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Wearing the Quartered Cap

Wearing the quartered cap

‘Let’s have a look at you,’ said his Mother, brushing her fingers through his dark brown hair.  

‘Are your shoes clean?’

‘Yes Mum, done them, they’re ready, everything’s fine.’

Whilst Ian enjoyed being touched he was embarrassed at the current close attention.  

‘You look smashing son.  The blazer is perfect. Are you OK?  Ready to go? Don’t be nervous. I’m proud of you.  Don’t forget – you’re special, not only to your Mum, but to the whole of your last school.  Remember, you were the only one to pass the 11+. Well done.’

Ian nodded, knowing that the next few hours would be a turning point in his life.  If it was raining, he could at least cover up the new blazer. His raincoat had come from a jumble sale at the local community hall last Saturday.  It was dark blue, with a half belt; old and worn, but better than a light blue blazer. They never wore blazers on this estate. Ian knew that once his former school mates saw him, they would all be laughing.  His mother seemed to have forgotten the quartered cap, then she looked at him.

‘Put the cap on son.  Let’s make sure it fits’

Ian opened the brown paper bag, his name already stencilled on the inner lining.  He put it on his head. The light blue quartered cap with centralised house badge dominated his whole face.  Boys didn’t wear caps on this estate, only old men, with fags in their mouths and war worn, wrinkled faces. Men wore the same cap; flat, checked, greasy and smelling of tobacco and most seemed to cough a lot in the early mornings.

His mother looked at him for a moment, before tugging the cap down and to the side.  She stepped back and looked at him. Her face had a look of real satisfaction, although Ian noticed a wetness to her eyes.  

‘You’ll do.’  She whispered.  ‘Off you go now and catch your bus.  I’m working late again today, so hope to be home right after you.  Pick up the kids and put the tea on, if you get in first’

As she spoke, he saw tears building.  As a post-war single mother of three, his mother only cried in private.  Ian knew his life as an eleven-year-old wartime evacuee, and top pupil at the Junior school on a newly built, 1950s council estate, was about to change forever.

‘Good luck bruv.’ said his young sister, holding in her arms, an even younger brother mumbling through his dummy, whilst holding his arms out for a kiss, his urine soaked, smelly nappy, clinging to his podgy thighs.  Ian’s mother intervened and lifted the baby into her arms.

‘Right you two.  Let’s get you ready for the nursery. Till tonight, son.  Good luck. I love you.’ She paused. ‘We all do.’

He drew a deep breath and opened the front door.  It was a quarter of a mile to the bus stop. The Woolworth’s satchel was slung across his shoulder.  It contained his former Headmaster’s gift of white gym shoes and a compass. These lay upon a small bag of yesterday’s still fresh, bread rolls, with some paper and pencils stolen from his mother’s office.  In a brown paper bag, also purchased from Woolworth’s with his own pocket money, was an unopened, unused plastic fountain pen and a small bottle of black ink.

Ian thought to himself that it would have been nice to have a father watch him go to grammar school for the first time; he paused, shrugged and began his walk.  The high hedgerow of their neighbour’s garden gave him his first opportunity. He took off the quartered cap, rolled it up, and stuffed it into a side pocket of his satchel.  Leaving at seven-thirty to catch the first of three buses to school had distinct advantages. Most of his former schoolmates were still in bed. The bus befuddled with smoke and sweaty coughing adults, had a young passenger intent on taking up his place at an elite Grammar School in the nearest town some 8 miles away.

As his final bus approached the Grammar school, Ian watched several cars discharging other uniformed pupils, who entered the school grounds.  It was 1952 and whilst on his estate, cars were a rarity and driven by Spivs or sales reps, many children seemed to have been driven to this school..

He descended from the upper deck of the bus, retrieved his quartered cap from the satchel and pulled it onto his head.  The final hundred yards from the bus stop to the school gates seemed an eternity. Pulling at his loose fitting but new grey socks, which barely reached the bottom of his short trousers, he rubbed the front of his shoes on the reverse of each leg, and walked towards the gates.  

A group of larger older boys were waiting on the pavement; dressed in similar school blazers, yet menacing in appearance, some with adolescent pock marked faces, all intent on scrutinising new entrants to the school.

‘Here’s another one,’ said a member of the group, his oafish features focused on the approach of Ian.

‘Oh hell, my socks are falling down again’ Ian thought, pulling at the cheap grey woollen sleeves which encased his spindly white legs, whilst trying to balance his school satchel.  He tried to avert his gaze from the group at the gates.

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ said the lead oaf, moving out in front of him, his eyes on the brand new blazer and cheap satchel.

‘School please.  I’m new here. This is my first day.  Where do I go? Please?’

‘Well, you can take that thing off for a start.’ said the questioner, ripping the quartered cap from Ian’s head.  He realised that none of the older boys were wearing caps, although they all wore the standard school blazer with various house badges attached.

‘Now bugger off.’

Ian watched his cap being jammed across the spikes of an adjacent school fence, joining several others in a bizarre montage.  As he did so, there was a sudden tugging and ripping on the pockets of his blazer. His jacket, purchased by a special grant from the Education Department, available only to families living in poverty, was damaged.

‘Piss off you bastards!’ Ian screamed, before running through the school gates, tears rolling down his cheeks.  In the sanctuary of the school entrance hall he stopped. His hands shook, and his breathing was becoming difficult.  

‘Now what?’ he thought, before looking down at his torn blazer and becoming very anxious.  His palms were already sweaty, so he tried to wipe them on his hair, and tidy it before straightening the new school tie which was tight.  He’d never worn a tie before and had relied on his mother to use the relevant knot.

‘What if it comes undone?’ he thought to himself.  ‘Mum will go daft when she finds out about this, and that’ll make it worse for me.  I’m sure of that.’ He looked towards the school gates, and the group of older boys now dispersing.  Ian walked into the vaulted main hall of the school in a dishevelled state. A school prefect was standing inside the main corridor and called him over.

‘You as well?’.  Ian nodded, looking down at his shoes, and realising that once again his loose grey socks had fallen down to his ankles.  The prefect reached out his hand and adjusted Ian’s tie. ‘Some of us have been there. Like you. Ignore them twats. It only lasts a day.  They only get away with it because of some stupid school tradition, which has got out of hand. My name’s Tony. If you have any more problems come to me.  I’m around here before classes start. Your room is there on the left 14B.’ Tony paused. ‘Good luck, kid.’

As he entered Room 14B, there was a serried row of desks with metal frames, and thick wooden surfaces.  Most desks had occupants. Facing them was a large blackboard, with a larger desk in front. There, sat an elderly man wearing a dark blue suit, under a black gown checking a register.  As Ian closed the door behind him, the man showed with his finger he should approach him.

As he did so, Ian recognised the familiar smell of tobacco which had permeated the three buses he had caught that morning.  Without apparently seeing he damage to his blazer, or the agitated state that Ian was in, the man spoke.

‘I’m Mr Parkinson, your tutor and teacher of the English Language.  Name?’

Ian responded and explained what had happened.

‘Your name is all I asked for.  Other issues can wait. Name?’ Ian responded.  The teacher pointed to a desk next to a window. ‘Sit there.’

His arrival in class completed the registration process.  Mr Parkinson spoke at length about school hours, lesson arrangements, procedures, assemblies and worship, meal routines, even the values and history of this elite all male Grammar School, commending some of its most successful and well known former scholars.  He never referred to Ian’s earlier attempt to explain what had happened to him.

The rest of the day was a blur of classroom changes, lesson schedules, and being overwhelmed by the sheer size and numbers of other pupils, some of whom although uniformed like him, were as sixth-formers, already adults, needing to shave regularly.  It sank in. From being top of the pile at his Junior school, passing the 11+, on his own and being a local estate hero he now faced a massive challenge.

The three-bus journey home went well.  Ian got off at an earlier stop prior to collecting his younger sister and brother from the Council nursery, and pushing them both home.  When he stepped off the bus, he removed his recovered but damaged quartered cap, and put on his raincoat. The pavements were quiet.

On some adjacent grass, former classmates from his Junior school, acknowledged his presence, with a few waves, before returning to their game of football.  Their “goalposts” were piles of jackets, coats, clothing and satchels. His heavy satchel was already crammed with homework.

After settling his sister and brother down with a drink and biscuit, Ian walked into the kitchen.  On the cooker was a heavy saucepan containing prepared vegetables and mince. In the adjacent cupboard he found a box of matches, struck one and lit the gas burner beneath the pan.  As he did so, he heard the front door open.

His mother instinctively sensed his tension.  As she saw the damage to his blazer he knew his mother would react.  Explaining the day’s events she simply reached out and pulled him towards her.  ‘I wish I could have been with you on your first day,’ she said, ‘but I need to work Ian and with your sister being sick two weeks ago they were getting funny about me taking any more time off.  Do you understand?’ Ian nodded.

‘I’m not letting this go though.  The Council won’t give us another grant till next year.’

He was unsure how the school would respond to being challenged on what seemed to be a traditional ritual for new boys.  Next day he found out. A summons to the office of the Headmaster, Mr Ackerman. There was a distinct coolness in his manner.  He had a letter in his hand addressed to his mother. ‘Please tell your mother that following her telephone call this morning, the School welfare funds will provide a new cap and blazer.  This letter is the authority to the school uniform supplier.’

‘Yes Sir.  Thank you Sir.  Sorry but I…’

Mr Ackerman raised his hand.  ‘Enough. Put this letter away and make sure your mother gets it tonight.  Now go back to your class and let this be the end.’

However, five years of misery lay ahead.

 

A Homecoming

A Homecoming

A police car entering their cul-de-sac was rare enough.  Stopping outside her home immediately raised Gwen’s anxieties.  A uniformed sergeant walked to her open front door. His face was glum.

‘It’s Russell isn’t it?’  He nodded.

‘Mrs Edgar, can I come in?’  Gwen stepped back. ‘The Foreign Office asked me to inform you that Russell Edgar died in a road traffic accident in Islamabad last night.  He was a passenger in a motorised rickshaw taxi when a lorry ploughed into it. It killed all three.’

‘Three?  What do you mean?’

‘The driver, your husband and a third person.’

‘A third person?  Who was it?’

‘I regret I don’t have that information, but the Foreign Office is talking to their local British Consul and asked if you could telephone this number.  I‘m really sorry to be the bearer of such news. Is there anything I can do? Contact anyone?’ Gwen shook her head before closing the door behind him. She touched her hand to the moisture on her cheeks.

The Consul only had sketchy details on the accident.  They had not identified the third person, other than it was a female.  Mr Kabal the hotel manager where Russell stayed, needed to talk to her regarding possessions left in the room, which included his intact mobile phone.  Russell’s body could be back in the UK within the next 72 hours. The relevant certificates and documents were en route to the Consul who would oversee the repatriation.  

Russell was the Finance Director of a Multi-national company with significant connections to Russian Oligarchs.  He visited the Indian continent quarterly. New chemical plants, were being erected in remote areas near to natural resources.  This meant cheap labour, extensive Government grants and minimal interference in its operations. Gwen had gone with him on one visit and left appalled at the poverty in such a beautiful country.  

The hotel was not one she knew, so she dialled Russell’s mobile phone.  After a brief pause, it was answered.

As Mr Kabal responded, Russell watched from a chair on the veranda.  

‘Hello Mrs Edgar, thank you for calling.  I’m so very sorry for your loss’ He paused.  ‘I’m liaising with the British Consul and sent him Russell’s passport which he left in the safe in his room, together with a small sum of money.  What about clothes and other personal possessions? What shall I do?’

‘How much money?  As for his clothes?  Pass them onto someone more needy.  He travelled light so I’m not sure about other personal possessions?

‘Well his watch, although destroyed.  Wedding ring, a framed photograph, and two books.  There was just under £500.00 in cash.’

‘Thank you.  Keep the cash for bills you incur.  I want the wedding ring and watch returned.  As for the photograph, what is it?’ Mr Kabal hesitated then looked across at Russell.

‘It’s a beach scene with Russell and yourself, with a ‘Hotel Rocero’ in the background.’

‘What am I wearing?’

‘A black two-piece with a white trim.’  

‘I don’t want it.  Throw it away.’

‘A local Funeral Director has Russell’s body.  He is awaiting recovery instructions from the Consul.  We will move his body to Islamabad airport then back to the UK.  The police report and a death certificate issued by a local Doctor have been passed onto the Consul.’  Mr Kabal sighed. ‘Mrs Edgar, can I say again how sorry I am. Tragic.’

‘Who was the woman?’  Russell nodded.

‘Bushra, the Manager from the plant.  Showing Russell some local beauty spots.  How sad. However, there is one other issue Mrs Edgar.  When Russell’s body arrives home, I recommend it remains sealed.  It was a terrible accident.’

‘Mr Kabal.  I understand.  Thank you for everything you’ve done.  If you incur any further expense, let me know.  I’ll phone the Consul to confirm the recovery.’

As Gwen disconnected.  Russell raised his glass of whisky.

‘Brilliant, Kabal.  That’s the worst bit done.  I‘m well insured so Gwen will want for nothing.’

‘But that wasn’t Gwen in the photograph, was it?’

‘No.  I wanted her to understand that.  Her anger will help her reconcile.  Things were poor between us for ages.  We’d have split eventually. This way it’s a win, win for us both.  I disappear, she gets rich and they’ll never catch up with me.’

‘You’ve been planning this for a long time Russell.  Hope you appreciate these are dangerous people. When they know how much you’ve been stealing, they’ll come for you.’

‘I realise that Kabal  I’m not stupid! Meanwhile, your job is to look after my continuing investment in this Hotel and our partnership.  I’ve got various properties around the world and with a new identity, I’ll take my chances. Now, where are the documents?  What have I got for my £100K?’

‘It wasn’t cheap.  Police accident report was expensive, death certificate likewise.  Your new identity was easy. Derek Harford, you are an Australian businessman en route to Singapore.  But first, we have the small matter of your body being returned to the UK. Your challenge is waiting.’

‘What do you mean?’  Russell emptied his glass.

‘You need to arrive at the airport in your coffin.  That’s where the switch will occur. A body is coming in from the UK tomorrow for local burial.  Once you’re both in the customs and cargo warehouse, my contacts will ensure that coffin is returned to the UK, and you will be back here in a few hours.’

‘What if they open it at the airport?’

‘You need to be in it.  I’ll bandage you as if embalmed.  To open a coffin in transit is rare.  We’ll give you something to calm you. It’ll only be for about an hour.  We’re putting a small oxygen cylinder inside, just in case you panic. Once you’re back out of it, your coffin will be used here.  Dozens die on our streets every day. No problem.’

‘Oh, hell.’ Russell said, reaching for the whisky bottle on the table.  ‘I think you’ve made Gwen hate me enough hate to make sure she’ll just want to get it over with.’  He shook the whisky bottle. ‘I’ll need more of this before I get there. Are you sure it’s the only way?’  Mr Kabal held out the mobile phone.

‘No.  You can phone Gwen and tell her it was a joke.  You can phone your Chairman and ask for mercy, or you can run now before they realise it was a scam.  Otherwise, tomorrow Russell Edgar disappears forever. You have a new life. Gwen is rich. We, still have our partnership and major investment, and life will resume.’  He paused.

‘Be ready for ten in the morning Russell.  You should be back here early afternoon.’

As the transit van pulled into the car park next to the cargo warehouse next morning, Mr Kabal touched Russell on the shoulder.  In his hand were two white tablets. Russell shook his head, then gulped from a bottle on the adjacent seat, before moving into the rear of the van.  

They’d padded the coffin.  There was a small cylinder with a face mask.  He settled his body in place then nodded before scented bandages covered his face and Mr Kabal lifted the lid over the confined space.  Russell heard the sound of an electric screwdriver.

