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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bedside Musings

She sits by his window and listens. The house is still. She has tried to concentrate on the images on the screen before her. An intelligent thriller plays on her laptop but she must make frequent stops to slow down the racing heart. Her nerve for such things has evaporated the last few days. Panic mounts far too quickly so she must guard against it. She picks up the mild romance novel, the only thing she can grasp these days, but it is about a woman who embarks on a new life and love after the recent death of her husband. Oddly appropriate under the circumstances but it irritates her. The description of the woman's relationship with her lost husband is veiled in a pink glow of perfection. But she cannot deal with anything more real in her fiction right now and she avoids all but the most bland of the world's news. She abandons the book. Instead she writes.

The room is airy and bright, his bed positioned to take in the view. When he is awake he can see only green trees, blue sky and the flowers nodding in the distant garden. And her if she is seated at his feet. If the window is open, birdsong fills the air. It is peaceful and calm, near perfection. The two old dogs snore comfortably at her feet. They rarely leave his room, the three of them breathe heavily together. When he is - was - well and up throughout the day, they take ownership of his bed. While he is so ill, they are his constant companions. She likes to think they are purely loyal but she suspects they are merely opportunistic, ghoulishly awaiting vacancy of the bed.

She is not used to such idleness and is grateful to have him at home so she can distract herself with occasional household tasks that keep her in the house and within earshot. She is not well-suited to hospital bedside vigils, her restlessness a serious impediment. 

His meals are erratic, infrequent and sometimes sparse but, miraculously, he still eats. Today he picked away at bacon and an egg, eating only some of it but with obvious enjoyment. He washed it down with sweet tea before he lapsed again into his frightening withdrawal. He seems to be so utterly lost to the world and deeply asleep but she has noticed that if she talks to him his eyes will sometimes flutter open and he might try to speak. Or if she holds his hand he might give hers a slight squeeze. Then there are the nearly comical times when he tries to make a pass at her, his eyes glazed with oblivion, his hands reaching and groping with heartbreaking familiarity. She pulls away, her sickened response clouded with guilt.

His condition mimics what she has witnessed in those who are dying but, she reminds herself, this is Parkinson's disease which confuses and confounds even the best doctors. No one will dare to make any pronouncements or predictions. She expects him to awaken one morning full of grit and vigour and climb out of bed in a psychotic burst of energy, but as the days of near-death pile up, she begins to lose hope. The spaces between the bones of his hands deepen daily. His legs barely support him now.

A friend calls to distract and suggest a board game to while away the evening. She gratefully accepts. She doesn't mind the long, solitary vigil - she needs the quiet, calm order of the house to feed her sanity - but company is welcome. It will still the racing heart and pull her away from the window.

Glass panel: The Four Seasons (1978), Leonard French, La Trobe University Sculpture Park, Melbourne, Australia.

Monday, July 29, 2013

I'm Sorry

I am sorry if I have failed you in any way.

I am sorry I might not be able to keep this up. I had thought that when you reached this point of sleeping and being bedridden all day, it would be easier. In many ways it is, of course. You are too weak so I'm no longer having to chase you as you escape down the road. But it is quiet and lonely in the house with you tucked away needing so little. Some of your physical care is more onerous; transferring you to and from the wheelchair the few times you want to get up is more difficult with your extreme weakness and unsteadiness. But I do look forward to the new daily rituals of sponge baths and meals-on-a-tray, sometimes our only real interaction now. I spend much of each evening in the rocking chair at the bottom of your bed while you drift off to sleep. You need me there to calm you but I need to be nearby too, listening for steady breathing, not wanting to be completely alone.

