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Going Away With The Fairies

by Elissa Dawson 10 months ago in family · updated 10 months ago
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Or living in the moments they come back

Photo by Serhii_bobyk at

I’m standing, kicking at the soil, waiting for my Grandpa to appear. We knocked on the window a couple of minutes ago to let them know we were here and now we’re waiting at the garden fence around the side of the building. We struck lucky today; sometimes they’ll only let us see him through the window.

Finally the side doors open and he emerges, led by gloved hands and a tunic-covered arm. He shuffles along, head down, one tiny step in front of another. He’s sixty-five but walks like a nonagenarian. The deterioration since our last visit is marked.

“Look Robert, your family are here to see you!” One of his regular one-to-ones, Giuseppe ‘George’ holds his hands firmly and steers him in our direction. I’m not sure why he’s called that; maybe it’s easier for the residents. Or maybe there were two Georges and he’s the Italian one. I suspect it’s the former; the man has a heart of gold.

“Hi Dad!” my Mom calls, “How are you? You’ve had a shave today. You look smart!” Smiles are plastered on both our faces and won’t budge, although we both know there won’t be a comprehensible answer. George guides him over to us.

“Look at these flowers Robert!” George’s finger points towards a large tub on the top of the fence, but Grandpa’s gaze remains firmly on the ground. Deep crease lines worry their way across his forehead and he looks all the older for them. He shakes his head.

“That Marigold fairy’s a little bitch,” he mutters, shuffling his feet along and trying to move away.

“Oh Dad!” Mom lets out an over-enthusiastic laugh and clamps her hands over my ears. For fucks sake Mom, I’m eleven! She must know I’ve heard worse.

“Come on now Robert,” George coerces gently, gloved hands holding on firmly to his arms, “Be nice. Your Grandson’s here to see you!”

“She is, she’s horrible!" Grandpa continues, "She says, 'You're not a patch on your brother. He was so smart and funny!' It’s not my fault that I lived and he died!” He’s becoming more animated as his rambling continues. He grabs the fence suddenly and shakes it, “I need to get out of here.” His distress is harrowing, but for Mom’s sake I swallow the emotion down. I'll cry later when I’m alone. Mom tries to soothe him.

“Ah Dad, you’re safe here remember? Hopefully we’ll be able to come in and see you properly soon, maybe even take you out when this is all over?” I’m not naïve enough to believe what my Mom is peddling is true. We haven’t been allowed in for fifteen months. We have to take a test and wear a mask just to see him like this. They’re not letting us in any time soon. If I’d have known last year that would be the last hug I’d get from him in fifteen months, possibly the last hug ever, I would never have let him go.

Tears prick my eyes, remembering who he used to be; the great man who we’ve lost in a thousand little pieces. Tiny bits of him disappearing all the time. I’m the oldest grandchild so all the remembering is down to me. My cousins don’t know any different – he’s just their Grandpa who they visit over the fence and who never speaks to them – but to me he’s the guy who cracked the loudest jokes, who danced with me on his shoulders, who chased me around the garden with a hose pipe, the guy who told me he was proud of me and that I could do anything I wanted to in life if I put my mind to it.

Mom is doing a weird low kneeling thing now in an attempt to catch his eye, but she’s not successful this time and he turns to begin another loop of the garden.

I snap off a marigold head from the tub. “Ben!” Mom scolds me, slapping my hand. We wait as Grandpa completes his circuit. George has obviously been thinking and as they make it back to where we’re standing, he tries to reassure us.

“Quite a lot of them see things you know. Hallucinations are common with advanced Alzheimer’s.”

“Grandpa has always talked about fairies,” I speak now, quietly.

“Oh really?” George looks surprised.

“Yes well, not with such colourful language, but he’s always told us stories about the fairies in his garden,” Mom explains better than I could, “After his older brother died of tuberculosis, his parents moved the family out to a cottage in the countryside. He was just a baby. It sounds like it was a beautiful place to grow up - it had a little stream running across the bottom of the garden, acres of fields and wildflower meadows all around - but he grew up pretty much alone, so he invented his friends. Well in fact he invented a whole kingdom of fairies, imps, elves...”

“All ruled by the Dandelion King,” I add in a singsong voice, remembering the magic of Grandpa’s bedtime stories.

The conversation dries up and Mom kneels again now, trying to get Grandpa’s attention. There’s the briefest second where his icy blue eyes with their tiny pupils look like they might be looking into hers and he seems like he might smile, but then his face falls again and the connection is gone.

“Hi Grandpa,” I try. I don’t know why. I guess maybe if we all talk enough, then the sound of our voices may trigger some recognition. Mom starts chatting with George. He’s telling her how he was meant to retire and go home to Italy last year, but he began working here instead as a favour to a friend. He ran a tattoo parlour for thirty years before that. Between lockdown and the bond he’s built with the residents, he’s not managed to leave.

I notice Grandpa's attention has shifted and he's picking at something on the top of the fence. I wave the marigold head in front of him.

He looks straight at me for a second and I pull down my mask to fix him with a big grin. And there it is, the reason we keep coming, the years fall away from his face as his eyes light up and he smiles right back at me.

“Hi Grandpa!” I manage to squeak through the lump in my throat, “You’re right, that Marigold fairy is a little bitch!” Mom turns and smacks my arm playfully. Grandpa nods and lets out a silent laugh. There he is, my lovely Grandpa. I revel in it, just for a moment - until he turns away and off he goes again.

I toss the marigold to the floor and head back to the car.


About the author

Elissa Dawson

UK based writer and avid reader who aspires to create work that is both beautiful and meaningful.

Sustainability advocate and green ally.

I am working on a children’s novel.

Find me on Twitter: @WriterElissa

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