He sensed his coffin being lifted from the transit van before being placed on a series of rollers where it juddered for several moments before coming to a halt.  Beads of sweat were forming on his brow so reaching up with his free hand he pulled the scented bandages towards the moisture as rivulets ran down his chin. As Russell touched the face mask, he felt a jolt.  There was the sound of a vehicle engine nearby. The coffin was being lifted and turning. Further jolting occurred. There was another forward movement, followed by silence.

Fifteen minutes later, reaching for the cylinder switch, Russell sensed a deep throbbing from the exterior of the coffin.  There was a trembling, juddering, movement. Then a lifting feeling. Images of Gwen and Bushra, the most sensual lover he had ever known, flooded into his mind.  As he turned the knob on the cylinder he knew the outcome. Lapsing into unconsciousness, the face of a smiling, conspiratorial, treacherous person dominated his senses.

Russell’s phone was activated.  ‘He’s on his way.’ said Mr Kabal.  ‘As agreed, final payment within 24 hours.’

A Choice

A Choice

Giving up alcohol a year ago had been difficult, yet it gave Jenny a resolve she knew she would need now that Peter would be leaving.  His business trips requiring overnight stays had slowly increased. Once a month became twice a month, and sometimes two nights rather than the usual one.  The need for him to attend a 5-day conference in the USA was, on reflection an indicator that their relationship was on a slow downturn. He had also become careless with his mobile phone.

As he prepared to leave for the office after the weekend break, Jenny saw that his phone was poking out from the laptop bag he carried everywhere.  She barely touched it, before it fell into the gap between cushions on the sofa. Peter, late as usual, walked hurriedly into the room picked up his bag and after a perfunctory kiss on her cheek, left for the nearby station.  His carelessness confirmed, as within seconds Jenny accessed his messages and texts and realised how serious things had become. The imagery in the photographs were the most distressing. She sat back on the sofa, running and re-running them, before returning to some intimate texts.  

There was a bottle of quality Chianti, sat on a shelf in the kitchen.  Instead, she reflected on her own business appointments that day at Head Office.  Her job in research was important to her. An over-reaction to the content of Peter’s phone might prejudice her future, even though she knew calling in sick would be easy.

Jenny focused her anger externally.  The wine could wait. Opening the mobile she replaced the existing SIM card and carefully stored the original.  She emailed Peter advising him she had found his mobile under the cushions and did he want it sent to his office by taxi?  His response was interesting. ‘Do me good to have a day off. Will see you tonight. Dinner out?’

As Peter walked into the house that night, the response to his dinner invitation was clear.  The smell of a chicken curry dominated the kitchen. On the table was the unopened bottle of Chianti alongside two glasses.  In the hall were several packed suitcases. Jenny looked relaxed as she nodded, then pointed towards his mobile phone sat on the adjacent worktop.  He picked it up, then without appearing to notice the suitcases, gave his apologies and went upstairs to shower, change and return for the meal.

Fifteen minutes later, he walked back into the room.  He had not showered. Nodding towards the suitcases, Peter lifted his mobile phone and wiggled it at her.

‘I guess the fact this is duff reflects on my empty wardrobe upstairs?’  Jenny responded.

‘Last supper for the condemned man.  Then cheerio, adios, aloha, Auf Wiedersehen, au revoir, bon voyage, sayonara.  Take your pick you bastard. Eat, pick up your cases and then go.’

‘Do you hate me that much?  Surely it wasn’t that of a surprise?’

‘Peter, nothing you can say or do, now or later can change how I felt this morning when I opened your mobile phone.  I knew things weren’t brilliant, but the depths you have taken our relationship to is beyond the pall.’

‘Where’s my SIM card?  There’s key information I need.’  His voice was strident. Jenny laughed.  

‘Don’t worry.  Safe place. Let’s eat and then I’ll explain further.  Shall we sit down?’ She moved towards the oven. ‘Open the wine Peter, please.  You know what it used to mean to me.’

‘If you’re getting sloshed again, like you used to most nights, then thanks, but I’ll take a rain check on Chianti.  As for the curry, it’s my favourite, and thank you for even remembering it, when you were clearly in a state of rage.’

‘Justified?’

‘What?’

‘Was my anger and reaction justified?  That’s what I’m trying to establish with you Peter.  Do you have any understanding or conscience for what you’ve done?  Let’s focus on the word conscience. By chance this morning, I opened your mobile phone.’  Peter interrupted.

‘By chance?  I don’t believe that!  You do nothing by chance!  That’s half your problem Jenny.  You are such a control freak; nothing is ever “by chance”.  Even sex!’

‘Peter, this morning I opened your mobile phone.  I was gutted at the content. Who are those other women showing their bits, and why, sat amongst them are images of me?  Taken privately, in total confidence, when I genuinely believed in your integrity. Images at your instigation, for your own perverse needs.  I trusted you Peter!’

‘Where’s the SIM card?  

‘I’ve told you it’s somewhere safe.’

‘I want it back!  Now! Clean, untampered with and usable.  I’m prepared to delete certain sections or images but the whole card is more important than your personal vanities.  What’s recorded was done without duress and you bloody well know it. You did it willingly, so don’t give me that tosh!  Where’s the card? Now!’ Peter moved menacingly towards her.

‘Are you going to hit me again?  Is that it?’ said Jenny. ‘I’ve packed your bags, your favourite meal is ready, within an hour you can be on your way, able to pursue whatever fantasy you wish.  I like your idea of deleting sections from the SIM card, but that’s within my control, not yours. So let’s eat. Meanwhile, open the wine.’ He paused, then reached for the bottle.

Over the next half an hour, they sat quietly eating and looking at one another.  Jenny suddenly got up and went to an adjacent cupboard. Tearing open the packaging, she spoke.  

‘Sorry Peter.  Forgot the Poppadoms.  They’re from a packet but are just as tasty.  Want some? Yes?’ He nodded and reached across the plate.  As he did so, he felt a slight disturbance in his stomach and touching his forehead, realised that sweat was already forming there.  His pupils felt strange, and he had difficulty focusing on his food, and in particular on Jenny.

‘I’m feeling odd.’  As he spoke Peter anxiously waved a hand in front of his face.  ‘I’m hot. Jenny was that curry all right? I’m feeling dizzy.’

‘Well, I’ve had exactly the same.  Sauce is out of a jar, but it always is’  Peter interrupted.

‘Have you done something?  Put something in to punish me?  Jenny have you done something?’ He stood up, then sat back down, before placing his face onto his arms resting on the table surface.  He was silent for a few moments, then looked up. His eyes bleary and unfocused.

‘What have you done?’

‘Absolutely nothing.  We’ve both had the same food; besides you feeling unwell came on so suddenly, the food could have hardly had time to digest.’

‘Then why am I like this.  I feel dreadful.’

‘Well you’ve drunk nearly a bottle of wine.  That might explain it. Have you taken your medication?’  Peter hesitated.

‘I forgot.  Ran out of tablets yesterday.  Prescription due for renewal. Anyway I can’t have drunk that much.’

‘Well, check the bottle.  I haven’t even touched my glass yet, despite the temptation to get drunk.’  She lifted the bottle and waved it in front of him. ‘See? So you’ve come home hungry, not taken your pills, had serious wine, and now wonder why you feel ill.  You’re pathetic. Oh, and thanks for the suggestion I might have poisoned you. Don’t think I haven’t been tempted.’

Peter stood up.  ‘I need to go and lie down.’

‘Well, you’d better phone for a taxi.  You don’t have a bed here any more.’

‘Oh, come on Jenny.  This is ridiculous. Let me sleep for a couple of hours, then I’ll go.  Promise.’ She stood up.

‘Two hours.  Spare room. Then I’m calling a taxi.  Which address of your various lady friends is he going to drop you off at?’  

‘I’ll sort that out later.’ he said, moving gingerly out of the kitchen, before climbing the stairs.  After he reached the landing Jenny heard a sudden retching sound from the adjacent bathroom.

She smiled before reaching across and tipping the remains of the bottle down the sink together with the contents of her own glass and washing them both carefully.  Being a research chemist had its distinct advantages. It would be at least 6 months before those little blue pills he took regularly would work again.

Flat Out

 

  • FLAT OUT

 

Scene  12 months have elapsed.  Stan and Rosa are living together at the top of high rise block of Council flats in London.  Stan is sat in the lounge browsing his laptop, whilst Rosa appears agitated, and regularly nudges the curtain to look out of a window.

STAN Come away from that window Rosa.  You’ve been at it for half an hour.  What’s up with you today? Do you want a coffee?

ROSA Nothing’s up with me.  I’m just fed up that’s all.  This flat’s driving me mad. Six months we’ve been here, and I still can’t settle.  I do miss my own little house in Camberwell. No thanks to you.

STAN Oh don’t rub it in.  Don’t start again. We’re both paying for it.  Your help and support has been brilliant even if you were a little impulsive.  Mind you I’m really glad you’re here. But I made a mistake – alright?

ROSA A mistake?  Stan you lost your job for gross misconduct.  I resigned in protest, then couldn’t afford my mortgage.  They repossessed my lovely house. So 10 years after I left this high-rise block of flats, the Council has put us back in.  Some mistake.

STAN Look I didn’t know the woman was the new Manager.  She was leaning over the desk, and I, just…

ROSA Just what Stan?  What happened? You’ve never told me, but it must have been serious to get sacked.

STAN Innocent.  No offence intended.   I felt brainwashed, controlled, manipulated on auto-pilot.  It was harmless.

ROSA The only way you’ll ever be armless is if we cut them both off at the shoulder.  What do you mean brainwashed?

STAN 5 years of being a Moderator had its effect.  Looking at all those screens, scenes, and words.  Only now, am I realising the true impact on me. (Laughs)  The only consolation, is that I’ve gone up in the world.  We’re on the 11th floor, you can see the Thames, the London Eye, and the lift works……most of the time.  (Pause)  Rosa, haven’t you noticed any difference in your thinking or emotional well-being?  Or is it just me?

ROSA Course it’s affected me.  I’m even having dyslexic thoughts.  Not words. Thoughts! Do you know what?  This block was once, the only one on the estate.  Now we’re surrounded by other even bigger blocks, and other people looking in.  Snooping. It’s like the bloody United Nations up here now.

STAN Well what are you doing?  Right now? Isn’t it the same as a Moderator?  Nosing into other people’s business. Peering out from behind the net curtains instead of a screen?

ROSA At least we’ve got curtains.  Besides, I’m still doing my bit as a good citizen.  Remember, two months ago. Who spotted the phantom flasher?  He thought he was being clever, walking round the park in his beige raincoat, with the buttons undone.  Soon as he got near an old lady, the coat suddenly got caught in the breeze, and there was his zip open, with his willy on display.

STAN Yeah, but it was a phantom wasn’t it.  Bloke was doing it as a dare.  His mates in the Rugby club set him up.  Anyone could see his willy was only a pork sausage stuffed in the front.  Sorry, a string of pork sausages. It was so obviously a joke.

ROSA Not from up here.  I just thought he was well endowed.  Anyway, the police said I did the right thing.

STAN Oh you definitely did the right thing all right.  Although/

ROSA Although what?  Why are you laughing Stan?

STAN Well, if someone had asked me what you’d do, I’d have said Rosa would put her coat on, run down to the park, have a closer look, then kick him in the nuts.

ROSA Cheeky bugger.  Mind you, if Id known it was quality pork sausages, I’d have taken a pair of scissors with me.  They’re your favourite.

STAN You’re worse than me Rosa.  Your mind needs a good Jet Wash.  All Moderators need them. What are we going to be like in a couple of years?  Who’s checking out the impact on us? No one!

ROSA Hang on.  Look at that trollop in Flat 7.  Stark naked and wandering around without a care in the world.  No nets, curtains open. Stan sit down  She must know what’s going on.  Perhaps she’s one of those voyagers who likes people to look at her.

STAN You mean a voyeur.  A voyeur gets pleasure out of watching other people.  Just like Moderators. Not showing their own bums. That’s an exhibitionist.  Let me have a look and I’ll tell you for sure.

ROSA Sit down Stan.  I’m warning you.  I haven’t forgiven you yet, for that week in Tenerife, when you spent the whole time with your tongue hanging out, looking at those topless women round the pool.

STAN It wasn’t the topless bit so much.  It was the thongs. What a turn on. Mind you, they looked very uncomfortable.

ROSA Is that why you bought yourself one?  A middle-aged man wearing a posing pouch and prancing round the beach.  You looked ridiculous. Especially when you burnt your arse.

STAN I’m not middle-aged.  I just look it. Rosa, as for my arse, that’s cos you wouldn’t help me with the suntan lotion.

ROSA I knew exactly what you were up to Stan.  No way was I applying oil to your backside.

STAN What about them Germans?  They were starkers. Men and Women.  Some of them had pins and chains through delicate parts of their anatomy.  I thought they were on some punishment programme where the Judge had imposed it.  Perhaps a German version of an ASBO. “You vill have your villy pierced”.  Like we have tagging here.  But the daft buggers were doing it for fun.  Wonder how they get through airport security?

ROSA How do you know so much about it?

STAN Well, when we got home I went down to the Library and asked if they had any books on the practice.  Bloke gave me a funny look, then became friendly, and explained they had a special section in the library for special people.

ROSA What bloke Stan?

STAN Quentin the Senior Librarian.

ROSA Which one’s he?

STAN The tall one with the long delicate hands and the nice walk.

ROSA Oh him.  That explains it.  I suppose he suggested you buy those magazines I found in your wardrobe.

STAN What magazines?

ROSA The ones I threw over the balcony last night.

STAN So that’s why those kids were having such a laugh when I parked the car this morning.  Sniggering to themselves. We used to laugh at Viz. Anyway; they weren’t mine. They must have been in the wardrobe when I bought it at Auction.

ROSA Stan.  They didn’t publish them until 2 months after you bought the bloody thing.  So don’t try that one. Now look at her. That woman on the fifth floor has got another bloke on her doorstep.  She has more men in her flat in a day than the public toilets in the High Street.

STAN Perhaps they’re delivering things.  You never know. She might run one of those mail order catalogues.  Male order. Get it (Laughs at his pun)  Anyway, they could be relatives/

ROSA Stan.  Don’t be so navy.

STAN Naïve love.  Not navy. I see what you mean about mental dyslexia.  Mind you, she might even be one of these new-fangled alternative therapists.  It’s all the rage nowadays.

ROSA Stan.  She’s in the oldest game in the world.

STAN What flat number is it?  I could make a complaint to the Council.

ROSA Never you mind.  Now look at that bloke over there.  He’s stripping a motorcycle down in his front room.  How did he get it in the lift and up to the 7th floor?

STAN Well, perhaps he’s not stripping it down Rosa.  Maybe he’s bought all the parts up one by one, and he’s building it in the flat.  I used to do that. I was always keen on bikes.

ROSA You didn’t do it in your front room.  Presume you had a workshop in the backyard.  Oh Oh. Here he comes.

STAN Who Rosa?  You’re getting me worried now.

ROSA That black bloke with the funny hair.  The vegetarian. Why do they have to walk like that?  Why can’t they walk properly instead of loping along, swinging their hips?  (Imitates walk)  It must be that gungy they smoke.

STAN If he’s got funny long hair with ringlets he’s a Rastafarian not a vegetarian.  And it’s ganja they smoke. Gungy is what children get when they’ve got a head cold.  It’s yellow, thick, comes out their nose and usually ends up on someone else when they sneeze.

ROSA Oh shut up.  You know what I mean.  Watching all those texts and Emails that’s what’s done my head in.  My words get mixed up sometimes.

STAN It’s not just sometimes.  You can be hard going Rosa.  But I still fancy yah. Now come over here.  Come on. Sit next to me.

