By Alex Townley
PHIL stared out of the window into the bit of park she could see, which was half children’s playground, and half dumping ground for litter, dog excrement and illicit behaviour, the sort that didn’t require lying down anywhere, which was probably a good thing considering all the dog mess hidden in the long grass.
It all made for better entertainment than the telly some nights and if she was in a devilish mood she would turn out the lights in her little flat and open the curtains to see if anything amusing occurred.
In her youth men could be arrested for that sort of thing, which seemed such a tragedy really. It wasn’t as if it hurt anyone, although some of their faces you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
She’d pondered letting Jacinta in on her little secret, but things were getting a bit frosty on that front recently and the moment never arose.
She hadn’t told Jacinta about the visits from her mother either, or the little men who gathered under the desk lamp on Mondays and Thursdays to hold their raucous meetings.
She very much enjoyed them, even the funny little one at the back who took the minutes.
Jacinta already thought her head was in the clouds, she suggested getting a cat or a bird to look after, but since Phil couldn’t look after herself these days it seemed like Jacinta was the one living in Cloud Cuckoo Land with that idea.
The thing was the other people in the Mews weren’t like her. They didn’t laugh or give you sideways looks when someone else was unintentionally funny. They barely reacted to anything. This was supposed to be a sort of halfway house in old age, something in between for those who had set fire to their own kitchen one too many times, but weren’t quite doubly incontinent just yet.
She glanced over at the kitchen, just in case the little men were up to anything. You couldn’t trust them really. They stole the sugar if you took your eyes off it for too long.
Jacinta had started visiting about a year ago, when she first got her leg ulcers, just to dress them properly, because my did it hurt, she had never known such pain. She had never gone through childbirth, she just had her lovely nephew Jim to worry about, but childbirth didn’t last this long, and at the end of it you got a brand new baby to hold, so it didn’t seem like a fair comparison.
Her mother had been telling her recently that the leg ulcers were probably a portent of doom. She’d become quite superstitious since she’d come back really. Phil couldn’t remember her ever talking like that before, but death could change a person she supposed.
A movement caught her eye on the kitchen counter. It wasn’t a real kitchen, just a kettle and a toaster and a microwave she didn’t know how to operate. Most of her meals came through a delivery service or Jim brought hot fish and chips over with his equally lovely son, which they all enjoyed together on the sofa like they were huddled on a bench at the seaside.
Phil pretended she wasn’t really looking. That was how you had to be with them. Sometimes they were very open. The meetings, and every time they had a drinking session at the full moon, but there were definitely covert operations she wasn’t party to. Maybe they were organised in some sort of sub-committee she didn’t know about.
She couldn’t decide whether it was worth monitoring the situation, taking her seat at the window for the evening, or watching the new episode of Morse. It hurt to move her legs, but really she could do all three from the tall-backed chair, she just had to get to it.
She popped one of the little yellow pills into her mouth and took a sip of cold water, which tasted of dust.
Jacinta had recommended the tablets to her, when she’d seen the ulcers for the first time. They’d been relatively small then. She could swear they were growing a little every time the bandages came off.
She hadn’t had a problem with the pills then (she didn’t have a problem with them now exactly), but over the first few weeks there were oddities. A cactus appeared in her front hall, and her umbrella moved, then moved again.
She didn’t see the first of the little men until just before Christmas. Jim had been over to bring some cards from members of the family who couldn’t manage the journey and she’d just waved him goodbye when she saw one sitting on the windowsill of the little frosted window next to the front door. He’d smiled at her and winked. She hadn’t been afraid, just curious, and she’d reached out to touch his chest. He’d pretended to go for her finger, but they both knew it was in jest, even then on that first meeting, and he’d hopped down, quite the drop, to the floor and run off into the shadows.
She saw more and more of them over the next few days, mostly in the evenings. And then on Christmas Day, just after the delivery people turned up with her turkey dinner, her mother had sat down on the sofa next to her and offered to pull a cracker. It really was the best Christmas present a girl could ask for.
If she were to say something, even to Jim, they might make her stop taking the pills, and then she might not see any of them anymore, and life would become terribly lonely then. She’d turn into one of the other residents, straight faced and empty inside. She might not even want to look out of the window.
She decided to let the little men be. Let them have their fun, and Jim could always bring supplies of sugar. She’d happily sprinkle it on all the surfaces if they would only visit more often. Her mother would complain, but that was fun too. She’d missed that about her.
She eased herself up from her seat and shuffled across the flat to the tall-backed chair. The little yellow pill had kicked in, the pain had eased and she knew she could look forward to an entertaining evening, whichever way she looked. Life really had to be made the most of when you thought about it.
© Alex Townley 2019