"What was it? If I don't say the minute something comes into my head, puff, it goes," my mother was saying to me. "Nope! Gone! The brain's a sieve. Maybe not a sieve, maybe a . . . what's the name of the thing with bigger holes?"
“A colander?" I said.
“Yes, a colander, that's it, the size of the things I'm losing."
“We're all the same. I'm always forgetting where I've put my keys," I said.
“I forget more than my keys. It's everything. I'll forget myself soon. I'll forget my head even though it's screwed on. I'll lose myself completely." My mother started the handbag scramble, frantically searching for something. "What are you looking for?" I asked her. "You're always looking for something." She swung round and stared at me. "Have you taken it?"
“Don't act all innocent with me!" she said, pulling things out of zipped pockets and putting them back in. It was disconcerting. I saw her take her keys out and stuff them behind a cushion on the sofa. Here we go, I said, under my breath. "I'm forgetting things. I'm losing things. I can almost feel them slipping away, like wee ghosts. Spuooosh, and away they go!"
The interesting thing was that my mother didn't hold on to any emotion for too long, not even anger. She moved quickly, back and forth. I never knew what I was going to get from one minute to the other. "Do these wee notes to yourself you're always writing not help?"
I asked her. "You know, your notes to self ?"
“My lists? No! I write things down and then I forget where I've put my list. Did I show you the chocolates Jimmy bought me?"
“You did, yes," I said, "kind of Jimmy. Tell me your thoughts and I'll write them down for you. Tell me the minute they come into your head!"
I was struck by what a brilliant idea this was. But my mother was not at all keen: "I know your game. You'll just be writing it all down to make
a mockery out of me! Exposing me!"
“I'm just thinking if you could catch them before you lose them you might feel better?"
“It's not so much that my thoughts are running away with me, more like they've run off with somebody else!"
“And who would that be?" I asked her.
“Oooh, a young, dishy doctor," my mother said, without a moment's hesitation.
“We'll need to do a bit of private investigating and see if we can track him down," I said. "We'll go out later today and we'll track this doctor down." My mother giggled, clearly delighted. I put a clean piece of A4 paper in my old Olivetti and typed Doctor runs off with an old woman's thoughts. I poured myself a small malt: a childhood smell from the pine woods, a wood smoke fire outside, a black stick of liquorice. I think I could smell the smell I used to smell on holidays in Yell, a smell of peat bog. I remember my mother and me in the Windy Dog Café eating soup, not that long before she lost her marbles.
“Here you!" my mother said. "Is it not a bit early for the whisky? It's light out there." Strange how some things still didn't get past her. "I'm 44!" I said. "It's cold outside, nothing like a wee nip to warm you up. Besides, all private investigators keep a bottle of Scotch in their seedy offices!" My mother's eyes shone. "This is the best idea you've had in a long time!" she beamed. "What would we call ourselves?" "Nora and Mary?" I said. "What are you saying?" my mother said irritably. "What we'd call ourselves," I said. "Or maybe surnames are better for detectives, maybe Gourdie and Gourdie, how about that?" My mother looked at me blankly. I'd lost her. No one in!
But two minutes later she was back again, surprising me. "I'm certain he'll be an NHS man. He'll not be a Bupa doctor! Not in a million years! Come on, Nora Gourdie," she said to herself, trying to put her tights on, rolling them over her fist and aiming her flesh foot into the foot of her opaque tights with reinforced toes.
I kept typing away; it was the only thing that stopped my migraine, paradoxically, the sound of typing. Sometimes, I'd find myself typing
a sentence that would surprise me: "I've lost the will to live," he said.
* * *
Dr Mahmud was sitting in his surgery with a patient, Peter Henderson, when Dr Mahmud suddenly said, "I'm finding I don't like wearing tights any more. It's a hassle pulling them up and over my ankles, my knees. I'm that exhausted when I've hoisted them over my knickers that I've lost the will to live. Time Sheer and I parted company!"
