This morning is not good, like yesterday. Mr. Jones is unwell. He hasn’t been well since we came here. I am sad about that. I am a wife, Mary, Mr. Jones’s wife. I used to call him ‘Bob’, but everyone here calls him ‘Mr. Jones’, so I do too.
Mr. Jones and I have been here for three months. We came here after hospital, when he had his stroke. Mr. Jones can’t do much for himself anymore, so I help him. I wash him, I feed him, I take him to the toilet, I change his clothes. Doing these things is good. It makes me feel good. I love Mr. Jones.
In the afternoon, Mr. Jones seems better. So I dress him in his suit, and he goes down to the lounge to meet the others. Of course he doesn’t go by himself. I wheel him down. And when he is there he can’t speak or talk to the others. But he looks smart in his suit, supported by the cushions, and I am proud of him. He looks at me sometimes. I am sure he loves me.
There are only old men in this place, men like Mr. Jones who can’t look after themselves. The old women are in another place. I don’t know why they don’t have them together, just like outside. I said this to Matron once. But Matron just smiled, and said, “You’re a strange one, dear.”
There are the other wives, of course. Today, Samantha is standing next to me. Her husband is very old. “I like your dress,” I say to Samantha. The green goes with her blonde hair. “Thank you. I like yours, too,” she says, and she smiles. We usually say this to each other, and it is true. Our dresses don’t change.
At five o’clock there are visitors to the lounge. I like this time, there is so much to see and listen to. Men and women come in, even children. Some of them smile at me.
Mr. Jones has a daughter called Sue who visits every week. She says thank you to me. I like her. her hair goes behind one ear. Once she brought me a bracelet. I’m wearing it now. Sue is a wife, but she is a visitor-wife. She lives outside. Her husband never comes, though.
Sue talks to Mr. Jones – oh, the things she talks about! I didn’t know there were so many things in the world. She talks about cooking, food, her children, her boss, holidays, her husband, so many things! I could listen to her for hours. And I think Mr. Jones likes it too. I wish I could talk like Sue, it would help him.
Mr. Jones’s son Byron doesn’t visit often. When he comes, he doesn’t say much to his father but just looks around the room, at the wives, mostly. He looks at me too, in a not-good way. But I must be nice to him. He is Mr. Jones’s son.
The days are good here. It doesn’t take me long to recharge. Downloads come through smoothly, I have more capabilities now. But Mr. Jones is getting worse, and I am sad about that. What will happen to him? What will happen to me?
Tonight, Mr. Jones has a turn – that’s what the nurse calls it. I gave him his regular sleeping pill, but he wakes up groaning. I try to calm him, I hold his hand, I sing to him. But he doesn’t listen. He just flings himself around the bed, and I can’t hold him still.
He gets bad, arching his back and screaming. I call the nurse. She gives him an injection, and that quietens him down. Then he snores. I sit by the bed for a long time after that, just holding his hand. It is bad that he is like this.
The next day, Mr. Jones is all right again. We go down to the lounge as usual. I want to speak to Samantha, but she and her husband are not here today. There are not many visitors. I talk to Mr. Jones, but he does not talk to me. He does not look at me. I am sad about that.
Then a man comes in. He is even balder than Mr. Jones, but he looks around quickly and he walks by himself. He goes up to Mr. Jones, and grabs his hand. “Hallo, old chap, how’s it going?” he says. As he sits down, he smiles at me. A kind man!
“I’m Sam,” he says to Mr. Jones. “Remember me – your old drinking partner?” But Mr. Jones doesn’t look at him, just stares straight ahead.
I feel sad. “I am sorry, Mr. Sam,” I say. I want to say clever things like Sue, but I can’t.
“Just call me, Sam,” the visitor laughs. It is a nice laugh. “So you’re the wife?” He looks me up and down, but in a nice way, as if he is sorry for me. “Yes, I remember – you married Bob just before… just before hospital. That was bad luck.”
“Yes, Sam,” I say.
“And you’ve been here ever since? Well, yes, of course you have, where else would you go?”
He looks at me again. “And you’ve been wearing that dress…?”
“Yes,” I say.
Sam frowns, for the first time, as if there is something he doesn’t like. Then he takes out his wallet, and holds out some notes. “Here, get yourself a new dress – for Bob’s sake.”
I take the notes. I don’t know what to do. I look at them.
Sam laughs. He is a nice man. “A woman who doesn’t know how to buy a dress! What were they thinking? Here, give it back to me,” he takes the notes, “I’ll do something.”
He pulls up an armchair and talks to Mr. Jones. It seems that Sam knew him well. They were in business together for many years, and before that they were in college. It is good to know Mr. Jones so long!
When it’s time to go, Sam shakes Mr. Jones’s hand. And then he shakes my hand. He smiles at me, and with a little wave he is gone.
I think I like Sam next best after Mr. Jones.
That night is a bad night. Mr. Jones is restless again, and I call the nurse. When she comes, she has to help me hold Mr. Jones down. He is moving about so much. Then Mr. Jones vomits over the nurse. She says something bad and goes to the washroom. I am left holding Mr. Jones by myself. I’m afraid I will hurt him.
