You Don't Have To Say You Love Me
"What are you getting your missus for Valentine's, then, Barry?"
Barry left-clicked the mouse to keep his place on the screen and looked up. Young Jason was in the warehouse office doorway, pulling up his hood. The crutch of his low-slung jeans was almost down to his knees.
"Hadn't thought," Barry confessed.
Jason was a good lad, a bit rough around the edges, but in time, he'd shape up all right. Barry could see the potential in him. If there were two things he had learned in his three score years, it was that appearances do matter and that at the same time, you should never judge by appearances. Book and covers.
"I'm taking Debs out for a Thai tonight."
"Well, have a good time you two." Barry smiled and returned his attention to the screen.
"Coming down the George?" Jason persisted.
"Maybe later, maybe later." Barry knew he would not. He would save this invoice, tidy his desk, do a bit of shopping at the all-night deli and get off home.
Jason nodded, "See ya."
Valentine's Day. He had never given it a thought. How long had he and Pat been together? He'd lost count of the years. He would have to find out when Dusty Springfield was first in the charts, that would give him an idea.
Time had done strange things since Pat had been laid up. There was always so much to sort out: appointments, time off, scans, tests, more appointments, more time off, test results; diagnoses, prognoses; scares, crises, midnight emergencies; washing, cleaning, toileting, bathing, more washing; lifting; hopes, fears, remissions and submissions. Then there were the things to check before he left in the morning: making sure Pat has within reach tissues, drinks, pills, bowl, bedpan, notebook and pencil, mobile phone and TV remote control. There was shopping for what Pat could eat, not shopping for what Pat couldn't eat, or keep down, and the all the everyday little things for himself, like getting to work and maintaining a semblance of normal life. Barry had not washed his hair for a fortnight. There was so much to remember: is this the day for the Macmillan Nurse? If he should phone would he wake Pat? If there is no answer, is Pat asleep, or dead?
'You keep your head down, Barry me lad, and just get on with it,' he sighed. Something in his throat signalled that he had caught another cold, the second since the New Year.
The firm had been good to him. Pat's trouble over the years had meant that Barry was now the sole breadwinner. Good though the NHS was, there were so many extras to pay for, far more than benefits and allowances covered. And what a hassle that had been! Forms, phone calls, interviews, more forms. The DWP hadn't believed him when he had totted up the list of equipment they needed: the ramps, the hoist, the bathroom gear, the extra rails upstairs and downstairs and in my lady's chamber.
They had decided that Pat would die at home. They took out joint membership of Exit. Together, they had pored over the literature. Barry had been shocked to discover how simple it was to 'do it'. They had agreed, through gritted teeth, that, one day, Pat would decide and Barry would leave for work that morning having said goodbye for the final time.
Now Pat was disappearing before his very eyes: skin paper-thin, gaunt, bony headed; and defeated, which was how Barry felt, too, defeated by so much watching, listening, worrying, pitying, resenting, hating. Was there room for love?
Barry looked at the clock. Pat would need turning at seven. He phoned to say he'd be home by then. Since the trouble had spread to the larynx, they had had to be innovative in communicating. The numbness in Pat's fingers, a side effect of the chemotherapy, transformed texting into fumbling, garbled nonsense, tears and a deepened sense of uselessness. They had settled on learning Morse code, for which Pat permanently wore a metal thimble, tapping on the mobile.
Dash, dot, dot: 'D.' Then dash, dash, dash: 'O', spelling out, 'DONT B LATE. C VIDEO.' On Saturday, Barry had taken home a pile of musty fifty-pence video cassettes from the Oxfam shop. He could feel his patience being tested, again.