IN SEARCH OF LILIA
“It would have been a pleasure nursing you if Matron hadn't been so much against you,” smiled Nurse Appleby as Able gathered his few possessions together, pushed and crushed them into his weathered back-pack and prepared to leave the hospital.
“I didn't know her name was Lilia until she told me,” complained Able. “And anyway, what's wrong with a man of my age fancying someone with that name? It's not her sole domain, you know. I'll bet there aren't so many men of any age who fancy her!”
“You must take her with a pinch of salt,” murmured Nurse Appleby. “Now, have you got everything? You don't want to be forgetting something important or it'll be gone for good once the cleaner's been round. And do you know where you're going?”
“Yes to both questions,” Able assured her.
“And no silly searching for someone who doesn't exist?”
“What do you mean, doesn't exist? I've known my Lilia for years and she most certainly does exist,”Able admonished her. “I should know that much, at least!”
“And she hasn't changed with the years?” asked the nurse. “Lucky woman! Most of us grow older, or hadn't you noticed?”
“Well, she's still the same as she ever was and I love her,” Able told her, and he heaved his backpack onto his shoulder. “I've got to thank you for everything you've done for me,” he added. “Which way is it to the river?”
“The one I saw before I blacked out. The winding one at the bottom of the long hill? I saw it as plain as day, a huge river winding down the valley floor.”
“There's no river anywhere near here, Able. And there never was. I've lived within a few miles of this place all my life, so I should know.”
“But I saw it! With my own eyes!”
“I'm sorry, but I can't give you directions to what doesn't exist.”
“I was told: my instructions were to go over the hills, across a river and to the desert where I'll find her...”
“Oh, Able, think for a moment. A woman in a desert? What would anyone with a grain of common sense be doing there? I don't know what you were on, Able, but you absolutely never expect to find women in deserts! And I should know because I'm a woman!”
“Maybe I crossed the river, then... maybe I did that...” Able frowned, puzzled. He was suddenly aware that something was wrong but he was too blind or obsessed to see that everything was wrong. Or maybe he was too old.
“I think you'd best go home and make fresh enquiries,” Nurse Appleby was troubled. It shone in her eyes and on her face. This old man was likely to be a danger to himself if he wandered off in search of a river that didn't exist in order to cross a dry and dangerous desert that certainly did exist and look for a woman who couldn't possibly exist.
“Your Lilia might just be a memory...” she said, gently. “Maybe someone you knew once upon a time and wished you still knew, maybe an old girlfriend from when you were looking at girls for the first time ... sometimes memories can be tricky things.”
He sighed, and walked slowly to the main door of the ward, troubled, shaking his head, unsure of what to think. Then he paused, and looked back.
“Sometimes I see little flashes of my boyhood,” he almost whispered. “Sometimes I remember snippets, maybe something my mother did or my father said, and it's clear as day, like yesterday, untarnished by all the years that have passed. Time's a funny thing because I've lived all my adult life since then and a great deal of the time is less clear than those precious treasured moments. Nurse, I get to wondering where the years went, you know. Oh, I've not turned daft: I know that I lived through them, but sometimes it seems they haven't amounted to much. I've had my children and then my grandchildren, and although I love them all so much I know that they're part of other lives now, not mine. They've grown away from me and their treasured moments may include me, but they're not mine … if you see what I mean, just like my flashes of precious memories are mine and not my parents' memories. I wore short pants back then, we all did, boys of that age, say, ten or eleven, and I ran round a corner where I slipped and fell so often, and skinned my knees, and ran home, bawling ... and other times I went to school with a hopeful heart and learned how strange the world is, and how wonderful ... and those are some of my own moments, trapped inside my head and untarnished by all the years since I made them.
“I bet I'm not making much sense to a young thing like you, am I?”
“I think I understand,” smiled the nurse.
“The thing is, Lilia's been there all the time with me. My lover and my friend. And she needs me. I know she does. I saw her the other night...”
“In your dreams, Able?”
He wrinkled up his forehead, thinking. Was that all Lilia was? A dream princess? Somebody he could fantasise over? And had he known her for so many years that surely she must be an old lady herself by now?
It couldn't be that!
“Maybe,” he mumbled, quietly, “maybe I'm a nutcase in search of a fantasy, but if I am it's me who's the nutcase and the fantasy's mine too.”
The nurse sighed. “Well, best of luck, Able,” she said quietly, “and all the best with your search. All the best indeed.”
“Is that gentleman still here?” barked the Matron from her desk at the end of the ward. “Nurse Appleby, there's a bed to be stripped and a new patient on his way. You have no time to waste nattering to an elderly gentlemen who ought to be in a home!”
“Yes Matron ,” called the nurse, and she winked mischievously at Able. “I hope you find your Lilia,” she whispered.
Able nodded. “I will,” he said.
© Peter Rogerson 09.11.13
This is the twelfth part of a silly story. If you like what you have read here and fancy some links to the earlier parts, here are links. Heaven only knows how many parts there will eventually be! Click whatsoever part you require.