I am sorry that decisions made about your medications might be better for me than for you. Your psychosis and anxiety were overwhelming both of us, rendering you paradoxically more mobile and alert in exaggerated fight-or-flight response. That is a bad combination with the weakness and instability you now suffer - your falls have become dangerous - so I have essentially strait-jacketed you with a reduction in the Parkinson's medications. That has been a relief on two counts: you are more clear-headed on fewer drugs and you are less mobile and unpredictable in your behaviour. The occasional need for anti-anxiety medication has made you sleepier. During the two weeks when you were so terribly ill and unable to take many of your pills even in crushed form, I felt the burden of this job most acutely. Every day I was having to make hasty decisions about your medications, usually alone and without support: If you can only swallow one pill, which one do I choose? I felt as though we were crossing a ravine on a tightrope and I had more than a few panic attacks. These are powerful drugs, not to be treated in a cavalier manner. But we do seem to have achieved a modicum of mental stability; the adjustments are working well, for now.

I am sorry for the times I might have been irritable and harsh, frustrated and even angry as I have traveled through a minefield of emotions. You always look back at me benignly and calmly. Your tone, when you can articulate anything at all, is courteous and gentle. It is only if you are in the midst of a psychotic melt-down that you might rise up with any strong emotion but I am never hurt by those infrequent outbursts. I know they are only you stuck in a waking nightmare where you have no control. I, on the other hand, have no such excuse.

I am sorry that I cannot always read your signals or understand your words which are usually inaudible or completely nonsensical. You have difficulty expressing anything now so I limit my questions to those that can be answered with a simple yes-no response. Even those are sometimes beyond your capability so I am left to guess, often incorrectly, when even your body language is shutting down. I am trying so very hard to tempt you with foods you might enjoy to help you regain the weight you lost on your two week near-starvation diet; you refuse most things except a few favourites. When I list the foods I think you might like, you often stare back at me blankly. When I repeat the list you then might blurt out a yes to a food on offer. I must remember you often take a while to process the information I am giving you. I must be quiet and slow and patient.

I am sorry that I am so well and you are so ill. Is this what is known as survivor's guilt? I have worked hard to remain fit and strong just so I can have the energy to manage your care with all the associated heavy lifting. Alas I feel badly that I only seem to get stronger through all of this as you become weaker. 

I am sorry if decisions to keep you at home have been wrong. In my heart it feels right but I would like to have been able to consult with you on all of this before it was too late. All you ever said on the subject when you could still form such thoughts was that you never wanted to be like this, so utterly dependent. You have been gone a long time now so I've been left to make all decisions on my own for many years. That has been both empowering and lonely.

I am sorry that when the end finally comes I will probably feel a crazy mix of grief and relief. I know I will feel lost without your constant presence. I have been caring for you intensively for nearly four years, but you have been home full-time and very ill for ten. It is hard to imagine being able to make decisions freely without consideration of anyone but myself. I am sorry that I even find myself thinking of a life beyond all of this and especially for the small thrill beneath the terror that I feel at the prospect.

*Saints Kings Church, Venustiano Carranza, Mexico: Stained glass windows Sun, Alpha Omega

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Phoenix

He placed invisible glasses onto his face as she spooned mushy cereal into his mouth. He chewed an inordinately long time for nearly pureed food. She had to cue him to swallow. It had been fourteen days of near starvation, one tiny meal a day if that, but today seemed to be a turning point.

She had always hesitated to summon the family when calamity struck; it strikes so often. He was like the phoenix rising from the ashes, his memory wiped clean of the catastrophe from which he emerged each time and the emotional havoc it created. But this episode had seemed different. It looked like the final chapter to the story. How could he possibly pull out of the death throes that gripped him? Now, though, it seems there will be another season after all.

The family arrived, one very doubtful of the severity and mildly annoyed, the others staying longer and committing to the vigil. After a week, she finally sent everyone home to their lives, promising herself not to subject them to that again. They had all said their tearful good-byes at his bedside. She held her breath in the now empty house to see how the change in atmosphere would affect his fragile psyche. 