ROSA Stan, why weren’t you like this when we worked together?  

STAN Wasn’t sure if you were AC:DC and swung both ways.

ROSA Remember our picnic?  You had a chance then.  Now, you can’t stop at a cuddle and I’m getting bored.  Bored with everything. This flat, our life, everything.  Bored.

STAN There’s a bottle of wine in the fridge.  Why don’t we go in the next room Rosa, and then you can be in Bed & Board.  We can pretend we’re on holiday again in Tenerife. Come on. How about it? Let’s recreate some of those moments from our special video Moderator episodes.  The one’s we didn’t really delete and just put on a stick. Well, I did anyway.

ROSA Stan can I ask you a question?

STAN Yeah.  What is it?  Come on. Ask!

ROSA Will you wear that posing pouch like last time when we were on holiday?  I didn’t really throw it away.

STAN Oh good.  That’s nice to know.  Mind you, I bought a spare just in case.  So pouch it is, as long as you promise one thing.

ROSA What’s that?

STAN Don’t go topless.  I couldn’t cope with it.

ROSA Liar!  Now make sure you draw the curtains properly.  Remember that guy on the 13th floor.  He’s got a pair of those night storage glasses.  Apparently, takes them to the greyhounds.

STAN Night vision Rosa.  Night vision. And he goes dogging not greyhound racing.  Anyway, I did the curtains half an hour ago. My horoscope said I would get lucky today.

ROSA The paper hasn’t arrived yet.  That was yesterday’s forecast. I read it.

STAN Yeah but the clocks went back last night, so I’ve still got time on that forecast.

ROSA You cunning bastard!  Get in there. I will definitely punish you for that.

STAN Oh good.  Mind you, that wasn’t in my horoscope was it; Miss Moderator of the year 2019.  (Stands up and starts to close laptop down.  Then)  Hang on Rosa.  (Sits down again and looks intently at screen)  Something’s kicking off in New Zealand.  Live screening. (Watches as sound of gunfire and screaming emerge.  He shouts) You bastard.  (Pauses as further shots/screams are heard.  Angrily) You fucking bastard.  Oh shit. He’s killing kids, women, anyone and it’s live!!  Oh fucking hell Rosa. Fucking hell. Where’s the Moderators?  Slam dunk it for Christ’s sake. Where are you? Bastards! Where are you?  (Begins to sob as Rosa moves to comfort him.  She slams the laptop lid down)

 

END

A Different Perspective

A different perspective

Days merged imperceptibly with one another.  We’d wanted to make this journey for several years.  Then unexpectedly, a company reorganisation brought redundancy, with a decent settlement.  After some hesitation with both of us reluctant to take the initiative, the suggestion was being discussed, tentatively at first, then with increasing enthusiasm and momentum.  Finally, here we were. Our newly built hotel with a private balcony, facing onto the most beautiful sandy bay I’d ever seen. Daily and frequent walks became a much loved routine.

I stood on the edge of the beach watching the gentle breeze ruffling John’s hair.  His prematurely greying locks resting against his thin tanned face, provided a backdrop for piercing blue eyes.  He was concentrating deeply on his sketchpad, tanned hands moving rhythmically across the surface, as he regularly looked up at the horizon, and then translated the images.  The sea was imperceptibly moving towards him and I knew shortly he would have to pick up the folding chair and retreat towards me.

John seemed immersed in his surroundings although he responded increasingly to a stray dog which had recently appeared and singled him out for attention.  It was carrying a dark, discoloured stick in its mouth and laid it playfully down at John’s feet. Then it backed off a few paces tail wagging expectantly, before yelping excitedly as he reached down, picked up the stick and threw it along the edge of the water.  Expecting the direction of his throw, the dog scampered away, quickly retrieved it and ran back to begin the process all over again.

This behaviour went on for ages, which I found quite surprising because John had never really been a doggy person and preferred the company of cats, where his gentle manner and tactile needs were more fulfilled.  Finally, even John got fed up and convinced the dog he’d thrown the stick in one direction, whilst in fact hiding it underneath his seat. The dog looked puzzled and for a while ran back and forth along the beach before getting bored and trotting off towards the adjacent road.

John stood up shading his eyes with one hand, slowly traversing the surroundings, then settled on a particular view, moved his chair back several yards to avoid the lapping water before resuming his drawing.  To an onlooker he would have appeared to be totally at peace, a relaxed holidaymaker. As his wife for 30 years, I knew nothing could be further from the truth.

He was still deeply grieving and traumatised by the loss of our darling Jenny.  Whilst his tears had lessened, they now fell in some secret place. From the moment Jenny was born, there’d been a magic between them.  A special affinity, which epitomised itself in a deeply loving father and daughter relationship.

It had been a difficult pregnancy.  We’d given up on the idea we could ever have a child of our own.  Tests, disappointment, further tests and more demoralising news, with a clock that was inexorably ticking away.  Then those first few days of uncertainty, anxiety and initial awareness. Small subtle changes to my body, and odd feelings.  Such odd feelings. A growing optimism, which initially I didn’t want to share with anyone. I wanted to be sure, so it was nearly 3 months before I told John.

He was looking tired when he came home from the office and sat down wearily in the lounge.  This was the moment Sam our Siamese cat had been waiting for all day. She emerged from her favourite daytime resting place, on the ledge next to the window where she basked in the sunlight.  Seeking no permission, she jumped onto John’s lap, curled herself around the contours of his body and fell asleep. All day I’d wondered how he might take the news and had some gentle rehearsals.  

He didn’t leap up and punch the air, nor shout out exuberantly, but his whole being changed.  It was as if a gentle light suddenly flickered and grew within his eyes before slowly spreading across his whole face.  There was a subtle, then slow shaking of his head before a developing smile quickly transformed his air of tiredness into one of joy.  A trickle of tears ran down his face. He sniffed, then gently lifted Sam into his arms and for a moment buried his face deep within her soft welcoming fur.  Sam protested gently as she always did when disturbed, responding with that oh so familiar, unique Siamese growl.

The following months were a blur of tests, anxiety, growing excitement and absolute anticipation across our whole family and friends.  Then one wet and thundery evening, just before midnight and with a cry of such piercing presence heard throughout the ward, she was finally there.  Our long awaited, adorable and so unique Jenny.

She besotted John. There were times, when even I felt an occasional twinge of jealousy, as he calmed the most fractious and fearsome tantrum.  Laying her tiny frame across his shoulder, he would gently pat and rub her back until she was calm, then other than the occasional whimper, she’d sleep.

Suggesting we idolised Jenny would be an understatement.  She became the focal point of our lives. We gave her every opportunity and experience possible; encouraging her development, reinforcing every achievement and daily feeling blessed and in awe she was such a lovely and responsive child.  Early school days merged into adolescence, which became a blue of university examinations culminating in the realisation that our darling daughter was now a young woman.

She strode purposefully across the podium to collect her degree watched by a middle-aged couple with watery eyes and an enormous sense of pride.  We saw a shy little wave as she descended the steps on the other side. During her university days Jenny remained at home, so apart from the occasional holiday or degree pursuit, our lives entwined for over 20 years.  

She told me first about her desire to take a gap year and travel abroad before seeking employment.  In private moments I sometimes regretted my supportive response. We’d agreed how she would broach the subject with John.  I don’t know if he had any sense of foreboding although he was strangely quiet in the early months of her absence. I knew he was missing her as dreadfully as I did.  For both of us Jenny was more than a daughter, rather a genuine friend and for me especially, a confidant which I’d let go.

She kept in touch regularly during her time in the various countries she visited.  Phone calls from Ecuador, E-mails from San Francisco, Postcards from Cape Town, and occasional letters with obscure stamps from diverse parts of the world.  Jenny embraced all the experiences with her usual eagerness and appetite for learning. We were not a religious family, but gradually John and I realised, that Jenny was not only on a journey of discovery in terms of the physical world, she was also exploring her own spirituality.

It was not surprising therefore to receive a much awaited, rather bulky envelope in which she described working in an orphanage in Thailand, run by Buddhist monks, and that she’d adopted their faith.  Knowing she’d already made such a decision was comforting when the other devastating news arrived.

The stray dog had reappeared and was approaching John again.  There were dozens of couples on the beach, and it seemed odd it seemed to be consistently seeking us out.  I hesitated before speaking.

‘John.  Do you know in the Buddhist faith when someone dies it can reincarnate them as an animal?’

He looked at me quizzically before reaching under his chair and picking up the stick again.

‘What are you suggesting?’

‘Well, it seems strange that the dog has sought us out regularly, although the beach has dozens of people on it and especially as this is the actual place Jenny was last seen  before the Tsunami arrived’.

He turned away briefly, then reached out and touched my face with his hand.

‘I think it’s time to go back to the hotel’ he whispered.  Then he paused and turned.

‘Wouldn‘t it would be nice though?’ and in one movement joyously threw the stick into the air and shouted

‘Come on Jenny.  Fetch’

As the stick arched slowly, tumbling across the sky, before falling into the water, the dog was gone.  John turned and I could see a wetness in his eyes. We looked at one another without speaking for a few moments, then he reached down and packed up his drawing materials and canvas.  I moved towards him.

‘John wait.  Can I see how far you’ve progressed the painting.’  Without waiting for a response, I gently pulled the canvas from under his arm.  The mage of the bay, with the golden sands, palm trees and gently rolling white topped surf was magnetic.  In the forefront, he’d already developed the outline of a familiar figure, in a remembered stance.

‘Time to go back to the hotel’ John said, placing a familiar arm around my shoulders.  

Coming Home

Coming Home

A police car entering their cul-de-sac was rare enough.  Stopping outside her home, it raised Gwen’s anxieties. A uniformed sergeant walked to her open front door.  His face looked glum.

‘It’s Russell isn’t it?’  He nodded.

‘Mrs Edgar, can I come in?’  Gwen stepped back. ‘The Foreign Office asked me to inform you that Russell Edgar died in a road traffic accident in Islamabad last night.  He was a passenger in a motorised rickshaw taxi when a lorry ploughed into it. It killed all three.’

‘Three?  What do you mean?’

‘The driver, your husband and a third person.’

‘A third person?  Who was it?’

‘I regret I don’t have that information, but the Foreign Office is talking to their local British Consul and asked if you could telephone this number.  I‘m really sorry to be the bearer of such news. Is there anything else I can do? Contact anyone?’ Gwen shook her head before closing the door behind him.

The Consul only had sketchy details on the accident.  They had not identified the third person, other than it was a female.  Mr Kabal the Hotel Manager where Russell stayed, needed to talk to her regarding possessions left in the room, which included his intact mobile phone.  Russell’s body could be back in the UK within the next 72 hours. The relevant certificates and documents were en route to the Consul who would oversee the repatriation.  

Russell was the Finance Director of a Global multi-national company with significant connections to Russian Oligarchs.  He visited the Indian continent quarterly. New chemical plants, were being erected in remote areas near to natural resources.  This meant cheap labour, extensive Government grants and minimal interference in its operations. Gwen had gone with him on one visit and left appalled at the poverty in such a beautiful country.  

The hotel was not one she knew, so she dialled Russell’s mobile phone.  After a brief pause, it was answered.

As Mr Kabal responded, Russell watched from a chair on the veranda.  

‘Hello Mrs Edgar, thank you for calling.  I’m so very sorry for your loss’ He paused.  ‘I’m liaising with the British Consul and sent him Russell’s passport which he left in the safe in his room, together with a small sum of money.  What about clothes and other personal possessions? What shall I do?’

‘How much money?  As for his clothes?  Pass them onto someone more needy.  He travelled light so I’m not sure about other personal possessions?

‘Well his watch, although destroyed.  Wedding ring, a framed photograph, and two books.  There was just under £500.00 in cash.’

‘Thank you.  Keep the cash for any expenditure you incur.  I want the wedding ring and watch returned. As for the photograph, what is it?’  Mr Kabal hesitated then looked across at Russell.

‘It’s a beach scene with Russell and yourself, with a ‘Hotel Rocero’ in the background.’

‘What am I wearing?’

‘A black two-piece with a white trim.’  

‘I don’t want it.  Throw it away.’

‘A local Funeral Director has taken possession of Russell’s body.  He is awaiting recovery instructions from the Consul. We will move his body to Islamabad airport then back to the UK.  The police report and a death certificate issued by a local Doctor have been passed onto the Consul.’ Mr Kabal sighed. ‘Mrs Edgar, can I say again how sorry I am.  Tragic.’

‘Who was the woman?’  Russell nodded.

‘Bushra, the Manager from the plant.  Showing your Russell some local beauty spots.  How sad. However, there is one other issue Mrs Edgar.  When Russell’s body arrives home, I recommend it remains sealed.  It was a terrible accident.’

‘Mr Kabal.  I understand.  Thank you for everything you’ve done.  If you incur any further expense, let me know.  I’ll phone the Consul to confirm the recovery.’

As Gwen disconnected.  Russell raised his glass of whisky.

‘Brilliant, Kabal.  That’s the worst bit done.  I‘m well insured so Gwen will want for nothing.’

‘But that wasn’t Gwen in the photograph, was it?’

‘No.  I wanted her to understand that.  Her anger will help her reconcile.  Things were poor between us for ages.  We’d have split inevitably. This way it’s a win, win for us both.  I disappear, she gets rich and they’ll never catch up with me.’

‘You’ve been planning this for a long time Russell.  Hope you appreciate these are dangerous people. When they know how much you’ve been stealing, they’ll come for you.’

‘I realise that Kabal  I’m not stupid! Meanwhile, your job is to look after my continuing investment in this Hotel and our partnership.  I’ve got various properties around the world and with a new identity, I’ll take my chances. Now, where are the documents?  What have I got for my £100K?’

‘It wasn’t cheap.  Police accident report was expensive, death certificate likewise.  Your new identity was easy. Derek Harford, you are an Australian businessman en route to Singapore.  But first, we have the small matter of your body being returned to the UK. Your challenge awaits.’

‘What do you mean?’  Russell emptied his glass.

‘You need to arrive at the airport in your coffin.  That’s where the switch will occur. A body is coming in from the UK tomorrow for local burial.  Once you’re both in the customs and cargo warehouse, that coffin will return to the UK, and you will be back here in a few hours.’

‘What if they open it at the airport?’

‘You need to be in it.  I‘ll bandage you as if embalmed.  To open a coffin in transit is rare.  We’ll give you something to calm you. It’ll only be for an hour or two.  We’re putting a small oxygen cylinder inside, just in case you panic. Once you’re out of it, your coffin will used here.  Dozens die on our streets every day. No problem.’

‘Oh, hell.’ Russell said, reaching for the whisky bottle on the table.  ‘I think you’ve planted enough hate with Gwen to make sure she’ll just want to get it over with.’  He shook the whisky bottle. ‘I’ll need more of this before I get there. Are you sure it’s the only way?’  Mr Kabal held out the mobile phone.

‘No.  You can phone Gwen and tell her it was a joke.  You can phone your Chairman and ask for mercy, or you can run now before they realise it was a scam.  Otherwise, tomorrow Russell Edgar disappears forever. You have a new life. Gwen is rich. We, still have our partnership and major investment, and life will resume.’  Mr Kabal paused.

‘Be ready for ten in the morning Russell.  You should be back here early afternoon.’

As the transit van pulled into the car park next to the cargo warehouse, Mr Kabal touched Russell on the shoulder.  In his hand were two white tablets. Russell shook his head, then gulped from a bottle on the adjacent seat, before moving into the rear of the van.  

They’d padded the coffin.  There was a small cylinder with a face mask.  He settled his body in place then nodded before scented bandages covered his face and Mr Kabal lifted the lid over the confined space.  Russell heard the sound of an electric screwdriver.

