“Your mum is a patient here?” asked Beth with sympathy. “Gosh, she must be young.”
Kallie smiled. “She’s not far off seventy. She was nearly forty when she had me. But dementia can strike at any age, even in children, so I understand. Mum’s in great health physically, so she could be here for a long time.”
Beth asked where Kallie’s mother was now and she explained again about the safe room.
“I won’t see her again today, because she’ll walk herself to exhaustion and they’ll put her straight to bed. She was only here a matter of weeks before her memory became severely affected and it wasn’t long before she didn’t recognise me any more.” Kallie looked rueful. “Sorry, you don’t want to hear all that when you’re probably going through the same thing. It was nice to meet you, though I’m sure we all wish it was under better circumstances.”
Kallie gathered up her coat and bag and left the lounge, giving Alex, Beth and Anna a small smile and a wave of her fingers. Alex followed her with his eyes.
“I know that look,” said Beth. “Does she have someone with her?”
“Two people,” he replied. “Her grandparents, I think. I could sense them when she and I were talking, but either they weren’t aware of me or just didn’t want to communicate. I think they’re just watching out for her.”
“Maybe Kallie’s mum is their daughter and that’s why they’re here, watching over both of them?” Beth squeezed his hand. “Why don’t you go outside for a bit, Alex?”
He set off to find his favourite bench, the one hidden from the lounge windows but with a good view of the striking water sculpture.
Once past the area that had been laid out as a giant checkerboard, Alex was pleased to find there was no-one else around. He sat down and contemplated what he’d just witnessed inside, allowing the gentle, musical sound of running water and the little tinkling bells to soothe him. He decided he didn’t know nearly enough about dementia in general and Simon’s condition in particular, and needed to do some research. If only he had the time! He shouldn’t even be here now, but he’d come for Beth’s sake and he was glad that he had.
“Would you mind if I sit here?” a friendly voice asked, bringing him out of his reverie. “It’s my favourite place as it can’t be seen from the house and I can get a precious few minutes uninterrupted.”
Alex looked up at the slender figure in front of him, delighted to see that it was Erin, and invited her to join him.
She sat down beside him, her knees audibly clicking. “Sorry about that.” She laughed. “My knees have always clicked and the years of bending and lifting takes a terrible toll on the joints, even when you’ve been trained to do it right. Shame Simon had to go into one of his strops just as you and Beth were walking in. Is Anna okay?”
“She’s fine and you were marvellous, as always. It amazes me how you stay so calm. Would you like to be alone? I’d say you deserve some peace and quiet after what you’ve just had to deal with, but I suppose it’s all part and parcel of the working day for you, isn’t it?”
He made to rise but Erin placed her hand on his arm and gently but firmly prevented him from leaving.
“Actually, Alex Kelburn, I’ve been stalking you!” She laughed, making her face look years younger. “I’ve seen every episode of your TV show, I’ve read your book, and whenever you’ve come to the hospice to give one of your inspirational talks I’ve been sure to be there. Everything about you is absolutely fascinating to me and since your wife’s grandfather came in I’ve been waiting for an opportunity just to talk to you! Can I ask you a question?”
She bit her bottom lip and a slow blush rose from her neck upwards as she waited for his response. He assumed she was going to ask if he could give her a message from a late member of her family or a friend, so he nodded, more than willing to help someone who worked as hard and as compassionately as she did.
Everyone noticed how kind, how gentle she always was with the residents, and the dementia lounge seemed a much duller place when she wasn’t on shift. She asked her question but it wasn’t at all what he expected.
“Where do they go, the patients who no longer seem to be aware of themselves or their surroundings? I mean, take Simon. One moment he’s angry and shouting, the next it’s as if he’s simply left his body behind and gone somewhere else. Some of the patients are like that all the time, never having lucid moments at all, and I’ve always wondered… where do they go?”
Alex smiled at the question, glad that it was one he could answer. It might even help her.
(This is a revised and re-edited version of ‘The Waiting Gate’, published 2017)