Nurse rang Social Services when she learned that Mabel was returning to an empty house. As providence would have it, one of their Social Workers was visiting a nearby children’s ward, and he arrived on Z2 before visiting time was up.
Although not unique, Mabel’s case was nevertheless unusual, in that she had no known next of kin to care for her whilst her legal guardian was in hospital. But a short term solution was close to hand, for this Social Worker had dealt with Mabel’s case when her Gran applied for legal guardianship. He was therefore familiar with Mabel’s brief history, as well as the people who’d played a part in it.
Ted Potts was a short, trim fellow more powerful than his slight frame implied. Bald pate mimicked the shine of his patent leather boots and his head appeared to sit directly on top of his coat collar, leaving little room for a neck. This gave him a look of one who wasn’t quite finished, or who’d been dealt a card short (or even a joker) from the pack of life. Mabel’s imagination proposed that something heavy had dropped on him from on high, or he was carrying around everyone’s burdens, in an invisible pot on top of his head.
Mister Potts’ sharp sense of dress, however, was every stitch the finished article. Trim-fit, single-breast knee-length Macintosh and sharply pressed mohair trousers had fallen four decades from high fashion, but they were due a(nother) return. Ankle-high Chelsea boots likewise, and purposeful footsteps added weight to the air that Mr. Potts was at home and at ease in what he was and wore, so people less assured generally accepted him for what he appeared to be… well, until he’d turned his back at least.
Unhindered by having no discernible neck, Mr. Potts was quietly passionate about his work and wasn’t afraid of making tough choices, which is why many a crisis fell splat to his digitised clipboard.
Despite years working in various nooks and crannies within Social Services, spending countless hours in run-down council houses, benefit meetings (and a proportionate number of ‘appeals’), Magistrates Courts, drug rehabilitation centers, young offenders institutes and hospitals, Ted Potts had—against outrageous odds—retained the best of his own humanity, and in some areas even improved upon it.
And because Ted Potts was inclined to give of himself, rather than offer the blasted bones of a filled-out form, he based as many of his decisions on common sense and compassion as the paperwork and legalities of his job would permit.
Mr. Potts’ first choice to care for any child would’ve been the blood mother. But as he’d dealt regularly with Mabel’s mum, and only two days ago spotted her shoplifting whilst under the influence (of what, he was never sure), he squandered no thought on wishful sentiment.
Ted Potts saw no sense in fostering a child with strangers, especially if her goodly neighbour was willing to provide what she needed. And as he’d been to school with her two sons—with whom she’d done a first rate job—Mister Potts had no hesitation in accepting Aunty Doreen’s offer to be the child’s temporary carer.
Doh was no youngster, for sure. But Mabel would be good company, and little extra effort was needed to provide for one as independent as she.
Before leaving the ward, Mr. Potts had a word with nurse, and his accomplished ear gleaned more from what nurse didn’t say than what she did, for prevailing winds lifted human rights above personal responsibilities and medics were fearful of speaking authoritatively, in case that authority proved fallible and a legal case could be bought and sold, for wrongful treatment and wilful intent to cure.
So what did Mr. Potts garner from the things nurse wouldn’t, couldn’t and shouldn’t say?
That it was possible Edith Shakeshaft had experienced some haemorrhaging on the brain, which may have caused the swelling that would go some way to explaining her memory loss. Yes, there was a chance Mabel’s Gran might never regain her memory or former good health, and, barring an unqualified miracle, it was doubtful her stay would be a short one.
These were the nuggets that sat the search for Edith Shakeshaft’s relatives atop Mr. Potts’ priority list. Mabel had told Mr. Potts that she thought her gran had family, but the girl had no knowledge of them other than hushed references in years gone by.
Mabel transferred her anti-allergy dust mite covers to the mattress and pillows in Aunty Doh’s back bedroom, and settled in without fuss. The child knew Doreen was an exceptional cook, from daily portions passed across the garden fence, and was immediately enlisted as Doh’s junior chef.