He awoke finally late in the afternoon, following the new pattern of sleeping up to nineteen hours at a stretch. She pulled him up out of bed and into his wheelchair, an increasingly difficult task as his weakness deepens. His muscle wasting and thinness are alarming. She transferred him to the couch for a few hours of snoozing in front of the television and suggested food to him every hour. To her surprise he agreed to her offerings and for the first time in a fortnight he had three tiny meals during his few slightly wakeful hours, three more than many other days during this latest crisis.

If she looked away distracted from the task of feeding him, he fed himself invisible food but he was unable to grasp a real spoon to guide it to his mouth. This new condition requires her constant attention. At least, she tells herself, it is only a few hours of the day...for now.

She has long been used to shifting gears and quickly changing direction in his care if necessary. She is a master, in fact. The mystery and complexity of Parkinson's disease demand it. But this time was the closest he had ever come to the grand finale and she felt limp and exhausted when finally left alone with this man who seems so fragile and needy on the outside and yet must be built of steel on the inside. She wonders how many more times he will be consumed by the flames and emerge intact. Could she herself weather the conflagration again?

Phoenix tombstone, Fyvie Kirkyard Scottish gravestone, 18th or 19th century.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Silver Linings

I have sat down to write this many times without success. Words failed me. My emotions have run the gamut of abject grief to anger to joy to relief to acceptance. There have been fatigue, laughter and tears so it has been difficult to settle on a tone for any piece I started to write.

After nearly a week of extreme illness, last Friday we hit rock bottom. All week since the onset of the urinary tract infection, Michael had only been consuming teaspoonfuls of yogurt or applesauce mixed with his medications. His consumption of liquids had dropped drastically to the point that I worried about his kidneys. He was producing very scant, dark urine and he ran a fever for five days. Intravenous fluids are impossible for Michael who rips out anything he doesn't understand. On Friday, he refused everything: water, food, medications. He fell into an unresponsive coma-like state. His breathing was an alarming mix of loud rattling and apnea. The visiting nurse declared that the end might be near so I made my calls to the family to urge immediate visits.

Perhaps he heard my telephone conversations. Perhaps it was just the darkness before the dawn. Perhaps we will never know the mysteries of life, especially end of life with Parkinson's disease. Tears were shed. Offspring made hasty arrangements to get home quickly. I wept my good-byes at my inert husband's side. At times he seemed to be communing with invisible beings who kept him amused and separated from this world. But then he awoke late in the afternoon fairly clear-eyed. He could not speak, probably from the starvation diet he had been on, but he was back temporarily. In fact he had had no medication for twenty-four hours and no food for longer but somehow was able to walk a few steps without stumbling. I was astounded.

Our four children arrived home with all of them under our roof by early Saturday afternoon. Michael by then had relapsed but once again rallied for a time in the evening, a pattern that has continued all week with varying levels of activity and anxiety. I was grateful for the opportunity to consult with the kids face-to-face about end of life issues for their father.

The most wonderful gift has been meeting our grandson for the first time. Michael instinctively reached out for this precious child one afternoon and held him to his chest, prompting stifled tears from those of us witnessing the event. On another occasion, Baby Emmett treated us to a noisy emptying of his bowels while we dined. Michael had joined us at the table in his wheelchair just in time to hear the eruption. His face broke out into a broad grin that I haven't seen in years. Scatological silliness obviously never fails to entertain. Incontinent himself now, Michael must have felt a kinship with his small grandson.

Michael has gone thirteen days with no more than about two hundred calories a day, if that, though he is drinking enough to sustain life. He sleeps most of the day but manages to be up and out of bed part of each day too, communing naturally but silently with us. The dogs keep him company in his room. Those of us still here tending to his needs spend our days laughing and playing with the baby. We make meals, watch television, chat and drink tea. On consultation with Michael's doctor we have all agreed to keep him at home and comfortable and avoid all hospital intervention if possible. To do otherwise would hurl Michael into a panicked state of anxiety which would require staff to strait-jacket him either physically or chemically in a foreign environment. We prefer to keep him happy and calm at home, interacting as well as he can with family, dogs and visitors.

