Beryl’s LaZBoy whimpers when her ample bottom crushes into it. At the same time, she groans at the pain in her knees, back and shoulders.
She’s just going to rest here while Bert tends the garden. Or rather, while he chatters and gets in the way of the gardener. It’s become too much for them both, so they organised this lovely young man…what’s his name?…through the local council. He visits once a fortnight.
‘Beryl?’ Bert yells from outside. A moment later, the screen door bangs against the frame. ‘Beryl!’
‘In my chair Bert.’
‘The gardener. He’d like a glass of water.’
Ted, she’s sure his name is Ted. She glances up at Bert. ‘Didn’t he bring a bottle?’
Bert looks askance.
Beryl knows that look; she heaves herself out of the rocking chair and guides him to the sofa.
‘Just sit here, Bert. I’ll look after Ted.’
‘The bloke tending our garden.’
‘Never mind, Bert. Just sit for a while.’
Beryl fills a glass with water, carefully watching Bert. The last time he had a turn, he wandered off to the bus stop, down by the pub on the main road and caught a bus into the city. He’d been gone for hours; Beryl had no idea where he was or how to find him. She’d called Mindy, their daughter, who called the police. In the end, it came down to the kindness of strangers: someone in the main shopping mall in the CBD found him staggering towards a bench. Inside his wallet, the stranger found Bert’s address and five hundred dollars—Beryl couldn’t imagine why he’d withdrawn so much from their retirement savings—called the police and stayed with him in the teeming rain, sharing her umbrella, until Bert was safely inside the car.
Beryl doesn’t care for another escapade like that. She was laid up with a migraine for days once he came back home.
She plods as quickly as she can outside, and offers the glass to Ted.
‘Oh, Mrs Mack, that’s very kind. Thank you.’ He gulps the water while Beryl stands nearby. She notices his water bottle, full, next to his gardening tools. He sheepishly hands the empty glass over. In the look exchanged between them, an understanding is reached. Beryl is certain he didn’t ask for water; equally sure that Ted recognises the skittishness in Bert, and is happy to go with the flow.
‘I’ll leave you to it,’ Beryl says.
‘Have a lovely day, Mrs Mack.’
She slowly makes her way to her front door; the incline in the driveway seems steeper today.
‘Oh, Mrs Mack?’ Ted asks.
She turns to face him, wobbles slightly on her feet but rights herself before losing her balance. ‘Yes?’
‘If there’s anything else you need, don’t be afraid to ask.’ Ted nods. ‘Like odd jobs, changing light bulbs, that kind of thing.’
‘Thank you, Ted. My daughter’s husband usually does that stuff for us. But I’ll keep your offer in mind, in case they’re away sometime.’
Beryl’s hands are shaking. She needs to get back to Bert.
‘Sure, Mrs Mack. Just call the mobile.’
Beryl smiles and lumbers back inside.
Bert’s gone from the chair. Her heart sinks to her toes. Not again. Already she feels the piercing behind her eye. She moves from room to room. She can’t find him. Just as she’s picking up the phone to call Mindy, she hears her next door neighbour screech. Beryl goes to the back yard.
There’s Bert. Naked. On the step ladder, trying to climb over the fence to Shirl and Harry’s.