He sensed his coffin being lifted from the transit van before being placed on a series of rollers where it juddered for several moments before coming to a halt.  Beads of sweat were forming on his brow so reaching up with his free hand he pulled the scented bandages towards the moisture as rivulets ran down his chin.

As Russell touched the face mask, he felt a jolt.  There was the sound of a vehicle engine nearby. The coffin was being lifted and turning.  Further jolting occurred. There was another forward movement, followed by silence.

Fifteen minutes later, whilst reaching for to the cylinder switch, Russell sensed a deep throbbing from the exterior of the coffin.  There was a trembling, juddering, movement. Then a lifting feeling. Images of Gwen and Bushra, the most tactile person he had ever known, flooded into his mind.  As he turned the knob on the cylinder he knew the outcome. Lapsing into unconsciousness, a smiling, conspiratorial, treacherous person permeated his senses.

Russell’s phone was activated.  ‘He’s on his way.’ said Mr Kabal.  ‘As agreed, final payment within 24 hours.’

Out The In Door

Out The In Door

This play is set in a Residential Home.  It is a typical privately owned home. Isolated, a converted former manor house, which accommodates 50 elderly people, the majority of whom are female.  Most residents are funded by the Social Services. A minority are privately funded from their own savings, or by family contributions and inevitably pay significantly more, for the same service.  

The home isolated location, means residents spend their remaining years contained within the building.  Maximising profit for the owners is the main driver, which results in minimal stimulation for residents, an ever changing staff group, and an increasing number of overseas staff from Europe and elsewhere, some with limited language skills.  Conflicts and tensions between residents, are not always dealt with by them in a mature, adult way

The characters

Nancy Miller, early 80’s, middle class, second wife of a former banker, who has been in the home for 5 years.  Has limited mobility, and in regular pain; constantly needs a walking frame for mobility.

Vera Street, late 70’s. Wife of a former miner.  Widowed, confined to a wheelchair, and very reliant on a former school friend and neighbour (Nellie Jones) who is also a resident.  Has been in the home for 4 years.

Nellie Jones, late 70’s, and like Vera Street, widowed, and the wife of a former miner.  The most physically capable of all the residents. Nellie Jones is the main support for Vera, her childhood friend.

Sonia Amis, mid 70’s.  Spinster, and the most recent arrival in the home; relies heavily on a stick, but is still reasonably mobile.  Middle class, with similar interests as Nancy Miller in terms of ballet, classical music, books, nature and lifestyle.

Phil Lenagh, early 80’s.  Widower, former naval rating, still quite active, and has a reputation amongst the largely female resident group, as an ageing friendly Lothario.

Mandy Street, 30-50’s. white, British, Care Assistant employed at the home for 6 months, and the main support for the residents listed above.

ACT 1

All action take place in the small lounge of a Residential Home.  It has a number of high backed chairs spread around the room, intended to enable and encourage the occupants to talk to one another.  To one side there is a window looking out on the garden. In one corner of the room is a dining table with six chairs which are situated close to a serving hatch to the adjacent kitchen.  A large flat screen TV is located on a low level unit and visible to the occupants of the chairs, but only partially visible to the audience. There is a door centre stage, through which the action evolves.  

As the scene opens, there are 3 female residents in the adjacent chairs watching the news on the TV.  They are Nancy Miller, Vera Street and Nellie Jones. Nellie Jones’s stockings as usual are rolled down to her ankles and she is wearing large fluffy carpet slippers in the shape of a cats head.

SCENE 1 (Door opens and Mandy a Care Assistant dressed in uniform enters. She is slowly followed by an elderly female, Sonia Amis, who stands hesitantly in the doorway).

MANDY (Cheerfully) Good morning ladies. How are we all? (Pauses)  What a lovely day to be on duty for 24 hours. (No response from the residents.  After a pause Mandy repeats herself even more cheerfully)

MANDY Good morning ladies.  How are we all? What a lovely/

NELLIE We heard yah first time Mandy.  Ain’t bleeding deaf you know. (Looks towards Sonia Amis who is standing hesitantly in the doorway, then points at her)  Who’s that then?  Why don’t you introduce her Mandy?  (Other two residents stop looking at the television and look towards Sonia Amis, smiling expectantly)

MANDY (Pointedly) Thank you Nellie.  I was just going to. (turns to Sonia) Ladies this is Sonia Amis.  She had a look round our lovely home a couple of weeks ago and has now decided to come and live with us.   (Pause as Sonia Amis smiles at the 3 residents and gives a small wave)  Anyway ladies, I just wanted to show Sonia round and give her a chance to meet you all. (Nellie turns back to the TV and increases volume, whilst Vera Jones and Nancy Miller both nod and smile at Sonia. Mandy continues)

Now Sonia this is the smaller of our two lounges. It’s a very sunny room and as you can see has a television (points) which can sometimes appear quite loud, eh Nellie? (Nellie grimaces then turns the volume back down).  We also have a small dining table here where you can have your meals if you wish.  For some residents, the main dining room can seem a bit noisy at times.  It’s the same food, just a different environment that’s all.  More intimate and friendly/

NELLIE Don’t be rude Mandy.

MANDY What do you mean Nellie?  How am I being rude?  That’s usually you.

NELLIE Well you said “intimate” didn’t yah.  That’s rude ennit? Lucky Phil ain’t around.  Yah know what he’s like.  Don’t need any encouraging not Phil.

SONIA (anxiously) Phil?  Who’s Phil?

MANDY Sonia don’t worry.  Please. You have nothing to worry about. Phil is another resident who sometimes uses this lounge.  He’s perfectly harmless; it’s just Nellie winding things up as she can do occasionally (makes a grimace and rolls her eyes then pauses) now Sonia, what I suggest is that you have a chat with Vera and Nancy/

NELLIE What about me?  Why not me as well?

MANDY Apologies Nellie and you Nellie, and you.  Couldn’t forget you, could I now?  Right Sonia, I’ll leave you to have a chat, whilst I go and make a nice cup of tea for all of you/

NELLIE I want coffee. Strong and black. (laughs) Like my old man used to be.  (Pauses)  God bless him.

SONIA Do you have any iced tea Mandy? I’d rather like that.

VERA Gawd.  Iced tea?  Wassat?

NANCY It’s like hot tea Vera.  Only cold.

VERA Like what they give us at breakfast, if we’re too late getting down from our room?  Cold tea and toast?

NANCY No Vera.  Iced tea is usually served without milk, and perhaps with a slice of lemon.  It’s very refreshing (looks towards Sonia approvingly and raises her finger) and it’s a sign of a good upbringing/

NELLIE What? ? A slice of lemon?  I used to have it all the time in my Gin & Tonic, down the club.  So there Nancy, I’ve had as good an upbringing as you ain’t I?  (snorts) Even if you still think I’m as common as muck.  

MANDY OK ladies, time for tea. (to Sonia)  Right Sonia why don’t you sit over there. (points to a chair near to Nancy).  I won’t be long.  Have a nice chat. (Mandy leaves room, and Sonia using a walking stick makes her way slowly to the chair and is just about to sit down)

NELLIE That’s where Phil sits.  There’ll be problems. (Sonia starts to stand up)

VERA No it’s not, he only uses it once in a while.  Sit down Sonia (Sonia starts to lower herself down again)/

NELLIE It’s Phil’s chair I’m telling you (Sonia starts to rise again)

VERA Tisn’t (Sonia starts to lower herself)

NELLIE Tis (Sonia starts to rise again)

NANCY Oh stop it both of you.  Sonia sit down. Come here next to me. (she pats another chair on the other side of her.  Sonia shuffles slowly over, then turns and flops down into the chair)

SONIA Thank you.  It’s been a long day.  I’m quite exhausted actually.   (Pauses)  That Mandy seems rather nice.  Very welcoming. Are all the staff like that?

NELLIE You’ll be lucky/

VERA Yeah.  Half of them can just about speak English.

NELLIE Even our sort of English, eh Vera (looks to Nancy) which ain’t exactly “posh” like some I know.

NANCY Nellie I’ve told you before.  Just because a person talks in a certain way doesn’t mean they’re posh, as you call it.  I’ve known people who sometimes had really cut glass accents, sounded very “posh”, but in terms of money or estate, they had nothing.

VERA Yeah Nancy, but if you talk like Nellie and me all the time, you’re usually on the cheeks of your backside and have been all your life. Right? (No response from Nancy)

SONIA So what are the staff like?  Really.

NELLIE Depends what you’re after.  Phil likes em, especially the Romanians. But you’re right about Mandy.  She’s a cracker. Do anything for yah.   Nuffing’s too much trouble and she really does care. (sniffs)  Not like some.

NANCY It’s how you treat them.  I’ve never had a problem. Its simply a question of being clear about what you want and setting standards.

NELLIE Well you’d be used to that wouldn’t yah?  You and your servants.

NANCY Nellie I’ve never had a servant in my life. (pauses) occasional help round the house (pause) yes, but not servants.  Definitely not.

(Door opens and Mandy re-enters lounge, goes to the serving hatch, removes tea pot and cups, milk etc. and lays it out on the table. She realises that conversation has ceased)

MANDY Well, looks as if I’ve missed some really interesting conversation. (Pauses)  My, my.  (Pauses)  Anyway. Teas ready. Who wants a cuppa? (all residents except Nellie put their hand up)

NELLIE I asked for coffee, strong and/

MANDY I know Nellie, just like your husband.  It’s on its way. Made it specially for you (pause) don’t know why/

NELLIE Why?  Why what?

MANDY Why did I make you a coffee?  (pauses)  Perhaps it’s because I really like you Nellie Jones, warts and all. (Nellie looks down at her hands then tongue in cheek holds them up to Mandy)

NELLIE I ain’t got any warts? (pauses and points deliberately)  Got lots of them skin tags though, under my armpits oh, (points) and in my groin I’ve got/

NANCY It’s a figure of speech Nellie.  “Warts and all” is simply a figure of speech.

(Nellie raises her hand and gives a “V” sign to Nancy)

NELLIE So’s that.  So piss off/

MANDY Ladies…please. We have a new resident.

END OF SCENE 1

SCENE 2 (Interior of lounge.  Nancy is sitting in her chair.  The TV is on and she is reading a newspaper.  Door opens slowly and Sonia walks in leaning heavily on her stick and carrying an envelope.  Nancy takes off her glasses, puts down her newspaper and switches off TV, using remote control.  She smiles at Sonia as she approaches)

NANCY Hello Sonia.  Good morning. How are you?  Did you have a good night?  Sleep well? (Sonia sits down in the chair previously designated as Phil’s in Scene 1).

SONIA Good morning to you.  Yes, I slept reasonably well.  I have to take a tablet though.  (Hands over the envelope)  This is for you.

NANCY Oh thank you.  As for pills, don’t we all?  (laughs)  Vera literally rattles by lunchtime, she has so much stuff inside her.  Has her own medical trolley at night.  Can’t believe anyone so tiny, can swallow such massive tablets.  Last time I saw one that large, it was being stuffed up my pony’s bottom when it was ill.  I cried my eyes out when our Vet did it.  My pony jumped a foot in the air, and yet Vera swallows them.   Mind you, she doesn’t eat much else.  She’s like a sparrow (sniffs) unlike Nellie.

SONIA Nellie?  Oh yes. Quite a character, isn’t she?

NANCY I think that’s the polite word for it.  Deep down she’s got lovely qualities.  It’s just rather hard sometimes to find them.

SONIA I think I know what you mean Nancy, she’s like one of those special chocolates I used to buy; apparently hard on the outside but with a really soft centre.

NANCY I like that analogy. (pauses)  Sonia, I know for a fact, Nellie gave up her own council house, and pretended to be in need of care herself, to fool Social Services, and simply be with Vera.  They’re like Siamese twins. (pauses)  Anyway, how was your breakfast?

SONIA Oh fine.  I don’t eat much nowadays, bit of toast, that sort of thing.  It was very crowded though, so I’ve asked if I can start having my meals in this room.

NANCY That’s lovely.  I’ll join you Sonia (pause) if you don’t mind, that is. (Sonia smiles), however, you might find Nellie there as well.

SONIA Is that a problem?  She’s a bit noisy but/

NANCY Wait and see.  Judge for yourself. .(Pauses)  Perhaps I’d better explain.   Deep down, Nellie is a very caring, compassionate person  (Pauses)   until it comes to food.  Meal times can be challenging.

SONIA What on earth do you mean?  I appreciate food is important, it’s often the only thing that breaks up a boring day when you’re in care or hospital.

NANCY Let me give you an example.  Two weeks ago, lunch was a superb Shepherd’s Pie.  Beautifully presented.  The aroma was compelling, the top was to die for.  Golden brown, crispy, steam rising from it and lovely vegetables.  Something to savour.

SONIA And?

NANCY Within minutes it had been reduced to something resembling a Council football pitch in winter.  Demolished. Destroyed.. With the majority being loaded onto Nellie’s plate.  

SONIA Oh dear.  Did you say anything?

NANCY Of course, but the response was….(mimicking)  “Where I came from if you didn’t get in quick you got bugger all.  So what’s wrong with that?”

SONIA Well that may well be true, but I understand your frustration/

NANCY (Angrily)  Then she had the cheek to ask me if I wanted to say “Grace” before every meal and delay the meal even more.  (Pauses then emphatically)  I’m an Atheist for God’s sake!!  (Pauses)  Although that sounds rather daft.  Doesn’t it?

SONIA Look Nancy I sense your frustration, but can I ask you something?

NANCY Of course.

SONIA Well, last night, you said you’ve lived here for over 5 years.  Do you have any visitors? (Pauses)  Do you have family that visit?  (Pauses) I hope you don’t mind my asking?

NANCY No that’s perfectly fine. I do have family of sorts, but they don’t visit as such.  I get an occasional letter, like the one you’ve given me.  That’s from my solicitor.  He’s got Power of Attorney for me.  My family insisted on it.

SONIA Insisted? What do you mean?  

NANCY They think I’m mad!  That’s why I’m here. My step-children convinced me I was irrational and too much of a drain on their time and energies and they couldn’t cope with me. (Pauses)  But I know the real reason. (Pauses)  They’re after my money.

SONIA Oh how awful.

NANCY When my husband died I was shell shocked.  We’d been married for over 30 years.  He took care of all the finances.  Stocks, shares, that sort of  thing, paid all the bills.  Usual arrangement, I looked after the house, he looked after the money, all I had to do was ask, and he coughed up.  I was amazed at how much he’d managed to save.  Left everything to me.  Said it was up to me to give something to the children, if I chose to.  He had an instinct.

SONIA Instinct?

NANCY Yes, and he was right.  I was his second wife. Been widowed ages.  Tried to bring up his 2 children on his own, using nannies and au pairs.  Children never took to me.  Must admit, if they’d been younger, I wouldn’t have married him.  Already flown the nest, so we had minimal contact, which suited me.  Disliked me from day one, and when he died I suddenly came under enormous pressure.  By then I’d developed this disability.  Hip operation went wrong. (points to an adjacent walking frame).  Without that and the staff here, I’d be completely bed-bound.

SONIA Nancy, you used the word “mad”.  What do you mean? You certainly don’t appear mad to me.  Quite the opposite.

NANCY Sonia. There are days, weeks even, when I want to do nothing other than stay in bed in a darkened room.  I feel so depressed and lonely, even though there are lots of people in this home.  Doctor has said I’m clinically depressed.  The children interpret that as mad.  Once they’d found out what I’d done with some of the money, that convinced them. As far as they’re concerned, I’m mentally incompetent.  They made me appoint a Power of Attorney, or they would seek an injunction.  For the sake of peace and quiet, I agreed.

SONIA What did you do?  What made them so hostile?

(Lounge door opens and Nellie enters pushing Vera in a wheelchair)  

NANCY I’ll tell you later.  

