The ray of late Autumn sunlight eased its way through a narrow crack in the vertical blind and reflected itself via a polished, metallic likeness of Marylin Monroe, onto the sleeping face of Alice Mollison.
The old woman screwed up her face, blinked a few times, then called to her carer, Gwen, who was busying herself making sandwiches for Alice’s lunch. Gwen called in twice a day; morning, to get Alice out of bed, dressed, watered and fed, and in the evening to get her tea and into her night clothes.
Alice slept in a bed in the corner of the room, the stairs being a mission too far nowadays for the soon to be Centenarian.
Gwen came through from the kitchen.
‘What is it, my lovely?’
‘Can you shut that bloody sunlight off? It’s burning out my corneas.’
Gwen stepped across the room and adjusted the blind.
‘How’s that? We shouldn’t really be complaining about the sun coming out. We’ve had weeks of rain. I’m taking my Gareth out for a walk in the park this afternoon. You don’t know when we’ll see it again. I think—’
‘It felt like a laser beam on my eyelids,’ Alice interrupted. ‘It’s still hot now, here, feel.’
Gwen went back to her sandwich making.
‘Jessica will be here soon, won’t she? It’s Wednesday.’
Alice brightened. Jessica was her great granddaughter, a kindred spirit. She was a clone of Alice when she was that age. She always looked forward to her company. She was bright, engaging, and an aspiring novelist to boot. She read pieces of her work in progress to Alice at least once a week. Sadly, the novel that Jessica knew was inside her had yet to surface. Her laptop was filled with half finished manuscripts, story ideas and plotlines. She liked to be called, Jess, but Alice wouldn’t comply with her request.
‘Jessica is the name on your birth certificate, so Jessica, you remain,’ she had said.
Alice turned to her left and took a small make-up mirror from the drawer in the narrow, walnut, side table. She studied her face intently.
‘Not bad for almost a hundred,’ she mused. She turned her head this way and that. ‘If you can see past the folds of wrinkles and liver spots.’
In her youth, Alice had been a beauty. Everyone said so. Not the filler-assisted beauty of the present day, more of a classic beauty, like the wartime film star, Rita Hayworth with whom she had been favourably compared.
‘Good legs, good bust, nice arse and a face to die for,’ as Ada Blunt, the landlord’s wife of The Old Bull, had once described her. ‘She’ll come down to earth with a bump,’ she had added, as though she was a clairvoyant.
Alice still had a good head of hair, albeit an almost translucent white. It fell to just below the nape of her neck and was swept back at the sides, held in place with hairpins. She patted it into shape and returned the mirror to the drawer.
She sighed. She hated old age and everything it brought with it, even though she had been extremely lucky with her health. There had been no major illnesses, no cancers, no eye problems, not since she had had the laser surgery at least. There had been no hypertension, no real problems with osteoarthritis, and thankfully, best of all, no Alzheimer’s or Dementia. Alice’s mind was sharp as a tack. When she was awake that was. Her ‘forty winks’ were becoming more and more frequent.
She eased herself up in her chair, reached behind and adjusted the two cushions that had become a permanent feature as Gwen returned to the room carrying a plate of sandwiches and a flask of tea.
‘There you go, my lovely. That should see you through to this evening. I’m sure Jessica will get you anything you need in between.’ She pointed to the commode that sat in the corner opposite the bed. ‘Would you like to go before she gets here?’
Alice grimaced. The commode was the thing she despised most about old age. She’d give half of what was left of her life to be able to use a proper flushing toilet. She had a stairlift to get upstairs but no longer had the strength in her legs to get her there, even with her walker.
‘Have you ever seen me on the commode, even once in all the time you’ve been coming here?’ she asked.
‘No, but I just thought I’d ask. Just in case. There’s a first time for everything.’ Gwen replied.
‘I’m neither immobile nor incapable,’ Alice retorted. ‘Even Jessica doesn’t get to see me defecate or urinate. I do have some private moments, few as they are.’ Alice continued as though Gwen hadn’t spoken.
The carer picked up her bag and walked to the lounge door.
‘See you tonight then. I’m off to see old Mr Hathersage now, bless him.’ Ben Hathersage was bedbound. Gwen always added the epithet whenever she spoke about him. ‘Bed bath today.’ She shuddered. ‘That won’t be pleasant, he’s incontinent.’
‘Well, you always seem to want to watch me poo,’ said Alice, with a little glint in her eye.
Gwen turned away. ‘See you later then.’
She stopped and turned as Alice called her name. The old woman smiled a short smile and nodded to the carer. Gwen winked, nodded back in acknowledgement and walked along the passage towards the front door.
‘Cranky old bugger,’ she said, chuckling to herself.
Alice adjusted the cushions again and looked up at the clock. She despised that almost as much as the commode. All too frequently these days, she’d sit and watch it tick her life away as she listened to Classic FM on the new DAB radio that Jessica had bought her for her ninety-ninth.
‘Damn clock. Damn time.’
The clock was saved from further abuse when Gwen suddenly appeared again.
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