“Excuse me, Doctor?" Peter said. Dr Mahmud had just finished writing a prescription in his rather erratic and mostly illegible handwriting. Peter Henderson was 56, and had been told his cholesterol was sky high and he would need to start taking cholesterol pills and cut down on certain foods. Peter was feeling morose and a little jumpy. "Sorry?" Peter said. "What were you saying?" But the doctor stared at him blankly as if he hadn't said a thing. Just being in the doctor's surgery reminded Peter that he was going to die. All right, not for a while yet, but it was going to happen. It wasn't kidding on, death. It would come for him, like it had come for his mother, his wife, his old pal Duncan.
Dr Mahmud was a handsome big bugger, slim, fit, sympathetic, usually. Peter Henderson was hefty; he barely fitted into the patient's seat. He perched on the end of it and waited for the doctor to speak. He sat with his legs splayed open because they were too fat to close. He'd been brought up to revere a doctor. The thing about this cholesterol was that you couldn't eat any of your favourite things any more, which made you wonder not if life was worth living exactly, but if life was rich enough to live, if it had enough flavour. What was the point in going through the motions of life without deep-fried Mars Bars, bloody steaks, streaky bacon and eggs, a poke of chips and curry sauce? The future was oily fish, spinach, rocket, watercress, Christ! "It's all about unsaturated fat," Dr Mahmud said. "I'll Google fat when I get home the night," Peter said, in a thin voice. "No. Google makes people paranoid. Too much information! Stay away from Google!" "Right," Peter laughed a little nervously. What was it with the doctor today? Was he just going off on one? "There's really nothing to worry about," the doctor said, frowning. "We'll do another blood test in six weeks to measure your levels again."
“Thank you, Doctor. Will the pills have any side effects?" Peter asked, staring at the weighing scales in the surgery and feeling a moment's relief that he hadn't been asked to stand on them. "No, you won't notice anything. There are people with worse problems. Cholesterol? Many people have high cholesterol. Eh? We're living in the age of cholesterol. This is not the age of Aquarius!" Peter laughed, not his usual big booming laugh, but a little squeaky, eee hee hee. His beer belly hung over his trousers. Little beads of sweat assembled on his forehead. He was just about to lumber himself out of the seat when the good doctor suddenly shouted: "The snags, the rips, the ladders! Why did any of us bother? Why didn't we wear trousers years ago? Knee-highs, that's what I need, a thin pair of knee-high socks! That would sort me out."
“Excuse me?" Peter said again to the doctor, thinking perhaps there was also something going wrong with his hearing. These days when Peter watched the television, particularly soaps, he heard a small voice underneath the actors whispering stage instructions. Maria closes the door and walks to Underworld, the knicker factory. The doctor's white coat, his stethoscope, his blood-pressure pump, his neat desk, all of that was the same as usual, but what was happening to the doctor's conversation?
Peter looked at the people in the waiting room. Little do you know what you're in for, he thought, looking at the anxious young mum with her snotty-nosed baby. He popped his head through the reception hatch. "Dr Mahmud says another appointment in six weeks?" the receptionist said. Peter nodded and sighed, a single tear trickled down his ruddy cheek. He picked up his prescription and exited the surgery so fast he was sure that he could feel his cholesterol level hitting the sky.
Alone in his surgery, Dr Mahmud washed his hands with surgical cleaner at the small, low sink in the corner of the room. He dried them on a paper towel and looked in the mirror. His hair was neat enough; his small beard was well trimmed; his eyes were a little dark underneath. He was trying to think when it first started. There was nothing in any of his symptoms that he recognised. He was 33 years old and was enjoying being part of Springfield Practice. He worked alongside two brilliant doctors. (Though Mahmud would have to admit - if pushed - that he was the most popular of the three; patients clamoured to see him.) If it happened again, he'd have to go and see somebody.
* * *
“Mary, do you think," my mother was saying to me, "that if I found the right doctor, I'd get my train of thoughts back?"
“I hope so, Mother!" I said.
“You gotta hope!" my mother said, bursting into song. "You've gotta live a little, love a little, make your poor heart . . . a little, that's the story of, that's the glory of love. You gotta hope!"
“Hope's our only hope, Mother," I said and knocked back a little more whisky.
“Whisky is not hope!" my mother said, her beady, demented eyes still taking in my wee dram.