  (Nellie moves Vera close to her chair and then helps Vera transfer from the wheelchair)  

NELLIE There you go Vera.  Comfy? (Vera nods)  Good.  (Looks at Sonia and Nancy, nods, then walks over and switches on TV)  Watcha fancy Vera?  Apart from men that is (laughs).  Talking of which, I see you’re back in Phil’s chair Sonia.

VERA No she’s not.

NELLIE She is.  You wait (pauses) besides there’s usually a good reason why people shouldn’t sit there/

SONIA That’s alright. I’ll move. (Sonia stands up and looks down at chair and then touches the back of her skirt)  Oh dear, I’ve just realised how damp the seat is.  I hope it’s not what I think it is (shudders)

NANCY How awful.  Sorry Sonia.  If I’d known that I wouldn’t have suggested you sit there.  Honestly. (Angrily turns to Nellie)  Why didn’t you say anything Nellie?  

NELLIE I did!  But as usual, no one listens to me (to Nancy) cos I’m common that right Nancy? (Nancy doesn’t reply).  Anyway Sonia it’ll soon dry, so come and stand here by the radiator.  I’ll give you a hand. (Nellie walks across to Sonia, and assists her to walk across to the nearby radiator).  Never mind.  Soon be dinner.  Lovely. Do you eat a lot Sonia?

SONIA Well not really. Most of the time I just peck at things.

NELLIE Oh good.

SONIA Look I’m sorry but this skirt is really uncomfortable.  I’m going to get changed before lunch.  (Leaves room)

NANCY I’ll come with you Sonia.  Perhaps a quick stroll in the grounds might help us work up an appetite.  It seems to work with Nellie.

(Sonia and Nancy exit the lounge)

VERA It’s nice to find the lounge empty once in a while.  By the way have you seen Phil recently?

NELLIE Nah.  Well not since last night that is.  I was watching a film, and he came in and started his usual, buggering about.  Told him to go away. (pauses)  Why? (pauses)  You don’t fancy him do yah? (Pauses.  Vera shrugs her shoulders.  Nellie looks directly at Vera)  Vera (laughing)   Vera! You little sod.  You do, don’t yah?

VERA (Vera looks directly at Nellie, smiles, then shrugs her shoulders, then sighs) Might do.

NELLIE Might do? (Pauses)  Vera, you and I went to the same school.  We got married in the same church.  Your old man and mine used to go for a pint together after they came out of the pits. The only difference was that when your husband washed the coal dust off, he came out white. Mine was still black.  Now you do fancy Phil (pause) don’t yah?

VERA Might do.  Anyway, what’s wrong with that?  (Defiantly)  At least I waited till my husband was long dead.

NELLIE What d’yah mean by that?

VERA Well you know/

NELLIE No.  Vera what d’yah mean by that last remark?

VERA Well, that thing about you being attached to the SAS during the war, when your husband was on a reserved occupation down the mines.  

NELLIE And?

VERA Well the other day, I was talking to Nancy about what happened during the war, and I told her about you being attached to the SAS/

NELLIE And? (pauses)  And?

VERA Well Nancy reckons if you were attached to the SAS, then it must have been up against a pub wall after closing time on a Saturday night.   (starts giggling)  And it’s probably true, ‘cos I remember when your poor husband Len had his accident, and, you know (starts giggling again and wiggling her finger) you know, when he couldn’t do it again for a while.  You were savage.  Weren’t you? (continues giggling).

NELLIE Ah right!  So Madam has decided that my wartime service was just shagging eh?  I’ll give her up against a pub wall.  You wait.

VERA (Anxiously)  No. Please don’t get me into trouble Nellie (pause) I shouldn’t have told you.  It’s only when you started on about Phil, that I wanted to get back at you. (starts giggling again)  Anyway you were savage, weren’t you? Tell the truth now Nellie.

NELLIE Vera Street you are my oldest and dearest friend. Of all the people in the world, I trust you the most, and now I find out, that you’ve been talking about my sex life, sorry my former sex life behind my back. You’re a disgrace Vera Street (pauses) but you’re still my best mate. Eh? (kisses her on cheek), now tell me more about what Phil’s up to.   Did he try it on with you.

VERA (nods then starts smiling)  Well he popped into my room to borrow a book, well at least that’s what he said.

NELLIE I bet/

VERA Well one thing led to another, but he couldn’t (pauses and starts giggling, whilst wiggling her little finger at Nellie) he couldn’t quite manage/

NELLIE (mimics Vera’s action with her little finger and also starts giggling)   What couldn’t he?  You mean, he couldn’t?/

VERA (Nods) Yeah.  It was hopeless.  I don’t know who was more embarrassed.  He kept on saying  “I’m sorry Vera, sorry Vera, its never happened before.”  I thought he said Viagra not Vera, so I started giggling again and he suddenly pulled his trousers up and walked out!

NELLIE Well at least you got as far as the trousers.  That wasn’t bad (pauses then, determinedly) I think Phil needs some help. I’ll see what I can do.

(Door to lounge opens and Phil enters carrying a tabloid newspaper.   He is dressed in loose fitting track suit bottoms and a T shirt and walks sheepishly over to Vera, sits down in the adjacent chair and starts to open the newspaper.)

NELLIE Talk of the devil.  Hello Phil. How are you?  Haven’t seen you for a couple of days.  Been avoiding me?

PHIL No.  (Pause)  Just been busy that’s all.

NELLIE Busy?  Busy in a place like this?  What’ve you been up to Phil?

PHIL Just doing things (pauses) walking in the grounds, playing cards, like. you know (Pauses) ‘things’.

NELLIE You used to read a lot, didn’t you Phil?  I thought books were your favourite, weren’t they?  I’ve got quite a few. If you ever run out, just knock my door and I’ll lend them to you and help you out.   (Suggestively)  If you know what I mean.(to Vera)  Vera’s got some as well. Sure she’ll lend them to you. Eh Vera?

(Phil looks suspiciously at Vera who by now has picked up her knitting and appears to be concentrating on that.  Vera nods and tries to stop herself laughing)

PHIL Well thanks, I’ll bear that in mind.

NELLIE Can I borrow your newspaper Phil?  Do you mind? (Phil passes the newspaper to Nellie who looks up to Phil) ah The Sun.  Haven’t read this in years.  Do they still have those naked women on Page 3 Phil? (Phil nods).  Let’s have a look shall we? (turns pages slowly)  Ah yes. Um she’s a lovely looking girl Phil. (Pauses)  Cor blimey that brings back memories.

PHIL What? (starts to look interested in Nellie’s comment)

NELLIE Well the human body. (sticks her chest out and cups her breasts) They’ve dropped a bit, so if you look at me now Phil, you might be forgiven for thinking that I’m no Page 3 girl (Pauses) correct? (Pauses) Well Phil everyone’s got their own secrets and I’ve got mine.

PHIL What do you mean?  (He’s looking closely at Nellie. As she replies she is apparently unaware that her thighs have slightly opened and Phil is able to look at her underwear.  Her stockings remain curled around her ankles.)

NELLIE Well Phil (hesitantly) don’t know if I can trust you with this (as she speaks Nellie closes her thighs and then allows them to open again showing more of her underwear.  Phil is starting to fidget slightly in his chair.  Vera is looking across and trying frantically not to laugh)

PHIL Course you can trust me Nellie.  We go back a long way (fidgets again) what is it?  What have you done?

NELLIE (As she speaks her thighs open and close once more, then open. Phil appears mesmerised by the movement).  I’ve done Page 3.  Also used to be an artistic model. Once a week.  Earn’t a few bob down at the local art college.  I was quite cheap really/

PHIL (interrupting) How much? How much did yah charge?

NELLIE Well if I was totally nude it was two quid an hour/

PHIL Is that all? (Pauses then, emphatically) Well I could afford that! (stops and stammers)  No what I meant was, if you were still doing it, (pause) obviously prices have gone up (pauses and panics) when did you stop (pauses) I mean, do you still do it?  I mean I know you go into town once a week on the bus.  Often wondered what you were up to?

NELLIE Nah Phil.  Oh no. There’s no demand for the older woman nowadays. (Pauses)  No I packed it in years ago.  Used to do the odd private session, once in a while.  You know, go to the artists studio, well that’s what some of them called it.  Had to watch myself I can tell you.  All that close up work. (Phil starts fidgeting again)  Are you alright Phil?

PHIL No I gotta go.  Can I have my paper back please? (Phil stands up and   has clearly got an erection. Tries to cover it with the paper and starts to walk away from Nellie and Vera)

NELLIE Phil! (Phil stops and turns slowly back to the two women. He has a pained expression on his face).

PHIL (Pauses, then exasperatedly)  What?

NELLIE Do me a big favour Phil. Vera wants to go back to her room for a lay down. Give her a push for me please.  Would yah? You could have a look at her books, at the same time. (Vera looks up astonished then starts smiling.  Phil does not reply, but retraces his steps, still trying to conceal his erection, and pulls Vera’s wheelchair backwards towards the door and opens it.  As Vera exits the room she triumphantly puts both thumbs in the air and waves them at Nellie.  Nellie responds by wiggling her little fingers)

NELLIE (to herself)  Well Nellie that’s another good job done. (Triumphantly) Could’ve been a bloody Social Worker!

(Door opens and Nancy and Sonia enter the room and sit down.   Nellie picks up TV remote)

NELLIE Right what d’yah fancy? (then to Sonia)  What about you Sonia?   You’re new here.  What d’yah like? East Enders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale.  What? Films?  The news? Sport?  What d’yah want?

SONIA I don’t mind (looks to Nancy) whatever other people like will suit me (pauses then looks at group) unless of course/

NELLIE What?  Come on, what d’yah like?

SONIA Well I do like ballet.  I did notice that one of the channels had Romeo and Juliet.  It’s the Royal Ballet,  I do prefer them to the Russian State.

NANCY (Claps)  So do I Sonia.  So do I. Lovely. (Triumphantly to Nellie)   Last night Sonia told me she was a principal dancer with a famous ballet.   How wonderful!  So there you go.  Nellie. Find us the ballet.   (To Nellie)  Are you OK with that Nellie?  (Pauses)  Please say.  

(Nellie looks at Sonia then picks up the TV handset, walks over to Nancy and thrusts it onto her lap)

NELLIE Find it yourself.  I’m off to my room to get my glasses.  See you later (pauses) but don’t anyone eat my cake.

(Nellie walks out of lounge. Nancy smiles, then picks up the handset before turning to Sonia)

NANCY Right.  Ballet it is.

SCENE 3 (Interior of lounge. Nellie is seated at the breakfast table and clearly eating vigorously.  She belches slightly then turns to the adjacent hatch and is just about to call out.  As she does so, another rack of toast is shoved onto the hatch shelf.  Nellie retrieves it and puts it down on the table.  Nellie has an envelope in front of her which she tears open to reveal a photograph.  She pauses, looks at the photograph holds it up, then emotionally talks to the audience).

NELLIE That’s my daughter and her two kids.  Haven’t seen her in 20 years. Went for the sun.  A better life. Emigrated.  Wanted me to go, but my husband was getting ill, he’d never have made it.  Then there was my mate Vera.  So I let them go.   Don’t write letters.  Never been good at that sort of thing.  Vera said she’d do it for me, but it’s not the same is it?  So I’ve got two grandchildren I’ve never seen and they’ve never known me.  Never will, probably and yet I’m their Nan.  Sad. Ain’t it?

(Door to the lounge opens and Sonia enters walking slowly on her stick, followed by Nancy on her mobility frame.  As they do so, Sonia notices something occurring in the garden and walks across to the window followed by Nancy.  Sonia stops and looks back to Nellie then speaks.)

SONIA (points) Nancy, what’s going on out there? (Nancy joins Sonia and peers out the window)

NANCY Ah that. Well Sonia, get used to it, that’s the way this home deals with death.

SONIA What do you mean?

NANCY Well the dark van parked at the end of the drive, near the garage is the local Undertaker.  Someone must have died last night and they’re removing the body.  They take them out through the kitchen.

NELLIE (from table). It was that old Army bloke.  Used to walk around home all the time with his medals on his cardigan.  Liked to be called Captain.  Roy Dixon.  That was his name.  Captain Roy Dixon. Mandy told me this morning that he died peacefully in his sleep.   Nearly 90.  Good life.

NANCY (To Sonia)  British Legion will give him a good send off.  He was very popular at the local Remembrance Day services.  Used to carry the flag.

SONIA But that’s disgraceful.  We all come into this home through the front door, and we should all leave the same way, not be shunted round the back of the building and out of the garage, like a, (pauses) like a.  Oh it’s quite awful.  What a way to treat the residents.  

NELLIE Well you’d better get used to it.

SONIA What do you mean, Nellie?  Get used to it/

NANCY Well I think what Nellie is hinting at, is that whilst I totally agree with you Sonia, that as we enter the home, through the front door, we should leave it exactly the same way; with dignity.  The reality is different.  The management of this home, believe that seeing bodies being carried out through the front door would cause distress to the remaining residents, hence they are removed along the rear service corridor and out via the garage/

NELLIE (interrupting angrily)  Yeah through the kitchen!  And it ain’t about the residents being upset.  Gawd I’ve seen enough death to last me a lifetime (pauses, looks puzzled) that don’t sound right (pauses) anyway at our age, we all know about death, that’s why most of us are here (triumphantly) ‘cos someone else has died.  We didn’t come here ‘cos we wanted to.  Most of us had no choice.  Nah, the reason they take the dead out the back door is because the staff can’t handle it.  Most of them are too young, too soft between the ears, or too daft.  That’s why.  They’re in tears for hours afterwards, I’ve seen ’em.  But it ain’t tears for us (points to herself), I can tell yah.  It’s cos they simply can’t handle death themselves.  (Emphatically) And that’s a fact.

NANCY (to Nellie). Nellie, can I say something directly to you, and I say it genuinely, knowing that Sonia is alongside me and can hear everything (pauses)  Nellie, over the years, you and I have had our disagreements/

NELLIE Rows you mean. (Pauses)  Don’t do disagreements. (Pauses)  Too posh.

NANCY Nellie please. (softly)  Let me finish.  Nevertheless I totally support everything you’ve just said, in your own special and unique way.   You’re absolutely right Nellie.  It’s for the sake of the staff. Not us.

SONIA Well done Nellie.  That was brilliant (Nellie looks visibly embarrassed as Nancy and Sonia, walk slowly towards the table and sit down next to her)

SONIA Well I’m disgusted.  Appalled. And I intend to see the Manager about it.

NANCY Good luck.  Others have tried. These sort of places wear you down. Homes like this, run on routine and regime.  Yes, they all produce glossy brochures and talk about valuing the residents, providing a safe, homely and warm environment/

SONIA Nancy, I’ve quickly realised, the reality is, the only thing you can guarantee in a home like this, is that the radiators will be on.  That’s easy. When you put 50 old people together in one building, it soon becomes unmanageable/

NANCY Outside of here, you can choose your friends, even if not your family. In here you can’t even choose your friends.  Whoever ends up in the next room and then lives alongside you, is pure chance.  So they have strict routines and procedures, and they inevitably take us over.  Very quickly, we lose our identity, dignity, independence and our self worth. It happens, and that’s a fact.  

NELLIE (to Sonia curiously) Are you OK at doing things?

SONIA What do you mean Nellie?  Doing things.

NELLIE Well yah know.  Going to the toilet. Having a bath, cleaning yourself up a bit.

SONIA Nellie if you’re trying to establish whether I’m incontinent or not.  The answer is definitely not.  I can still do my own ablutions.  On my own, and in private.

NELLIE What’s an ablution? Ain’t that a kind of a Catholic thing?  Don’t have time for that religious stuff myself, I can tell yah.

