I’m not going to spoil the ending; you’ll just have to read it for yourselves 😉 And if you can’t wait that long, you can read an exclusive extract from the book below!
I drive to Iris’s cottage in Feltrim. The curtains are drawn across every window. It looks just the way it should; like the house of a woman who has gone away. I pull into the driveway that used to accommodate her ancient Jaguar. Her sight came back almost immediately after the accident, and the only damage was to the lamp post that Iris crashed into, but her consultant couldn’t guarantee that it wouldn’t happen again. Iris says she doesn’t miss the car, but she asked me if I would hand over the keys to the man who bought it off her. She said she had a meeting she couldn’t get out of.
‘It’s just a car,’ she said, ‘and the local taxi driver looks like Daniel Craig. And he doesn’t talk during sex, and knows every rat run in the city.’
‘I’ll just be a minute, Dad,’ I tell him, opening my car door.
‘Take your time, love,’ he says. He never used to call me love.
The grass in the front garden has benefitted from a recent mow. I stand at the front door, ring the bell. Nobody answers. I cast about the garden. It’s May. The cherry blossom, whose branches last week were swollen with buds, is now a riot of pale pink flowers. The delicacy of their beauty is disarming, but also sad, how soon the petals will be discarded, strewn across the grass in a week or so, like wet and muddy confetti in a church courtyard long after the bride and groom have left.
I rap on the door even though I’m almost positive Iris isn’t inside.
Where is she?
I ring the Alzheimer’s Society, ask to be put through to Iris’s office, but the receptionist tells me what I already know. That Iris is away on a week’s holiday.
‘Is that you, Terry?’ she asks and there is confusion in her voice; she is wondering why I don’t already know this.
‘Eh, yes Rita, sorry, don’t mind me, I forgot.’
Suddenly I am flooded with the notion that Iris is inside the house. She has fallen. That must be it. She has fallen and is unconscious at the foot of the stairs. She might have been there for ages. Days maybe. This worry is a galvanising one. Not all worries fall into this category. Some render me speechless. Or stationary. The wooden door at the entrance to the side passage is locked, so I haul the wheelie bin over, grip the sides of it, and hoist myself onto the lid. People think height is an advantage, but I have never found mine – five feet ten inches, or 1.778 metres, I should say – to be so. Imperial or metric, the fact is I am too tall to be kneeling on the lid of a wheelie bin. I am a myriad of arms and elbows and knees. It’s difficult to know where to put everything.
I grip the top of the door, sort of haul myself over the top, graze my knee against the wall, and hesitate, but only for a moment, before lowering myself down as far as I can before letting go, landing in a heap in the side passage. I should be fitter than this. The girls are always on at me to take up this or that. Swimming or running or pilates. Get you out of the house. Get you doing something.
The shed in Iris’s back garden has been treated to a clear-out; inside, garden tools hang on hooks along one wall, the hose coiled neatly in a corner and the half-empty paint tins – sealed shut with rust years ago – are gone. It’s true that I advised her to dispose of them – carefully – given the fire hazard they present. Still, I can’t believe that she actually went ahead and did it.
Even the small window on the gable wall of the shed is no longer a mesh of web. Through it, I see a square of pale-blue sky.
The spare key is in an upside-down plant pot in the shed, in spite of my concerns about the danger of lax security about the homestead.
I return to the driveway and check on Dad. He is still there, still in the front passenger seat, singing along to the Frank Sinatra CD I put on for him. Strangers in the Night.
I unlock the front door. The house feels empty. There is a stillness.
‘Iris?’ My voice is loud in the quiet, my breath catching the dust motes, so that they lift and swirl in the dead air.
I walk through the hallway, towards the kitchen. The walls are cluttered with black-and-white photographs in wooden frames. A face in each, mostly elderly. All of them have passed through the Alzheimer’s Society and when they do, Iris asks if she can take their photograph.
My father’s photograph hangs at the end of the hallway. There is a light in his eyes that might be the sunlight glancing through the front door. A trace of his handsome- ness still there across the fine bones of his face framed by the neat helmet of his white hair, thicker then.
He looks happy. No, it’s more than that. He looks present. ‘Iris?’
The kitchen door moans when I open it. A squirt of WD40 on the hinges would remedy that.
A chemical, lemon smell. If I didn’t know any better, I would suspect a cleaning product. The surfaces are clear. Bare. So too is the kitchen table, which is where Iris spreads her books, her piles of paperwork, sometimes the contents of her handbag when she is hunting for something. The table is solid oak. I have eaten here many times, and have rarely seen its surface. It would benefit from a sand and varnish.
In the sitting room, the curtains are drawn and the cushions on the couch look as though they’ve been plumped, a look which would be unremarkable in my house, but is immediately noticeable in Iris’s. Iris loves that couch. She sometimes sleeps on it. I know that because I called in once, early in the morning. She wasn’t expecting me. Iris is the only person in the world I would call into without ringing first. She put on the kettle when I arrived. Made a pot of strong coffee. It was the end of Dad’s first week in the home.
She said she’d fallen asleep on the couch, when she saw me looking at the blankets and pillows strewn across it. She said she’d fallen asleep watching The Exorcist.
But I don’t think that’s why she slept on the couch. I think it’s to do with the stairs. Sometimes I see her, at the Alzheimer’s offices, negotiating the stairs with her crutches. The sticks, she calls them. She hates waiting for the lift. And she makes it look easy, climbing the stairs. But it can’t be easy, can it?
Besides, who falls asleep watching The Exorcist?
‘Iris?’ I hear an edge of panic in my voice. It’s not that anything is wrong exactly. Or out of place.
Except that’s it. There’s nothing out of place. Everything has been put away.