Joe by David Walklett
Joe couldn’t leave the house.
Not past the gate anyway. Some mornings he spent an hour outside in the front garden, poking the soil between the plants with a rusty fork. When it was sunny. The sun filled that part of the street after the kids had passed on their way to school. He’d found the fork in the shed when he moved in.
Twice a week, Susan visited him, bringing him the food and company he went without on the other days.
‘They’re opening a ‘Welcome Club’ at the Civic Centre, Dad. For people stuck at home on their own.’
‘They’re welcome to it!’
‘Oh, very good, Dad!’ Susan couldn’t help but laugh.
‘Your joke. Very good!’
‘Welcome Group? “They’re welcome to it!”‘
‘Wasn’t a joke. I meant it!’
‘Oh, Dad. How are we going to get you out of this house?’
She asked the same question every visit, if not aloud. As she lifted the jars and packets out of the carrier bag, placing them on the yellow, formica-topped table, she had to remind herself that it was his life. She had to remind herself, too, that he hadn’t always been like this.
The cancer had shocked them all. Sudden, and terminal, the disease sucked the character out of her mother: her personality withered daily, along with her physical self.
Six weeks after the diagnosis they buried her.
Joe refused to work, shunned the pub and all his mates and shut himself away behind the front door. Doctors and social workers did their best but Joe wouldn’t budge. Susan gave birth to her first, naming her Joanne in an attempt to encourage her father to rejoin the world.
Joe showed no desire to meet his new granddaughter.
The psychotherapist believed the problem was that Joe had remained in the house in which they had all lived: the memories and ghosts of the past were keeping him prisoner. He suggested Joe would benefit from smaller and completely different accommodation. Susan and her husband were charged with finding somewhere more appropriate to his needs. They decided it also needed to be somewhere closer to them, and this was: it was in the same part of town. They moved him but got rid of most of the furniture.
He’d been here seven months now and still not ventured beyond his front gate. The psychotherapist had stopped visiting. Joe spent his days seeing no one, apparently happily.
There was no further conversation as Susan put the shopping away. Joe sat at the table nursing a cup of tea, staring at the back of Susan’s head as she filled the cupboards. When she’d finished she looked at her watch, sighed, sat opposite him across the yellow. and reached out to take his hands in hers.
‘You know it’s Joanne’s birthday? I can’t be late home.’
‘I’d like to see her.’
‘You’re invited to the party.’