Betty heard a knock at the front door. Through the frosted side glass she could see the outline of the policeman’s hat. “Pop! Where’ve you been?” Asked Betty as she opened the front door. “I’ve been worried sick!” she stressed. “How many times have I told you not to go wandering off?”
“I just got a little lost Bette, that’s all, I’m sorry,” her elderly father apologises quietly.
“Thanks for bringing him home constable, I really appreciate it.”
“That’s okay Miss Grieves.” “Try to keep a closer eye on him as this is the third time he’s gone missing this summer,” replies the young officer as he tilts his hat in farewell.
David Grieves’ dementia had become noticeably worse two years ago, soon after he’d lost his wife Jenny to cancer. Jenny had become so adept at making up for her husband’s forgetfulness that no one had noticed his gradual decline. The grief and stress caused by losing his wife after nearly fifty years of marriage seemed to be making his condition worse.
“There goes the phone again, it’s probably Auntie Mel.” “I’ll take it in the kitchen and fetch you a cuppa,” Bette calls over her shoulder as she walks down the hallway.
“Thanks love, that would be nice,” replies her father as he settles into his chair in the lounge.
Betty switches on the kettle as she answers the phone. “Hi Aunty Mel, they’ve found him.” “He’s fine, just a little frazzled, that’s all.”
“Oh that’s good to hear love, what a relief.” Where’d they find him Bette?”
Betty warmed to the genuine concern and care in her aunt’s tone. “At someone’s house just a few blocks away, he was trying to unlock their front door,” explained Betty. “He was confused and thought that it was his house. Apparently it looked like the house that he and Mum had lived in when they were first married. Luckily the occupants stayed calm and called the police.”
“Poor David, he hasn’t been the same since Jenny passed away,”
“No, he hasn’t, he’s definitely been a little more than lost since mum died,” replied Betty, fighting back her tears. “oh it’s so sad Aunty Mel, and I feel so helpless!”
“Ah, my dear Bette, I know it’s been really difficult for you, but under the circumstances you’ve been doing a pretty good job.”
“You do know that don’t you?”
“Then why doesn’t it feel like it?” her niece asks with a small sob.
“Please don’t cry darling,” her aunt implores, “it can be hard to see what you’ve achieved when there is always more to be done.”
Steam bellowed from the boiling kettle’s spout. Leaning against the sink with the phone wedged between her ear and shoulder, Betty inhales expressing her heartache.
“I guess,” she concedes, “but It’s been getting much harder lately. Just last week he left eggs boiling on the stove while he was out in the shed with his rabbits. I’ve told Dad a thousand times not to use the stove; I’ll cook his lunch. But, he keeps forgetting. He could have burnt the house down!”
“I know Bette, maybe it’s time that you got some help to take care of your Dad?” Mel ventures. “You could try getting him into the day centre once a week.”
“Maybe,” Betty admits.
“Good,”Mel seizes the opportunity, “I’ll come over tomorrow afternoon to keep an eye on your Dad whilst you go check things out. I’ll even bring over some of my passionfruit sponge cake.”
“Ok, it’s a deal, you know that I can’t resist your sponge cake,” Betty says smiling.
“I know, I’ll see you at one.”
Betty and her young girls, Jesse and Emma, had moved in with Pop nine months ago, soon after her divorce was finalised. On a single income she couldn’t afford to keep her house, and besides which Pop needed help. She struggled to meet the increasing demands of Pops dementia whilst raising her daughters and running the household. Fairly soon after they had moved in, Betty was forced to leave her job to become his fulltime carer. Her dad’s condition was bad, but not bad enough to warrant him going into a nursing home. Betty resented her two brothers, it was so easy for them. They both lived interstate, so could be all care and no responsibility. They’d take turns each month to ring up to see how the ‘old bloke’ was doing, but that was all.
The screen door swung shut with a thud, and Betty shouted out through the open kitchen window. “Aren’t you gonna have a cuppa first Pop?”
“Gotta tend to the rabbits first, love,” he muttered, “tend to the rabbits.”