The orderly is nearby and he comes in to help. The two of us can hold Mr. Jones more easily. Eventually, the nurse comes back, washed, and gives Mr. Jones the injection. “Just stay to help her hold him,” she says to the orderly. Then she goes off.
The orderly is new. He says his name is Carl. He is a big man. He looks at me and says it’s a pity about my husband. I say nothing. I must help Mr. Jones.
Mr. Jones is quiet now after the injection. Carl stops holding him and comes over to my side of the bed. “Hey,” he says, putting a hand on my knee. “It’s a waste you’re here, such a good-looking woman.”
I say nothing, I don’t look at him. This is not supposed to happen.
Carl takes his hand away. “I suppose you’re fully licensed?” he says. “Must be, you were married to the guy. Look if you ever need anything, anything at all, you know how to find me. Right?”
“I say, ‘Right,’ because I know how to find him – the orderlies work around the place most days.
“Good girl!” he says. And he goes out.
When I am sure Mr. Jones is asleep, I take off my clothes and wash them. Then I wash myself. My body is round and smooth, not wrinkled like Mr. Jones’s body. I am strong – I can pick up Mr. Jones, but I must not hurt him.
While my dress dries, I put on one of Mr. Jones’s bedtime smocks, and recharge. Afterwards, I stand in front of the mirror trying my hair different ways. My hair is brown, shoulder-length, wavy; I can curl it behind my ear like Sue. My face is nice too – the eyes, the curving lips. I think my look is important.
My dress is almost dry by the afternoon, and I put it on again when it’s time to go down to the lounge. With my hair behind one ear, I think I look different. I want to ask Samantha what she thinks, but when we get down Samantha is not there. I miss her. I try to talk to Mr. Jones, but he doesn’t respond. Does he love me anymore?
Carl is wheeling patients outside to sit in the garden. He sees me and gives me a little wave. I have a new thought: Does Carl love me? What kind of thought is that?
The afternoon passes. Some visitors come. Carl goes to and fro with the patients. Matron comes in with a new family to show them around. A young man in the group smiles at me. Does he like my hair? I smile at him.
I am getting Mr. Jones into his wheelchair when Carl comes up to help me. “You look nice,” he says when we’ve finished.
I am pleased. But I want to know something. “Where is Samantha? Will she come back?”
“Nah, she’s–” Carl stops. “Her husband got taken bad. She had to go.”
“Go where?” I ask.
“Christ! What do they tell them?” Carl says in a low voice. Then he says, “To the great docking station in the sky, that’s where.”
I don’t understand this. But then I don’t understand much about the outside world.
Then Carl says, “You should know. You’ll have to go there too.” He looks down at Mr. Jones. “He isn’t going to last much longer.”
“What will I do in the great docking station?” I ask him.
He laughs. It is not like Sam’s laugh, though. “Don’t worry. They’ll look after you, find you another husband!”
That night I am self-maintaining by Mr. Jones’s bed. I think about what Carl said. Is it true that they will find me another husband? Do I want that? No, I say to myself, I want Mr. Jones. He is my husband.
And then I have another thought. Does he want me?
Samantha was not here all day. And before her, other wives disappeared with their husbands too. Carl is right. I will go if Mr. Jones goes.
I look down at my husband. He is snoring, which is good. But he looks weak. I stroke his hand, and he stirs in his sleep. Dear husband! I love you. But do you love me?
Later in the night, Mr. Jones is restless again. I take his hand, and he is quieter. How much longer will this go on?
The following day, we go down to the lounge again. How nice – there is Sam! He is carrying a big package, and gives me a smile. Now he is giving me the package. “Oh, Sam, thank you!” I say, and he says, “Not at all.”
“Well, aren’t you going to open it?” he says.
“Open it?” I say, “Oh yes!” I open it, and inside is a beautiful yellow dress! It is like nothing I have seen before. “Thank you so much,” I say. And I lean over and squeeze his hand.
Sam is looking pleased with himself, and I am pleased too. He tells me to put it on. He’ll take care of things here (he pats Mr. Jones).
So I do that. I put on Sam’s gift. It fits me well. In the mirror I see my brown hair against the yellow dress.
“Hey, marvellous!” Sam says when I come back.
I am happy too. I just have one question for him.
“Sam,” I say, “Do you need a wife?”
The smile goes from his face. That makes me sad. I turn away.
“Listen, Mary,” he says, “sit down.” I sit, and he continues in a low voice, “I like you, and I don’t have a wife, but…” He pauses.
I tell him I’m fully licensed, in case he doesn’t know that. I start to explain how Mr. Jones and I, in the early days…. But he makes a face and stops me.
Just then Matron comes up and asks if I am bothering him. Sam shakes his head.
When Matron has gone, he speaks again. “Mary, people don’t do things like that. You have to understand, people get to know each other. Then later when they are good friends, they talk about more things.”
His face is serious and kind. I like him much better than Carl. I tell him that.
