The Parcel by Keith Wright
Frank was the youngest of three children, his two sisters; the more exotically named Mimi and Florence had long since moved to warmer climes with their other halves. Frank had been left to look in on Mum since he was in his mid-thirties. Now in his fifties, it had become something of a routine. At 76, she could still make him laugh and she was active enough for her advancing years. It was company she lacked, but she didn’t like to socialise. Something of a paradox. She only wanted her family and her one life-long friend, Rita, who called in once a month or so. That left quite a responsibility on Frank, as Mimi and Florence only made it back to the UK twice a year, sometimes only once. He therefore became the main stay of the arrangements, with great trumpeting and fuss around the visits by his sisters which sometimes left him a little envious, both of their unchained lifestyles and the feeling of being taken for granted.
He had worked at ‘James, James and James Accountants’, for over seventeen years now. They were a medium sized family business of accountants and Frank could do the job with his eyes closed. They had decided on the quirky name twenty years before, thinking it was more impactful than James and son. They were right. Frank felt the job was safe enough and the flexibility he had, meant he could often call in on Mum on the businesses time, rather than his own.
There had been a lot of post for him on the Tuesday; a large parcel, which caused a little excitement and various letters, which despite the internet age, were still necessary, for legal reasons.
The phone rang. ‘James Accountancy, Frank Palmer speaking… Oh, hello, Doctor Chang.’
‘Mr Palmer, apologies for the call at work, but I thought I should telephone out of courtesy. We have the results of the tests for your mother.’
‘Oh blimey, I had forgotten all about those. No problem is there?’ He started to get a tight feeling in his stomach, and he sat in his chair.
‘I’m afraid there is, Mr Palmer, your mother has been diagnosed with vascular dementia.’
‘Oh, my Lord.’
‘I’m sorry, to have to give you this news, but perhaps you could call in to the surgery with your mother and we can discuss it in more detail. It shouldn’t mean too many problems in the short term, but naturally going forwards the impact on your mother will become exponentially more difficult.’
‘I see. Naturally this is a shock, but yes, we will call in. Thank you for letting me know…Yes, I will ring reception.’
‘I spoke with your mother a couple of days ago and she asked if I would call you to tell you. She was a little emotional, and overwhelmed I think, which is understandable.’
Frank’s mouth had gone dry and he felt a little lightheaded. ‘No, I understand, bless her. That is very kind of you to call me. I am most grateful.’
‘You’re welcome. Bye.’
Frank stared ahead for a few moments, trying to process the news. He knew what it would mean. The clock was ticking. He needed to ring Mimi and Florence.
‘Are you all right, Frank?’ His manager shouted over.
‘Yes, fine thanks. Sorry, I was miles away.’
He began to claw at the Sellotape on the large parcel, but he was on autopilot. He was losing his Mum, and it was going to be a long drawn out process with bits falling off her soul, every few visits. Little signs that the mists were descending and the fog that erased the construct of her mind, was destroying her in front of his eyes. He would watch on helplessly; a tortured witness to the destruction of the woman who gave him life.
It had been a little over two years since he took Dr Chang’s call at work. It had flown by.
He sat in the high-backed chair in his mother’s living room. Mum’s moments of lucidity were getting less and less. Mostly she was confused, with only the occasional half hour burst of reality showing itself. She was staring ahead, the light from the window reflecting in her specs, and she was tapping her fingers on the arm of the chair. The latest new habit she had acquired. These long silences had become something of a theme also, with Mum drifting off for several minutes at a time and then re-appearing in a different guise.
‘How’s my Mum and Dad?’ She asked.
Frank hated this one, he had long since figured out that lying was the better option, but he just couldn’t bring himself to lie to his Mum. Maybe he should have. ‘How old are you, Mum?’
She laughed. ‘Me? Um…I don’t know. How old am I?’
‘You are seventy-eight.’
‘Am I really? Oh, good heavens.’
‘So how old would your Mum and Dad be?’
‘Oh, we haven’t lost them, have we?’ She began crying. ‘Oh no. Not Mum.’ She sobbed like a small child. Frank went over and knelt by her side and comforted her.
‘Tell me about them, Mum. What was that story about Grandma and the fishing trip? When she thought she had a fish and it was Grandpa’s belt.’
