My name is John Hamish Watson and I am 74 years old and I live at Langston Care Home 84 Cambridge Lane East New Blenheim and (William) Sherlock (Scott) Holmes visits me every single day and I know this because it’s printed on a sheet of paper that is stuck above my telly. At the bottom, written in very large slightly accusing letters is DO NOT TAKE THIS NOTE DOWN sh
There are 14 such similar signs in this room, stuck a various heights on the no-colour walls and they say things like: Dirty clothes go in the hamper! sh And, Bingo is on Wednesdays at 4! You LIKE Bingo! sh Or, my favourite: Clean pants everyday! No exceptions! sh
I recognize the scrawling handwriting. I think. Today, right now, at least, I recognize it. I recognize it because it’s the writing of a dirty liar. A dirty lowdown conniving sneaky revolting goddamn fucking bloody liar.
The bastard who put me in here.
Langston Care Home is beautiful. It really is. The best I can afford, at least, and my brother agrees. Mycroft, so he says, pulled a lot of strings to get us in so quickly. It is conveniently close by and it has a waiting list. Imagine.
“The best around,” Mycroft assured me as my shaky hand signed form after form after form in a wavering scrawl. My traitorous body had realized what I was doing even if my mind had not. “He will be well looked after.”
I said nothing because I was numb and I really didn’t know what to say. I rarely know the right thing to say these days. Apparently, however, according to Mycroft and the few acquaintances I have left, and Amelia, of course, the head of Langston Home, I did exactly the right thing for John.
My dear brother leaned close to me that day, as the bright afternoon sunshine of a perfectly ordinary May afternoon streamed in through the large window. Outside I could see normal people going about their normal lives, doing their shopping or visiting the dentist or meeting for lunch. Even while doing the most boring mundane normal chores some of them managed to look happy. And oh how I envied them. Mycroft’s breath blew warm against my cheek.
“Surely you must realize,” he’d murmured, “you can’t go on this way any longer.”
And to that I did nod because never a truer statement was spoken.
My name is John Hamish Watson and I am 74 years old and I live at Langston Residential Home 84 Cambridge Lane East New Blenheim and I like Bingo! I do not know if I actually like Bingo, but this sign on my wall assures me I do, so on Wednesdays at 4 Nurse Margaret pops her head into my room with a cheery smile and a cheerier wave and insists I walk down to the Blue Room with her to play.
I never win.
“That’s all right, John,” Nurse Margaret tells me in a soothing voice every week as we walk back to my no-colour walls. “It’s fun to get out of your room for a bit. It’s fun just to play, yes?”
It’s not, though, and I’d rather pound nails into my head than to venture into the Blue Room every Wednesday at 4. I don’t say this out loud, though, because I’ve learned that saying certain things out loud here, such as Where am I? Why do I live here? Who are you? What day is it? or, I’d rather pound nails into my head than play another sodding game of Bingo, makes people very concerned which in turn makes doctors examine me extra carefully and sometimes I get extra medication.
I keep a lot of thoughts to myself these days.
There’s a church outside my window. And in the highest spire there is a peregrine falcon nest. With chicks. I can sit in my green chair and watch the babies being fed for hours. I know it’s hours because sometimes Margaret will come in with a cheery smile and tell me.
“Still watching the birds, John? It’s been hours.”
Then, “It’s Wednesday, John.”
I don’t move. I watch the mother bird flap back to the nest and drop something into the baby birds’ mouths. Something dead, I’m guessing.
“It’s almost 4, John.”
Still I don’t move. Sometimes when I don’t move people just go away.
tap tap tap tap tap
But not today, apparently.
I look over. Margaret is standing by the Bingo! sign and tapping it with one finger. She’s smiling.
“You like Bingo. Remember?”
No. I don’t remember. But, if it says so on my wall I suppose it’s true.
I visit Langston Care Home every day. Every single day. In the almost six months that John has been here, I haven’t missed one. I am not saying this to brag. It is a fact. I am the only family member with that record. I know this because with one sweeping glance of the sitting room or coffee shop or Blue Room I can see immediately in the residents’ sad and solemn faces who has had family visit that day and who has not. Also, I have been told, in turns, the following:
“Good for you, Sherlock. Dementia patients thrive on routine!”
“You’re here again? Oh, Mr. Holmes. You need to think of yourself, too!”
“Oh, Sherlock, I’m so happy you’re here. John’s face just lights up when he sees you!”