I do not know if this is the end for Michael or, if it is, how long he might have left. But we are all in acceptance of whatever might come now and grateful for the brief moments of clarity we have been able to enjoy this week with him.

* Photograph by Claire Verney of (L-R) Anna Torontow, Michael Torontow, Emmett Seed and Laura Torontow.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fever Pitch

The nurse pumped up the band around Michael's arm. "This usually makes him wince," she commented with a furrow in her brow. But Michael lay inert on the bed, eyes closed, his breathing a disturbing rattle. It was 1:30 in the afternoon and he hadn't budged since bedtime the night before.

I had made my first call to the emergency care number on Sunday. It had been a crazy week of heightened mania, leaving me to wonder what changes were happening in my husband's brain and ready to bolt myself. I had consulted with the neurologist on Friday, desperately trying to find some solution to the psychosis. We agreed to reduce the amount of Comtan at the end of the day when the mania was taking full flight (It is common, in advanced cases, to reduce Parkinson's medications to control psychosis, these medications being the primary cause of this disorder). In fact, on Friday evening, the first day of the reduction, Michael was clearer-headed than he has been in a very long time. He gave me the gift of a very brief but real conversation on our wedding anniversary. It might be his last.

He had awoken at three Sunday morning but I had managed to keep him in bed until six even though he was obviously running on psychotic energy and trying to escape his bed. I finally admitted defeat and coldly ushered him into the shower and seated him at the table to eat, all well before his first dose of medication for the day. But he slumped before completing his meal and had to retreat to the couch for his morning nap. I noticed that his mobility had suddenly worsened and his confusion increased but, in themselves, not extraordinary occurrences. Were the positive effects of the Comtan reduction already over?

It wasn't until I followed him into the bathroom after lunch to help him use the facilities that I noticed the small, violent streak of blood in his diaper, the defining clue to the previous week's mania: a urinary tract infection. I now knew how to focus my questions: Does it hurt to pee? Do you have any pain in your pelvis or back? How long have you been suffering? His responses were surprisingly clear. He had had pain on urination for about two days (could be more or less given his lack of perspective concerning time) and discomfort in his pelvis.

I made my call. The nurse I spoke to passed along my message to the roaming duty nurse that day. She contacted me no more than ten minutes later and then consulted a doctor, who, based on her knowledge of my own vast experience with Michael's care, automatically issued a prescription to our pharmacy for the same drug we've used before for this problem. With the assistance of my visiting son and daughter-in-law, I had a prescription for Ciprofloxacin in my hands within the hour, an astonishing achievement in any medical system, if you ask me. With great difficulty I collected a urine sample from Michael and rushed it up to the hospital for analysis. In the meantime, the hope is that the Ciprofloxacin will get to work until the analysis is complete, allowing a fine-tuning of the medications later if necessary.

At this point Michael's condition plummeted rapidly. He went to bed and has essentially stayed there since Sunday, in and out of consciousness with a fever that spikes alarmingly in the evening. Except for the small amounts of yogurt or apple sauce needed to administer his pulverized pills, he is eating nothing and drinking very little, his cheeks hollowing rapidly. Yesterday was the most disturbing with the laboured breathing, prompting the visiting nurse to contact the doctor again. Michael has now had three full days of the antibiotic so I am hoping today, Wednesday, will be the turning point for him. He was certainly more alert yesterday, awake and up for an hour in the afternoon. I am insisting he stay in the wheelchair when he is up now because he is so weak from fever and lack of food he can barely walk. He seems content to stay in bed and is mercifully very calm. Last week's mania has vanished.

On Monday, realizing that this was different than what we have experienced in the past, I felt a panic grip my heart. This is it, I thought, and picked up the phone to weep with one of my children. I have tried to prepare myself for that final separation but we never can fully. The thought of losing him felt tragic to my broken heart.