NANCY Nellie that’s an absolution.  What Sonia is trying to say, is that she’s quite capable of looking after her own toilet.  Even if it takes a little longer.

NELLIE So she don’t need her bum wiped then?

SONIA (looking flustered) Definitely not Nellie.  No definitely/

NANCY Can we change the subject.  Please! Anyway Nellie, where’s Vera?

NELLIE (mischievously) She’s having a nap.  Said I’d take her up some tea and toast later.  Once you’ve finished with it, that is. (Gets up from table and starts singing “Tea for two, and two for tea” then leaves room)

NANCY What is Nellie on about? (Pauses then gently to Sonia).  It’s starting to sink in, isn’t it.

SONIA What?

NANCY Sonia, what you’ve just seen out of the window, is what faces us all. (Pauses) In other words, in here, (pauses) all of us, we’re simply waiting for our turn to die.  This place is like a conveyor belt, only its not cars or chocolates.  It’s people. People like us.  All waiting our turn, even though we still have potential  (Pauses then rings bell on table and looks to serving hatch. (Resignedly)  More tea please.  

SONIA (Determinedly)  Nancy wait.  Are you up for it?

NANCY Pardon?

SONIA Let’s go and confront the management.  Right now. Whilst we’re fired up.

NANCY (Hesitantly)  Well….it’s been a long time since I had a row with anyone.  Apart from Nellie that is (Pauses then smiles)  But what the hell.  Let’s do it.  Bulldog spirit and all that.

(Nancy and Sonia begin to exit room as Phil pushes Vera in her wheelchair towards the seating area.  He has a tabloid newspaper under his arm, and having settled Vera in to her chair, he sits next to her and opens his newspaper (The Sun))

PHIL What are you pair up to?

NANCY We’re off to fight a battle.

PHIL Oh good luck.  Let me know if you need a hand.  

VERA Phil was a war hero you know.  

SONIA (Interestedly)  Really?  I’d be interested to know more.  

PHIL Perhaps later eh?  (Looks directly at Vera)  One conquest at a time.   (Nancy and Sonia leave the room and Vera is pushed to her place in the lounge.  Phil sits down and starts reading newspaper)

VERA (Pause)  Are you OK Phil?

PHIL (looking puzzled Phil puts newspaper down and looks at Vera) Yeah.   Why?

VERA (Coyly) Well its just that you haven’t said anything (pauses) well not since last night (pauses) and you didn’t say much then. Did you?

PHIL What d’yah mean? (Pauses then smiles)  Oh. Right. I know (pauses) Last night?  (teasingly)  Where was I last night?  Oh yeah I remember.  (Pause)  I had a blind date with this mad bird. She was all over me.(teasingly) kept calling out (gesticulates)  ”Phil, Phil I’m not on the pill” as though she was sixteen, instead of/

VERA Stop it Phil. You’re teasing me now. (pauses then gently) Was it alright?

PHIL What? (pauses)  Only joking!  Nah it was lovely!

VERA D’yah mean it Phil (pauses) really?

PHIL Lovely (pauses) lovely. (teasingly)  Although/

VERA What?  (anxiously)  What?

PHIL Well it had obviously been a long time. (pauses)  Didn’t take long to get you warmed up!

VERA Phil stop it.  You’re making me embarrassed now. (points to other side of lounge and whispers)  Look the hatch is open. They might hear us.

PHIL Well?  What’s wrong with that?  We’re both adults ain’t we? (pauses) Well we’re more than adults, we’re at the upper limit for being adults (pauses) ain’t we?  Anyway, what’d yah call an old person that still fancies a little bit of what does you good?

VERA Phil.  I call him Phil.

PHIL (laughing) I didn’t mean it that way.  Think about it Vera. All the way through our lives, there are ages.  Ages for this, ages for that. Ages to go to school, to leave, to have your first pint (pauses) legally that is, ages to vote, join the army and get killed.  It’s all bleeding ages when it comes down to it.  Even an age when you can start having sex (pauses) legally that is.  Vera. there are masses of them!  All about when you can start doing something!  (Pauses)  And yet whilst no one, has ever put an age on it, there’s some things that people get all funny about if you’re still doing it.  Like having it away at 80. Daft ain’t it?  

VERA (dreamily) What?  What?

PHIL (impatiently) Vera did you hear what I just said?

VERA No sorry Phil.  I was still thinking about last night.  Kept getting these images in my head.  It’s strange.

PHIL What sort of images?

VERA (coyly) Well you know (pauses) you know.

PHIL (puzzled) What us?  Us? You didn’t have one of those secret cameras set up did you?  You know filming us, like?

VERA (mock anger) Of course not Phil.  What do yah think I am.  One of those Russian spies.  I know you were in the Navy, but any secrets you had, are bound to be past their sell by date.  Just like us! No?

PHIL Speak for yourself Vera Street.  (Pauses)  Anyway, how’re you getting on with that new lady. Sonia?

VERA Alright. (suspiciously)  Why?

PHIL Oh nothing (pauses) just like to get to know new residents. Only being friendly.  (Emphatically)  Someone said she was a ballet dancer!

VERA Was Phil.  Was. (pauses)  I know what’s going through your dirty mind.

PHIL (Indignantly)  What?

VERA Whatever it is, just forget it.  She ain’t like that. Heard her talking to Nancy about things.  I may be wrong but I don’t think she’s ever…/

PHIL What? (Pauses)  Ever what?

VERA Never mind Phil.  Just leave it. Like you said, there are some things that are best left alone.  There ain’t no age for some people.  It just never happens for some. (pauses)  Right put the telly on.  It’s horse racing. Kempton Park, I love horse racing.  

(Phil stands up uses remote control, then looks back at Vera)

PHIL Are you sure about her?

VERA Yes. Now sit down and choose a winner, (coyly) apart from me!

(Phil and Vera are still watching TV.  Door opens and Nellie walks in with Sonia.  Sonia is using her stick and resting her arm on Nellie, who escorts her to her chair. Phil and Vera look up as Sonia sits down with a sigh)

PHIL Well who won?  

SONIA It was a draw.  However, Mr Patel knows full well how we feel.   Nancy was wonderful.  (Turns to Nellie)  Well, that was lovely Nellie.   Thank you so much (turns to Vera and Phil)  Nellie has been showing me the grounds.  They’re really nice at this time of year. It’s a bit chilly out there but well worth the effort.

VERA Where’s Nancy.  I thought she was with you?

SONIA Yes. She won’t be a moment (pauses then looks at Phil) having asserted herself very forcefully, she’s just gone to (pauses) just gone/

NELLIE (impatiently) Gone for a pee. (looks at Phil)  What’ve you two been up to Phil?

VERA (interrupts) We’ve been watching the racing.  I picked two winners.

NELLIE (Suggestively points) Is he one of them?  Put any money on it?

VERA No.  We were just picking winners, Phil and I (turns to Phil) weren’t we?

NELLIE That ain’t the same. It’s easy when you don’t have your weeks wages on it.  Gets more exciting when it’s your last five quid. (Pauses) Used to work in a bookies.  It’s a different world to sitting in front of the telly and picking horses.  We had some serious punters there, I can tell yah.  Some of them won a fortune.

PHIL And lost it, I expect. (pauses)  When I was in the Navy we had a bloke/

VERA (interrupting raises her hand) Nah Phil.  Not another one of your naval stories (turns to Sonia) did you know Phil was in the Navy?

SONIA (hesitantly) Well I had gathered that. (pauses)  My father was in the Army. (pauses then looks to Phil)  All military men seem to have a certain panache.

NELLIE What’s a panache Sonia?  Can you catch it?/

VERA (laughing)  No Nellie that’s a rash.  And you can certainly catch them; especially off matelots (Phil looks indignant)  Ah no Phil, I didn’t mean it like that (pauses) I didn’t mean you were infectious, or something (to Sonia) anyway Sonia what’s a panache?

SONIA It’s being flamboyant, confident, a certain way of doing things that makes a person stand out.  Does that make sense?

NELLIE Yeah, (pauses) oh yeah. (suggestively looking at Vera)  Something that makes a person stand out. (pauses)  Oh yeah, I can see where Phil gets his panache from (to Vera)  Phil often stands out, doesn’t he Vera? (Vera has picked up Phil’s paper and is trying to control her giggling behind it, whilst Phil looks bemused)

VERA Oh he does (pauses) yes (starts to laugh hysterically) often!

PHIL (mock anger) I don’t know what you two buggers are on about, but I’m off to get my dinner. (turns to Vera)  See you later? (Vera looks up nods and starts giggling again.  Phil walks to door and as he opens it, Nancy slowly walks in, on her mobility frame, and sees both Vera and Nellie laughing.  Phil looks back, smiles, then shakes his head resignedly, before closing the door)

NANCY (Walking slowly towards Vera, Nellie and Sonia). Well what have I been missing? (Pauses, then turns to Sonia)  Whenever Vera and Nellie start laughing like that it’s usually to do with some bodily function or other (turns to Vera and Nellie) Am I right? ( Vera and Nellie nod before dissolving into more laughter. Sonia looks on bemused.  Then to Nancy)

SONIA I’m not sure what happened myself Nancy.  I was simply describing Phil like most military men (pauses) having a certain panache (pauses) things deteriorated straight after that.

NELLIE (To Vera) Panache Vera.  Phil’s got panache all right.  And we thought he was just randy. (Vera and Nellie start laughing hysterically again)

END OF SCENE 3

SCENE 4 (Interior of lounge.  Vera, Nellie, Sonia and Nancy are sitting around the dining table waiting for a meal to be served.  Door opens and Mandy walks in and talks to group)

MANDY (cheerfully) Hello again my lovelies. (group nod to her)  What a lovely, refreshing day again.  Hope you’ve all had a chance to get some fresh air?  Need to build up your appetite for today’s meal (looks to Nellie)  It’s your favourite/

NANCY Mandy, everything is Nellie’s favourite. You know that.

MANDY (affectionately puts her arm round Nellie’s shoulders) Yes you’re right of course Nancy (pauses) but if we didn’t have residents like the lovely Nellie in our lives, where would we be? (Nellie looks up at Mandy)

NELLIE You’re going on bloody holiday, ain’t yah Mandy!.  That’s why you’re full of the joys of spring.  Not like us poor buggers, stuck here year in, year out. (pauses)  Anyway what is it?  What’s for dinner?

MANDY (triumphantly) Lamb chops.  You don’t see those very often do you (pauses) right I’ll start bringing the meal out.  I’ll just move these out of the way. (Pushes Vera’s wheelchair and Nancy’s frame away from the table.)

NELLIE Bootiful.  Lamp chops!  (Pauses then to Vera) You very hungry Vera? (Vera shakes her head) Good.  (Pause) What about you Sonia?

(Mandy interrupts, moves dishes and tureens from hatch onto table. Nellie looks hungrily at lamp chops then jabs her fork into the biggest one and moves it onto her plate, before putting vegetables and gravy on it.  Nancy is watching Nellie serve herself and slowly shakes her head.  Nellie notices this and looks at Nancy)

NELLIE Wassup wiv you?

NANCY (Resignedly)  Nothing Nellie.  Nothing at all. (Looks at Sonia)  Bon appetit! (Remainder of group start to serve themselves and begin eating.  Mandy stands watching them and then prepares to leave room)

MANDY Right.  Enjoy your meal.  I’m going off to get changed, then I’m on holiday for a week.  If you need anything else, give the staff a shout through the hatch, or ring the bell.  (Picks up bell from table and demonstrates tinkle)  See it works.  So see in a week.  Love you all. I’m going to miss you all lots.  (Pauses) Honest.  (Laughs, opens door and leaves lounge).

VERA Isn’t that Mandy lovely.  Wish they were all like that.  I shall miss her next week.

NELLIE (Through mouthful of food) I love her too, she’s like my daughter!

SONIA That’s smashing Nellie. (To Vera)  Vera. so will I, actually.  In the few months I’ve been here I’ve been very impressed.  A really experienced carer, head and shoulders above the rest.

(Group continue eating. Nellie is watching Vera’s plate, and when she stops for a moment looks towards her)

NELLIE Finished? (Vera nods. Nellie reaches over with her fingers and picks up the remains of the lamb chop on Vera’s plate.  Starts picking at it with her fingers and then puts the bone in her mouth.  A few seconds later, she starts to make a choking sound, pointing at her throat and clearly in a lot of distress.)

VERA What’s the matter Nellie? (Screams)  Nellie what’s wrong?

NANCY She’s choking.  Nellie, Nellie. Staff (screaming to hatch) staff.  Oh Nellie! Nellie!

SONIA (Shouting to hatch) Staff, staff where are you! (Tries to reach over and hit Nellie on the back, but cannot reach.  Nellie is becoming more frantic, and continually pointing at her throat and making choking sounds. Vera is simply screaming out for help.

VERA (Frantically) Do something please anyone!!

(Nancy tries to reach her frame which had previously been moved away from the table by Mandy.  Vera remains helpless on her dining chair, making grasping movements towards her wheelchair which was also moved away by Mandy.  Nancy picks up bell from the table and rings it frantically, then throws it through the hatch into the kitchen.   Sonia manages to stand up on her stick, and staggers towards the adjacent fire alarm box.  Then holding onto a chair, raises her stick and smashes it down on the box.  Nellie gives a final gasp before slumping face down onto her plate.  Sound of fire alarm ringing.   Sonia stands holding on to the chair, looking at the distraught group left at the dining table, with Vera and Nancy are both sobbing and holding one another)

END OF SCENE 4, AND ACT 1

ACT 2, SCENE 1 (Interior of lounge later the same day.  Vera, Phil, Sonia and Nancy are sitting in their chairs. Phil is comforting Vera who is sobbing quietly. Door opens as Mandy rushes in, she is agitated and crying)

MANDY I was at home getting packed, then the Manager phoned me, told me something had happened.  I can’t believe it. Not Nellie.  Not my lovely, special Nellie.  Not her (pauses) please.  Oh not her please.   What happened?

NANCY We were just having our lunch. (laughs ruefully)  Nellie was being her usual self.  She picked up something off Vera’s plate.  Next thing she’s choking.  Choking to death in front of us (pauses as Vera lets out a deep sob. Sonia leans over and joins Phil in trying to comfort her).

PHIL It’s OK Vera.  Let it go. Cry as much as you want. Let it go.  (Pauses) Oh what a disgrace.  What a way to go. (angrily)  What a bloody awful way to go.

MANDY Where were the staff?

SONIA We called and called and screamed.  Then Nancy rang that awful bell and still no one came.  Nancy couldn’t reach her frame, Vera was stuck on a dining chair, until finally I managed to get across the room and smash the fire alarm/

NANCY All hell broke out then.  Seems the duty staff were round the back of the building having a cigarette and didn’t hear us.  Manager came rushing in when the fire alarm went off, and when he saw Nellie his face had Board of Inquiry written all over it.  Next thing, ambulances and the police arrived.

SONIA Poor Nellie.  They laid her on the floor and were trying to resuscitate her, in front of us, but she was clearly dead. (crying) Mandy (pause)   where is she now?

MANDY They’ve laid her out in her room.  Manager’s trying to contact her family.  Records aren’t up to date apparently/

VERA (angrily) They’re in Australia that’s why.  Her kids moved there about twenty years ago.  That’s why she was in here.  They could have taken her with em, but she wouldn’t go (pauses) cos of me.

MANDY What do you mean Vera? Because of you?

