The Moon That’s Always Rising
by George Edgeller
“I’ve had enough,” said the old man. “I don’t need any more.”
“When it comes time to go, I’ll not put up a fight. Your whole life you fight and you fight, then you realise that what you were pushing for never really existed and what there was you had all along. I’ve had enough.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out an old photo, frayed and torn. It was a picture of him in a small crowd of mainly women and other boys and girls on board an ocean liner.
“You see that boy? That was me when I was fourteen. 1946 and I was fourteen. Can you believe that?”
He put the photo away and I noticed that he was smiling.
“Was it difficult?” I asked.
“At first. But it was for everyone and it got easier. It always got easier. The idea that you had to say goodbye was the hardest. That was all.”
He looked pale under the glare of the light and he was not smiling now.
“Are you eating?”
“I try, but it’s difficult on what they give you here. The place is clean and the nurses are sweet, but I don’t eat well.”
“We should get back.”
We walked back across the garden towards the house. The setting sun was still bright as I settled the old man in his favourite chair. We sat in silence for a while watching the flies over the pond.
“Do you ever think you should have stayed?” I asked.
“We left because we had to. But I was so young and it is always easier when you are young. But I miss it. You should go some time. I’ll take you. We’ll go together.”
“We’ll see. I always thought you didn’t want us to go.”
“No, that wasn’t it at all. We’ll go. You tell me when you’re free and we’ll go. I’ve still got some savings and I’ll give you the money and you buy the tickets.”
“Sure. We’ll see.”
The smell of his dinner made its way into the garden and the last of the sun was burning through the trees.
“Someone’s unravelling me, boy. I don’t know why, but they are and I shall be glad when it’s over.”
The old man shifted towards me in his chair and lowered his voice. “Are you alright for money?”
In rare moments of lucidity the old man could still hold his own. Most of the other time he just pretended. He seemed so convincing because he’d got so used to thinking he was right that it came naturally to him. As time went by, the glimpses became fewer and more fleeting and he would lose himself in the anger of losing himself. He got a girlfriend in the home and they would play bridge together and giggle like children. My mother stayed away. The old man would still protest his innocence to the nurses.
“Do you know where you live?”
“Do I know where I live? Of course I know where I live. What a stupid question you silly little girl. Don’t you?”
“I was asking you.”
“I know you were, and I told you I know.”
“Can you tell me what you had for breakfast this morning?”
“I had the same thing I have every morning. I always have the same breakfast.”
“Can you tell me what that is?”
“Yes. It was a breakfast, a normal breakfast. This is ridiculous.”
“They’re there again,” said the old man, peering behind the netted curtains into the darkness.
I looked up from my paper. “What’s that?”
“The Aussies. They’re camped in the back yard again. They think I can’t see them but I can.”
“What are they doing?”
“How’re they getting on?”
“Terrible bunch. Time for a drink I think. Where’s Margaret? Ah, there she is. Margaret my love, we’re going to have a drink. This young man here is going to fix us one.”
The old man drew up a seat for Margaret, who sat down without saying a word. He fussed around her for a while before remembering he’d left the car running and wandered off.
I half got up from my chair before sitting back down again.
“He’ll run straight into a nurse.”
Margaret continued to stare blankly at a television screen in the corner of the room. She occasionally giggled a simpering laugh that made me feel sick. It was stifling hot and the smell of the place got inside your nose and in your clothes. Folding up the newspaper, I got up and followed in the direction the old man left. In the corridor I saw him wearing an old flat cap and a gilet over his pyjamas.
“Leaving already?” he said as I walked towards him.
“No, no. I’ll just go to the toilet.”
“Ah,” he said. “So you’ll be back. We’ll all be back though. The whole universe goes in circles, you see. It’s a vast expanse of reoccurring happenings. Everything comes back around. You know who said that? It was Einstein. You know who Einstein is?”
I told him I did.
“Course you do, bright young man like yourself. Anyway, I must go. My wife will be after my blood. I’ll see you again.” I watched him breeze down the corridor and into one of the bedrooms.
Eventually I stopped going as much. I only went as little as I could so as to not be neglectful.
The old man fell and broke his hip in December and never really recovered. After he got out of hospital he spent most of the days in bed and only got up when he ate dinner. He lost any geniality that was left and mostly he was frightened. I would visit after work for an hour. I got used to being a stranger. His room was bare and the clothes he wore were not his anymore. Eventually everybody wore everybody’s clothes. I suppose it didn’t really matter. The only things to identify him by were the few cards he’d received.
“Do you want a drink?” I asked him.
He nodded in ascent.
I turned to the tray on the bedside cabinet with a glass and jug of water. I poured him a glass and helped him sip it.
“Thank you. You’re kind to me.”
The old man looked at me with wide eyes for a while and then around the room.
I walked to the mantelpiece to read his cards again.
With my back to him I heard him say, “You’re not going to hurt me are you?”
The old man contracted pneumonia and died two weeks later. The nurses said he was sleeping. His hairdresser came and fixed his hair and he wore the same worn suit he would wear to all occasions. I made sure his old photo made it in with him. Afterwards I took the trip we’d talked about but it didn’t feel right without the old man and I left to come home early.