“Oh, Sherlock, our John’s having a very rough day today. Best to approach with caution, yes?”
And on and on. And I come every single day because he needs routine and I need to see him, very rough days and all.
“Good morning, Sherlock.” This is Angie at the front desk. She views me with a mixture of pity and hope, which translates physically into a sort of pained toothy grimace.
“Good morning,” I say. I sign the guest book because I am a guest. I can come and go as I please unlike the residents who must be escorted out by either staff or family. There is a courtyard in the back, though, and a garden where residents are free to wander if they choose. There is a high fence surrounding it so no one can simply walk away. There is not a single loose board or hole big enough for a rather small 74-year-old man to squeeze through. I know this because I have checked.
My name is John Hamish Watson and I’m allowed to use the telephone because it says so on my wall underneath a number that I have memorized. Or I knew it all along. I’m not sure which.
I’m calling the number I either know by heart or have memorized but I’m not sure who will pick up on the other end. It feels familiar, though, this calling. I am confused. And anxious. And scared. All at the same time. Whoever answers this goddamn phone will hear about all of it and more —
Oh. It’s him.
I’m scared, I tell him. I don’t know where I am.
You’re at Langston Home, he says.
You live there now.
He sighs. He says, John.
You bastard, I say. You fucking—
John, he says again. I hear paper rustling. It’s almost 2. There’s a lovely singer in the front room in five minutes. Why don’t you go and sit by the birds and I’ll meet you there shortly.
I start laughing. What are you TALKING about? I am shouting. It feels good. What birds? What singer? What am I doing here?
You live there. It’s your home.
I start crying. I do NOT.
Five minutes John, he says in that same maddeningly steady and quiet voice. He sounds so sure of himself the smug prat.
Five minutes, he says again. Go find the birds. He hangs up. I hang up, too.
I go find the birds.
In the front room where everyone gathers for the daily entertainment, there are lots of straight back chairs and wide cozy chairs and comfortable couches and a fireplace and a huge metal birdcage that stretches floor to ceiling filled with colourful budgies and lovebirds and John adores them. I think. I mean, he seems to. Most days.
Today I find him peering into the cage intently. He’s whistling gently to the birds and some are responding in kind.
“That’s wonderful,” I say. He nods and keeps doing it. I can’t help but smile. He looks almost happy.
I lean over and kiss his cheek impulsively.
He starts and looks at me, then looks around as if he’s being watched. He backs away from me, fists clenched. The birds keep chirping.
“Who the fuck are you?” he says.
My name is John Hamish Watson and birds are disgusting dirty creatures that can carry over 60 diseases including histoplasmosis and E. coli to name a few. There are some living the church across from my room and if I had a gun I’d shoot them dead.
When things were starting to get bad I developed a habit of making excuses for him. He was tired, for instance. Or I hadn’t made his morning tea strong enough. Or that I was simply imagining things. In the beginning it was just easier that way. Like his coming home after a morning out doing errands. I hadn’t gone, of course, preoccupied as I was with some experiment, I can’t even remember what now. Right now I can’t remember the last time I worked on anything but I digress. He’d wandered in and slammed the door and hung up his coat and I’d looked over at him, suddenly curious.
“Where are the groceries?”
“The what?” He looked irrationally cross. It was his idea after all. I certainly hadn’t asked him to.
“The shopping. Where is it?”
“I have no bloody clue what you’re talking about.” He tossed his keys onto the table with an angry clatter and stomped away.
There was the forgetting of appointments. The misplacing of clothing, of wallets, of his bicycle. The buying of three loaves of bread when we already had three on the counter.
There was the day he wandered off for six hours and was found by the river shivering in the cold.
The day he wandered off and wasn’t found until midnight under a bridge shivering in the cold.
The day he wandered off and wasn’t found for three days and I almost died of fright and he was found in hospital suffering from several head wounds he never was able to explain.
The day he burned his hand on the stove and it blistered and festered and required two rounds of antibiotics.
The day he set fire to the kitchen and almost burned us down. “Was just making a cuppa. I don’t understand.”
The day he soiled himself and didn’t know.
The day he fell into our pond and almost drowned.
The five days I had a local care worker come in to help him dress and bathe and not hurt himself and he screamed and screamed and threw things and locked her out in the snow for an hour before I’d returned from market.
The day I phoned Mycroft and broke down and sobbed incoherently for half an hour.
The day I drove him to Langston and came home without him.
My name is John Hamish Watson and sometimes I say things I don’t mean and sometimes I say nothing at all.
