the conjuror's assistant

October 25

Visited Mum and Dad today. Dad referred to the cutlery at tea as ‘eating tools’ and didn’t settle. Always up and about. When I arrived, he wasn’t sure who I was, not at first. Mother has the patience of a saint and smooths everything like a prize winning plasterer. This will take some adjusting to. It is not a battle Dad will win.


October 26

Izzie Fullerton has been hospitalised after eating wild mushrooms. Apparently she had been experimenting with hallucinogens. I didn’t think the skinny thing had that much life in her. Maybe I should try some.

October 28

Date last night with ‘Cameron’. Scottish, charming, solvent, accent to die for, funny (ish). Mouth closed, he was passably handsome. But bad teeth! I fancied his saliva a match for the venomous bile of the Komodo Dragon.


October 30

Afternoon tea with Mum at Delaney’s. She is worried about Dad. Sunday’s minor mistakes and the pacing are normal now. She has coped well since the diagnosis but looked worn today. Must help.


November 7

MUM IS DEAD.


November 8

Can’t stop blubbing.


November 9

Mum died in her sleep on the night of 6th November. The paramedics attended in the morning, too late to attempt CPR. Doctor Jewitt says the likely cause was sudden heart failure. It isn’t uncommon in women her age.


Every nerve feels raw. Mum was supposed to be the healthy one. She was going to nurse Dad through the dementia until it was too much, when he went to a home she would have a second lease of life. That was my plan.


Glad we had afternoon tea.


November 10

Fuck.


November 11

I don’t think Dad can cope. How much did Mum cover up for him? Am going to move in for a few days to suss things out.


December 18

I’ve accepted that Komodo Cameron will be my last date for a while. I have become the woman that lives with her elderly father, a man suffering from creeping dementia, in a house where redecorating stopped in 1995, and who no longer has a social life. Am I destined to be Miss Eleanor Percy, the spinster?


I have enlisted a carer, Mrs Beech, to drop in on Dad during the day. Mrs Beech is a formidable woman. Her forearms resemble the sandstone columns at St. Hildas.


Dad is doing ok. He has his foibles, pacing, forgetting recent events, bit snappy in the evenings but it is workroundable for now.


He has called me Sybil several times. Who is Sybil?


December 23

Today Dad refused to leave his bedroom. He said -


‘I’m forgetting things and I know why. It’s doorways. Every time I walk through a doorway, I forget what I’m doing. No more doorways!'


It’s worse when he is aware.


December 26

Dad emerged from the bedroom, all doorway concerns forgotten.


January 1st

Probate is complete. Mum’s will left everything to Dad, except for the jewelry which she left to me. I have power of attorney over Dad’s finances. The meagre spoils of a lifetime of work are now with me. A full financial revolution of responsibility.


January 6th

Sybil was Dad’s lover! As in extra-marital affair. We won’t go into the weirdness of him calling me by her name. I am so angry with him. How could he do that to mum? But it is hard, he is so earnest in his telling. It happened before I arrived on the scene. Sybil was Dad’s first love. They courted for a time but drifted out of contact during his time abroad. A chance meeting years later led to a passionate encounter. OMG!


Will rummage deeper into Dad’s military past.


January 10th

Found Dad’s medals. Realised I saw them as a child, but never since. Odd I know so little about them - him. I should have listened more. Have realised I have forgotten much of what I knew of the family history. Dad is my last chance to hear those stories first hand. I wonder how long we have?


January 18th

Today Dad cried inconsolably about mum’s passing, as if he’s just realised she’s gone. Have to admit the crying was contagious. Part of me felt relieved that he was so upset. It balanced the Sybil thing. Dad was not a philanderer, he was a good husband, and he misses my mum.


January 20th

Talked to Dad about the medals. They seemed to unlock him. He was in the Royal Signals and served on the East German border, Brunei, and Papua New Guinea. In East Germany, he was part of a team listening in on the ‘Commies’. In Brunei, which I thought, was near Kuwait or somewhere like that, he protected the oilfields. He spent his time in Papua New Guinea building the communications network for the Australian administration. Some of the radio towers he put up were hundreds of feet high.