We are all poised but, as we keep reminding ourselves, this is Michael. He has astounded us before with his resilience. One of my children brashly announced she refuses to accept it until it happens. She is not being cold; she is simply protecting herself from another round of anguish. And yet when I told her that, for the first time through her daddy's long, bumpy journey with this disease, I had whispered to him tenderly that he can go if he is ready, she was tearfully silent at the other end of the phone.

We wait.

*Eva Bonnier, Reflection in Blue, 1887

Saturday, July 6, 2013

No More Mr. Nice Guy

The chair was pulled up to the bedside and I held his hand. I was anticipating a long night after such an eventful evening. This was already the third time within ten minutes of going to bed that Michael had summoned me.

He had been almost completely mute all evening but a frenzy had overwhelmed him. Like a determined toddler, he was single-minded and focused but his goal not apparent. I had tried to ignore the creeping wildness by watching a new and favourite series on Netflix but eventually gave up after frequent interruptions.

He was up and down the basement stairs repeatedly, on one occasion, when asked, to find the electrical panel. Those were nearly the only words he uttered all evening.  I quickly diverted him back up the stairs after a firm refusal to show him what he wanted. Still sharply etched on my brain was the time I had found him about to insert needle-nosed pliers into an electrical outlet to fix a burned out lightbulb.

He had spent a half hour or more on the floor trying to fix the unbroken wheelchair. This task, in fact, was what seemed to have impelled him downstairs in search of the electricity. Why do so many of his projects involve electricity in his addled brain?

His resolute silence and the seeming randomness of his actions belied the brain activity that must have been happening. When I found him about to leave the house again in his slippers, I urged him to put on proper footwear for the wet conditions outside, hoping he would simply lose interest in the plan. I refused to offer any assistance dressing him. It was getting late, it was dark and his medications would soon run out which meant it would be a calamitous walk in the rain.

Of course I was wrong. From the other side of the wall but nearly right next to him, I listened to about fifteen minutes of what sounded like a Herculean struggle to get into his jacket. As I heard the door open I rushed out to see him stepping into the rain. He was dressed in rubber boots, shorts, my sun hat and a rain jacket. I had to stifle a laugh. Most of  this was perfectly normal garb for the weather but somehow he had managed to get into his jacket backwards with the zipper pulled all the way up to the back of his neck - How did you do that? Crazy but impressive - The flimsy hood was flapping in his face and he was drenched in sweat from the effort. I let him go but got my shoes on ready for another dash.

He wandered down the driveway without a single fall, then onto the road. By now I was casually sweeping the small, aborted apples from the path, keeping a sharp eye on him as he strode competently down the road. As he approached the corner I lost sight of him in the dark and behind the trees. I ran inside to grab my car keys knowing he was now far enough that he might not manage the journey home if - when - his medications suddenly ran out. By the time I had pulled up to that intersection in the car he had disappeared. Too dark to see down the safer route to my left, I went that way, certain he must have just wanted to stroll down to the train tracks, our usual route for a walk. When there was no sign of him, I knew he had instead gone toward the highway. Horror.

By the time I got to him he was stumbling along on the shoulder close to my friend's house. He had managed to cover a couple of hundred meters in his escape. Cars sped by. I pulled into a driveway, rolled down the passenger's window and ordered angrily, "Get in the car." He stopped and stared at me defiantly. For a split second, he looked as though he might run. I prepared to jump out of the car to wrestle him inside if I had to but his shoulders slumped in defeat and he came towards the car.

This is the point at which I felt a coldness overcome me. In a state of anger I can become cruelly articulate. It was his biggest complaint when he could still voice such thoughts many years ago. He would always back down when my anger reared, which I think - I hope - only happened on rare occasions. I began to realize slowly as the disease progressed, taking his voice with it, that he was not simply being stubborn and refusing to speak to me.

Do you know what you look like? Look at yourself.