VERA Look, you lot may have already guessed this, but we went to school together, grew up, with our husbands, working in the same pit.  We shared the same funeral when the pit shaft collapsed.  When all that ended, I couldn’t look after myself, so I came here.  Nellie found out and started visiting me.  Next thing I know, she’s got herself in here as well.  You could all see that Nellie was much more able than the rest of us.  (Pauses)  She laid it on thick with the Social Services about not being able to cope at home.  Said she kept falling over. Forgetting things.  (Laughs)  Even left the gas on when the Social Worker visited.   Friendly doctor, and bingo.  Next thing, she’s in here with me. Didn’t need to be, but I’m glad she was. She’s kept me from topping myself many a time.  I can tell yah. (starts crying)  What am I gonna do now?   Eh? (sobbing) What am I gonna do without my Nellie?

PHIL (reassuringly) Come on now Vera. I’ll look after you. (looks to group) so will your friends Nancy and Sonia.  You’ll be alright. You wait and see.   I promise you. (puts arm round Vera’s shoulder).

SONIA (to Mandy). You said Nellie is in her room.  What happens next?

MANDY Well once the doctor has been and her friends in the home have said their goodbye’s the undertaker will start to arrange for the funeral.

SONIA Do you mean that her body will stay in her room until then?

MANDY Well no (pauses) once the death certificates and paperwork are complete, then her body will be moved to the funeral parlour, till the service itself.  Whatever, Nellie indicated when she moved into the home, cremation or burial (pauses)I don’t know at this moment.   Why?/

VERA (Interrupts) Don’t forget they also want to empty her room, and let it out again.  Don’t want to miss a trick there.  Bastards!

NANCY Mandy I appreciate you were on holiday, and got back as soon as you could.  Just before you got here we’ve (points to Sonia, Vera and Phil) made a decision.  We trust you Mandy. Implicitly. We want you to give the Manager two messages from us (others nod)

MANDY (gently) What are the messages Nancy?  What do you want me to say?

NANCY We want to see Nellie on our own with you.  No one else. Just us and you. (emphatically)  No other staff, just you, us (pauses then emotionally) and Nellie.

MANDY I understand.  I’ll make sure the Manager hears that.  What else? What was the other thing?

SONIA (defiantly) We’ve already had a row with Mr Patel, but Nellie’s going out the front door (pauses) the same way she came in and we’re going to stay with her, in her room, to make sure it happens.

VERA That’s right Sonia. Spot on. (angrily)  No back door for Mrs Nellie Jones.  She’s going out in style, the same way she came in and the same way she lived. (to Sonia)  What was that posh word you used about military men like Phil?

SONIA (softly) Panache?

VERA Yeah. Panache!  My mate Nellie had loads of panache.  Nellie had style.  Up front and feet first. (looks upward) God bless you Nellie.   Love you darling. (Crying) You were my life.

NANCY God bless. (Sonia and Phil nod. Mandy wipes away a tear)

MANDY I promise you I’ll make sure the Manager understands what you’ve just said, and why.  Leave it with me. (Mandy leaves room)

END OF ACT 2, SCENE 1

ACT 2, SCENE 2. (Interior of lounge, shortly after Mandy has gone off to speak to the Manager of the home, and express the views of the residents about Nellie’s funeral..Phil, Nancy, Sonia and Vera are having a discussion as Mandy hurriedly re-enters.  She looks sheepish)

PHIL How’d did you get on?  (Mandy does not respond but continues to look  

uncomfortable)

NANCY What happened Mandy?  What exactly did Mr Patel say?  (Mandy pauses)

MANDY Said he wasn’t prepared to set a precedent.

VERA What’s a precedent.  That’s something to do with cliffs aint it?  Getting too near the edge or something?  What’s that got to do with Nellie?

SONIA No Vera, please.  Don’t worry. I’ll explain later.  (To Nancy)  So it’s Plan B then!

MANDY Plan B?  What are you talking about.

NANCY Mandy, darling.  We trust you 100%.  Right? (Looks at Sonia, Phil and Vera who all nod).  Right?  (They nod again)  We have made a decision.  We have made a Plan.  Call it A, B, C, D or X.  It’s our plan and our responsibility.

PHIL Too right!  In Naval parlance, it’s “Operation Nellie” and its just gone live.  We’re on track and counting down.

VERA (To Mandy)  When are the funeral directors due?

MANDY Anytime now.  

VERA Go back to Nellie for me.  Make sure she’s dressed in her best clothes.   Get those fluffy slippers off her.  No one else could.

SONIA Stay with her Mandy.  We won’t be long. And if you hear anything unusual, don’t take any notice.  Keep her door shut and stay with Nellie.  (Mandy nods)

PHIL Promise?  We don’t want to get you in trouble, but Operation Nellie depends on you Mandy.  (Mandy nods again then leaves the lounge)

NANCY Right team, ready?

VERA You bet.  (Turns)  Phil?

PHIL Just watch me.  (Turns)  Sonia?

SONIA I’m totally and fully committed.

PHIL I’ll take that as a “Yes”

NANCY Right.  Phil, can you shove a couple of chairs up against the lounge door?  (Phil nods then moves chairs)  Now, put Vera and her wheelchair right next to them.  (Phil wheels Vera across the floor and adds her to the barrier)

SONIA Nancy, you’ve seen Les Mis!  Brilliant.

VERA What’s Les Mis?

NANCY We’ll explain later.  No time to waste. Ready Sonia?  (Sonia nods) (Pause).  Go for it!  (Sonia moves across to the fire alarm box previously activated on Nellie’s death and smashes it with her stick.   The alarm is activated).

PHIL Bloody hell.  That’ll wake them up.  (Moves across to the window then pauses)  It’s working.  (Excitedly)  Staff are already evacuating the main lounge and pushing residents out onto the drive.  (Pauses)   Everyone’s nearly out.  Wahoo! But not us. (There is a sudden loud knocking on the lounge door and a loud male voice)

VOICE Evacuate.  Evacuate. We need to evacuate.  Open this door please. It’s an emergency.  (Nancy moves across to the door)

NANCY That sounds like Mr Patel.  (Pause)  There is no emergency Mr Patel.   Unless you want to create one.

VOICE Who is that?  What do you want?

NANCY Don’t worry who I am.  Just listen to me and we can all avoid an emergency.  By the way in the distance I can hear the fire engines coming.  They’ll love you!  So Mr Patel? Are you ready to talk?

VOICE (Anxiously)  What do you want?  I must insist this door is opened.   Immediately!  Or I shall take action.  

NANCY Mr Patel.  Nellie Jones is going out the front door.  Right?

VOICE (Incredulous)  Is that what this lot is all about.  Nellie Jones? Deceased.  Are you serious?

NANCY Serious is an understatement.  Nellie Jones. Front door? Yes or No?

VERA (Shouts)  And you can stick your precedent, (Pause)  whatever that means, right up your arse.  Front door or not? Yes or No.  Those sirens are getting louder.  (Long pause)

VOICE Open the door……/

PHIL (Looking out of window)  Bloody hell.  Nearly everyone’s on the drive.   Staff, Residents, everyone.

VOICE Alright.  Front door for Nellie.  Now open the door. (Pauses)  Please!   (Phil moves across and pulls chairs away from door then turns to Vera)

PHIL Ready for the supreme sacrifice?  (Vera nods.  Phil moves across and gently lifts her out of her wheelchair and sits her on a chair adjacent to the window.  He kisses her before opening the lounge door, pushing the empty wheelchair followed by Nancy and Sonia.  Vera watches out of the window, turning back and talking to the audience.  She pauses)

VERA Oh my God!  There she is!  Sitting in my wheelchair!  Nellie Jones!. (Waves)  Phil’s wheeling her along the line of people.  (Pause)  She’s got her special green coat on, and her black beret that I bought her.   (Pauses)  Said it made her look like Marlene Deitrich!  (Sings Deitrich style)  “Falling in love again, what am I to do?”  Nellie Jones you look…..you look….bloody marvellous.  (Excitedly)  Look!  The residents are all clapping her.  Bet she’s looking down laughing her head off.  That army bloke with the beret is even saluting her.  Oh No! Phil”s pushing her towards me!  (Frantically waves at window)  Bye my darling Nellie.  Bye. (Pauses)  I love you.  Always have done.   You’re still my best mate.  (Starts to cry)  Love you Nellie.  (Waves)

END OF ACT 2, SCENE 2.

ACT 2, SCENE 3 (Interior of lounge after the funeral of Mrs Nellie Jones has taken place. Sonia is stood looking out of the window when Nancy enters lounge on her frame and walks slowly over to the window as well. Both are dressed in black and there are a collection of cards standing on the dining table.  Sonia has clearly been crying and dabs a handkerchief at her eyes as Nancy approaches.)

SONIA (looks at Nancy and shakes her head) I still can’t believe she’s gone (pauses) it’s unreal.  I only knew her a briefly for goodness sake, heaven knows what you must be feeling Nancy (pauses) as for poor old Vera, she’s still in total shock.

NANCY Well Phil’s doing what he can, but with Nellie gone, Vera has to rely on the staff more and more for some of her very personal care. She’s finding that very difficult, especially if Mandy isn’t on duty.

SONIA (shudders) I can’t bear the idea of complete strangers, simply coming on duty, and then becoming involved in my very intimate tasks.  It’s horrible Nancy, horrible. It’s bad enough if you have family, it’s even worse with complete strangers.

NANCY Actually Sonia, some might say that it’s easier to have a complete stranger touch you, rather than one’s own family  I think I know which camp I’m in. (mysteriously) However, I might have a solution.

SONIA What?/

NANCY Let’s sit down shall we. (pair move to adjacent chairs and sit down.   Nancy pauses then looks directly at Sonia).  Sonia, I’ve been here for over 5 years now, and quite frankly, have hated every minute of it. (Pauses) About 12 months before you moved in, I decided to try and do something about it.  Do you remember me telling you that my children were threatening legal action if I didn’t appoint a Power of Attorney. (Sonia nods)

SONIA Something to do with your husband’s estate wasn’t it?

NANCY Yes (leans forward and touches Sonia’s hand). Sonia, I bought a bungalow that had previously been owned by another resident.  She’s dead now, but we had a day out with her son, and she showed it to me.   (excitedly) it’s perfect.  The son was a builder and every room was specially adapted/

SONIA Adapted for what Nancy? What do you mean?

NANCY For getting old Sonia. (looks round room – cynically)  Look at this place. We spend most of our waking day sitting in this room.  At night most of us go to bed early.  Not because we’re tired, mainly because we’re bored stiff.  Intellectually bored, culturally starved, socially isolated.  Sonia I’ve spent 12 months waiting/

SONIA (puzzled) For what Nancy (pauses) what do you mean?

NANCY For someone like you. (Pause) A friend, a companion, someone who enjoys the same interests, someone I can share my remaining ideas and dreams with.  You love ballet, so do I.  Classical music, books, nature, life itself. (emotionally) Sonia this place is slowly turning me into a vegetable, and before it’s too late, I want to enjoy the rest of my life. And although I know you’ve only been here a few months, I can visibly see you thinking the same way (pauses) am I right? (Sonia pauses then nods, emphatically) Sonia (long pause) I want out!

SONIA Let’s get this straight Nancy. Is what you’re suggesting that we, (points to Nancy and then herself) leave this place (points to room) and set up home together in your bungalow?  Is that right? (Nancy nods as Sonia continues) We, you and I, find enough money to completely furnish a bungalow/

NANCY (interrupting, excitedly) It’s fully furnished. I bought it all, lock, stock and barrel and it’s quality furniture. Besides you’ve got things of your own, in your room. We could take that with us. And I’ve got money (pauses) well I have at the moment. But the fees are constantly rising. We could buy anything special that we needed (pauses) oh Sonia what do you think? Please consider it. Please.

SONIA (Emphatically) I am Nancy. I am. I promise you. (breathes deeply) My mind is racing (starts nervously chewing her nail). But there’s so many things to think of. (pauses)  Look at us both. I’m alright at the moment on a stick, but you’re not very mobile.  You need a frame all the time to get round (pauses) how would we cope?

NANCY (Enthusiastically) I’ve thought of that Sonia. I’ve thought of nothing else since you moved in.  The bungalow is fitted out with rails at the most important points.  When I’m sitting down at the table, I’m quite capable of preparing vegetables and food. I’m a good cook Sonia, and there are ways of doing things that don’t need a lot of mobility, and what skills I don’t have, you still do!  Sonia, it would be a perfect partnership. (cautiously)  Besides I’ve also thought about getting some help in.  Mandy told me (leans forward) in confidence of course, that she’s still looking for some extra hours.  She’d be perfect….

SONIA (nods then breathes deeply again) Nancy my heart is still racing.   The more I think about it, the more attractive it looks (pauses) but I do have some anxieties, what happens to me if (pauses) if you, (pauses) if you go first.

NANCY Go? We’ll go together. (emphatically) when I leave here, so do you.

SONIA No Nancy, (giggling) I didn’t mean go from here. (breathes deeply) I meant what happens, if you die first. Nancy if you die first what happens to me?

NANCY I’ve covered that Sonia. I’ll change my will.  It will specify that you are to be allowed to live in the property, rent free for the rest of your life.  Absolutely secure. A legal commitment. Cast iron guarantee (pauses) what do you think? (Sonia looks down, but does not reply. Nancy pauses, then) Oh please Sonia. What do you think?

SONIA (quietly) What about Vera?  We’ve just spoken about how shocked she still is at Nellie’s death.  She’ll be so vulnerable now. Won’t she?  

NANCY Sonia look, I feel awful about that, but we can’t live Vera’s life for her (pauses) given time she’ll feel better.  Deep down she’s very resilient. Besides she’s got Phil now.  They’re spending more and more time together.  They seem to get on well.  Same interests, same ideas/

SONIA (interrupts) But also, they’re not like us, eh Nancy. Are they? (ruefully) Not like us.

NANCY What do you mean?  (Pauses)  No they’re not like us. (Sadly) That’s why it’s taken me a year to find someone that I believe has something in common with me, and hopefully vice versa.  Or have I got that completely wrong as well Sonia? (questioning) Tell me, please.

SONIA No you’re absolutely right Nancy. I just needed a moment or two to reflect on (pauses) on what I really am like (points to herself) beneath this image that is.

NANCY Image Sonia? What do you mean? Image? What you’ve said about your interests in music, ballet, nature (pauses) they’re all true, aren’t they? Iced tea? A ballet dancer? Culture?

SONIA Oh yes. They’re all true. I was simply wondering Nancy, whether you’ve become attracted, more by the image, than the real person ( points to herself) me (pauses) Miss Sonia Amis (pauses), Miss Sonia Amis.  And I do have a small confession to make (Laughs then pauses) Nellie would have loved this, so, you might want to change your mind Nancy.

NANCY (puzzled) What do you mean Sonia? I’m intrigued? Do tell me.

SONIA (deep breath) Well. I was indeed a dancer, and a member of the corps at Sadler’s Wells.  But there came a time, when things got very difficult for me.  Age went up, as agility went down.  I was still a good dancer though, so I had to find another source of income.  And (emphatically) I did.  One day, I’ll tell you all about it (starts giggling).

NANCY No, no, no.  Tell me now. I’m intrigued.

SONIA (Pauses)  Are you sure?  (Nancy nods)

NANCY (Excitedly)  Please tell me.  

 

SONIA I was an exotic dancer.  (Slowly swivels her hips)  Danced in some of the biggest clubs in the world.

NANCY Wow!  (Pauses)  You lucky devil.  I always wanted to do that.   Feathers and fans and things.

SONIA So does that still mean yes?  (Pauses)  I’ll teach you a few moves!

NANCY Of course it does Sonia (Pauses) let’s go and start packing. (pair embrace)

END OF ACT 2, SCENE 2 AND PLAY

 

The Girl In The Rusty Smock

The Girl in the Rusty Smock   (1485 words)

 

Bright sunshine dressed the sea in a trillion dazzling sequins and their sheer flickering brilliance hurt her eyes. She looked away to the harbour where the tide was out and the coloured fishing boats lay tilted in the sand. The arcing sky was June blue and even the bright, warm air itself seemed to sparkle. Alice raised her hand to the canvas again, jabbing short yellow ochre marks on the tidal line.

