He dozed as he waited for Meals on Wheels. He/d hear them, no worry about that – the squeaking rear brake shoe, the click of the old cyclone gate, the chink of the soup ladle. They’d bring it in cheerful but hurried. Two ladles of soup sloshed in the cracked soup bowl he had ready on the table, orange juice in the smeary glass (the home help doesn’t come until tomorrow – everything spic and span then, even the glass)
The home help, now there’s a right little bottler! Single mum, but not single enough for her own good seemingly, I mean one may be a mistake but two is bloody careless! But a good sort, A good little worker – And when she bends over to clean the bath… He thinks of other times and other bums. There was that girl in Brussels in ’44, his first. He had never seen a naked girl before. But that was during the war and his mind flooded with other less pleasant memories. He saw Corporal Spencer, before he helped them bury him; neat, almost dapper, a look of surprise on his livid face. Parade smart except that his left arm was missing from the shoulder. Maybe they forgot to bring it to the ceremony, maybe they couldn’t find it.
Funny the way you could mislay things. How about his glasses. Gone for a week. He wondered how he was supposed to look for something without his glasses. Catch 22 – Now there was a book! That recurring description of the death of Snowden, each
account becoming more gruesome; when they opened up his flight suit all his innards fell out. He’d seen a bloke like that in Normandy, a German he was, but a nasty death for all that. Better not think about that just before lunch. He chuckled grimly to himself. They should be here any time.
He didn’t drive now. He pondered about that. The traffic, his eyesight. Now it was the train – on a good day – if he could walk to the station. And then the tram – if he could climb in. They call them trams – silly single-deckers! He thought of the trams of his London childhood – great queenly things. They looked huge and top-heavy especially to a seven-year-old. And his memory child skipped up the twisting staircase of an old London tram to the top deck and ran along the aisle, flipping forward the swinging backs of the hard slat seats. He remembered them well. The old trams could be driven from each end. They never turned them round – just changed ends, and flipped the backs of the seats to face the right way. You could make it really cosy for a foursome when you arranged two seats to face each other.
His stomach rumbled. They were late today. He hoped the food would not be cold. He wondered what he would get. There was quite a variety. The only thing you could be sure of was fish on Friday. For the Catholics he supposed. But it was good fish, quite a big fillet of some fine grained white fish. And never any bones. And then there was that tiny little foil pack of lemon juice which squirted all over the place if you got impatient.
Sally could always cook a good bit of fish, bless her. She was a good cook, better by far than he was. He remembered back to those dreadful days, To when she went to the hospital and never returned. She never had liked hospitals. He didn’t suppose he did himself when he came to think of it. His mind went back to the army hospital – cor! the nurses!. Rows and rows of randy soldiers. They weren’t poor sick old men. They were very healthy WOUNDED men. The whistles and the cat-calls sounded in his ears still. It was a different story with the Matron. No one would ever dare. She was so tough that she made the sergeant-major look like a cream puff.
Where were they? He felt peevish. It wasn’t right. He was hungry now. He would be getting that hungry heartburn again. His stomach was sounding like a bowling alley. Rumble rumble rumble. He thought that he might phone them, but he felt intimidated by the buttons. Newfangled thing, it never seems to come out right lately. And they sounded so cross when he got a wrong number. No respect nowadays. That is young people for you, No consideration. Of course the, meals on wheels people weren’t young. Nearly as old as their customers most of them. It was nice that. He would love to have a bit of a chat but they were always in a hurry. They weren’t hurrying today!
The pain in his chest was getting worse. A really nasty bout of indigestion. Funny that. There was nothing there to digest. He had forgotten about breakfast, the toast sitting burnt in the toaster. He began to fantasise about food. He remembered his mothers cooking – the dumplings – the suet puddings – roast beef on a Sunday, with Yorkshire pudding. Colemans Mustard. Father sharpening his carving knife. The shh shh shh of the blade on the steel. Carving the meat, laying the slices neatly on the plates to be passed to Mother dishing out the vegetables, all the kids on their best behaviour. Apple pie and cream.
He remembered that ice-cream was unheard of, except from ice-cream carts in the summer. Things were different then. He remembered a Muffin man, a strange figure in a long overcoat his large square tray of muffins carried on his head. And Whelk and cockle stalls at the seaside. Ah, the seaside. The bucket and spade. Sandcastles with a real moat, filled with water from the bucket. The tin spade would always bend with the weight of wet sand but the tin bucket, with its garish colours. Not Plastic. No plastic. And a sudden nostalgia wracked his body. His eyes closed.
Two women stood – waiting.
“Knock again Elsie.”
“Right, I’ll give it one more go.”
“If he doesn’t answer soon we had better phone the office.”
“Don’t worry, he is probably just dozing.”
© copyright H.St.V.Beechey 1990