Trevor sat, uncomfortable, in his armchair. The nurse had just left, thank goodness. That was enough prodding and prying for one day. He had almost cried earlier when she had to change him. I feel like a stupid baby, he thought. Thank God nobody can see me like this.
The TV blared at full volume, subtitles didn’t help. It was almost seven o’clock. He didn’t know what was on tonight. He’d stopped remembering months ago. Now, he just let it play, and if it wasn’t interesting, he would have a nap. There were a few shows he enjoyed. Nature documentaries were a particular favourite. Nature speaks for itself, he used to say. Sometimes he would switch the sound off, and just watch the blur of colour. It reminded him of the old days.
He woke up to the muffled sound of someone saying his name.
‘Trevor? Trevor! Wake up, my love. Wake up.’ He opened his eyes slowly, his vision blurred by the sticky residue that always accompanies a nap. He felt something cold and wet being rubbed over them, and his vision cleared. There was a woman standing there. She had blue uniform. She might have been the nurse from earlier, but Trevor couldn’t remember. They all looked the same after a while.
‘Trevor, my love. Did you drop off? You’ve got a visitor.’
Inside his mind, pictures of faces were swimming about, slightly out of focus. A visitor? Well, that could be one of several people. If it was that old grumpy doctor woman, he wasn’t interested. Last time she visited, he had a sore bottom for days. Maybe it was the man from the bookshop, who often popped by to see him. He used to bring books, but not anymore. Thinking of it now, it had been a long time since Mr Bookshop had been to visit. Could it be a family member? Oh, he hoped it was his grand-daughter, Tia. She was always such a delight, although she was getting a bit plump. Bless her, she still felt she was small enough to sit on his knee.
‘This is Miriam, Trevor,’ the woman was saying. ‘Do you remember Miriam?’
He could almost feel the weight of that little girl pressing down on his knee. He shook it off.
‘Oh, Trevor, you’re alright. Calm down a little,’ the nurse said. She knelt by him. ‘Do you remember Miriam?’
Miriam. The name floated slowly around his mind, trying to find a face to match. He couldn’t find anything. Was the lady at the supermarket called Miriam? He had visited so often he must remember.
‘Miriam is an old friend of yours, Trevor.’
He realised that there were two figures standing there. One in blue, the other in a darker colour. Was it a coat, or a dress?
‘Let’s put your glasses on, my love,’ the nurse said, and he felt the metal scratch the sides of his head as she put them on. He reached a hand up and adjusted them.
‘Oh, Trevor. Leave them, you’ll smudge the lens. Come on.’
The glasses made little difference. The last time he had seen an optician they thought that the prescription didn’t need changing.
The dark coat moved towards him. They were tall, with dark hair too. It was a little menacing, this dark figure approaching him. He drew back in his chair.
‘Come on, now.’ The nurse turned to the dark figure. ‘He’s a little slow in the evenings. You might not get much out of him.’
Wait. At the sound of her voice, the darkness inside Trevor’s head lit up. The dusty blur cleared, for just a second. Miri.
‘I’ll go and make us all a cup of tea, okay? You sit with him.’
‘Okay.’ There it was again. That voice.
She sat down. Through the thick lenses, he could see a face. She was taking off her coat. Underneath she wore something much lighter, maybe even white. The darkness removed, her face was clearer. It stood, an entity, a face, attached to it were people, connections, lives, animals, landscapes. Trevor stared into it.
‘Hello, Trevor,’ she said.
She was here. Miri was here, in this room, by this chair.
‘Do you remember me?’
Trevor gulped. Her eyes were just as they used to be, just as they always were when they worked. She leaned forward, narrowing her eyes as she looked into his.
‘You do remember me! I can see it in your eyes.’
‘Miri!’ Trevor hissed, crouched low. ‘Get over here!’
There was a shuffle in the bushes as Miri scrambled to him. ‘What is it?’ she whispered.
Trevor pointed across the rocks towards the beach. ‘Look, in the sand.’
In the white sand, there was something moving. The sand was trembling a little, shifting as something beneath it began pushing upwards. The grains of sand were falling, the dry sand tumbling quickly as the denser stuff loosened.
‘Oh, my…’ gasped Miri.
Something was emerging from the sand. Something small and black, tiny and vulnerable. It slowly, steadily, cautiously pushed its way up, the tiny young body testing out its strength.
‘A baby turtle,’ Trevor breathed.
And here they came. One by one, they emerged. Peering out into the sunlight, they crept out of their nest and onto the warm sand of the beach. Taking shaky steps, they shuffled out together, towards the sea.
As they watched, Trevor felt something brush his hand. Then, fingers touched. Miri’s delicate hand found his. Their fingers interlocked, tightly but comfortably.
