The Despatcher manoeuvred the wheelchair into the Carriage’s disabled bay. “Many thanks,” said the chair’s occupant, an elderly woman. Another woman in early middle age, fussed around her.
“All part of the service!” replied the Despatcher, “Enjoy your trip to the seaside.”
“He was a bit rough,” the old woman said to her companion, “Nearly had my eye out with his whistle.”
The companion said nothing. She took off her wire framed glasses and wiped the lenses on the dark grey fleece she was wearing. She looked tired and in all honesty fed up.
The Despatcher took several minutes to free the chair ramp. Once he had released it, he let out a pert peep on his whistle and the train pulled away.
The old woman carried a small potted plant in her liver spotted hands. I could not tell you what type of plant it was. It was colourful. She stroked the plant and said, “Like the view Arthur? I told you we would make one more train journey together.”
My daughter Millie looked up from her colouring book and tugged at the cuff of my shirt.
“That old woman. Is she going to die?”
“No. Not yet darling. But it won’t be long by the look of things.”
“Thought so. Can I have some more chocolate?”
I handed Millie her third segment of Chocolate Orange. My wife had forbade chocolate on our excursion to the Zoo, but we don’t often go on trips together and why can’t a Dad spoil his little Princess? Besides, who doesn’t like to tap and unwrap?
The old woman looked at me and said, “That child will be sick if you keep giving her chocolate.”
A smile spread across the old woman’s craggy features. The top set of her bleached dentures rattled slightly as she spoke to Millie, “Hello my dear. Where are you going? “
“Zoo. To see the Penguins,” Millie replied.
“I think you are the prettiest child I have ever seen!” Said the old woman, “But if you keep eating all that chocolate you may develop chronic diabetes and become morbidly obese. Not to mention lose your teeth!”
She smiled broadly. Her left hand fell off.
I gasped and broke wind. I hoped nobody noticed. Millie laughed.
Her flushed companion reattached the prosthetic and said to me, “Sorry about that, it’s a bit worn and loose.”
“That’s OK,” I replied, unsure what to say.
The old woman, checking the quality of the reattachment, asked Millie what her name was, “Millie? That’s a lovely name. My name is Mary and this is my daughter Eileen.”
“You’re old. Are you going to die soon? My Dad thinks you are.”
Mary laughed “Death comes to us all Millie my dear. I am prepared, but hopefully not for a day or two. We have a trip to the seaside first! Do you like the seaside?”
“Yes!” replied Millie, “Sandcastles!”
“North Cornwall usually,” I said. I lied, normally it is Devon.
“Your Daddy is a bit fat isn’t he Millie? Does he smoke? The stains on his teeth tell me he does.”
“No,” I replied, before Millie could say anything. I had given up for New Year. I was pleased with my willpower, apart from when I had a crafty one.
Mary turned to her daughter, “Any news about Betty?”
“Did she find her eye?”
“In the freezer.”
“She’s so careless that girl.”
Mary looked down at the plant, “How are you Arthur?”
I swear the plant shook gently in response.
“That’s good.” Mary shaded the plant with her hand. A flapping tongue of handkerchief protruded from the sleeve of the white cardigan she wore. I shuddered at the thought of mucus on my wrist.
“Is Dad OK?” Eileen asked. Mary looked wistful, “Grand. He’s excited about being on a train again. He loved his trains. The hours he spent in the loft with his train set. ……What he couldn’t recreate in Papier Mache……….. Do you remember that time he got his head stuck in his replica Channel Tunnel!”
“How could we forget!” Eileen appeared to relax in her mother’s company.
“Never liked the Sun much though.Brought him out in hives.”
“I know Mum.”
“I’m glad I could bring him. He loved the seaside. Hated the water, the sand and the Sun of course, but loved everything else. And he didn’t need a ticket, him being a pot plant now. Loved Violets he did. I think he needs a drop of Baby Bio by the looks of things. I do miss him Eileen.”
“I know Mum. We all do.”
Mary stroked the petals of the pot plant or Arthur as I now thought of it. She appeared deep in thought, “Yes love. He certainly loved his train set. And having his way with me. He was insatiable. Right up to his Seventieth. No wonder I ended up in this Chair!”
Mary pulled the handkerchief from her cardigan sleeve, wiped a tear and blew her nose before rehousing it. Again I shuddered at the thought of damp mucus on my skin.
“Daddy,” Millie asked,
“Yes?” I dreaded the question.
“How long will it be before I am old?”
“A long time yet.”
I was relieved. She hadn’t asked that question.
“I think I’m going to be sick.”
It was by the Lion’s den that Millie asked me what insatiable meant. I bought her an ice cream. She forgot to ask again.
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