by Cath Barton
Mrs Myfanwy Pritchard edged from the bathroom into her bedroom and lowered herself onto the end of her bed. From there she looked down on the dark of the park. Soon it would be ablaze with lights and from her perch she would have the best view in town of the firework display. Mrs Myfanwy Pritchard started, experimentally, swinging her legs. She found, to her surprise, that it was easy. She continued to swing her legs as she watched the people gathering in the park, and something she hadn’t felt for a long time started to rise in her. Something that she might have called excitement if there had been anyone there to tell and she could have remembered the word.
Mrs Myfanwy Pritchard noticed, as she swung her legs, that there was a length of toilet paper dangling from somewhere. She shrugged and pulled out from the pocket of her apron a packet of sweets which William Evans had given her after she’d refused to eat the cottage pie he’d warmed up for her earlier. As she ripped it open the sweets tumbled out of the packet and onto the carpet. Except for one, which she stuck in her mouth.
William Evans had been Mrs Pritchard’s 5 o’clock carer that day. She did not like male carers. She didn’t like them seeing down there, although all William Evans had done that afternoon was heat up a cottage pie in the microwave and make a cup of tea.
‘Nice cup of tea for you Mrs. P,’ he’d said in the sing-song way he used to all the old people. ‘Going to watch the fireworks tonight are we?’
Mrs Myfanwy Pritchard had said nothing. She was stone deaf and refused to wear a hearing aid. She stuck out her chin and puckered her lips obediently as William Evans lifted the cup. A visible shudder passed through his body as he did so and Mrs Myfanwy Pritchard gave him one of her looks. She knew nothing of William Evans’ life. She certainly did not know that he’d suddenly had that feeling of someone walking over his grave, and that for a moment he was back in The Church of the Holy Family, passing the cup for the Reverend Pugh to raise to the lips of the faithful, and watching the distaste of the cleric as he wiped off the red smear on the rim before offering the cup to the next supplicant.
‘Drink up,’ he said, smiling but tensing the hand which held the cup.
Mrs Myfanwy Pritchard slurped the tea, apparently oblivious to his abrupt tone. William Evans glanced over his shoulder at the clock to see how much time he had before his shift was over and he could go to watch the fireworks like everyone else. His hand jerked and tea dripped down Mrs Myfanwy Pritchard’s cardigan.
‘Now look what you’ve done!’ he shouted.
Mrs Myfanwy Pritchard leant back in her chair and closed her eyes against the carer and the limitations of old age that she so resented. William Evans checked that the pie was not so piping hot that it would burn the old lady’s mouth and leant towards her with a spoonful. She wrinkled her nose as she smelled it. If she could have thought fast enough and had had the strength, she would have lifted her arm and lobbed the spoonful, indeed the whole dish, off the table. As it was she held her mouth and eyes firmly sealed until she felt a change in the air and knew that the carer must have left the room.
As he shut the door of the flat William Evans hesitated for a moment, because, in his annoyance and rush, he had failed to offer to take Mrs Myfanwy Pritchard to the toilet. But he did not turn back.
‘Stuff it,’ he said out loud, for there was no-one in earshot. ‘The old bat can sodding well manage on her own.’
Mrs Myfanwy Pritchard felt, rather than heard, the slam of her front door. She shuffled in her chair. She was feeling uncomfortable and knew, though she no longer had the words for it, that she needed to go to the toilet. She pressed her hands on the arms of the chair, tensed her shoulders, levered herself onto her feet and began the long slow journey to the bathroom. She did not use her walking frame. Such things, in her opinion, were for namby-pambies. Sometimes she fell. She didn’t mind falling, it reminded her of the riding days of her youth, and someone always arrived eventually to pick her up. It was a bit more company, even if they did tell her off. But on this occasion it would have been inconvenient to fall because she did not want to miss the firework display, so Mrs Myfanwy Pritchard shuffled along with more care than usual.
Now, having more or less successfully negotiated her trip to the toilet, Mrs Myfanwy Pritchard was sucking her sweet. She wondered why William Evans had only left her one. She would have to make it last as long as possible. The taste of it slowly dissolving in her mouth reminded her of the time—she couldn’t remember how old she was—when all the children were given marshmallows on sticks; they had turned brown in the fire and tasted like treacle and all the parents had thrown up their hands in horror at the mess.
Down in the park children were whirling sparklers, and the pallets piled up for the bonfire had been set alight. As she watched the flames licking round the feet of the guy Mrs Myfanwy Pritchard recalled another year when there had been something that exploded inside a bonfire and she and all the other children had run around screaming and screaming with delight and fear all mixed up.
Mrs Myfanwy Pritchard saw a man in the park look up at her window, smile in a way that was somehow familiar to her and wave. She waved back, wondering where she had seen him before. She had already forgotten that William Evans had told her he was going to the park to see the fireworks. Then she rocked on the edge of her bed and watched the silent explosions of lights over the park, until there was only a misty swirl of half-remembered pictures in her mind and a lingering sweet taste in her mouth.
Cath Barton is an English writer and photographer who lives in Wales. The winner of the AmeriCymru Prize for the Novella 2017 for The Plankton Collector, she is also active in the online flash fiction community. Recent publication credits include Apples and Pears in The Ham, The Tea-Time Visitors in Story Shack and This is all it takes in Firefly Magazine. Cath is also a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.