The last of the evening sun was swallowed by the night. Streams of light caressed the beach for a final time, flitted over the rocks and gave the sea a glitter, before fading to a gentle darkness. Their hands remained together, warm and comforting. In that moment, everything was natural.
Then, Miri pulled away.
‘Go on, then!’ she said, fervently. ‘What are you waiting for?’
The nurse had returned with cups of tea.
‘Here we are,’ she said, bustling to find coasters. Trevor didn’t care. Why would you go to the trouble of ensuring that you didn’t make any rings when I can’t even see them?
‘There you are, Trevor… two sugars as always! I know you so well, don’t I?’
Trevor saw Miri nod politely at the nurse. ‘Thank you.’
‘Right, shall I leave you to it?’
‘Yes, thanks.’ Oh, Miri. You did always know what to say.
The living room door closed. Miri pulled her stool a little closer to Trevor’s arm chair.
‘How are you, Trev?’ she said, after a moment. ‘You look terrible.’
He forced his lips into a smile. It wasn’t that he did not want to smile, but that his muscles were so disjointed from his mind that it took every effort to summon enough energy that they would move as he wanted.
‘Don’t force yourself, Trev,’ said Miri, putting her hand gently on his knee. She gazed into his eyes. He tried to broadcast something from them, a message. A signal. I am okay, Miri. I am okay, I promise. I know I do not look okay but I am, because you are here.
She didn’t seem to notice, as she drew back after a moment and sipped her tea.
‘That is quite deliciously terrible tea,’ she sighed, putting the mug down again. She reached down beside her stool and picked up a small black handbag.
‘Well, I suppose there’s no use in keeping you waiting,’ she smiled, searching for something in the bag. Please, take your time, Trevor thought. Take as long as you want. I have all the time in the world now. Time is my enemy. I am only waiting for time to pass, enough time that my body no longer needs it.
He could hear the soft clatter as she rooted through her bag.
‘Where is it?’ Miri said to herself. Then, her face lit up. ‘Ah! Found it. Put it in the bloody side pocket, didn’t I?’
She pulled out something small and white.
‘Do you know what this is, Trev?’ she asked, holding the envelope in front of his face.
Trevor tilted his head as he forced his eyes to focus on it. It was a difficult task. All he could make out was a blurry off-white square, with a black smudge in the middle. An envelope, maybe? Or a postcard? It’s been an awful long time since I found any use in envelopes and postcards, Trevor thought to himself. I hope she’s not going to get me to try and read it. Some of the nurses do, God knows why. Do they think that their weak tea and sugary smiles will bring back my sight? Bring back my lust for life? Heaven knows what they’re teaching at these places.
‘This, Trevor,’ Miri continued. ‘Is something that I didn’t know was still in existence until last week.’
The white square danced in the blurry haze.
‘Do you remember those turtles hatching in Sri Lanka? Remember the beach at Kosgoda?’
He flicked through his bank of memories. Many had faded, some now in black and white. Some were now in darkness.
‘Remember how the two of us went in the evening, when everyone else was going out? We went and sat on that beach from four till almost midnight, watching those baby turtles hatch from the sand.’
Miri took something out of the envelope.
‘You took this photo, just as the light was fading.’
She held it up, close to his face. It was black and white. He could not see anymore than that.
‘I don’t know if you can see that, Trev, but it’s a bloody good photo. You’ve got the tiny babies scuttling across the sand to the sea, and the last of the sun coming through the clouds, reflecting off the sea. Nobody took good photos like that, back in those days.’
Miri put the photo in Trevor’s palm. She guided his fingers to close around it. ‘I thought it was lost. I knew you had taken some photos, but when it came to going over them, we couldn’t find them anywhere in your collection. Turns out, I’d accidentally put them with mine.’
Trevor felt the corners of the photo with his rough hands. It was smooth and soft, unaged.
‘I took it to my editor, last week. I hope you don’t mind, but you must realise how rare it is to find old photos like this. This one is almost forty years old now.’
His weary hands caressed the photo like it might melt. Miri, he thought. You are such a gift.
‘Trev, my editor wants to buy it for fifteen thousand pounds.’ The photo fell to the floor. Trevor lent forward in dismay.
‘He wants to buy your photo, Trevor. If you sold it, you could have money to give your family, money to pay for better care, whatever you want. Plus, you’d be making history. I know it’s a little late, Trev, but you’d bloody make your name alright. It would be a great story.’
For the first time, Trevor focused his aching eyes on Miri. She looked back, steady and calm, like a judge.
The photo didn’t matter to him anymore. Photos were supposed to take you back to old, happy memories, and those were not available to him these days. His old eyes could not even see it properly. What did it matter what they did with it?
He felt Miri’s warm fingers take his. Like on that beach. That beach in Malaysia.
Trevor gave a nod.