The Son Who Fell to Earth

Orifice politics. Busy times. I’ve had two eye surgeries and a robot in my colon (purely for health reasons) in under a month. Mother, though, is fine. I hear the voice of Psycho’s Norman Bates – or rather Norman Bates approximating his mother’s voice – each time I type ‘mother’ lately since my own parent appears to have taken on the timeless power of his. Two big differences, mind you. Mine is alive and I haven’t killed anybody. At least, not yet. Things can still happen fast, even when you move slowly…

I spent March on the sofa, in hospital or the bathroom. My infirmity means that my share of the care has been offloaded onto my siblings and the team of carers that together provide round-the-clock surveillance of the Old Lady, now ninety-four and a half.

A surgeon tells me I must try not to move my head for five days. Shored up by pillows and remorse I am Whatsapped a video of my mother doing an impression of Marlene Dietrich. I have never heard her do this before. It’s pretty good. But how is she developing new material while I can’t even sit at the computer? What has gone wrong?

“All bets are off,” says my friend T, whose mother is ninety three and in a care home which grows more expensive by the month. The idea that either of our parents might pass away has become something so distant through persistence and deferment that we have exhausted all presently accessible forms of sadness and instead sustain one another through a series of bleak jokes. We’re on a drip, emotionally speaking.  Perhaps we should bet on when it will happen? We will both need the money after all. “I could ger Paul in on it…” texts T. Paul is in the same position. This would add to the prize fund. But then I wonder, is this is a joke, or the beginnings of a national strategy? Few things feel surprising anymore – but then you get a Marlene Dietrich video.

I prod at my phone without moving my head unduly. It turns out the world’s oldest woman was 122. If Mum lives that long I’ll be 80, we’ll be so skint I’d have to take her on the road, on tour to make money. At this rate through I will die first, or she’ll be pushing me. Perhaps that’s the twist, the thing people will queue up for – ‘and she takes care of him…” Form an orderly queue.

The woman herself though knows that I am ill. While she can’t remember quite why or how I have come to harm some deep, maternal bell has been rung and now she has her carer call me every day. “Come back whenever you like!” says Mum. “I can’t move,” I answer. She can’t hear me. Checkmate. “You can fall out of the sky anytime,” she says – an invitation that sounds like a warning.

Suddenly I see all kinds of things: Bruegel’s Icarus, Nic Roeg’s Film , Auden’s poem, Walter Tevis’ novel, “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” Science Fiction, technically speaking, but more fundamentally a story about not belonging and drinking yourself to a kind of death and wanting to get home. Then it hits me. Because I can’t go home and see her for the first time in years – because the whole business of who we are got turned into work – I find I really miss it and her and all the rest of it. Few things are surprising anymore – but that one really got me. Falling in love again. Who knew?

Thanks for reading. Paperback cometh.

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