. Beautiful.’ He glared accusingly at her. He remained seated in his recliner, but Eleanor edged closer to the call button. There was something about his eyes. The twinkle had long gone, replaced with a hollow gaze, but now, she noticed, a storm brew behind them.
She chose to respond only to his last words. ‘Thank you John,’ she said. ‘We had a loving marriage. Many happy years together.’ She noticed she’d used the past tense. Had a loving marriage. He’s a different person now. They were still married though. Weren’t they? Are you still married if your partner has changed irrevocably?
Eleanor pushed her thoughts aside. ‘Shall I make us a cuppa?’
‘I fucken hate tea.’
John never swore. In all their years together, he’d never uttered such a word. The worst he’d ever said in Eleanor’s hearing was bally. Bally screwdriver. Bally car.
‘How about you lie on the bed? Let me give you one.’ John lifted himself from the chair. John’s arthritic fingers fiddled with his zipper. Eleanor pushed the call button as his trousers slipped to the floor.
‘You look like a whore. How much for the works?’ John said, as he edged closer. If Eleanor weren’t so scared, she might laugh: an aging man staggered towards her, pants around his slippered feet.
‘Mr Martin,’ the young nurse said. ‘What is going on in here?’ She glanced towards Eleanor, nudged her head towards the door. Eleanor left the room.
Marion, the shift manager, looked up as Eleanor approached the nurses’ station. ‘Someone looks like they need a cup of tea. Let’s go shall we?’
Eleanor was whisked away, with Marion steering her by the elbow. When they reached the common room, Marion guided her into a chair. She busied herself in the kitchenette. Eleanor stared at a speck on the floor, wide-eyed, disbelieving her John capable of menace.
‘Here,’ Marion whispered. ‘A nice hot cuppa for you, and a few of the good bikkies.’
‘You’ve had quite the education this morning, Mrs Martin, is that right?’
Eleanor shook her head and sighed sadly. ‘He’s always been fine, passive. He just sits in his chair, staring at the wall. He never remembers me, but we chat, you know for a little while, enjoy the silence together. Sometimes I knit, sometimes I read to him, before I kiss his cheek at 4.30PM and head home.’
‘This change in behaviour usually indicates a worsening of the disease, I’m afraid.’ Marion leafed through pamphlets and brochures on the bench. ‘Take these home. Read through them. They contain a useful information about the next steps you might need to take.’
Eleanor slid the pamphlets into her handbag. She sipped her tea. Nibbled on a biscuit.
‘Head home for today. He won’t be any the wiser,’ Marion said.
‘I don’t want to go home.’
‘Let’s call your daughter, arrange to meet for lunch. Or a friend?’
Eleanor nodded. ‘Perhaps you could call a taxi for me, please? I’ll go to Annabel’s. I have a key to let myself in if she’s at work.’
‘I can do better than that. We’ll call a taxi and your daughter. That way you know she’ll be there when you get to her home.’ Marion smiled. ‘Stay here for now. Finish your morning tea. I’ll let you know when the taxi arrives.’