19th September

My Father, Falling

When my father falls he goes down like a tree. Still a big man at eighty-seven, he falls the length of himself, and if you are not there to catch him at the first stumble there is no stopping him. If you see him go and don’t manage to reach him at least you have some forewarning of the noise when he hits the deck: it’s like a gunshot or a clap of thunder. If you are in another room and hear this you think a wall must have collapsed or a wardrobe tipped over. But it’s my father, falling.

The falls are happening more and more often. Two or three times a day, lately. His balance is all wrong and he knows this but knowing it and applying the knowledge so that he doesn’t fall are different things. My mother calls him India Rubber Man because he bounces but doesn’t break. I think he’s made of something more like teak. He breaks other things as he goes down – chairs, tables, bathroom fittings – but, so far, not himself. Although he comes up in huge bruises, under the skin the bone is hard and strong. But we know this cannot last, that a fall will come from which he does not, slowly and painfully, right himself, get onto his knees, crawl and haul himself back into his chair.

You can tell a proud man to take more care. You can tell him not to carry anything when he sets off from one place to another. You can instruct him in the correct method of using his Zimmer. You can clear routes, removing rugs and other items that might ambush him. You can ask him to stay where he is while you fetch whatever it is he wants. But you can’t switch off his determination to keep trying. You can’t stop him having another go when your back is turned. And you can’t stop him being a one-man forest of crashing trees, a constantly replayed film of timber falling, falling, falling. Because this is what a proud man does, in the end. He stands proud, and then he falls, over and over until he cannot rise again.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium and Piano: Kit Downes
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