This is Part Two of “The Suitcases.” Part One can be read here.
My mother’s name was Lesley Jenner. She brought me up to call her Lesley, because she said she was a person, not just a mother. From her late eighties Lesley had dementia. Not long before Lesley died, she drew a map and gave it to a caregiver. Lesley had put the words ‘Rest Home’ on the map, and somewhere above that and to the right, sitting all by itself in the sky, like Jerusalem on a mediaeval map, was the house where she grew up, neatly labelled ‘6 Highcliff Road.’ There was a loop to indicate the Ross’s Corner tram terminus and two sentences written in pencil. One said, ‘Can you help me find my mother?’ and the other said ‘My parents are not well off.’ The fact that Lesley had organised a pencil and paper, written this plea for help and given it to a staff member spoke of her desperation. The accuracy of the map was proof of the islands of memory and logic Lesley still had inside her.
When I visited her in the rest home, Lesley never wanted me to leave. She never said, “Don’t go.” She would just look at me like an animal in a trap, and I knew what she meant. When her tea-time approached, or when the sun was setting, or when I just couldn’t stand being there any longer, I would tell her I had to pick up my partner from the train and Lesley would nod, because a man needing his dinner trumps everything in the lives of women. Lesley would watch me as I walked out. In the car I would sanitise my hands and look at the sun setting over the sea. I would try to breathe normally, and I would drive to the railway station where I would sit in the car until my partner’s train arrived. Sometimes that was an hour.