An Unwilling Carer

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Desperate for a pee in the way only a man who spent the evening drinking too much Monster can understand, Hubert Grange crashed out of his bed, stumbled across the room and into the hall; naked except for the Magic the Gathering card which had affixed itself to the underside of his foot. He groaned, leaned over to peel it off, hoping simultaneously that it wasn't a Tarmogoyf (as he had slightly bent it), and that it was (as he didn't own one and finding that he did would have been quite a win for the morning). It was a Plains, and rejoined its fellows on the floor as he staggered out of the room, his body urging him about the immediate imperative to urinate.

Though he admitted it to no-one, Hubert had a strange sense of pride regarding the volume of his first early morning tinkle, and counted off the seconds as he sprayed - while 24 was by no means a personal best, it was a good omen for the day and he smiled as he shook, dabbed, flushed and washed (in that order). The hand towel was a sad shadow of the fluffy and flowery tactile joy of his youth, and he felt sorry for its threadbare existence as he straightened it out and reached for his toothbrush.

This was not the life he was meant to have. He was thirty-four, and by this point in his game plan should have had hundreds of thousands (if not, indeed, millions) of pounds in the bank, a wife who was at once beautiful, loving and respectful of his need for his hobbies, and the kind of job which he only need pop into once a week to check everything was ticking over before taking some time to socialise on his yacht.

Instead he was in the small bathroom of his mother's house, ten feet from the bedroom he grew up in, and looking at the same picture of a goat that had both scared and fascinated him as a six-year old.

And for all his potential and genius, was nothing more than a man whose job it was to wipe an old woman's arse. To further embarrassment, that one woman was his own mother; Mary Grange, once a politician of note, now a drooling incomprehensible wreck with incontinence and a bad attitude.

Not for the first time, Hubert wanted to cry. He sat on the toilet, his testicles gluing slightly to the plastic lid with a night's worth of aromatic sweat, and buried his head in his hands; it shouldn't have been him.

But of course, it had to be: his elder sister, Naomi, was far too busy with her high flying job that took her regularly from London to New York and beyond; and his brother, Nick, was honest enough to say that he simply didn't care enough and wasn't going to ruin his life looking after their dying mother. More than once, Hubert wished he could be more like Nick.

"Huuu!" The beast awoke. Hubert liked to pretend to himself that the high-pitched moan the old woman managed when she was in need was her still able to say his name - Huu as he preferred to spell it, but he didn't know if she even had enough left in her to recognise that he was her son, let alone coherently call him. Chances were high that it was simply the easiest noise left to her. Her other one was "Hnnng!", but she saved that for special occasions (and particularly difficult-to-pass number twos).

"I'm coming, Mum!" he called from the bathroom. Dignity required him to get dressed first, though she probably wouldn't notice if he danced flagrantly nude in front of her. He grabbed yesterday's jeans from the bathroom floor, crossed back to his room to add some boxer shorts and a t-shirt to the ensemble and went to his mother's room to start the laborious daily routine.

* * *

By two-thirty she was asleep and Hubert lay on the sofa watching The X-Files - there's was something about escaping to the 1990s which made him feel comfortable. My life's not too bad, he reflected now that the memory of cleaning his mother's private areas was fading back to its usual dull background grey, at least I have plenty of time spare.

It helped that the pub where the local gaming group gathered weekly was across the road. The baby monitor that he used to keep an ear out for his ageing charge had enough signal strength to reach almost the entire venue, and he could be back from the pub and to his mother's side quick enough that she didn't notice. Every Wednesday, therefore, was his social day and he liked to present himself well there. He'd been part of the group since it's creation back when the X-Files was current television, and was well-liked there. Tonight was Dungeons and Dragons and Huu was looking forward to stretching his wizarding skills.

Two episodes later, Hubert flicked everything off and stood up. Enough time for a shower and a shave, to chuck some clothes in the washing and stuff his face with a warmed pasty before he had to go. There was no way of knowing whether his mother's nap was going to be broken in minutes, or would last throughout the night. She had no routine now, just an unpredictable chain of waking moans or sleeping snores. More than once a day, Hubert just wished it would all be over, but then his life would be uprooted with the house sold, Naomi and Nick claiming their unfair share, and him having to find a proper job with no real qualifications and a CV that had nothing going for it. Looking after his mum had actually been the longest time he'd stuck something through which meant he was qualified for what? Care nurse? Hubert shuddered at the thought.

He imagined making the choice between the lowest rung at the NHS and regular shifts at KFC and prayed silently that his mother had a lot more life left in her.

Un-noticed by her son, however, Mary Grange passed away that afternoon while he was in the shower. Hubert sprayed himself with something from Gucci that he'd received as a present from his sister and went to the pub.

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