Man in the Middle – Chapter 46: Walking boots and sweaty socks

A middle aged man realises 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.46: Walking boots and sweaty socks

I take off my walking boots and sweaty socks in the porch of the cottage and hobble bare foot to the kitchen mantel piece, where my mobile phone is charging, below a map of the Brecon Beacons.

The family and I have been out walking along the River Usk for over four hours and we deliberately left our phones behind to see if we have the willpower to detach ourselves from the mobile phone network, if only for a few hours.

‘Why bother?’ asked my son, when my wife first proposed a dose of phoneless rambling.

‘It’s a chance for you to understand what life was like living in the 1980s before the internet,’ replied my wife. ‘And it’s good to get away from social media.’

‘You’re not going to try to make us talk to each other, are you?’ asked my son.

‘No. It’s just a chance to enjoy the beautiful scenery without being annoyed by the latest idiocies of Kayne West or Donald Trump,’ said my wife.

‘I’ll come, but only if Dad promises not to tell the story of his geography field trip again. The one where he got stuck on the mountainside with the other obese boy and had to be rescued by helicopter,’ said my daughter, condemning one of my favourite school stories to the archives forever.

As it turns out, I am the only one who has suffered from being unplugged from the phone grid because I haven’t kept up with the second Test Match. The game was turning into a chiller thriller when we left the cottage. I am desperate to know what cricket magic has been performed since without me, which is why I’m hobbling as fast as I can towards my phone, even though my calves are as taut as violin strings after the walk and could snap any moment.

I pick up my phone and see I have five voicemails: three from Mother’s doctor and two from my brother, who is house sitting my mother while we are away. Each of the messages has been delivered in the last three hours. They say: Please call when you get this. Why would my Mother’s doctor call me three times the same afternoon? She’s not asking me to a barn dance, that’s for sure.

Immediately, my anxiety to know the cricket score is replaced by another anxiety: to know what has happened to Mother. I call the doctor. Engaged. I call my brother. Engaged. I call Mother’s landline but her phone just rings and rings, which could mean nothing because her hearing is so poor, but it could also mean so much.

I wait a few moments before calling again in order to run through the potential scenarios. She’s fallen down the stairs. She’s burnt herself filling up a hot water bottle.

She’s dead.

The thought she may have died is irrepressible. It’s a neurosis everyone with a parent her age has to learn to live with. People say they remember where they were when JFK died. I think everyone has a similar JFK moment with their own parents, remembering forever where they were the moment comes. Is this my JFK moment?

My phone rings. It’s my brother.

‘All right, pal?’ he booms down the phone.

‘What’s happening?’

‘Nothing much,’ he shouts.

‘Why has the doctor called me three times then?’ I ask my nervousness rising.

‘Oh, that. Her ankles have swollen up. Thick as an elephant’s trunk, actually. Nothing to worry about, though. I booked her an appointment with the doc. They’re just confirming it.’

Elephant ankles seems sounds pretty good compared to what I was imagining a few moments ago. I relax. Anything else I should know, I ask.

‘Yeah. All she’s eaten all week is boiled eggs and cake. And chocolate biscuits. Is that normal?’

‘It’s not unusual, if you get my drift.’ I can’t ask for better evidence that Mother is still very much alive and kicking than her insatiable appetite for cakes and biscuits.

My daughter’s boyfriend appears in the kitchen and mouths: ‘we won the test’. I look at my watch. It’s coming up seven o’clock – time for test match highlights.

‘I’ve got to go, now,’ I say rudely closing my brother down. ‘Test Match highlights on any moment now. Let me know how it goes with the doctor.’

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 47: The salt cellar

Read the previous one – Chapter 45: Mother and Jean Paul Sartre

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

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