On Visiting My Elderly Parents After Lockdown — Mark Czanik

Photo by Suzi Kim on Unsplash

On Visiting My Elderly Parents After Lockdown

I am reading one of my poems to my father in the kitchen. It is a short poem called ‘Happen,’ about walking the South West coast path with my wife. It was there on the poetry website when I checked it this morning, as they said it would be. I am about half way through when he says, ‘Hold on a minute, Mark, I gotta go have a widdle.’ 

He leaves the room for the downstairs loo. I refresh the page on my phone, but when he returns he begins telling me with some enthusiasm about his old petrol lawnmower which has been running beautifully ever since Robert repaired it for him. Robert is my cousin Maisie’s youngest son, who works as an agricultural engineer. Apparently, Dad paid him £45 pounds for his troubles, which he put in an envelope and gave to Maisie, knowing Robert would refuse it if he tried to give it to him in person. If he had taken it to a repair shop he would have ended up paying at least £75, he tells me, as his neighbour Jim did a few years ago. 

I nod approvingly, wishing there were lawnmowers in my poem too. The next morning I try reading it to my mother while the two of us are sitting in the conservatory. The birds are singing in the garden, the roses in bloom. A sprinkling of much needed rain has fallen overnight, and some of the roses have left broken mosaics of red and yellow petals on Dad’s newly cut lawn. Ideal conditions. 

I have just started the second verse when she asks me if I got paid for this one. 

‘Yes,’ I say,’ not taking my eyes off my phone. ‘A little bit. Not much,’ as if the lie is mitigated by the pittance I claim to have received. The lie has become habitual, one I am sure my sharp-eyed mother sees through. I go on reading, trying not to worry about the long words like diaphragmatic and murmuration that suddenly feel pretentious on my tongue. 

I am just approaching the last two verses in which Dad makes a brief, touching appearance from the past, teaching me how to swim, when the phone rings in the living room. I continue reading. The phone continues to ring. Dad, who is in the kitchen preparing a Father’s Day roast for the three of us, has a thing about phones. He doesn’t like to answer them. I’ve heard his voice very little since the start of the pandemic. 

My mother asks me to wait a minute while she goes to answer it. 

I listen. A nuisance call. ‘No, thank you,’ I hear her say. Then after another pause, ‘We’ve already got insulation in our attic.’ Which is true, because my mother never lies. I refresh the page again while she goes into the kitchen to check up on Dad, who will be drinking a glass of red wine now which he likes to do while he cooks – a trick I learnt from him. Wine is in his blood, my father will tell you. When she comes back she warns me not to go near the deckchair out on the patio, the rainbow one that’s unfolded against the clematis fence. 

‘It will have your fingers in a minute. It’s like a crab.’ 

I promise not to, wishing there were deckchairs like crabs in my poem too. She goes on to tell me about Maisie’s beautiful new black-and-white house in Bosbury, something she often talks to me about on the phone; how they will take me there tomorrow. While she talks I notice the wrinkles like winter trees on her chest, her icing sugar white hair, longer than I’ve seen it since I was a boy. Her hands are somehow smaller than I remember them, and much more crumpled and spotted than Dad’s. 

I think about picking up the poem where I left off for the last two verses, but instead tell her the pink alstroemerias have come out overnight – it was the first thing Dad said to me when I went into the kitchen this morning. They are in one of the clay pots on the patio steps leading down to the garden. 

She gets up eagerly, almost youthfully from her chair at the mention of this and takes the few steps towards the window. I follow suit, although I’ve seen them already, and we stand together at the glass admiring the small miracle of another new arrival. 

Mark Czanik was born in the sweet borderlands of Hereford, and now lives in Bath. Recent poems, stories and artwork have appeared in 3AM, Riptide, Pennine Platform, The Rialto, Ink Sweat and Tears, The Frogmore Papers, and Orbis. He enjoys finding new paths to walk with his wife, and swimming with his daughter.   

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