Margaret Atwood

King Lear in Respite Care

The daughters have their parties. Who can cope? He’s left here in a chair he can’t get out of in all this snow, or possibly wallpaper. Wheeled somewhere. He will have to be sly and stubborn and not let on. Another man’s hand coming out of a tweed sleeve that isn’t his, curls on his knee. He can move it with the other hand. Howling would be uncalled for. Who knows what he knows? Many things, but where he is isn’t among them. How did it happen, this cave, this hovel? It may or may not be noon. Time is another element you never think about until it’s gone. Things like ceilings, or air. Someone comes to brush his hair, wheel him to tea-time. Old women gather around in pearls and florals. They want to flirt. An old man is so rare. He’s a hero just by being here. They giggle. They disappear behind the hawthorn bushes in bloom, or possibly sofas. Now he’s been left alone with the television turned on to the weather program, the sound down. The cold blast sweeps across the waste field of the afternoon. Rage occurs, followed by supper: something he can’t taste, a brownish texture. The sun goes down. The trees bend, they straighten up. They bend. At eight the youngest daughter comes. She holds his hand. She says, Did they feed you? He says no. He says, Get me out of here. He wants so much to say please, but won’t. After a pause, she says – he hears her say – I love you like salt.

from Eating Fire (Virago, 1998)
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