A Sherlock Holmes comes to visit and I’m not sure why. He insists he loves me but that is only confusing and surely a lie or a trick. He tries to take my hand or kiss my cheek and I look around because I am embarrassed. He says he will be back again in the morning and I say why.
“Because I come every day to see you.”
“You’re here every day?”
He nods. “Yes. Every day.”
Well this is news to me. Someone should tell him not to bother. Really.
“Why am I here?” I ask.
He sighs and looks away. The look of a liar.
“This is where you live, now,” he says. He looks miserable.
“This is my home?”
He nods. He looks like he might cry. I don’t know why. He’s not the one stuck in this hole.
“Why?” I slam my fist down on the table. People around us jump. He does not. He puts his hand over mine and holds it tight probably to keep me from hitting something or hitting him and he leans forward and looks right into my face.
“John please.” He whispers in a tight strangled voice. “You have to understand. You must. I couldn’t. You. We couldn’t.” He stops and gathers himself. His hand is very cold and shakes on top of mine. A fine tremor. I can’t understand why he is so upset. I hear him swallow.
“I didn’t know what else to do,” he says at last. He looks at me, pleading, wanting me to say something I guess to make him feel better but I say nothing and then Margaret comes in and announces ENTERTAINMENT in five minutes and looks meaningfully at me and we stand up and shuffle to the front room to wait.
He kisses me goodbye when it’s over and says he’ll be back in the morning.
“Good night,” he says.
I say nothing.
I watch him go.
I eat dinner with three people whose names I can’t remember.
I look at the birds.
I go upstairs.
I tear down three signs and make it snow all over the carpet.
I get into bed.
I always think of the exact right thing to say after he’s gone.
Like, Fuck you.
Suddenly it is Christmas. I’m not sure how that happened but here we are. I have been studiously avoiding the arrival of John’s favourite holiday but now it’s staring us all right in the face. Impossible to avoid, with all the shiny decorations and bright Poinsettias and jolly carolers at Langston. Christmas has vomited into every spare space.
We listen to Christmas music and John surprises me by singing along. I give him a small gift I have brought, a warm hat and scarf for when I take him for walks around the grounds. He looks inordinately pleased and tries them on right away. I feel my heart squeeze into my chest when he looks right into my eyes and smiles like he knows me.
“Happy Christmas,” he says and presses his lips against my cheek. It feels wonderful, it feels dry and sweet and aching and everything I dream about and everything I think about saying after I’ve gone home and it’s good and perfect and complete and right now I don’t have to remember to say anything at all.
“I love you,” he whispers into my skin and I take it all in and absorb it and him.
“I love you too,” I say. I’m afraid I will cry.
He tilts his head. He looks very handsome in his new hat. I should tell him.
He says, “Then why the fuck am I in here?”
My name is John Hamish Watson and I am 74 years old and I must not tear the signs down in my room. They are there to help me. Seriously sh
I never noticed how big this house was until John was no longer here filling it up with his own specific John shape. When I can’t sleep at night, usually after a particularly horrific 2 a.m. phone call, I have taken to wandering the rooms, visiting books and photographs and knickknacks Langston has told me are too dangerous for him to have. His gun, for instance.
While rummaging in the closet one night I come across an old flannel shirt of his, one that I bought him for our anniversary at least 10 years ago. Plaid, light blue, to match his eyes, and he wore it so much it began to go threadbare around the collar but he refused to bin it. I can’t bring it to the home, of course, even though he’d love to have it. Or would he? I don’t know. Maybe. But it wouldn’t do to dress him in tattered clothing. People would talk. But I cannot throw it out. I take it off its hanger and put it up to my face and breathe it in like it’s a vintage wine and it smells like him oh it smells like him and me and years and years of us and for the first time in a long time I allow all the crushing guilt and sadness and loss wash over me like a wave and I sob and I may never stop.
My name is John Hamish Watson and sometimes I have the strangest dreams.
Tonight that bloke Sherlock Holmes and I are having sex. Well, not having, but have just had, I suppose. We are lying together all curled up in bed and he is drawing circles on my back and I can feel his warm breath on my skin and I feel so happy I never want to wake up.
“I love you,” he says and I believe him. Why wouldn’t I?
“I love you, too,” I say, and it feels utterly natural and true and I’m so happy.
When I do wake up it takes me a long time to realize where I am.
I close my eyes again and try to get back there, back to that place and that feeling but of course it doesn’t work. It never does.
I’m so confused.