“Maybe not, but it's full of character," I said.
“Pass me the Yellow Pages!" my mother said, impatient and somehow suddenly authoritative.
“Where there's life, there's hope," I said.
“There's life in the old dog yet," my mother said.
“Who was your favourite dog of ours?"
I asked her. She seemed to have no trouble remembering the past.
“Dinky!" she said instantly. "Do you remember dear Dinky, those serious eyes, that sad-looking face? Remember how she'd eat the post? Love letters were always arriving with bite marks in them."
“What love letters?" I said. My mother started up the handbag scramble again, frantic, distressed. She found a lipstick in the bag, and slashed it inaccurately across her lips. I got up from the typewriter, took the lipstick out her hand, wiped it off and reapplied it. "Then there was Gatsby! Remember Gatsby?" my mother said. "Remember the Gatsby era? That time he fell off the wall into all that mud. I could measure my whole life in dogs!"
“Gatsby wasn't that long ago," I said. "Gatsby just died last year."
“Did he?" my mother said. "Very sad."
“It's a dog's life!" I said. "Remember how you could never throw away the leads of our dead dogs? They'd still hang up on the hook on the kitchen door?" I said. "No point chucking out a good lead." My mother chuckled. Word association, I thought to myself. She can do word association. The migraine was on its way out, hopefully, though I still felt a little queasy; perhaps the whisky would settle my stomach.
“Who thought up the name Gatsby? Remember Gatsby. Gatsby was a Dalmatian. I used to have a beautiful black-and-white polka-dot dress exactly like that dog's spots. Your mother was a snazzy dresser!"
“I remember. You still are. You're trendy. You wouldn't be seen dead in a twinset!"
I flicked through a lifestyle column in last Sunday's paper. "What happened to that dress?" I asked. "One night your father took me to the Locarno. I remember I was wearing it then. I felt good in it. I felt like a million dollars. We danced and danced and danced. Your father could move," my mother's eyes filled with involuntary tears. That happened these days, these nowhere tears. "Aye, Billy was a wonderful dancer," my mother said. "Billy?" I said. "Who is Billy?" "Did I show you the chocolates Jimmy brought me?" she said, gathering herself. "You did yes, very kind of Jimmy," I said. "Did you thank Jimmy for the chocolates?" My mother looked wild, worried. "I can't remember," she said. "Oh, I must thank Jimmy. Oh dear, I must thank Jimmy."
I went back to trying to read an article in the mag. It was an article on how well Meryl Streep has aged and how many different parts she's played. "You'd never think Meryl Streep was just ten years younger than you," I muttered, though my mother's face wasn't very lined. "Botox! Is she on the Botox? Or is it the liposuction? What's the difference again? Does one put things in and the other suck things out? That's what's happening to me. My mind's lip sucked! Yep. My mind's lip sucked!" my mother said. In her own way, she was wildly funny. I sipped at my dram. "Maple syrup, maybe, anyone?"
“What are you saying?" my mother said. "It's just gibberish. I've enough gibberish in my head without you talking gobbled gook."
“Gobbledygook!" I said. "Anyway, I think we need to get out and into the day before you start telling me it's my fault your brain's scrambled."
“We need to find him first or we won't know where to go!" my mother said.
“Who?" I said, blankly.
“The doctor! That's who. Doctor Who!" my mother said, impatiently.
“Just testing," I said.
“You were not. Your brain's addled. That whisky is not your friend. It is your enemy. Where's Becky? She was always telling you to have dry days."
“Becky and I are finished, Mum. I keep telling you. It's over."
“Oh dear," my mother said for the umpteenth time. "I was awful fond of Becky."
“She's bought me out," I told her again. "That's why I'm here. I'm waiting for my new house to come through."
“Are you?" my mother said. "Are you staying with me? Is there no chance of reconciliation?"
“No! No! NO!" I snapped. "How many times? We're finished. We're so over. I don't think we'll even manage to be friends."
My mother had a look on her face that seemed already to be forgetting what I'd just told her, though her face still appeared distressed, but now the distress was unspecific, vague, a spread of general anxiety. She flicked through the Yellow Pages at a ferocious speed.
