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Bowing Out

By David Gardiner

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I know I can't live here forever. My Cyril is perfectly right. It's all going to be downhill from now on. That's the gist of what the doctor said. Just like an old car, things breaking down one after the other. My eyesight's going for one thing. I can't read a newspaper any more. It's got to be super-big print, like the subtitles on the TV.
       The most important thing is to keep taking the pills. Four pills every day. That's what keeps me alive.
       I try to keep the place clean lord knows I try but Cyril said he found some cups put away dirty the other day. They looked alright to me, but Cyril said otherwise. Disgusting that, cups put away dirty. I'm becoming disgusting. I don't want to but I am.
       I used to be a soldier, you know. I was part of the British Expeditionary Force in France in 1940 and 41. We got pushed back, right into the sea it would have been, only for those little boats at Dunkirk. We had to leave everything behind. Tanks, aircraft, guns... A shame we had to leave so much behind. Nearly everyone I fought with as well. All left behind. All blown-up or shot to pieces, lying in fields over there. They made graves for them afterwards with little white crosses, even though nobody really knew where they were buried. Or if they ever were buried. I was one of the lucky ones. Went through the whole thing with just a flesh wound in the leg.
       Cyril's a good boy really. He looks after his old Dad. I can't expect him to come around here every day. He's got his own life to lead. I'd rather he'd come himself than send the wife though.
       I can't say that I like his new wife a lot. The first one was all right, more like my own Mildred when she was young. Then he left her for the one he has now. It's all very complicated. I don't try to make sense of it. They're young, got their own lives to lead, no business of an old codger like me. I never understood their generation. Borrowing money, going out to get drunk, mobile phones... they've got too much, that's what's wrong. Never had to scrimp and save like we did. No, wait a minute, that's not Cyril, is it? That's Paul, Cyril's son. I get a bit mixed up sometimes.
       Wednesday, he said. Moving out day. He and the new missus have been tidying up here all week. Putting all my stuff into black plastic bags, some of it for the dustbin, some for the charity shops, and maybe a quarter of it or less to come with me.
       I don't mind. Who needs all that clutter? Gramophone records that won't play on anything any more. Old bank statements. Pictures of me and my family from before the War. Me and Mildred on the park bench just outside the churchyard on the day they buried Auntie Alice. Even one of my own mother when she was a little girl, playing on the beach at Southend with Alice. Alice who died, that was. Oh, I already told you that, didn't I?
       I've been to see the new place. It's not that far away, Cyril and Mildred will still be able to visit. No, wait a minute, Mildred's dead, isn't she? I mean Cyril and... that new wife of his. Her name's on the tip of my tongue.
       I heard her talking to Cyril when they were in here yesterday. She didn't think I could, but I'm only a little bit deaf. Mostly in the right ear. The left one isn't too bad. She was saying to Cyril that if I sold up here and went into a home all the value of the house would get used up to pay for the rent in the home. They wouldn't inherit anything when I died.
       I hadn't thought of that, but it makes sense. You have to pay so much a week while you can afford it, then when your money runs out you get some kind of state handout that pays for it.
       I don't fancy living on charity like that. Nobody in my family has ever done that. That's one of the reasons why I decided not to go into the home.
       That new wife of his will be pleased. She'll get her full share. It's a pity his other wife isn't still around. Maybe I could leave some of it to her, if I got a solicitor or something. Didn't they have a child too? I'm sure they had a child. No, wait a minute, it was Mildred who had the child. My Mildred. The child was Cyril. I forget things sometimes.
       I had to go back to the front after Dunkirk. I just had a couple of weeks with Mildred. That must have been when Cyril was conceived. He was a war baby, our Cyril.
       It's all in those black plastic bags now. Mildred and little Cyril and the war and Aunt Alice. All packed away, nice and tidy. A lifetime in half a dozen black plastic bags.
       I'm not going to the home though. But I have to be careful so they don't lose the life insurance money. That's probably worth as much as the house. They don't pay out on suicides. But an absent-minded old man forgetting to take his pills who's going to question that?



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