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

In My Face

I went to the dentist today. I think dentists are brave people. I imagine myself not only looking into, but putting my hand in, someone else’s mouth – someone I am not intimately acquainted with – and it isn’t a pleasant thought. Kissing a lover is different – I guess it’s because you can’t actually see where you are putting your tongue. But staring directly into a gaping maw is a bit like being eaten by a shark, I guess. There’s just something unnerving about it.

Older_barber-dentistI prepared myself before I went. There are people who will scrub and degrease their house before the weekly cleaner arrives, presumably so the person engaged to do the actual cleaning doesn’t realise how messy they let the place get. I was like that. I worried about what I would have for breakfast – I didn’t want any tell-tale breath putting the dentist off his game. I brushed and flossed and gargled assiduously. 

I even trimmed my nose hairs. Very important that last one. Let’s face it, the dentist spends a lot of time staring right up your nose. I’m sure he or she is not especially interested in seeing a forest up there. It’s not fair that the dentist is wearing a face mask, so you can’t see what undergrowth they may be cultivating. Truth be told, they probably wear masks not for hygiene purposes, but so they don’t have to mow the lawn every second day.

Actually, while we are on the subject: it is harder to trim your nose hairs than you think. I presume you’ve had to do it sometime, especially if you are male. I did know a woman once with rather long nose hair. We dated a few times but every time I looked at her there were little tufts protruding from her nostrils and I knew that it wasn’t going to work out. There are no tactful words to use when telling someone they have hirsute nares – (or maybe they are the words to use, then make a quick exit while they reach for a dictionary).

Anyway, trimmed and ready, I went to the dentist. I hadn’t been to this one before. I had moved into the area a couple of years ago and had neglected finding a new dentist for that long, so it was high time. He was pleasant, we got on well. But he seemed to dig around for an awfully long time in my mouth. I got a bit ashamed at the amount of cleaning he had to do, scraping away with that hooked thing, and applying polish that tasted like the strongest toothpaste ever. I knew it had to be good stuff, it tasted like it.

What amazes me about dentists is the wonders they can accomplish with only a small orifice to work in. Although there are tighter spots one can go, especially when it’s time for that prostate exam – hey, guys? That’s fun! They also manage to do it upside-down and back-to-front, looking in a tiny mirror. Up is down and left is right in the dental care world. I don’t know how they do it.

So now I sit here with sparkling clean teeth and a sense of moral cleanliness. I’ll be back in twelve months to do it again. I am 55 years old and have all my own teeth, and I intend to keep them.