I went back to my typewriter. Dr Mahmud picked up the telephone on his desk. He'd already forgotten what he wanted to say. He looked at his notepad, confused. "Hello? Is that the Memory Clinic? My name is Dr Mahmud from Springfield Practice.One of my patients seems to be losing his memory. What's the procedure for making an appointment?" My mother was still trying to make sense of the Yellow Pages, a hard ask for any of us, never mind those with dementia. "The letters seem all jumbled! Why do we have to suffer from old age when we are elderly?" my mother said. "Because you're old, Mother," I said. "Yes, but it'd be better to suffer from old age when you were young enough to cope with it."
“Oh, you come out with some loo-loos," I said. "Some real beauties." "It takes ages to remember what letters come where these days! When you were younger, the alphabet was a skoosh; mental arithmetic was a doddle.
I blame the government," my mother exclaimed. "You've lost me," I said. I was trying to guess her meaning - The banks bailout? The recession? Student fees? Teaching standards? "They've made infants of the lot of us! Soon we won't be able to eat without the food beeping. No one can do a bloody thing! You can't get into your car without the bloody beeps coming on if you've not fastened your seatbelt. What if you don't want to fasten your silly seatbelt?" she shouted. "What if you'd prefer to take your chances? I'll tell you . . . I'm telling you! . . . Did I show you the chocolates Jimmy bought me?" "Very kind of Jimmy," I said. "I'm quite peckish," I said, hinting heavily.
“Can I test him myself?" Dr Mahmud was saying on the phone. "How can I tell if it's Alzheimer's or dementia or depression or a brain tumour?" He listened for a minute. "I'll try that and get back to you. Thank you. No chocolates the day! I'm not hungry," he suddenly blurted out. "Sorry, I was just talking to my receptionist there. Thank you for your help," Dr Mahmud said and hung up abruptly.
“Time for Mozart!" I said to my mother. I'd read somewhere that listening to Mozart slowed down Alzheimer's. At least I think I'd read that; I couldn't be sure. I was forgetting things myself. I put on Mozart's trio for clarinet, viola and piano in E-flat, K. 498. It consoled me that Mozart was said to have composed this during a game of skittles. My mother sat and listened with her eyes closed, the Yellow Pages on her lap. A little tear rolled down her face. Music moved her. I imagined my mother dancing, years ago, dancing in an elegant polka-dot dress. "Mum," I said, gently, "was my
dad your only love?" She didn't open her eyes. I pressed pause when the piece was finished. Our lives had turned around: I used to love Watch with Mother; now I loved Listen with Mother.
Music seemed to work every time. She always remembered what she'd just been doing. "Bishopbriggs?" my mother said, pointing her finger at Springfield Health Clinic. "Why don't we try the good doctors of Bishopbriggs?" she said. "I like that," I said and made a note of it in my notebook. Even demented, my mother's impromptu titles were better than my own. "Years ago I remember going for dinner in a place called Stakis in Bishopbriggs with my pal Nancy Henshaw. I had a gammon steak with pineapple, and Nancy had scampi and chips. We were over the moon. We thought we were the peak of sophistication!" My mother was laughing at the memory of herself when her hair was darker and her teeth her own and her mind, her mind agile, quick as a young hare running over a field of bluebells.
“You remember years ago with uncanny detail," I complimented her. "Years ago is not the problem. Yesterday is the problem. Today is the problem. Years ago are piling up! Who do you think put gammon steak and pineapple together? I'll tell you one thing, it wouldn't have been the Prime Minister," my mother said. "It wouldn't have been Cameron." "Maybe it was the opposition," I said entering into the spirit of things. "Maybe it was Clegg." "I get you!" my mother said, nudging me fiercely with her right elbow. "Eh?" she said elbowing again. "Opposites attract!" I said, smiling. "Well, your father and I were definitely opposites," she laughed. "I was good-looking and he wasn't." The tears poured again. "Have you found him yet? This handsome doctor?"
“The last Sunday of every month, I gave his eyebrows a good plucking, you know, to keep him shipshape," Dr Mahmud blurted out in his surgery.
