“I’ll fetch Mac,” she says
“He doesn’t want to join in but he’ll watch.”
I ask if he’s new.
“He’s 99,” she says.
The door swings softly shut
And I’m left to bring colour and activity
into the impersonal institutional room.
We cover the bright splashes of garish
Pretend paint on plastic
with blue paper to protect
Delicate eyes and fragile minds.
She returns without Mac but with Constance
who stares at me with a half smile of recognition,
and sits with practised complicity
on the chair nearest me,
accepting my offer of colouring book and crayons.
A tall lath of smiling energy,
he shakes my hand and aims for the
Blue vinyl sofa, a safe distance from where
We work on the small table.
Constance is lost in the concentration
Of colouring petals first red then green.
Unable to resist the empty chair at the table,
Mac joins us.
“I’m 99” he says in the way that commands
respect for the numeric milestone.
He gets it.
“I’ve been wearing glasses since I was 4yrs old.
They’re no good for playing rough games.”
It sounds like an apology.
“I was Cumberland and Westmorland Swimming Champion.”
It’s not. It’s an explanation.
“I played tennis” shares Constance without looking up.
This is the first personal thing I know about her.
“It’s how I met my husband. He asked if he could play with me.
I had to laugh but he didn’t mean it in that way!”
She looks up. Her open mischevious grin completes a shared circle.
“We got married in Cannock at the big church.”
“I met my wife when we started cycling club the same night.
We cycled 100 miles on a Sunday.
We got married in 1939 in Kendal. Three days later war broke out.
I was conscripted. I wouldn’t have joined up.”
“As you know, I was a shorthand typist. I was in the WAAFs.
I wasn’t really in the war but I did climb on a tank once.”
I didn’t know. Constance puts down her crayons.
“I started at English Electric then a solicitors then BRC.”
We compliment Constance on her delicately shaded flowers
“I’m not much for flowers or gardening,” says Mac,
but a glimpse of an empty sunflower brightens
a shared memory of French fields.
“Yes, I’ve seen those. I’ve travelled all over.
I was an engineer stationed in Italy. We went to Naples, Rome all over.
Then I fixed anti-aircraft guns along the South Coast from Dover…
To I don’t remember where.”
“I loved being a shorthand typist.
I wrote a play. It didn’t go anywhere.
It was set on the South Coast.
It was a romance.
I like to explore people, you know;
Think about their character.”
Dawn Jutton, Feb 2016