For a while I had a job which involved taking photos of OAP's and I often wondered about the lives they might lead...this is a short story about just that.
The toes flop out from beneath the heavy feather duvet, feeling for the floor like a pair of newborn blind things, uncertain and wary of the world. They point down, dipping into the air slowly, as if into the chilly waters of the channel, which rock and heave just a short walk away. Nails flaked and yellowed beneath a clumsily applied layer of frosted pearl nail varnish lead the way to moccasins, the leather shiny with use. A watery light filters through the pattern of the curtains, providing enough illumination to avoid turning on the bedside lamp. Bunions slip out of sight and it is only then that the rest of the body emerges, slowly, with creaks and complaints, dismayed to be doing it all again. Evelyn Wainright and her body have fallen out these last few years; they don’t see eye to eye.
She perches on the edge of the bed, finally upright, pausing at the shock of gravity. This is always the hardest part, the morning. At least she has stopped feeling the empty space next to her, willing the worn, warm body of her Albert to be there. She’s grateful that time has been kind, erasing the memory of his cold lips as she kissed them goodbye, before they sealed the oak casket. It wouldn’t have been decent to bury him in anything cheap, Albert had standards, and even in death she felt obliged to honour them. No, it wasn’t that last kiss that she sighed over. Instead she allowed her mind to drift backwards, to Morecambe Bay; those fledgling days as husband and wife. Such magical words, transforming them from lovesick teenagers to a unit of two. Fingers intertwined they had strolled beside the waves, thrilling in the novelty of each other. And for them the feeling lasted, even when novelty slipped into familiarity. Windswept and sea salty Morecambe Bay was the reason they came here in the end; looking to find that same happiness for their twilight years. Albert had always loved the sea. Janet laughed when she’d told her where they were going at his retirement party, “Mum, Brighton is full of students and crazy hippies, what’s wrong with Devon or Cornwall? There’ll be loads more people your age there.” Evelyn had wanted to slap her daughter then, instead she said, “Your father and I want to stay active.” As if that explained everything. Truth be told she hadn’t fancied Brighton much herself, it had all been Albert’s idea. But now she wouldn’t be anywhere else in the country. Her twice yearly visits up to Bristol were a trial, missing the shush of the waves and the unique buzz of the seaside town. Janet had begged her to move up there after Albert passed away but she’d said no. What she hadn’t told her was that she needed to be in a place that had so many visitors. She needed fresh faces and new smiles. She needed her audience to change daily; because her stories changed with every sunrise and in a place where everyone knew you after a time she would be caught out. Now it had to be Brighton, because her stories were what she looked forward to each day.
“Well, I can’t sit here all morning”, she says to the empty room, half hoping for an answer. Silence snuffles around the slippered feet, gently she kicks it away. With a soft plop she’s standing and the day truly begins. These moments before she leaves the bedroom behind are savoured. This is her dressing room. Brighton is her stage. She is getting ready for her performance, using the solitude to find that space insider her head where confidence lives, confidence to get out there and pretend. For a good five minutes Evelyn stands stretching her arms high into the air. Up and down. Up and down. Because today is special she bends low, aiming fingertips at the feet, getting as far as her knees before the tendons rebel, still she holds the stretch there breathing deeply. With a “humph” she’s back upright and heading to the mirror. For a woman of seventy two she can, and frequently does get away with being ten years younger. The hair dye helps. They say that as you age you should go lighter but that is nonsense, Evelyn knows the auburn shade she favours is the key to her success. It brings out the hazel of her eyes, flecked with tiny spots of amber. Tiger eyes, Albert called them. Playfully she pulls at the skin either side, instant face lift, eyes open wide to catch the light, what there is of it. “I’m a tardy one this morning” she says, pulling the dressing gown off the back of the chair, wrapping it tightly round her body. It wouldn’t be right to open the curtains in her nightdress alone. Even though it is a second floor flat, standards must be maintained. With a flourish she pulls back the patterned fabric, and daylight floods the room. No dust dares settle; instead it floats in motes on the air, dancing away from surfaces cleaned daily. She swishes her hand through a beam of light and watches the motes scatter and weave, admiring their agility and pining for her own. “Still, not bad for my seventh decade, eh Evelyn?” she tells herself before heading to the bathroom for the first of twice daily ablutions. The cleansing ritual has five steps, ending with a generous amount of anti wrinkle cream. Albert had always admired her skin, even now in her dreams he would visit and whisper in her ear, “Evie my love, you’re as soft and scrumptious as ice-cream.” Often she would wake up giggling with a blush creeping over her cheeks. Today had not been one of those mornings, which was a pity. The encouragement would have been nice.
The air follows her out of the bathroom, scented, as she is, with vanilla and roses. The smell is old and young all at the same time, like apples on an ancient tree. Now the hands go to work, the nails painted the same frosted peach, but neater than on the feet. Next the face is hidden behind a mask of gunk and goo as Albert called it. He liked her best without the make-up. “Gunk and goo, where are you?” she sings quietly as she hunts for the essential ingredients to turn her into a Russian matriarch, a Brazilian ex-pat and a Bulgarian lace maker, all of which she will be today. When she goes out on her story telling expeditions she’s always careful about the look. It has to be plausible for each person and the life they’ve lived; there is purpose to the charade and no room for public humiliation. Especially not today; today is her wedding anniversary and in honour of Albert the Bulgarian lace maker will be crafting a veil for a society wedding; something timeless and classy just like he was.
On the coffee table in the living room sits a pile of travel guides and history books, biographies, anything that will help her get the details right, she doesn’t simply make it all up, that would be foolish. Her wide choice of subject matter confounds the librarians, “Mrs Wainright, you do have broad reading tastes”, they say every visit. Whether it is a compliment or a question she can never tell, but she always gives the same response coupled with a smile, “Thank you, it keeps me occupied since my dear Albert passed away.”