He frowned and paced the room, shaking his head. He flicked through his medical books, talking to himself all the time. "Blurting out random sentences?" He sighed and rubbed his hands together. "Right! You can combat this. You're young. You're smart. You're a doctor." He sat back down at his desk and ran his fingers through his hair. He picked up a pencil andshowed it to himself. "What is this called?" he shouted. "A pencil!" he answered. He took off his watch. "And this?" "A watch." "Repeat after me: no ifs and buts." "No ifs and buts," he repeated. "Repeat after me: ball, car, man. Spell WORLD." "W-O-R-L-D." "Spell World backwords!" He stumbled a bit, and shouted out in frustration, "Bloody hell. D-L-R-O-W!" "What three words did I ask you to repeat? Car, ball, man. Car, ball, man." The doctor's relief brought him close to tears. He grabbed a sheet of paper from his desk, folded it in half. Knelt down on the floor and asked himself, "Can you draw the face of a clock?"
“I was asking you something," my mother said.
“You were asking me if I'd found the handsome doctor yet."
"That's it! Well, have you?"
“Well . . . we can't tell if they are handsome from their names, unfortunately," I said. I smiled, a silly little smile; I could feel it on my face. I could feel the good heat from the whisky in my stomach. My stomach was nice and empty so that I'd get the full hit of it. There was a kind of a roar as it went down, like my body was a furnace and I was throwing the flame in. "Well, let's take pot luck then. Someone's got to know something," my mother said darkly. "You can't just have words disappearing in the dead of night and nobody bothering their shirt! Someone's bound to have noticed something! Somewhere!"
“Ha!" I said. "Absolutely!" I was thinking what lovely company this Alzheimer's was for my drunken paranoia.
My mother was reading names out: Dr B Gordon, Dr C Berg, Dr I T McNicholl, Dr Robert Mair, Dr P MacBrayne, Dr M Mahmud. "How about we try all of them?" I said. "How will I know which one to pick?" my mother said anxiously. "It's not you doing the picking! He's already chosen you, this doctor whoever he is! He's already got your thoughts!" I said, feeling inspired. "Oh, you're right," my mother said, gripping my arm. "You're not wrong. What a moment of lucidity! Right, let's get out there and find him. What have we got to lose? Isn't life an awfully big adventure? Who was it who said that again? I've forgotten."
These days we were spending so much time standing in the street - my mother trying to remember where it was she wanted to go. The day before, she had been determined we went to her church for a bowl of soup in the church cafe. I had never been to her church and had
no idea where it was. I was a non-believer anyway. She'd changed her faith when I was a teenager. We stopped and asked a policeman for directions; he leaned out of the window of his police car and looked into my mother's eyes. If only we could go to Lost Property and claim her mind back I thought; if only it'd been left at Left Luggage. The policeman didn't know; there were three churches nearby, and my mother couldn't remember the name. So we went into her hairdresser's at the corner of our street and asked them. "Excuse me?" my mother said. "Where is my church?" The hairdresser shook her glossy hair and looked a little nonplussed. We left. "It's like our own little pilgrimage," I said to my mother, consolingly. She was very agitated. "Oh, your father would be angry with me by now."
“Don't be silly, it's an adventure, our awfully big adventure," I said. "Who said that again? Did somebody just say that?" she said. I put my arm through hers and we walked along the street adjacent to her house. The trees were losing their leaves, the birds were losing their feathers, the pound was losing its value and my mother was losing her mind. It was cold, freezing cold. "We're in for a cold snap," my mother said. "I think it might snow later."
Eventually we found it, and we had our bowl of soup and she beamed with pleasure. "Nora enjoys a good bowl of soup," my mother said. She loved characterising herself in this way, as if she was somebody else - perhaps she was now. The soup was religiously good - barley, carrots, potatoes and chicken. "What's the name of these wee soft bits?" she asked me.
“What was I going to tell you?" my mother now said and shook her head, looking a little stunned, surprised at herself, as if on the edge of something uproarious.
“Do you remember we went out yesterday to find your church?" I asked her. "No," she said. "Well, did we find it?" "Yes, we did and we had a bowl of soup." "Did we?" my mother said. "Did we have soup?"