Pop’s rabbits were his pride and joy. He would spend hours taking care of his beloved pets, no matter what. Rain, hail or shine, Pop would be out there every morning, fussing over his furry little friends, whilst keeping them informed on the latest news topics. The rabbits were a gift from his beloved Jenny for his eightieth birthday, five years ago. Since her passing it has been the only thing that somehow hasn’t managed to elude his memory. Churchill, Menzies and Truman were the names he’d given them. Pops least favourite, Hitler, was strangely enough the easiest name for him to remember. Often Betty would overhear Pop telling the rabbit’s stories from the trenches from when he served in France. “Bloody Germans!” he would grunt.
One morning, Betty went out to the shed to find Pop, Jesse and Emma busy looking after the rabbits. “Hey girls, you’d better finish getting ready for school. Your lunches are packed and your bags are on the table.”
“Oh Mum, just one more minute, please,” They plead in unison.
“No, come on, hurry up, you’re going to be late,” she urges.
“Oh.. okay Mum. Bye Pop, see you later, bye bunnies,” they call as they scurry towards the back door.
“Bye girls,” Pop calls back, “have a good day.”
Betty stepped into the shed. “Hey Pop, need a hand?”
“Bette, come over here love, I gotta teach you how to tend to the rabbits, you know…”
“I know Dad!” “You won’t be around forever,” finishing his sentence for him as she has done many times before, “you’ve shown us Dad, lots of times.” “The girls and I know what to do.”
“Oh, well darling, just remember, clean water and fresh lettuce every day.” “I won’t be around forever you know!”
“Ugh..” Betty groans.
The next morning, Betty stood at the kitchen sink washing the breakfast dishes. Pop sat quietly at the table finishing his Earl Grey. She looked over at him, thinking that it was odd that he wasn’t out in the shed by now, like he usually was.
“Are you okay Pop?” Betty enquires, concerned.
“I’m fine love, just a bit tired, I guess. Better get out to those rabbits.” He hurriedly swallows the last of his tea before making for the backyard.
Betty wiped down the benches with a damp cloth, leaving the dishes turned upside down in the drainer. She decided to check on her father before sweeping the floors. Pushing the screen door slightly open, she called out across the backyard, “Hey Pop,” with panic rising in her voice, “Hey Pop!”
The ambulance pulled out of the driveway. Betty sat nervously beside the stretcher bed holding her father’s hand. Whilst talking to his patient the paramedic conducted his observations. With his thumb he gently pushed Pop’s eyelids back, shining the tiny light into each eye, the pupils rapidly closing. Oxygen tunnelled through the clear tubes into the facemask while air expanded the blood pressure wrap. “Forty over ninety, bit low,” he remarked. Betty looked worried.
“I’m okay, I just got a little light headed, that’s all,” her father reassured her, “nothing to worry about love.” He gave his daughter’s hand a reassuring squeeze.
A week had passed since Pop was rushed to hospital. Jesse was woken early by the thud of the screen door. She made her way through the dark house. A single candle flickered beneath a photograph of Pop on the mantelpiece and his chair sat vacant.
Her eye’s were dry from repeatedly shed tears, her throat ached and so did her overwhelmed heart. Three-day-old flowers lined one side of the hallway. Their sombre scent filling the air whilst their decaying petals form a sparse carpet on the wooden floor.
Stepping across the cold floorboards Jesse calls out, “Mum.. Mum!” No answer.
She hurries into the backyard, with growing anxiety calls out, “Hey Mum, where are you?”
A shaky reply breaks the morning silence. “I’m here Jesse, I’m in the shed.”
Jesse pushes the shed door open to find her mum crouching over Pops rabbits.
“What’re you doing Mum?” she asks quiety.
Betty slowly stands and turns towards her daughter, her eye’s welling with tears. “I’m tending to the rabbits love.. tending to the rabbits,” she sighs.
Timidly, Jessie asks, “Can I help?”
“Yes sweetheart, Pop would like that.”