It’s as if we were in love.
How on earth could I love him?
We sit side by side on a floral overstuffed couch and stare at the birds and not talk and not look at each other but I am so very tired and all I really want to do is crawl into his lap and curl up and have him stroke my hair and rub my back and tell me to eat more because I’m getting too thin because it’s the kind of thing he used to do all the time when he knew who I was.
My name is John Hamish Watson and people here think I am gay.
“Hello John,” the girl at the front desk says as I ask to make my fourteenth phone call of the morning. “Where’s that handsome boyfriend of yours?”
People here say that to me all the time and it confuses me because I don’t have a boyfriend. How absurd.
Today John hugs me before I leave. I am so stunned I don’t know how to respond but with Margaret and Angie looking on adoringly I put my arms around him and hold him tight.
“I want to come home with you,” he mumbles into my neck. His grip tightens. It’s almost painful now.
“Maybe for a visit this week,” I say.
“Promise,” he says, squeezing even tighter. I’m having trouble breathing so I nod even though I don’t mean it because last time he came home for a visit he smashed every single photo he could get his hands on and cut himself so badly he needed seven stitches.
My name is John Hamish Watson and tonight my shoulder aches. And my leg.
“Old wounds, John,” Margaret tells me. “It’s raining so maybe that’s why they’re hurting you.”
“Old wounds?” I say.
She nods. “You fought in the war. You were injured. You were a big, brave soldier.”
I stare at her, waiting for the punch line. She just keeps nodding. I start laughing from the belly, a big belly laugh.
Why on earth do people feel the need to keep lying to me?
Today he throws a cup of tea in my face and orders me out out out. Amelia rushes over to soothe him, tells me it’s normal, it’s all perfectly normal and not to fret. She’s afraid I’ll take him out of here, that Langston Care can’t handle him but in all honesty she has nothing to worry about because we have nowhere else to go. I wipe my face on my sleeve and tell her it’s fine and five minutes later he takes my hand and we wander over to see the birds.
He leans his head on my shoulder and sighs. Then he chuckles.
“Why is your shirt all wet?”
That night Mycroft calls for his weekly update and when I tell him, bitterly, that John hates me, he says in his dry and sensible and Big Brother reasonable voice, “Don’t worry. He’ll forget by tomorrow.”
I know he’s right.
My name is John Hamish Watson and
Sometimes I think about the time I let him think I was dead and how angry he was when I came back and how hurt and disappointed and how many times I begged him to please forget.
Now I’d give anything for him to remember.
My name is John Hamish Watson and I am 74 years old and I live at Langston Residential Home 84 Cambridge Lane East New Blenheim and (William) Sherlock (Scott) Holmes visits me every single day and I know this because it’s written on this paper which is stuck above my telly and
I tear the paper down and shred it into a million tiny white pieces that look like snow on my no-colour carpet because really who the fuck cares.
Tonight I escort him to his room like we are courting. Usually I leave after the evening entertainment and let Margaret or another nurse on duty take him to up to bed. His night rages are too difficult for me to manage and it’s better I’m not around. So I’ve been told.
Tonight, however, he seems calm and, dare I say, pleased that I am still here. Margaret watches us warily as we make our way into the lift and up to the second floor.
“Call if you need help,” she murmurs before the doors close.
Always, I think. Always, Margaret.
“Well, here we are,” I say in front of 214.
“Is this my room?”
“I stay here?”
“Because it’s where you live now.”
He ponders this.
“Did you want to come in?” he asks formally. I nod.
It’s overly warm in his room and I look around and see I’ll need to bring new signs in the morning.
We sit side by side on his narrow bed, awkward as young lovers, which is often how it feels these days.
“Why don’t you get into bed?” I say at last. He thinks for a moment and then silently undresses. I want to look away. I feel I should look away but he does it so easily and naturally and he’s not embarrassed at all. When he’s naked he slides between the sheets and turns off the light. We sit in darkness.
“I think you’re supposed to wear pajamas,” I say at last. My voice sounds louder than I intended. This room is so small. “It’s a rule here. I think.”
He laughs in the dark. “Aren’t you getting in too?”
I’m so nervous I’m shaking. I can’t remember the last time I touched him in a vaguely intimate way. Usually I’m worried he’ll punch me.
I remove my clothes, down to my pants but he notices of course and tugs on them. They slide over my hips and land on the floor. I am shaking. I slide into bed next to him and we have to turn this way and that in order to fit properly. I can feel all his warm skin next to mind. I can’t stop shaking. How long has it been?