* * *
Dr Mahmud said to the young mother with the baby on her lap, "There's nothing like a good bowl of soup. It warms up the old heart. Mind, you've got to cut the pieces wee enough. You dinny want to choke on your soup!" Then he got up abruptly, troubled, and washed his hands. He washed his hands over and over again. The backs of his hands were very hairy. More hairy than usual? He wasn't sure. It was no joke now. "I think she's too young for solids," the young mother said. Her baby was ten days old. Dr Mahmud ran his fingers through his hair. He would have to take some time off. He couldn't go on like this. So far there'd been no complaints; but it was only a matter of time. The doctor would have to get to the root of it. You couldn't practise as a reputable GP shouting at people in this manner! It was appalling. It was against everything he'd been taught. He turned back around and put his thermometer under the baby's arm. The baby was crying, a high-pitched newborn's cry. It set his teeth on edge.
“Barley! That's the name! Barley!" he shouted over the din of the greeting bairn. The baby stopped crying instantly. Out of the blue, there was a lovely spacey silence in the surgery between the baby, the doctor and the mother. The doctor looked out of his window. Snowflakes drifted dreamily and the doctor said pleasantly, "Plenty fluids, no cause for alarm. You're breastfeeding?" The mother nodded, wide-eyed. Everything about being a new mum was terrifying. The world was suddenly a terrifying place. Even the doctors were scary. She found herself bursting into tears when she watched the news. What had she done bringing a baby into a world like this? "Doctor," she said, tentatively, "I'm feeling worried about the world."
“This is normal. All new mums want world peace!" Dr Mahmud said, laughing bravely. "I'm worried she'll grow up in a world where she'll never see a panda," she cried. The tears rolled down her cheeks. "Don't worry." For the first time that day, the doctor could feel the other voice coming on. He had to get her out of the room before it spoke again. Maybe this was a good sign. Maybe it meant he could exercise some control. He ushered the young mum to the door.
It was strange. It felt as if it was getting closer, and the instances were becoming more acute. He had a sense of what it must be like being in labour - the panic of the contractions coming quicker and quicker. The mum was still talking. "I'm finding I can't sleep at night for worrying about what's going on in the world. Bad news, bad news. It gets right inside my heid."
“Turn the TV off!" the doctor snapped. "Jumpy mummy, jumpy baby eh? Your baby is fine. Keep an eye on the fluid intake." He held open the door pointedly. "But she's growing up in such a cruel world. I'm feeling like we're all doomed. There's nothing to hope for. Pity you can't write me a prescription for what's going on in the world, for all the fear and worry."
The doctor put his foot in the door to keep it open. "Wish I could. If I gave you a sedative, it would sedate your baby. Druggy mummy, druggy baby, eh?" The young woman left and Dr Mahmud sighed with relief. He walked back to his desk, shook his head. "What day of the week is it?" he asked himself. "Wednesday." "What is the month?" "January." "What is the date?" "January the . . ." "What town are we in?" "Glasgow." "What county?" "Scotland." "No! What county?" "East Dunbartonshire. We're in East Dunbartonshire."
* * *
I took the sheet out of the Olivetti. It hadn't quite worked the way I'd planned. The only thing that was consistent was the way the letter h was missing in the Olivetti, it tried to hit h, but then only left a ghost of an h there. The trut was I was terrified, terrified of losing my mot er, not of er dying but of losing er because s e was losing erself is ow t at sentence would look if I typed it out. It was ard to keep track of w at I was saying wit t e missing.
Before we left for Bishopbriggs, my mother had a panic over her keys. I fastened my seatbelt and got ready for it. "What have you done with them?" she asked me. "With what?" I said, though I knew of course what she was talking about. "My keys, Diddy!" she said impatiently. "I haven't touched your keys. You're always accusing me of hiding your keys."
“No one else is in the house. It's got to be you. Why do you do it, Mary, why oh why oh why." My mother started to cry. "Don't upset yourself, Mum," I said. "Anyway, I've got a spare set."
“I want my own keys," my mother wailed like a baby.
