When I get in there are sounds of confusion from the living room. The house is like an app, you can swipe left when you come through the front door, and get yourself together in the kitchen, or turn right and face the facts. I make a right…
What strikes me first is that Dad is at the far side of the lounge from where he sits. I’m not sure I’ve seen him down this end of the room since the late ’90’s. What’s also noticeable is that he is on his hands and knees, apparently bowing to the television. He repeats a phrase, faintly. “I don’t know… I don’t know…” One hears a lot about patriarchy these days, but I am mostly sweeping out the ashes of such.
For a fraction of a moment I think maybe the oft discussed and heavily guarded marbles of the old man’s mind have finally departed. It is such an odd sight that I wonder also if he is somehow possessed, even if I don’t, ordinarily, believe is such things. Most days it would take something supernatural just to get him out of his chair.
Mum looks despairing. And then she says in the special hiss she believes renders her inaudible to whoever she’s discussing, “He’s on the phone to the TV people.” Suddenly, everything is clear. He is bent double trying to fix the satellite receiver and has a phone to his ear.
I take the phone from him and help him to his feet. The person on the line is trying to sell him an expanded TV package. I explain that he is no longer listening, that I am his son.
“Put Daddy back on the phone,” says the person in the call centre. I freeze at this. My Dad was and never has been known as “Daddy,” and we are not about to start now.
As I ferry dad back to his seat, I ascertain, in short order, what has gone down (and it is in these kinds of mindless crises that I really come into my own). With mum’s deafness it is essential that the TV has subtitles or it has to be on at a volume that could destroy a passing bird. As it is, it is often so loud they should be in hi-viz jackets. Anyway, the subtitles went off and the old man has had to call the service provider to turn them back on. Somehow this has a) not been accomplished and b) evolved into an attempt to make him pay even more for watching television.
I press the buttons that reinstate the subtitles. I have done this before, I will do it again. It’s part of the elderly care territory. You become their short-term memory. A portable hard drive. Meanwhile: “Where is Daddy?” Please don’t say, ‘Daddy’, I ask. “Daddy wants the expanded package” insists the call centre caller.
“I’m an idiot,” says Dad, ruefully. I promise him he’s not. He seems unconvinced. “Turn this up!” yells mum, even though the subtitles are back on. It’s an advert. “Where is Daddy!?” He’s really going for it now, this desperate, distant salesman. “Daddy doesn’t want to talk to you anymore,” I say. And Daddy nods. I live in part for these small moments of consensus. And as the television yells and rumbles, spelling out dialogue that’s already old, I hang up the phone.