“Sherlock,” he says. I look at him. He kisses me, softly, on the mouth. I breathe and breathe and kiss him back. He takes me in his hand and I take him and for the first time in so long I don’t feel alone I don’t feel sad and when he cries out softly and falls against me and says I love you I think everything is going to be ok.
It’s all going to be fine.
My name is John Hamish Watson and I need to make a phone call. Now.
I’m not allowed to stay the night so when he’s asleep I dress clumsily in the dark and sneak out quick and quiet.
When I get home the calls have already started.
“It’s me, John Hamish Watson. I need you to come get me. I don’t know where I am. I’m so frightened.”
”Come get me. I don’t want to be here.”
”You fucker. I hate you. You fucker.”
After the seventh I turn off my mobile. As the little light dims and winks out and the room becomes completely dark I let myself cry just a little.
My name is John Hamish Watson and I like Bingo. I really actually do.
Sometimes when I dream it feels like reality. Sometimes I doze in the afternoons in between visits and think about how things might have been, should have been, if they hadn’t turned out this way. In this dream the slope from the house to the hives is gentle and green because it’s summer.
I can see everything from this window. A bright, hand-knit blanket covers my knees. A half-finished cup of tea sits on the table beside me. It’s warm and sunny and lovely. In the words of his beloved, It’s All Fine.
Somewhere in the hall a clock ticks. Sometimes, while I doze, I keep time to it, to my heartbeat, to my breaths.
John comes in and leans over and kisses me soundly and tells me to get up because it’s a beautiful day and there are things to do! Experiments to attempt and walks to take and hives to tend to! I laugh because he’s silly but then I realize my latest plan about the bees. My John is very smart and very curious and an excellent helper and I want to share this with him because I know he will love it.
I want to teach him all about the hives.
My name is
On a crisp winter day I sign him out and take him for a walk around the grounds, past the now-dry fountain, to the steps of the local library. This is the exact kind of weather we used to walk in for hours. It was his favourite, cold and bright with not a breath of wind to chill you. He’s wearing his Christmas hat and scarf and looks so very handsome.
“I’m cold,” he says after five minutes. He stops walking and glares at me. If he had a rock I think he’d throw it. At my head.
“A few more minutes, John,” I say. “It’s so beautiful!” I hold out my hand. “Remember how we used to—”
“Fuck you!” he screams, spittle dropping onto his lips, onto his chin. “Fuck you! Stop telling me what to do! Stop! I’m cold and I want to go home!”
I go to him and wrap my arms around him and tell him it’s all right and that I’m sorry and we’ll go inside of course of course and he stands stiff and upright but he stops yelling at least and after a moment I take him back inside where it’s very warm and I start sweating right through my heavy overcoat.
My name is John Hamish Watson and I’m so madly in love with Sherlock Holmes I can barely speak.
We are sitting side by side on the ghastly overstuffed flower-print sofa and Sherlock’s eyes are closed and there’s a fire in the fireplace and the birds are quietly chirping and we’re listening to someone play the piano. I don’t know her name. Wendy? Wanda? It doesn’t matter. I don’t know the piece she’s playing, but I’m sure Sherlock does, because he knows everything.
“Chopin’s Nocturne No. 14 in F sharp minor, Opus 48, No. 2,” he whispers immediately when I lean over to ask. “Divine, isn’t it?”
I take his hand in mind, lift it and press my lips to it. I feel overwhelmed with love for this man.
“Sherlock,” I say. Oh. My heart thuds. I can’t breathe. I want him.
His eyes open and his glorious head shoots around, all brown and silver and quivering.
“Yes, John. Yes. It’s me. It’s me.”
I start laughing. Some of the women sitting nearby give me a disapproving look but I don’t care. I’m in love, after all.
“I know,” I say. “Who else would you be?” I kiss his hand again.
He looks at me and he’s smiling like he means it but his lips quiver, too, and he looks like he might cry, which is odd because I’ve just told him I love him, which is a good thing to say, isn’t it?
“Right,” he says, and his voice is quivering too. Silly man. I lean over and kiss him right on the mouth.
He tries to speak but can’t. He clears his throat and tries again and stops.
I nod because I understand and I know exactly what I will say because there is only one thing to say, really. The exact right thing to say right now. I know what I will say because it’s what I’ve always said and it’s true because it’s always true whether I say it now or later. I smile and the smile fills up my whole face.
It’s all fine.