“Well, let's see where you've put them this time." I hunted around for her keys. I'd seen her put them behind the cushion on the sofa earlier but I didn't want to find them too quickly. My mother started the handbag scramble and I tried to take the bag and look for her. She tussled me for it and everything fell on to the floor, all the rubbish she keeps in there, the hairpins and receipts and old photographs and letters.
“Now look what you've done!" she said.
“I am not going to steal from you, Mum, I'm your daughter." I was close to tears myself, filled with fury and frustration. It was all so hopeless. My mother seemed to notice and softened. "My keys have mibbe been burgled so that they can burgle me later," she announced.
“Them," she said darkly.
“Things have been moving about. They've been listening to me on the phone. They know when I'm out."
“I think we should go out now, before it is too late," I said. The afternoon will go and the dark will come down and then we won't get out, and then it will be another day, I thought. I knew I was in for a period of darkness. My mother pulled the cushion back on the couch and discovered her keys. "Found them," she announced. "Why did you put them there? I would never have put them there," she said.
“Never mind, you've found them now," I said. "Let's go."
“My keys need to go in my zipped pouch," my mother said.
“Put them in your zipped pouch, then," I said, tired.
My mother and I got off the train at Bishopbriggs. From Glasgow Queen Street to Bishopbriggs Cross was just seven minutes. We crossed over the railway bridge and walked down the slope at the other side. "Where's Stakis? Can we find Stakis and have a gammon steak and pineapple?" my mother said. "After the doctor's!" I said firmly. (I didn't want to tell her that Stakis wouldn't be there any more.) "Oh yes, the doctor's. I forgot. I can picture him," my mother said. "He's handsome. He's Pakistani. He's got a small beard. He's tall. He's kind. He's got beautiful eyes. And a lovely set of teeth! His smile would melt an old woman's heart." "Goodness! I hope he exists!" I said wryly. I was starting to feel panicky. How would I get any new doctor to see my mother? How would I explain her thinking about her lost thoughts? It was crazy. I should never have indulged her. I'd gone too far. "He exists, all right," my mother said walking quickly up the road. There was nothing wrong with her mobility. She was faster than me. I was finding walking in a straight line a bit of a challenge. If my mother got her lost thoughts back, I'd give up whisky! That felt like a decent bargain. Three cars were waiting at the traffic lights under the old railway bridge. The lights changed.
“When we get there, you let me do the talking," I said to my mother. She nodded. "I'm having the time of my life," she said. "We're cannier than Cagney and Lacey; we've got more irony than Ironside, we've got more hair than Kojak, nicer raincoats than Columbo, better sweaters than Starsky and Hutch," I said, laughing. "But we're not more stylish than, what's her name? Oh damn, it's gone. What's her name; you know the one, the one that had the wee drunken dance with her whisky?" my mother said.
“Helen Mirren! Prime Suspect! Prime!" Dr Mahmud said aloud to the mirror in his surgery. "One of they women that looks as if life's begun at 60, like 60 is the new 40. Sexy, sexy! Some figure on her." He called reception, really disturbed now. He looked at the hair on the backs of his hands as if he was physically turning into somebody else. He suddenly decided to shave his beard off. Then stopped, his face full of lather. He pressed his buzzer to the reception: "No more patients for me today, please. I'm not feeling myself. Can you get Dr Gordon and Dr Berg to relieve me?" The receptionist sounded frazzled. Dr Mahmud flicked the switch. The receptionist pulled a face. Weirder and weirder! Outside the surgery, snow had started to fall in earnest. Dr Mahmud's hand was steady as he took the razor blade across his chin. "It's snowing," he said out loud. "It's actually snowing."
Nora Gourdie stuck her tongue out; she pulled the red scarf around her neck tighter. "It's snowing," she said. "It's actually snowing." Snowflakes melted on her tongue. "Do you think it's going to lie?" she asked her daughter. "I hope it does. It's lovely when the snow covers everything, pretty, eh?"
