Just Squeeze Me

‘Okay then – what do you think of it so far? Let’s have your initial reactions and any ideas for improvement.

What do I think of it? What on earth was she going to say when it came to her turn? To suggest that Nancy’s mind hadn’t been fully focussed on Daniel’s presentation of the 1999 Sales Plan was an understatement. For the last thirty minutes it had been anywhere but in the conference room, mainly wandering between Dolphinton and Skipton, flitting back and forth in no precise order; a hundred and one thoughts surfacing and ebbing away – tasks to be done, words said, words needing to be said, problems, more problems, but few solutions.

‘Nancy – do you want to go next? You must be quite pleased with it by the way you’re smiling!’

Daniel’s voice pierced her vision of the final slide and brought her up short.

‘Ah, yes, of course,’ she replied, buying time to drag up something eminently sensible from the automatic pilot bit of her brain. ‘I think it has a lot of merit, definitely an improvement on last year’s plan I feel. But – I’d like to see the objectives translated into a more pragmatic and detailed implementation plan than the outline methods you’ve described.’

‘I thought you might say that. Because that task, Nancy, is the very next one I’m allocating to you.’ A remark which made all fifteen of the Scottish and Northern sales team fall about laughing.

A challenge to be relished, or a chore?

Back in her office Nancy contemplated over a cup of strong, black coffee. There was a time in the not too distant past when she would have been right ‘in there’ at such a meeting. Wholly present, formulating the next clever question ahead of the others, flagging up problems and proffering solutions. She would have been enthusiastic, motivated, pleased to be clocking up her sales figures and those of her team; doggedly chasing the next bonus or promotion. But not now. She was, she felt, simply coasting. Had been for the last couple of years or more, ever since her father died suddenly, and ever since seemingly unable to shake herself out of it. Not by choice, she rationalised, but forced by circumstances.

There is only so much energy and time to go around and she was already squeezing as much out of each day as it was humanely possible to do. Michael, Angus, Amy, Camilla, Mother, work, horses, dogs, school, shopping, Mother, Mother and more bloody Mother – sinking deeper into dementia, right in the heart of Skipton. Which reminded her – she’d have to go back down again this weekend and check up after that neighbour’s phone call saying she hadn’t seen mother go out of the house for three days. That would make it twice she’d been down in the last month. 166 miles, and four hours on the road each way – as if she wasn’t already driving enough with her job – and it wasn’t exactly a bundle of fun once she was down there either. Arguing about the most menial things with a stubborn old lady who wouldn’t see sense wasn’t anybody’s definition of fun, surely?

Mother’s flat refusal to deal with anything to do with money was driving Nancy insane. Every time she visited they ended up like two bulls, horns locked in battle with neither emerging the winner.

‘Come on Mother, you can learn to write a cheque, it’s not difficult.’ Despite all Nancy’s efforts to persuade, cajole, coax, bribe even – it was like trying to get blood out of a stone.

‘I can’t! I just can’t do it! Your father always handled the money side of things. I can’t take it in Nancy, and that’s that.’

Can’t or won’t? Her daughter’s angry thought. Then Nancy felt guilty as she looked at her mother’s stricken face with its pink watery eyes, and the old veiny hands shaking in her lap, clasped tightly together so she wouldn’t have to pick up the biro.

There’d been almost no food in the fridge either.

‘When did you go shopping last, Mother?’

‘Yesterday,’ had been the emphatic reply.

‘What did you buy then, I can’t see much in here.’

‘Cheese, eggs, bacon, milk and bread, same as I always do on a Wednesday.’

Yesterday had been Friday, but no matter. ‘Where’ve they all gone then?’ asked Nancy perplexed.

‘I ate them all.’

When there were no wrappers in the bin? Liar. And she knows she’s lying. But it wouldn’t have helped to say it, so instead Nancy suggested they take a trip to the supermarket ‘right now’, so there would be enough provisions for a few more days, and so ‘I’ll know for certain you’ve got plenty once I leave.’

‘No.’ Her Mother’s thin lips were tightly pursed. ‘I can’t afford to go shopping again this week.’

‘Yes you can! We’ve been through this lots of times before. Dad left you more than enough to see you through. You can spend £50 a week on food if you want to and still have enough to pay the bills and buy a few luxuries for yourself.’

‘Where’s this £50 coming from then, you just tell me that, Nancy, because I can’t see it.’

Nancy shut her eyes and sighed hard. ‘It’s in the bank. All you have to do is go there and get it out with a cheque.’

‘I can’t do that, I’ve told you, I can’t write them, it’s too hard.’

And there they were, back full circle, back to where it started.