Gemma Handy


THE DOOR is quite definitively closed. From inside, there is the indiscernible scratch of a fountain pen as it glides across the page, forging the outlines of an old man’s spidery inscription.

The room was never designed for carpet. Consequently the heavy door groans as it’s forced over the thick red pile, my eyes peering around it.

He’s hunched over his desk, a silhouette in a single shaft of light that’s managed to evade the dark shadow of the lumbering mulberry tree outside. His spectacles rest easily in the creases on his temples, indented from years of wear, as the leather underneath him emits a gentle protestation with each measured movement.

Decades’ worth of dust gather on impossibly high piles of books in every direction, only ever one careless sneeze away from tumbling from the shelves like snow down a mountainside.

A spaniel nestles by his feet, legs splayed in the air, soaking up the warmth from the open fire which spits out calescent particles with machine gun rapidity.

The silence is as sombre as the hunting rifles which line one wall.

My memories of him writing his. I know I shouldn’t disturb him by entering. But he’s never cross. Not really. He’s content to let me swing in the over-sized rocker behind him, my feet several inches from the floor, as he scratches away at his desk.

He’ll remain there most of the afternoon, until the crescent moon appears in the sky. Later, he’ll swap his writing for a crossword puzzle, replacing his penned literature with another lexicon-themed activity.

But it’s history that keeps him entranced. It’s history that keeps him holed up in that study hour after hour, day after day, year after year.

From the history of England’s timber industry to the colourful past of over a dozen Cheshire villages, he’s dedicated his life to documenting that of others.

For a man who spent an era transcribing data and details, to lose them in his final years, the time for ultimate reflection, seems intolerably cruel.

These days his once vibrantly depicted recollections of childhood, war, and travel to far-flung destinations, escape him like water through a colander.

Occasionally he’ll stun us by recounting his old army number, off pat and perfect, like the times table recitation of a schoolboy.

But more often that not, our visits to the nursing home now tasked with helping him retain his erstwhile rigid routine, trigger disorientation instead of cheer, mild confusion in place of the stiff, awkward hugs we loved him for.