“We are here," I said. The snow was whirling now, dancing. I was feeling like a complete idiot, bringing my old mother out in the freezing cold in a flurry of flakes in search of a Pakistani doctor. It was insane. It was another sign for me, that I was knocking it back too much. I'd lost all sense of judgement and propriety. "You sit there," I told her. "I'll go and see what's what. You're going to come as a bit of a shock to him if he is here." My mother nodded. Her eyes were shining. "What if I fall in love with him?" she said. "Oh, the snow's so romantic! The age difference will just melt away. Love does not care about age difference!"
"Excuse me," I asked at the reception, speaking softly. "I wonder if you can help me? My mother's got what we think might be early-onset Alzheimer's or dementia. We're not sure. And I wondered if she could see a doctor here? We're visiting Bishopbriggs, you see, staying with friends. We've come down from Ullapool," I lied.
“I'm sorry," the receptionist said. "We're inundated the day."
"That's him! Look, there he is!" my mother shouted, springing to her feet and pointing excitedly at a tall handsome man leaving a room with a pile of files in his arms. "Is he a doctor?"
I asked the receptionist. "Yes, that's Dr Mahmud, but he's not feeling well. He's going home early."
“Do you know me? Do you know me like I know you?" my mother was saying. Dr Mahmud stared at the small woman with grey hair, her red coat. There was something familiar about her. She wasn't one of his patients, he was certain of that. It wasn't her face that was familiar. What was it? He stood staring at her, puzzled. "He's the one! He's the one!" my mother shouted. "I'm so sorry about this," I said, approaching the doctor. "Is there any chance we could talk to you, privately, just for a few moments?"
“It'll take more than a few moments to get my thoughts back!" my mother said. "Ssssssh," I said. "You'll just sound like a crazy woman to the nice doctor here." My mother looked hurt. "The doctor hasn't been told it is you yet," I said, conspiratorially. "What a handsome man you are, Doctor. Dishy. You've not let me down. You're not a disappointment. But where's your beard?" my mother said.
It was her voice, Mahmud thought. Where had he heard that voice before? "Excuse me, ladies, but I must get home. I've been feeling a bit under the weather myself recently."
“It is you, isn't it," my mother said, agitated. "I chose . . . oh what's the word? I chose . . ."
“Responsibly!" the doctor said, blurting it out and surprising himself.
“Exactly," my mother said. "What is that they say about snowflakes again?" she said.
“That no two snowflakes are exactly the same?" he answered. The doctor stared at my mother and my mother stared at the doctor, looking deeply into each other's eyes as if they'd just discovered a long-lost twin, a familiar. I could almost hear the Mozart that we'd been playing earlier this morning sound in both their heads. "Did I tell you this is my daughter, Doctor?"my mother was saying. "I'm Mary," I said. "I'm Dr Mahmud," he said, shaking my hand. "What's my name again?" my mother said. "Nora!" the doctor answered - quick as a flash. "That's it! Nora, bloody Nora, never liked the bloody name anyway," my mother said.
“I like it," the doctor said, smiling. "Nora's a lovely name. Thank goodness. What would the world be like without Noras?"
The doctor approached the reception. "I'm going to take this lady through to my surgery. She seems very distressed."
“I thought you were going home, Doctor?" the receptionist said. The snow was still falling; it would probably lie on top of walls on the way home; there'd be thick snow icing on the roofs of cars; white branches on trees, sparkling roofs, snowy, crunchy secret fields. It was beautiful, the soft, soft snow. The snowflakes were musical notes falling; Mahmud could hear Mozart's piano. "No. I'm not going home right now. I'm feeling better," Mahmud said, and smiled enigmatically.
“Through this way, please," - he took my mother's arm. She was in her element. I could suddenly see her, years back, dancing in the Locarno in that black-and-white polka-dot dress. "I chose," she said to Mahmud again. "Responsibly," he repeated, and felt an extraordinary sensation of wonder and calm. "You chose responsibly." "Exactly!" my mother said. Nora was beaming. "I could dance," my mother said. "I could dance and dance and dance." She was as happy as snowflakes. Her face was flushed; she suddenly looked young again. "It looks like it is going to lie, the snow," I said. It was like a fresh sheet of paper, no footprints yet, nothing.
Copyright © 2012, Jackie Kay