Captain Stanley

For some reason it was always a surprise when it rained and the water poured from the gutters, splashing all over the front doorstep and forming a torrent which flowed towards the gate, down the pathway, flooding the flower beds as it went. When it wasn’t raining he would look at the guttering and say things like, “I really must do something about those gutters before it rains again”. But he never thought of it on the weekend or when he had time or when he had his tool belt on.

The tool belt was a mostly ornamental thing. It was costume. He was the construction worker in a Village People tribute band called The New Recruits, but he had tools and knew how to use them. He was handy. A handy man with a great moustache.

Moustache or no moustache he was going to be in trouble. The flooded beds would not recover. The petunias in blue and pink and mauve, recently planted, small and in need of a nurturing hand had been ruined before they even had a chance. This would not make his father happy. The old man had to ration his time in the front yard. He wasn’t as mobile as he had been, but when the mood took him, and he felt good, he would spend hours on his arthritic knees planting and weeding out there. The old man would be disappointed, to put it mildly, and he would make life a misery for his son’s wife when the younger man was gone during the day, out at work.

The wife – she hated being referred to as “the wife” – was a patient woman. She didn’t ask for much and was willing to make allowances for Stanley, as she called him, who was her husband’s father. Stanley was given to moping. He would rise late and retire early and shuffle around the house, occasionally muttering to himself. He was harmless really. Grateful when she served him something for his lunch, smiling and polite, and launching himself into a concerted bout of strenuous slurping in order to get the food from the bowl into his mouth. He tended to suck food through his teeth, those teeth he still had, and often removed his false teeth prior to a meal as it felt more comfortable to eat that way. When he ate soup it tended to splash. Soup was easy for him to eat though, and he liked eating soup, so she served Stanley soup quite a lot.

If she began wiping up the table or, worse, taking away his cutlery before the old man was finished he would fly into a rage. When he was very angry he would say the word “damn” a lot. He would become loud and say, in a barely coherent way, that he didn’t wish his damned bowl to be interfered with and why couldn’t she leave his damned things where they were anyway and it was all he could do to put up with living in this damned house. When she retreated back towards the sink he would quieten and his face take on the familiar sour cast, fixed, immutable, and betraying nothing of the impotent passion on display only seconds before.

Stanley was a confused old man, and Megan knew it. Megan was the wife, although she hated being called the wife (it’s worth repeating: she really didn’t like it at all). She would suggest to her husband that they ought to find out what the options were for the old man. This meant she was thinking about a home for him, or whatever they called them now, which she wasn’t sure about. Her husband would talk about the issues involved but he preferred to keep his father with them as long as he could. There was a lot to be said for extended families, he said. Megan could see his point, in theory, but wondered what he would think if he was forced to deal with Stanley on his own every day, and feed him, and put up with his mumbling and shuffling and his unpleasant habit of appearing right behind her without warning, just as she turned around. It was spooky, she said. She didn’t like it.

She wanted the best for Stanley, she said.

She knew Stanley would be impossible to deal with over the loss of his newly planted flowers. She could well remember the tantrum that lasted days when her husband had trimmed the hedge out the back. The old man threw a glass of water at his son, and cut himself on the shards as he tried to pick up the pieces, and he refused to eat at all, and Megan was sure the nurse who came to dress his cut hands thought that she and her husband were mistreating Stanley somehow. Stanley liked things the way he liked them, and he didn’t like them changed.

The rain continued to fall and the water in the flooded beds rose and broke its little banks and formed rivulets out across the lawn. Stanley sat outside on the front porch, as usual, at 3pm. Megan began working out how many minutes were left until her husband would be home at 6. She hoped he would be home soon. She knew the old man would get confused then angry and then possibly violent. It wouldn’t go well – she knew that. But Stanley was enchanted. He tore sheets of paper from his small leather-bound notebook and folded them into little boats and sailed them down the little river which started at the foot of the front steps. Stanley was still sailing when his son returned from work, lost and distracted and happy.

Published in: on September 4, 2012 at 8:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

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