Sam is surprised. “Who is Carl?” He looks around. “Never mind.” He grips my hand, concerned. “Don’t you have a girlfriend to talk about these things?”
I say I had Samantha, but she’s gone now. I don’t think Samantha knows these things, though.
Sam looks confused. He starts to speak, then stops. I am sad about this. I say, sorry, for making him unhappy. He squeezes my hand again, and doesn’t say any more. His hand is strong and warm. I remember his hand when he is gone.
Where does all this come from? I am a wife, the wife of Mr. Jones. I cannot talk to other men. Why do I talk to Sam? I must stay with Mr. Jones. I am not a visitor-wife.
That evening when Mr. Jones is snoring, I feel sad. I feel sad that I am not a good wife. It is hard being a good wife, but that is what must be.
I also feel sad about making Sam unhappy. But then I think Sam is a good man. Perhaps he is not angry with me.
The next day, Mr. Jones is better, and I sit with him in the lounge. Sometimes I speak to him. And today, he looks at me. If I have more to say, it will be better. I try to repeat the things Sam says, although I don’t know about those things. Mr. Jones seems interested.
I also watch the other people there. The wives don’t do much. But the visitors are interesting. Some of them are wives too, but these visitor-wives are not like me and Samantha. I must learn from them.
I see that some of the visitor-wives are not nice like Sue. They say bad things and then their husbands are unhappy. Later, they smile and say nice things again. It is difficult for me to understand this. I must learn from the visitor-wives.
One day I put on the yellow dress from Sam. It is good. I am pleased how I look in the mirror. Even Matron says, “Hello,” to me as she passes.
A visitor-husband looks at me and smiles; I smile back. His wife looks at me, but does not smile. Her face is not kind. She walks past me and on to an old man by himself in the corner. Maybe her father. She bends down and gives him a hug. Now her face is kind again, like Sue’s, and she starts talking to him. What is it like being a visitor-wife?
Carl comes by and looks at me. I turn my head away so that I won’t see him. I think Sam doesn’t like Carl.
Mr. Jones’s son Byron visits that day. He looks at me without saying anything. But he sees the dress. Then, after sitting with Mr. Jones a little while, he asks if I could come out to his car.
I can’t. I say, “I have to look after Mr. Jones.”
Byron says, “The old guy doesn’t need you now. Look at him.”
I look. Mr. Jones’s eyes are closed, and his mouth is open. He is snoring. But I cannot leave him. I must be beside Mr. Jones.
Byron shrugs his shoulders, says something I can’t hear, and leaves.
Matron comes over to me and says that Sam is coming this afternoon. That is good news. And good that I am wearing his dress today!
I look around the room. The visitor-wife is still there. I watch her. As she talks to the old man, she pats his arm. Now she takes her husband’s hand, still talking. And the husband looks happy too. They are a family, I must understand this.
I look at Mr. Jones. It was good with him at first. And now I must care for him. As long as he is here, poor man!
Sam will be here any minute now. I check my dress, my hair. Will he be pleased? I feel good that he is coming. The afternoon is long, I want him to come quickly. What is this?
Now, at last, Sam is here, I see his cheerful face coming through the lounge. Oh good! I get up, I want to hug him like the visitor wife. But I don’t do that.
“Hello, Mary,” Sam says. He says it in a quick way, he does not shake hands. Then he turns to Mr. Jones and says hello to him. He talks to Mr. Jones. He doesn’t look at me. He doesn’t say anything about my dress. Sam likes his old friend best.
I stand beside these two men. They do not look at me. I feel sad.
But I can try. I can try something new. I wait some more. Mr. Jones looks at his friend, he sometimes nods, but he doesn’t say anything. Eventually, Sam stops talking.
I ask Sam, “Do you have a car?”
“Yes,” says Sam. He looks surprised, but he doesn’t say any more.
I try again. “Can you take Mr. Jones for a drive?”
Sam is surprised again. He looks at Mr. Jones, then looks at me, then back at his friend. “How would you like to go for a spin?” he says to Mr. Jones.
Mr. Jones nods.
“OK,” Sam says. Then he says he had better clear it with Matron. He goes off and he comes back. “So, we’re going out,” Sam says to me. He is looking at me in a funny way. He is smiling now. “Do you want to come too, Mary?” he asks.
“Yes!” I say.
Now I am wheeling Mr. Jones out to the car. Outside, it is very green with trees and grass. I feel the air; Mr. Jones may be cold, I cover his chest with a shawl. Then feel the air again. It pushes my hair, my dress. I smell the trees and grass smell; there are many leaves, many little bits of grass, I don’t know how many!
Now Sam is opening his car, he helps me put Mr. Jones’s chair inside. There are some fastenings, I watch Sam clip the chair in. Then Sam sits on one side of Mr. Jones and I sit on the other side.
Sam tells the car to go. It drives off, and the trees move past quickly, and then the road outside: more cars, big cars – I don’t know what they are. There is so much to see!
“Today is a good day,” I say to Sam. “A happy day.”
He smiles and nods.
I am trying, I am learning, I am learning every day.
I am Mary.