Anybody who doesn't know you and encountering you right now would take you straight to the hospital. You are an alarming sight.

You don't have any identification or a medical card on you should you collapse and need help (Note to self: I guess I should replace that broken Medicalert bracelet if this is our new reality).

You cannot leave the house without someone to accompany you. PERIOD.



And to myself: Why on earth did you let him get this far?

He was, of course, mute and blank through my tirade. After fighting to get him belted into his seat, I drove him up to the soccer field; that must have been where he was heading. None of his buddies were there so we headed for home in the usual silence. He struggled into the house now that his drugs had worn off. 

Bedtime rituals filled the last few minutes of the day. I apologized for my outburst, attempting to assure him and myself that my anger was with the disease not him. His only other words of the evening were "I love you." Then, after the initial period of bedtime anxiety, he slept a peaceful fourteen hours.

*F.O.C. Darley, Ichabod's Chase, 1849

Monday, July 1, 2013

How to Paint a Chair

She rummaged around her paint shelf for the stain she'd used so inexpertly eight years ago on the garden furniture. Was it still there? She'd recently purged the basement of truckloads of detritus accumulated over the years. Much of it, including many old cans of paint, was recycled at various points around the city. Could she, in a moment of zeal, have tossed that stain too?

She'd obviously had a moment of clarity when assessing that particular can because there it was, nearly full but badly separated after years of stagnation. She wondered if stain could go bad like mayonnaise but since the furniture was old anyway there was little risk. All it probably needed was a good shake and a stir.

It was a nice day with little chance of rain, perfect for the task if she could manage to concentrate long enough to accomplish anything. He had been particularly restless lately so there were no guarantees but since it was a long holiday weekend with no respite in sight, she had to find something to do to stay sane. She ushered him outside and settled him into his reclining deck chair, hoping he'd nod off in the sunshine.

The chairs were rough old things acquired for free from neighbours. They had been badly weathered but she had smoothed out the wood and applied a stain to hide the age spots. It was time for a face lift again, a good focus for a quiet, lonely Sunday afternoon.

He remained still for the duration of the sanding but started to stir as she pried open the paint can. She tried to ignore the restless rustling of medication taking effect. Bent over the chair, her back to him, she could envision the facial contortions that were beginning and the glimmer of madness that always accompanies the medications reaching full effect - a most dangerous combination of renewed physical agility and heightened dementia. That surge of energy must be a heady feeling for him after the nearly paralytic bradykinesia of the off times. A sense of superhuman strength, almost. She could see it in his eyes: I can do anything, they said, and she was always there to thwart him or "badger" him. That was the word he'd used the other day as she ran after him when he'd escaped to the road. She had tried to help him walk back when he could only manage half a step at a time before falling on the hard pavement. On that occasion, after the rebuke, she had left him alone and run back to fetch the car but, with her gone, he had miraculously picked himself up and jogged the very short distance home. It was getting difficult to know when to intervene with a man who could swing wildly from belligerent independence to panicky neediness in a matter of seconds.

He got up from the chair and she brandished her paint brush somewhat wildly, knowing this was now going to be an interrupted job. She considered abandoning the project to follow him but she was still stinging slightly from the accusation of over-attentiveness. He shuffled down the ramp in his slippers. Glancing up, she saw him move down the driveway. She wanted to let him just go, so, with her back still turned, she held her breath, only releasing it when his movement shuddered then pitched him to his knees onto the gravel. Ouch, she winced, but he picked himself up and turned back.

Still painting, now frantically, she listened for his steps back up the ramp but he detoured to the back of the house. Well, at least the grass is a little easier on those poor knees, she thought, but still didn't leave her task. A few more stabs with the paint brush, then she dashed around the back to check on him. Oh %$#&;! Where the hell is he? He couldn't have disappeared that fast. She bolted into the house, yelling his name but there was silence. Back outside she now noticed the upper door to the basement was slightly ajar and there he was trying to pick the locked door at the bottom of the stairs with a small stone.

