The Red Sweater

“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time” ~ Banksy

He had been dreading the visit for some days now. As he walked through the park with his daughter he thought of different ways he could bail out. He could suddenly remember an urgent business appointment. He could feign a sneeze, a slight temperature and cancel on the basis that he was a potential health hazard. If only his phone would ring, damn he should have arranged for his secretary to ring him, calling him back the the office with some pseudo emergency. It was too late, the gates of the park were approaching and beyond, the care home where his mother had been resident for some time. Slowly this vibrant, funny and independent woman was losing herself to the dark and relentless onslaught of dementia. His weekly visits had become more and more bleak as she forgot various aspects of their life and relationship, their history, and finally a few weeks ago during his last visit, she could not recall who he was and was convinced that her son never visited. His daughter, expecting her first child, always accompanied him. She spoke gently to her grandmother of simple things; the view from the window, the weather. She showed her pictures of her unborn child and discussed what names they liked best. She never pressured her grandmother to remember, she just held her hand, chatted, brushed her hair or read from a magazine she would buy on the way there. As they approached the exit to the park he saw her. She sat alone on the park bench and she was knitting a red sweater, small, for a baby. She looked up at him and smiled, for a moment he thought he saw a flicker of recognition in her eyes.

She loved her grandmother dearly. She was heartbroken that she would never know her son, but she was determined to stay strong, for all of them. She knew her dad was struggling, she’d witnessed the pain in his eyes as he tried to get his mother to recognise him. When she first visited with him, she had been shocked by how frantic her grandmother would become at her dads persistent questioning, questioning that usually ended with him storming from the room, full of fury and frustration. She learned to alleviate the tension and calm her grandmother. She would send dad off to get coffee and they would just sit and chat about every day things. She discovered that her grandmother would watch the birds from the window, she could name the breeds and recognise individual birds and would give them names based on their characteristics like Cheeky, Skittish and Greedyboy. It was a memory that as yet had not been touched by this grim disease, a wonderful oasis in a slowly encroaching desert. One day her grandmother had reached out her hand and placed it on her growing bump. She had smiled and told her how she had child of her own, but he never came to visit. Her dad had sighed, got up and left. This had been his last visit. She had to persuade her dad to come with her today. He had not been for three weeks and she was determined that he would not give up on his mother. She had begged and pleaded as only a daughter can, and finally he had relented. As they walked through the park she reached for his hand giving it a gentle squeeze. He looked at her and smiled, but his eyes were sad. As they neared the entrance to the home, she saw her grandmother sitting on the bench near the exit to the park. She was busy knitting a red sweater that she knew to be for her unborn son. They had picked out a pattern together last week when they had flicked through the pages of a magazine. She never imagined that her grandmother would actually take up her needles and begin to knit.

It’s bright today, I’ll go out. I need real light to see the stitches, its too dark in here. I wonder if the girl will come. I like the way she brushes my hair, like my mother used to when I was young. I think this is for her. I think its for her boy…..my boy?…my boy. I think I’m knitting this for my boy. Red was always his favourite colour. He wanted to be a fireman, I remember…my boy. Here, this bench will do. I can watch the birds from here. I’ll sit here a while and knit this sweater for my boy. He’ll be here soon…

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