Man in the Middle – Chapter 26: International Women’s Day

A middle aged man decides his elderly mother can no longer cope alone, so she moves in with them. Squeezed by the demands of the demographic time bomb and the requirements of the rest of the family, the Man in the Middle is bemused that life has become a hi-wire act, just when he thought it should start getting easier. How can he keep everyone happy and survive with his sanity intact?

If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here

No.26: International Women’s Day

We’re celebrating International Women’s Day by searching for the Lost Batteries of Mother’s Hearing Aid, which sounds like a rare Indiana Jones DVD, but actually is a regular and tedious domestic ritual in which we hunt for the missing bronze batteries which power Mother’s hearing aid.

‘They’re mischievous little buggers,’ says my Mother, whenever the latest goes AWOL.

My wife is downstairs excavating the sofas for these minuscule, self-isolating pellets, which are a fidget to fit and as dedicated to escaping their hearing aid as Steve McQueen is to exiting Stalag Luft III in the Great Escape. I am upstairs scrubbing my right cheek on the sisal carpet, my head half under Mother’s bed. There are so many unidentifiable packets and packages under Mother’s bed that finding the batteries is as hard as spotting doubloons on a sunken ship. I peer into the fluffy gloom hoping a shard of half-light might refract off their shiny bronze skins and give their position away.

‘I feel like I’m snorkelling on a wreck,’ I say, tongue half in cheek.

‘The only wrecks down there are the relics of my life,’ says Mother. ‘Please focus. I’ve lost six batteries this week and I can’t afford for this to carry on.’

‘There’s a lemon drizzle here,’ I call up from under the bed.

‘Is it beyond the eat by date?’ she asks.

Lemon drizzle cake is her favourite. I stretch my hand out towards the faint yellow glow of icing sugar behind a cellophane window.

‘Still good. Coming up for air.’

I stack the lemon drizzle cake on a growing tower of biscuits, sweets and sandwiches on her bedside table. There’s enough here for the Millennium Convention of Mad Hatters. Or enough to reassure an old woman worried about the threat of Covid-19 to feed her cake addiction. Actually, Mother’s hoarding habits pre-date Covid-19. She’s been stashing food in her bedroom since before Christmas. I’ve found chocolate bars luxuriating in a bed of silk stockings in her chest of drawers. Packets of tea biscuits like paratroopers next to the picture frames on her bookshelves. Maltesers snooze under the drape on her bed. Zoologically speaking, she’s behaving like a gerbil. I recognise the parallels because the children had one once which used to hide sunflower seeds in stashes around its cage like a drug dealer fearful of a police raid.

‘Any batteries?’ she asks returning me to the main task. Slowly, I lower myself on my knees and unroll my stomach and chest onto the carpet.

‘Once more under the bed, dear friends, once more….’ I jest.

‘Can’t resist making every little thing a drama, can you?’ she says.

I’ve got a red rash on my cheek and a sore neck. At my age, getting down, stretching out and then getting back up again is more than a bit of a drama, it’s a piece of civil engineering. If Henry V keeps me motivated, surely that’s a small price to pay?

Nevertheless, I do what I’m told. I roll out onto the floor like a supplicant and inch myself into the under-reef of the bed. Suddenly, a flash of bronze catches my eye like a darting fish. My first grab pushes the battery away, but I get my fingers around it and without lifting it, drag it back.

‘Gotcha,’ I cry.

For a while, like a sea elephant, I roll around trying to get up without losing hold of the battery or my dignity.

‘How many?’ says Mother, like a pirate waiting for the plunder to be counted.

‘One little beauty.’

‘Better than none.’

The battery is sitting in a cup made by thumb and index finger like a bronze gem in a jeweller’s ring setting. I drop it into her shaking hands. Then a sharp pain runs up my back and my neck muscles set solid as cement. My head becomes a weather vane stuck in a north westerly direction. I roll onto my back and wonder if this is God’s way of suggesting I give up snorkelling and take up yoga.

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 27: Can’t Hear, Won’t Hear

Read the previous one – Chapter 25: Blue Suede Shoes

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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