‘Oh, that was funny…’ Mum told the story, that Frank had heard a thousand times. It still made him smile because Mum told it like it was the very first time. It was to her. She could still remember those distant shadows but not the recent ones. Before long she had dozed off again.
Mimi and Florence had only been to visit once since the news. They asked what the point was, ‘It’s too upsetting.’ They said. As if it wasn’t for him every day of the bloody week. He had said, when he broke the news that they should remain stoic and remember Mum as she had always been, not how she was to become. He did not want her entire life to be defined by this latest fatal illness, they should remember her for all those other little character traits and fun and sacrifice that she had undertaken for the three of them. The sisters took this as a validation of their absence, to help them keep their memories alive and untainted. A cop out, Frank thought.
Frank was reading a book when Mum woke up again. ‘Hello, love.’ She smiled. She looked so happy and relaxed.
‘Hello, sleepy head.’ He said.
‘You can go now, love, thanks a lot.’
‘Thanks for bringing my meal.’
‘Mum, it’s me Frank.’
‘Your son!’ He could feel tears welling up in his eyes. He knew this would happen but the shock of it was no less when it did. His heart was thumping.
‘Stop messing me about. I don’t have a son. Do I?’
‘Mum…’ Frank smelt the foulest of smells. Mum had evacuated her bowels.
Frank had not been sleeping well. He knew his Mum was deteriorating fast and her ‘carer’ was struggling to cope in the fifteen-minute slot she was afforded. If Mum had messed herself, the whole session was devoted to cleaning her up. If not, the carer would quickly make some toast and marmalade and throw it in front of her, with a mug of strong tea. Mum hated strong tea. She never drank it, and so she became parched and dehydrated and dizzy. She had been getting worse and yet Doctor Chang had said she could live another three or four years and Frank should start looking at specialist Care Homes. He wouldn’t dare mention this to Mum, she would never countenance such a proposal. Perhaps when she was so far out of it that it made no sense, or he had power of attorney. Then he could do it.
He let himself in with his key and saw her in her chair. He knew immediately that she was dead. Her tongue was distended, and her eyes were glazed over and non-seeing. Her skin was wax-like and purple spots of lividity were visible around her legs and ankles and on her forearms. He opened a couple of windows as there was a smell emanating from his dear Mother. There were three packets of sleeping pills at the side of her. He picked up the handwritten note on the small table at the side of her chair.
‘Dear Mimi, Florence and Frank.
I’m so sorry to put you through this but I have decided to do this for myself as well as for you. I never wanted to be a burden to anyone, not least my dear children. It is for the best. Don’t worry, I believe we will all meet in the afterlife and I will be well again when we meet in Heaven.
Love to the grandkids,
Thank you for being such wonderful children. I’ve had a good life.
There were three parcels laid out on the carpet in front of her chair. Each had a label on; for him, Mimi and Florence. He thought he had better not touch them.
Frank sighed as he picked up the telephone and dialled 999.
Frank waited in the garden. He couldn’t bear to be in the house under such circumstances. He kept feeling rushes and waves of emotion flowing over him. With such power that he would be knocked sideways. First, he squatted outside the house, then he stood, then he leaned against the door frame, then he paced around, his ears pricking up every time he heard a car.
The two young police officers arrived within fifteen minutes. A female with her blonde hair in a ponytail and a boy in his twenties with a wispy moustache.
They rather tentatively entered the house and relaxed upon seeing the scene. Mum’s living room had become ‘the scene’.
The policewoman put gloves on before picking the suicide note up and reading it, noting the empty sleeping pill packets at the side of her. Frank explained the circumstances, how she had been suffering with dementia for the previous two years.
‘Good handwriting.’ The PC said.
‘What do you mean?’ Frank asked.
‘Her handwriting is good, to say she has dementia.’
‘I suppose so?’
‘My Grandfather had dementia and he could scarcely write, it was so shaky you couldn’t read it.’
‘It’s not something I had noticed.’ Frank said.
They checked the empty sleeping pill containers and used their radio to request the police surgeon to come and pronounce life extinct.