I wonder how Dad went from being an engineer in the Papua New Guinea hill country to working as a health service administrator.


I also wonder how I have never been a Royal Signals Engineer in Brunei, or lived on the front line of the Cold War. Was our generation blessed with boring lives?


January 21st

Mrs Beech took me aside today to share her concerns about Dad. She worries his condition is worsening. It is.


February 9th

Found a picture of Dad on top of a mountain with ice crystals in his hair and a wild man beard. He looked like Bonnington on Everest. When I showed him the picture his recollections were instant. It was 1990, I was five. The picture was taken on top of Ben Nevis, the first of the three highest peaks of Scotland, England, and Wales. He climbed the three mountains within twenty-four hours. When I showed him the picture, he took it in his shaky hand and in a gravelly voice said -


‘I was a man.’


In 1990, he would have been forty-five and in his prime. I’ve allowed myself to forget who he was. So vital. I will keep this picture forever.


February 14

No valentines card. No date. Am miserable. Dad, of course, has no idea. Found it difficult to deal with his post tea snappiness.


February 20

Remarkable story from Dad. Recorded it on my phone -


“Papua New Guinea was the grand adventure.” As he said this, his rheumy eyes sparked with a fire I’ve not seen in years. “There were three of us that travelled up country together, two radio engineers, myself and Gibbo, and a magician named Ulysses Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was a tall, slim, Irish corporal whose job it was to go to far out postings and entertain the troops. But he was odd. He’d talk of fairies and shadow realms, when us engineers challenged him, he’d wag a finger and say -


‘Mark me men, you’ll see.’


We travelled by plane, canoe, and then on foot. We went deep into the tribal highlands, to an Aussie camp. Soon after we arrived, Fitzgerald disappeared on a trek. To leave camp was unheard of. The jungle was impenetrable and the local tribes still ate the long pig. He staggered back into camp after three weeks wearing just his trousers. His eyes were wild and his body covered in white painted spots but it was his back that shocked us. Across its entire area was an exploding pattern of burn marks. He must have been in agony. That night, he shared my hut. In the deep black of night, I asked him -


‘Fitzgerald where have you been?’

‘Studying with the sorcerers and shamans. I’ve learned powerful magic.’ His voice was hoarse.

‘Give over.’

‘Mark me Percy. Tomorrow I will deliver a conjuring show the troops will never forget. You will be my assistant. Has your trunk arrived?’

‘It has.’

‘Bring it empty to the parade square at noon tomorrow.’


I did, and at noon precisely, with all the men watching, he climbed into the trunk and asked me to shut it. I slammed it with a flourish and fastened the clasp. We waited fifteen minutes before we knocked, after fifteen more Captain Joyce flung it open. Ulysses Fitzgerald was not there.’


“What?”


“He disappeared in front of our very eyes and never returned. The search that followed lasted weeks, but he’d gone. We listed him missing in action so his wife would get a pension.”


February 23

I checked the regimental records online. There is a listing.


‘Corporal Ulysses Fitzgerald, entertainer, missing in Action - Western Highlands Papua New Guinea 1969.’


March 14

Dad fell and was in much pain. I called Mrs Beech to help move him. She forbade it. Doctor Jewitt came and confirmed Mrs Beech had advised correctly. He suspected a broken hip. While we waited for the paramedics, Doctor Jewitt told me to accept this is it. Full-time care in a home will follow the stay in hospital. He said I have done my bit.


I cried.


The paramedics arrived. The first asked in a cheerful voice.

‘Who have we here?’


I addressed her in my best voice.


‘We have Lieutenant Julian Percy. Lover, husband, father, engineer, cold war eavesdropper, mountaineer, hospital administrator, conjuror's assistant, and Man.’



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