The Stranger in Our House


 The day starts early,

Sweeping the kitchen floor

Because of the ants.

My mother is still asleep, but drenched in sweat,

When she wakes up I will help her out of bed

Despite the pain,

Strip her down,

Find a fresh nightgown for her,

Put her in the shower and see she doesn’t fall as she cleans herself.


I’ve already had breakfast,

So I make her some.

But she doesn’t eat it.

She’ll be dead soon, she says, so what’s the point?


The cat has been fed and watered,

So I put the laundry on,

Since her sheets needs washing after the night-bathe of sweat.

Dressing her takes a while

Because she can’t get her arms above her head,

Because of the pain,

Because the new underpants are the wrong colour.


I hang up the sheets,

Put her in front of the television after swallowing pills

And giving her a heat pack

Because of the pain.

Kneeling before her to tie the heat pack on is like doing worship.


She falls asleep in front of the television,

Which gives me a little while

To do the things that must be done

For me.


We spend the afternoon among her hallucinations,

Discussing her friends and our family,

Whose side am I on?

(I’ve no idea,

Since there are no sides.)

“I’m on your side, of course.”

She asks me why my mouth is black

(It isn’t, but this is her fantasy, remember)

So I wipe my mouth.

She wants to know why there were only six roses

On the cat’s grave.

(The cat is curled up asleep at her feet,

Alive and well.)


I make dinner, and she goes to bed early

As usual.

I keep her door open and the bathroom door and my own.

So she can wake me in the middle of the night

To help her out of bed.


At two o-clock we are awake again

Because her room is full of spiders

That aren’t there.

—Russell Proctor


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