The policewoman took a brief written statement from Frank in the other room while they waited for the police surgeon. They could then request the undertakers. The statement consisted of Frank explaining the background of her illness and how he had come to find her that morning as well as identifying the body. He could hear the PC rummaging around in his mother’s wardrobe and drawers in the bedroom.
‘What is he doing?’ Frank asked.
‘Don’t worry.’ The policewoman spoke sympathetically. ‘He will be looking for something to check the note against. Just to confirm it is your mother’s handwriting.’
‘Oh, I see. No problem.’
Right on cue the PC came in holding some letters. ‘It’s her handwriting all right. It checks out.’
The policewoman visibly relaxed on hearing the news but then appeared puzzled. ‘I won’t keep you much longer Frank, but you were saying in your statement that your Mother was at such a stage in the dementia that she could no longer recognise you and remember your names.’
‘That’s right, sadly. That’s what hurt the most. It cuts you to the core.’
‘I bet it does. It must be awful.’ She placed her hand on Franks forearm. ‘Yet, I couldn’t help but notice in the note she left, that she names all of you personally, you and Mimi and Florence.’
‘My God, you’re right. How strange.’ There was an awkward silence before Frank continued. ‘I don’t know why that was, obviously, maybe Dr Chang or a specialist can help with that one? She did have periods when she was lucid, but they were brief. I honestly don’t know I am afraid.’
The policewoman glanced at her colleague who shrugged slightly.
Frank spoke again. ‘So, what happens now?’
‘We will save the parcels your mother left for the three of you, I am waiting to see whether CID will want us to open them first.’
‘It’s all routine. We notify them of all suicides.’
Frank closed his eyes. It was all getting a bit much for him. A most traumatic time for a son. He was jolted out of his stasis by the policewoman.
‘You are free to go, Mr Palmer. I’m so sorry for your loss. We will be in touch. The police surgeon will be here shortly to pronounce life extinct and then your Mum will be taken by the undertakers. Do you have a preference?’
‘Mum always said she would use Lymn’s when the time came.’
‘Okay, we will call them out. I’m sure they will be in touch later today. Are you notifying your sisters?’
‘Yes, I will call them when I get home. To some extent it’s a relief.’ His eyes began to fill with tears.
‘I know. I’m sorry.’ She said.
Frank pulled himself out the chair and walked back into the living room. The officers stayed in the front room, but they heard him say. ‘Bye, Mum.’ It was then that he broke down.
Frank sat on his settee. The large cardboard box, which had been the parcel he received two years ago was open in front of him. It had contained the sleeping pills, the three packages for him, Mimi and Florence, a suicide note and a letter of explanation which he now read for the final time.
I’m hoping Doctor Chang has given you the news by now. I have dementia. My biggest fear. I’m sorry to ask this of you, but you are the only one I can trust to help me. I don’t say much but I know you have been a loyal and devoted son, for which I am eternally grateful.
I know what dementia means. It means that one day I will be incontinent and not even know who you or the girls are. I will be a complete burden to you. I don’t want that, Frank. When that day comes it will be too late for me to end it all.
You must help me Frank.
I am pleading with you as an act of compassion to help your Mother and not let me suffer.
Break up all of these sleeping pills to powder and sprinkle them into a small serving of mashed potato and feed it to me.
Leave the empty pill packets next to me.
Leave the enclosed suicide note next to me.
Leave the house.
Come back two day later to ‘discover’ me.
Don’t watch me die, Frank. I hope to just fall to sleep but it will be distressing for you.
Don’t shirk from this task, Frank. I am relying on you.
Frank’s tears dropped onto the letter.
He was startled by a knock on the door. It was the policewoman with the ponytail and a man in a suit.
@Copyright Keith Wright 2019
Keith is the author of ‘One Oblique One’ (the UK police radio code word for sudden death). Available on Amazon paperback, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
His second in the series – ‘Trace and Eliminate’ is also available now.
His books have received critical acclaim in ‘The Times’, ‘Financial Times’ and the ‘Sunday Express’ as well as many others such as ‘The Mystery &Thriller Guild’ and ‘London Evening Standard’.
His third book in the ‘Inspector Stark series’: ‘Addressed To Kill’ will be out in the Autumn/Winter of 2019.
Visit Keith’s website: keithwrightauthor.co.uk. To read blogs and samples of his books.
Follow him on twitter: @keithwwright