Gray Hairs made Happy
Tuesday’s dawn was more subtle than the day before, the colours of the sun rising being gently filtered through the low clouds; they’d only dissipate once the sun was high enough in the sky to burn them off. Sat in her usual spot on the terrace, Edna put aside her shawl and reached for her café con leche. Yesterday’s churros were a touch stale, but perfectly adequate when dipped into the hot milky liquid.
She enjoyed the peace & quiet of Tuesdays and Thursdays – the in between days when Carmen didn’t come. Carmen – her angel – who came three days a week to clean, to cook, to take Edna to the market for provisions, and to cheerfully carry out any other tasks needed now Edna herself was less able. It had been a wrench to move from the big house on the coast, filled as it was with memories of Russ and their retirement together. But it was not only too big, the weather was cooler up here in the mountains, and all their friends had died too or moved back home to live near their children.
She’d first met Carmen at the Smiths, handing around canapes. The day of the Smith’s farewell bash, she’d found her shedding a quiet tear, and discovered that she was to return to her mountainside family home once the Smiths had left. Feeling for the distressed woman, Edna had asked her about life in the mountains. It was to be the first of many conversations they would have, and when Edna found new owners for the big house, she’d followed Carmen to the mountains.
The sale of the big house and the purchase of the little one had all taken time – as is the way in Spanish property transactions. Fortunately she had the support of Carmen and her local contacts, otherwise buying the little house would never have happened. She’d needed to gain the formal agreement of so many local dignitaries, to her – a foreigner – buying a property in their small town. She’d long ago obtained formal residency status, but becoming a Spanish national simply wasn’t an option open to her.
Today Edna planned to clean and polish her silver tea service. Carmen had pulled out the trunk from beneath her bed and she’d selected a few pieces she wanted to display. Of course it had taken a long time to carry out that simple task, for Carmen had wanted to see everything, asking for the stories behind them and about the memories they held. They’d not got much else done, but it had been a good day. Those memories were now old enough not to cause sadness – which is why she’d put all those beautiful things away in the trunk. Carmen, clever Carmen, had known that now the time was right.
The tea set was the first of the trunk’s contents to be displayed in her little house. Carmen had offered to clean it, but Edna was keen to give it a try for this was her best time. It was long enough after the brief damp and colder months of winter for her arthritic knuckles to have recovered some movement, but not yet so hot that she’d become easily fatigued. And she loved that tea set – it brought back so many happy memories of her life with Russ.
Of course, in those days she’d not have been bothered with the cleaning and polishing of silver – or indeed of anything. Their spacious homes always ran as efficiently and smoothly as a Swiss clock, thanks to a fleet of loyal and highly skilled staff. Without the worry of its upkeep, it was one of Edna’s joys to use the tea set on those rare occasions she and Russ were able to take afternoon tea alone.
Their lives in India had been such a social whirl, those were such precious moments to her. Russ loved the spotlight – she’d loved him dearly, but wasn’t blind to his vanity and need for constant attention. She was no shrinking violet herself, gaining quite the buzz from entertaining. Their home was regularly filled with people – old friends and new, maharajahs and hippies, all mixed together. Edna’s parties were famed, for she was quite the hostess. The details mattered and Edna never missed a single one.
But those days were long gone and Edna loved her quiet life in her little house in the mountains. Soon she’d set up at her table, spread out an old towel, put out her cleaning and polishing materials, and get to work. Right now though, she would enjoy the sunrise, the warmth of her café con leche, the crunch of the churros – the little details that made her new life so filled with joy.
© Debra Carey, 2021
Three men on the bummel
Mother sat at the desk, turning the chair so that she could look at her eldest son, lounging on his bed. He put down the book he was reading so that she could see him giver her his undivided attention. Thankful for small mercies, she was pleased to see that it was actually made, although she wondered why he wasn’t sat in the armchair he had made such a fuss over when he was fourteen. Time passes, she thought sadly.
It had been a difficult year: she’d been delighted to have Tophe home again, but equally grateful he’d been able to get back to university for at least some of his studies. The advantage of an engineering degree and the requirement for practicals. Thinking back to her own university days, some thirty years before, she felt sorry for those reading for their degrees in the middle of the pandemic. It must be a very different experience; the lack of opportunities to socialise and network would have an impact for some time to come.
“I’m really not sure that this is a good idea, Tophe. I know you can take care of yourself, but Jonno and Tom are too young.”
“I thought you might say that, ma.” Of her three sons, Tophe had the best people skills and she girded her mental loins, readying herself to be managed. She was determined to be firm in her resolution that her middle and youngest should not join in with what was clear foolishness. “But I do have a short list of things that I think you should listen to. Firstly, we obviously can’t make the trip this year, so we’ve got a year to plan it all out, make really good preparations, and do the thing properly. Secondly, some responsibility will do them both good – something you’ve said yourself, many times over.” This could have been said with irritating earnestness, but Tophe was far too relaxed an individual for that. “Thirdly, the opportunity to practice their German will do them both good – again, you’ve always said that a second language is essential and if you don’t use it, you lose it.”
Mother inwardly rolled her eyes. It was too much, having your own words pushed back at you like this.
“Fourthly, our planned itinerary includes some notable galleries for Jonno, and Tom and I are discussing what he might like to visit. I’ve scheduled some stops of engineering interest for me.” His eyes twinkled; he was about to deliver what he thought of as the coup de grace, she realised. “And fifthly, you did something very similar when you were our age.”
“That was before Brexit! Everybody was doing Interrail! And I wasn’t as young as Tom!”
“All good points, Mother, but if we stopped doing things because of Brexit, then we end up closed off, and they win. Interrail is still available, and we’re planning on taking advantage of that to get us across Europe. Tom has a good head on his shoulders, and Jonno and I will both be there.” He remained calm. He wasn’t going to end up in an argument with his mother.
His mother sighed, and looked reproachfully at the battered hardback sat on the desk. A gift from – was she Tophe’s girlfriend? or a good friend who happened to be a girl? – it was an early edition of Jerome K. Jerome’s follow-up to ‘Three men in a boat’. It sat atop a neat pile of notes and had itself been marked up with post-its in technicolour profusion. She wished she knew what the colour-coding signified. She sighed again.
“Don’t let this trip turn into a farce,” she said resignedly.
© David Jesson, 2021