In spite of this big lump of kindness called Doh, the sadness still bled through to Mabel’s surface and whenever the pain came, she returned next door to lie on her Gran’s bed, where the two of them had cried nightly following the split from Mabel’s mother, and where a 4 year old Mabel consoled her gran with snuggles after the death of Grandpa Shakeshaft.
In her need to know what was happening, both to Gran and others on the ward, Mabel went to the school library to do research and web searches on ‘dementia’, which she now understood to be a term given to the deterioration of the brain’s ability to function, most often (but not always) found in older people.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s, which affects the doing of simple day-to-day tasks that most of us take for granted, and which Mabel witnessed when people on the ward struggled to put on shoes, or read and understand newspaper headlines.
The area of brain that controls short term memory is often the first citadel to fall, which obliterates a person’s most recent history, or at least their recollection of it. Mabel initially imagined it like wiping chalk off a busy blackboard every few moments, and in afflicted minds a similar action left no trace of recent experiences. But this was superseded by (what to her was) a more accurate mental image, of writing mirror graffiti in a steamy bathroom, which disappeared with the hot water but could unexpectedly return—for a time, at least.
If you couldn’t retain impressions, you lost the ability to make new memories, and the people on Mabel’s ward dug evermore into times past, mixing random dates and details with scraps of mirror graffiti, resulting in a tapestry of gobbledygook that only other sufferers seemed able to decipher.
Curious personality traits also developed, including mood swings, paranoia, argumentative behaviour, repetitive chanting, plain loudness and downright nastiness. And whilst they had yet to show in Mabel’s Grandma, the child was nevertheless worried, because she’d also read that dementia could be brought on by a sudden traumatic event…or a blow to the head.
Many visitors were unnerved by stark changes in friends and family members, particularly if they hadn’t met in a while, and some were so disturbed by this ostensible mad house that they never set foot on the ward again. But Mabel’s response ran contra: the more she saw and understood, the more of herself she made available and when visiting time came to a close she had difficulty pulling herself away.
Patients periodically scanned the faces of visitors, for shades of an answer to questions they couldn’t quite assemble. However, she became aware that empathy was inclined to etch an unavoidable sadness into her features. Like an open book, the state of Mabel’s heart could be read by anyone with eyes to feel, and troubled face-watchers caught shades of their own condition steamy-mirrored in Mabel’s patent sorrow. And if all Mabel had to offer up to these still-shining eyes was a miserable face, it was pointless her turning up in the first place.
So, to make bright the story beaming from her flying kite, Mabel looked through the illness to the glory of the person within—whenever she found joy and laughter, she attempted to share it and when she happened upon pained anxiety, she soothed it as best she could and shaded it from nearby eyes, for fear it would spread like viral agitation through the tainted minds of those who increasingly filled her thoughts.
The first task Mabel set herself was to turn visiting time into an enjoyable event. With Aunty Doh’s help she baked cakes as nightly sweeteners and the first two trays were gobbled up before the overworked staff got so much as a sniff, so next day Mabel filled three.
The child wove in and out of visiting time conversations and garnered as much as she could of each patient’s personal history. And those who failed to get visitors—for many had been abandoned to face their second childhood alone—she seated around her grandma and shared out whatever victuals were on offer.
And so it was that Mabel cast a spell upon the ward, which was felt in lavished attentions, tasted in bakes, and smelled in fresh flowers and plants, which bloomed on every bedside table and window sill.
In addition, Mabel used money she got for delivering papers to buy twenty cheap pairs of slippers in various sizes, and a second hand shoe rack on which to sit them. This made slipper ownership irrelevant and slipper-kleptomaniacs partially redundant.
Mabel’s face started to tell the fuller story, of how a child rose graciously above another of life’s hurdles. But the one weight she still found hard to bear was Grandma Shakeshaft’s lack of improvement, and the Doctors on the ward were unsure how best to treat her, because tests gave no precise idea as to the cause of memory loss.
Grandma smiled a lot. But she was a shadow of the lady who’d raised Mabel, and she still had no idea who the child was. The good thing was that Gran was functioning physically and eating her meals, as well as her share of unhealthy sugary delights.