    Far across the bay, the famous lighthouse rose like a candle from its rocky, granite bowl and she stroked it in, a slash of titanium white over charcoal grey.

    “I want to be away with the fairies,” she whispered to herself; “far away with the seals and mermaids.” That was when a shadow drifted like a cloud across her canvas, until it was darkened entirely.

    “Morning, Alice.” She felt the warm weight of a hand on her shoulder and the breeze of a kiss to the crown of her head.

    “Robert, I’m painting,” she said, without looking up.

    “I’ll be quiet as a starfish,” he murmured, moving and flicking out a towel on the sand beside her. As he did so, the cloud cleared from her picture and all the colours jumped out at her again.

    “No!” She looked round at him now and saw him flinch; saw the disappointment deepening in his eyes. “Such a boy!” she thought, and relented. “No, sleepy head,” she said more gently. “Meet me by the slipway. One o’clock. We’ll get a sandwich.” And she turned back, wiping her brush.

 

He walked slowly up the stone steps from the beach, coming out into the narrow road behind the hotel that sat on the rocks facing out to sea. Would she let him close again before she died, he wondered. They had been close, despite the wagging heads. She had encircled him and made him safe; given him a sense of security in his own acceptability, in his own alrightness. He hadn’t even realized how cold and monochrome his life was, until she had whooshed it into colour with her warmth and love of him. To have that extinguished… The lane between the terraced B&Bs smudged and danced in the blur of his tears; and he stared through the oncoming faces, as a lightning stab of desolation drove deep into the meat of him.

    Emerging from the funnel of buildings, the sky widened, where the road curved away into the town and the path ahead revealed a slice of beach through its railings, with a stream and seagulls scattered like litter; and beyond them he could see once more the whole panorama of the harbour and the open sea. With his hands still in his pockets, he slumped down on one of the benches to his right, which were bounded from the rocks below by a low stone wall, and gazed out across the bay to a line of dunes on the far side. Often he found comfort in the changing colours and movement of the sea, a freedom from the constraints and demands of reason; but, today, it seemed salt and sterile, with no life in it. Fertility, fecundity was all on the land. And he got up and walked back into the mouth of the lane to a wall with a trailing vine over it. Freeing his hand and taking hold of one of its leaves, he stroked it between his finger and thumb, closing his eyes and feeling the living substance of it, ribbed and silky.

    “When you’re 35, she’ll be 52.” His mother’s words rang in his head. That was at the start, seven or eight years ago, when he’d first told her about Alice.

    “Well, she’s never going to be bloody 52, is she?” he snarled, turning away, angry at her warning, wanting her, and feeling cold in the sunshine.

 

Alice checked her watch; she still had twenty minutes or so. She leant back, studying the painting. She never quite managed to catch the light the way she wanted to. The sea was good, but the sky was too flat; it needed more variety of tone to let the light through. “Enough!” she told herself and started to pack away the tubes and brushes into the faded khaki bag her father had used for fishing.

    Standing up, she took the canvas off the easel and then sat down again, feeling dizzy. She dipped her head and waited for the nausea to pass. Along with other possible symptoms, her consultant had told her to expect these spells of feeling sick and giddy. The swimming stopped; her vision cleared again and her stomach settled.

    A movement in the corner of her eye caused her to look up. A little girl in a rust coloured smock was staring at her, her ginger curls caught in a shimmering halo of silver-gold sea. “Hello,” Alice smiled. The large blue eyes didn’t falter. “Are you sad?” the girl whispered, and Alice breathed in hard to quell the lurch in her chest. “No,” she said; then, not wanting to veil herself from the child’s openness, added: “Well, I was, a little bit, just for a moment; but I’m all right now. And how are you?”

    “I’m three and that’s my mummy, there.” She spun round pointing with her small rubber spade to a young woman sitting on a towel with a stroller beside it. The woman waved and Alice raised her hand. “That’s your mummy and I’m Alice” she said, watching the child. “And what’s your name?”

    The curly head turned. “Alith?” she said, screwing the corner of her mouth up into her cheek. There was a pause. “I’m Bella.”

    “Bella,” Alice repeated. “What a beautiful name!”

    The girl’s lips wormed against each other again, before she said, “Where’s your rabbit?”

    Alice laughed, blinking away tears. “What a serious little face,” she said. She leant forward and brushed the girl’s cheek with the backs of her fingers. “I’m not that Alice, Bella; I’m a different one.”

    The little face pouted and then the pout dissolved into a big grin. “That bad lady not chop our head off! I’ll chop hers off!” And she whirled her spade in the air and brought it crashing down, sending sand spurting over Alice’s bare feet.

    “Bella, you’re a sweetheart!” Alice wanted to seize the little girl to her and hug her and never let go, such a fierce, warm, beautiful bundle of energy. She was going to be late she realized, glancing at her watch. “Oh, I’m sorry, Bella, but I’ve got to go.” She stood up. “I’m going to leave these here,” she said laying down her easel and collapsing the folding chair on top of it; “and cover them with my towel.” Then, taking the bag by its strap, she slipped it over her shoulder and picked up the canvas and her sandals

    “Right,” she said and felt suddenly uncomfortable, under the child’s continuing gaze, at her hurried departure, as if she was letting her down, abandoning her. “If you’re here when I come back, Bella, maybe we could have a tea party, like the Mad Hatter. What do you think?”

    As Alice moved round her, the little girl raised her arm, shielding her eyes from the glare. “I like green jelly,” she said.

    “I’ll see what I can do. Bye, Bella.”

    “Bye, Alith.”

    The blue eyes still watched her and Alice didn’t want to be the one to turn away. But, as the little girl showed no signs of moving, finally she walked off towards the same steps Robert had taken earlier. After a few yards, she tucked her sandals under her arm and turned for a final wave; but all she saw were Bella’s back and candelabra arms running towards her mother, a rust and ginger smudge of movement.

 

The graveyard stretched down, past the chapel at its centre, towards the beach and ocean below. It was a wild October day, with a big sea running; and the wind, lashing Robert’s hooded face, stung as if still laced with spray, even this high up. There was a mound in the lea of the perimeter wall, but no headstone yet. It was coming; he’d ordered it, although, in a way, he dreaded that final marker of her going. While the grave was unfinished, so was she. And, for now, he could come daily and be with her and feel her not yet gone. But afterwards, what then? Well, he had her final picture from the beach, so much like her in spirit, so full of light and natural loveliness, so like the little girl in the rusty smock in the foreground.  He had puzzled over her and her ginger curls. Had there been a child near them that morning? He couldn’t remember. Or was she simply Alice’s memory of her own beginning? Maybe that explained the playful signature.

    “I miss you, Alith,” he whispered and turned away.

 

Copywrite: Charles Becker, 2018.

The Entrapment

The Entrapment

 

“Uhm, interesting” Susan thought as she watched the man from behind her net curtains.  She saw aspects of familiar training in the new walker. He was clearly new to the park, which was like the arena in a Big Top, encircled by large family homes now converted to flats or houses of multiple occupancy.  Their occupants mainly provided the park joggers. Beyond the first row, in tiered layers were smaller terraced houses with families and children; the source of the dog walkers. Her bedroom window overlooked the tree-lined, circular park and she spent several hours a week, drinking coffee and  simply observing the activities. There was a regular ensemble of walkers, joggers and amblers; the latter their hands enclosed in plastic liners, were invariably trailing a dog.

It’d been 2 years since Jonathan had returned to his wife.  He’d kept his promise. She kept the flat. The generous financial settlement he’d made, supplemented her income as a freelance journalist.  The price – discretion. None of those factors, however, dealt with her growing loneliness.

Susan had maintained absolute integrity since Jonathan had gone back to the merchant bank in the USA.  It had not been easy, she missed him dreadfully; his laughter, energy, excitement and particularly the embrace of his arms, yet knew it was over and she could either stay as a slowly decaying spinster or find solace elsewhere.   

She picked up the binoculars from her bedside table and focused them on the man.  He was different. No dog, no ambler, not jogging, but definitely walking in a brisk, military manner.  Memories of her childhood in a garrison town came flooding back; watching her father walk onto the parade ground, the slow hush as he gathered himself, before that stentorian bellow and hundreds of feet moving as one.  The fast moving Light Infantry.

He looked early 40’s, slim, tanned, and clearly from the pace and duration of his walking, reasonably fit.  Susan felt instinctively attracted to him. “This is quite daft,” she thought whilst continuing to observe him.  The binoculars gave her an insight into his overall appearance yet she felt challenged to get even closer in a surreptitious manner.  Caution was in order.

After watching him for several days, Susan realised he was, as one would expect from a military man, on time, regular and reliable.  You could set your watch on his entry and exit from the park and his pace round it. She also noticed that on several occasions whilst he did not have a dog, if one of the myriads of species using the park approached, the man would hesitate briefly, show it attention and even pat it, before acknowledging the owner and moving on.

She did not want to reveal her interest too quickly, so next morning Susan went to the local charity shop and bought two coats and hats.  They were suitable for much older, larger women and in normal circumstances, she wouldn’t have been seen dead in them, but they offered a disguise, and the opportunity to get closer to her target.   

Susan carefully selected a bench that had some shelter from the often prevailing winds.  From there, she could see when he entered the park from the opposite gate and carefully prepare herself.  She took one of her late father’s books with her “The Might Of The Military – Fact Or Fiction”, and placed it carefully on her lap, ready.  

Through her tinted glasses, she knew immediately he was on his way.  His pace was precise and metronomic so she counted one hundred and twenty before picking up the book, ensuring the distinct cover was visible before sensing his eyes on her as he swept past on his inexorable daily ten laps.  No wedding ring visible. Good.

Susan maintained her presence for three more laps before jogging to her adjacent flat, picking up the binoculars and watching his response when he returned to the place she’d been sitting.  She sensed a distinct disappointment in his demeanour, as he glanced briefly at the empty bench before continuing his walk. It’s promising Susan thought, before realising that whilst focusing intently on her father’s book and the man’s fingers, she’d forgotten to look at his face.

The next day she wore the other coat and hat and positioned herself on a different bench, with a book titled boldly “The Folly Of The Falklands”.  That should attract some interest she thought opening the book just as she heard his footsteps approaching her bench and looking up. She was sure he actually nodded at her after glancing at the book.  

“My, he is handsome” Susan thought, noticing that his nose appeared to have a slight Romanesque appearance, with pronounced dark eyebrows above his very tanned face.  His cheek bore what appeared to be a scar. He was wearing shorts and an athletic vest, and she saw immediately that he was both muscular and lithe. As he moved on towards his next circuit, a large Alsatian dog came bounding up to him.  He stopped and briefly touched it’s muzzle in a friendly manner, before resuming his walk.

The animal sanctuary was very helpful.  Apparently, they were always looking for short-term foster homes for dogs, and subject to a quick home inspection, felt sure they could offer Susan a canine companion on a loan basis, whilst the relevant owner was incapacitated.  This was no time for disguises, so Susan gave the coats and hats back to the charity shop, and went shopping for something athletic, waterproof and suitable for a dog owner. True to their word, the sanctuary subsequently provided an extending dog lead with Fang, a three-year-old excitable Staffordshire terrier on the end.   

Whether it was the enjoyment of the park with fresh smells and sounds, or the man reaching down and genuinely showing interest, Fang bounded up dragging Susan behind.  The man began to stride away just as Fang making another attempt at friendship, bounded after and then round him, entrapping his ankles with the lead, which Susan then deliberately tugged.  He tumbled to the ground with Susan seemingly mortified.

She could see there was a long graze on one knee, and a cut on the other shin-bone.  As the man sat up and tried to entangle the lead from his ankles, Fang took the opportunity to vigorously lick the man’s face.  Susan leant down and pushed Fang away.

‘Look I’m terribly sorry.  It was entirely my fault. Fang’s new, and I hadn’t realised how strong he was.  Oh dear, you’ve cut your leg badly, and it’s bleeding……I’m so sorry.’

‘That’s OK.  I’ve had worse.’ he replied in a distinct Aussie accent.

“I bet you have,” thought Susan, as she saw vivid white scar tissue on his cheek.  He sat still for a moment before trying to get up off the ground. As he did so, a rivulet of blood slowly trickled down his leg and towards his sock.  She instinctively knelt down, pulled a tissue from her anorak pocket and began to dab at the wound. She wasn’t going to miss this opportunity.

‘Look, it’s entirely my fault, and I’ve ruined your walk.’  Susan paused ‘My flat is just across the road. Please let me clean you up properly.  It’s quite nasty, especially when you’ve fallen down on pavements which dogs regularly poo on.  Need to get it sorted pronto.’ He looked directly at her for a few moments before smiling and holding out his hand.  Susan found his accent fascinating.

‘OK, Sheila.  I’m Brett. Show me the way.’

‘I’m not Sheila, I’m a Susan.’ she said.  Brett began laughing and she felt an immediate rapport with him.

‘Where I come from, all women are Sheila’s until proven otherwise, which I guess in your case won’t take long.  Here let me take the dog; it needs a bit of training, so we might as well start now.’

“What did he mean we/” Susan thought.  “Perhaps a slip of the tongue or another ‘Aussieism’?”  They crossed the road, with Fang meekly walking alongside a limping Brett.  Susan opened the front door and gestured the pair in. ‘Please go into the kitchen, straight ahead, whilst I get my first aid kit from the bathroom.’  She ran upstairs, applied a fresh coat of lipstick, brushed her hair and activated a quick squirt of scent before returning.

As she entered the kitchen, Brett was sat with both legs resting on an adjacent chair.  The excitable Fang sat quietly at his feet. Brett was browsing through one of the books that had been sitting on an adjacent dresser.   

‘What did you think of the Falklands campaign then?’ he asked quizzically.  ‘Didn’t think that such writing would appeal to you, especially that other one about the military.’ nodding at the dresser.  Susan took a deep breath.

‘Why cos I’m a Sheila?’  Brett nodded respectfully then smiled.  

‘Touché’

‘Anyway they’re not mine, they belong to my aunt.’  Brett smiled.

‘I think I saw her in the park last week.  You’re both quite similar. Even wear the same sort of distinct yellow trainers’  

Susan could feel herself blushing.  

‘Can I ask you two questions?’ said Brett.  She paused, then nodded.

‘Are you single, and when is your aunt due home again?’

‘Answer your own question first,’ said Susan.  Brett paused.

‘What?  Am I single?  Yeah. Anyway who’d want a burnt out Afghan Aussie?  Now, Susan, it’s your turn to answer.’

‘Which question?’

‘You choose!’.  

Brett’s words permeated her senses.  “This can’t be happening,” she thought, turning her head away, before looking directly back at him.   

‘How about yes to the first, and a maybe to the second.’  Hope he’s not too “burnt out” she thought and smiled as she heard his immediate response.

‘That’ll do me.’ Brett laughed.  ‘Now how about fixing these legs.’

‘My pleasure.’ she said opening her First Aid kit.  

Who Was The Hero

Who Was The Hero?

I have the name of a man I never knew,

Knew as a father, as a man; one of those special few

Who came quietly to these shores, with uniformed others.

Many feared death, others sought lovers.

Was he like me?  Like whom then?

Did he hold me as a child and press his face to mine?

Was I his future, or simply a brief liaison?

My own sons have grown knowing my needs and weaknesses,

What were his?  What was he like?

When I lay wondering in the early dawn

Was he also in some lonely barrack thinking of me?

Or had his mind already closed; his heart sealed forever?

I bear the name of a hero, but what does it mean?

Knowing now, that he did survive, and yet

It was my life that passed unseen by him

Father – what did I do?

Where was my hero, when I needed you?