Determined to complete at least one chair now that she'd started, she left him to his break-in project and raced back around to the front to continue her task for a few more seconds before the next check-in. This time he had made his way back up the six stairs and was now sprawled out on the paving stones picking at the sand between the bricks. She opened her mouth to protest the little piles of sand he was beginning to create but caught her tongue. Another dash back to the painting project. 

Next she heard the shed door open. Obviously the brick-picking project had been abandoned but she made a mental note to sweep up any scattered sand later. She once again put down the paint brush to join him in the shed where he had parked himself on the lawn tractor and was fiddling with the knobs and levers. She congratulated herself for hiding the key two summers ago after he had tried to flee on the machine one day, scattering small stones like gunshot towards the house and fragile windows. She believed there was little harm he could cause just fiddling so she bolted back to her paint.

On second check to the shed, he had now fixated on her bicycle. His was hung up from the rafters but hers had been jammed next to the tractor. She implored him to not take it outside but she knew it was a waste of breath because there was that look in the eyes. Oh well, maybe she could get a few more licks of paint on that chair before he managed to wrestle the wedged-in bike outside. Surely that would prove too difficult for him now. He'd probably fall and really hurt himself this time, she thought guiltily but not enough to intervene.

The next noise she heard was the crunch of gravel underneath the wheels of her bike. As she turned her head to look she saw him straddling the bicycle. GREAT, she muttered bitterly, then decided something very irresponsible: If he wants to ride her bike then she'd jolly well make it easier for him. What kind of lunacy had overtaken her, she didn't know, but she was now feeling about as rebellious as he seemed to be. Knowing her tires were flattened from a winter's inactivity and not wanting them to be damaged, she cheerfully offered to fill them with air for him. She knew that to thwart him would now create a real dust-up, a scene that hadn't been acted out in such a long time, she never imagined he'd rise to it ever again. With a moment of scientific curiosity overcoming her protective instinct, she thought she'd just see how far this might go. She helpfully suggested he stick to cycling around on the grass, but the look he gave her suggested he had already made up his mind.

Another dash up to her paint can, another few licks of paint, then a glance over her shoulder again. He was gone. Of course he was. Why did she even think there was a chance he wouldn't go?

More vulgar expletives under her breath. She ran inside to grab the car keys, thinking he might have gone towards the highway, God forbid, but then she heard the distant bark of a small dog down the end of her road. She'd drive down there first because the thought of him wobbling out onto the highway was too unbearable. Besides he could have gone in one of three different directions by now. She knew how fast he could travel if he really put his mind to it. And - relief washing away her petulance -   there he was, nearly at the end of their small road, stopped as normally and casually as anyone out for an afternoon bike ride who had run into a neighbour. Well, not literally run into her, though that was a distinct possibility for him. No, he was chatting to a young friend out walking her yappy dog and looking as though she wanted to flee as far away as she could get from this crazy man on a bicycle. 

It took a great deal of effort to not shout at him to go home but instead she rolled down her window and chatted amiably to the young friend, congratulating her on her recent university graduation. Then as the young woman made her excuses and nearly ran back to her house, he mounted his bicycle, ignored his wife and cycled off back toward their home. She rode on ahead and turned back into the driveway, not even certain he would follow her but she didn't look back to check on him. She simply returned to her project, like a moth to the flame. He rolled up the driveway a few seconds later, parked the bicycle half in the shed, then shuffled back up the stairs to join her on the deck. He nearly fell into his chair, collapsing from the exertion and the waning of the medications. She barely spoke or acknowledged him, pretending it was the most normal thing in the world for him to set off on a little ride all by himself. She calmly painted the last few strokes, then sighed mightily to see the job completed. 

Her eyes scanned the deck, taking in the rest of the shabby furniture. Only six more pieces to paint.

*Carulmare, Have a Seat, 2010.