Friends

20 November 2017

LET'S GO TO THE BALL

Let's Go To The Ball


In 1954 Patrick and I did the journey to Capecastle to celebrate his parents ruby wedding, a grand affair with a marquee and a slap-up meal and attended, it seemed, by the entire population of Northern Ireland.

'A great fuss,' grumbled Patrick, who was not keen on crowded functions. Nevertheless, he didn't mind joining his four brothers for after-dinner drinks … half a crate of Bushmills whiskey which was probably still illicit. And he didn't mind staying in bed the whole of the following day and night, cursing the pain in his head and blaming me for allowing it to happen.

Well, I enjoyed the anniversary party but if you were to ask me what I ate or to outline the topics discussed around the table I'd be hard pressed to remember. What does come to mind was the decision of the Portrush group to attend the village ball. It would be a perfect end to a perfect day. Or so I was led to believe.

My dress was ideal for a ball being ankle-length and created from shimmering pink parachute silk, though the high-heeled satin shoes were hardly fit for walking the dark and muddy lanes. Patrick assured me that I looked like a princess. I took that with a pinch of salt considering his inebriated condition.

Brimming over with jollity, we arrived at the dance hall. I remember turning the corner of the lane and seeing the single lantern over the door of a wooden hut. And I remember the mirth deserting my soul. I had expected more than a decrepit shack to dance in. I had expected to be whirling around a Casino-type place in the arms of my well-oiled husband.

One of the brothers took my arm and guided me towards the entrance. Patrick trailed behind singing Baa Baa Black Sheep. I was mortified when we reached the door and Patrick began chanting, Yes, sir; Yes, sir, three bags full, to the amusement of the man on the door. I was so humiliated ... and was even more so when the doorkeeper seized my left hand and quick as a flash imprinted the back with a black-ink date stamp. My entrance ticket, I was told, and a pass-out. I complained bitterly about the mess but was reassured that the ink would eventually wash off. The word ‘eventually’ bothered me no end.

Inside that glorified shed, straight-backed wooden chairs were arranged in rows on two sides, with a single chair bang in the middle of the floor. A red-cheeked, robust individual with a shillelagh under his arm paced to and fro inspecting the floor and shouting instructions to an elderly man in a grey cap and tweed jacket who was scattering chalk like he was feeding the fowl.

And then the band arrived. 'Here's the band,' Patrick cried, as one man and his fiddle sauntered towards the chair in the centre of the room. I closed my eyes, convinced I was hallucinating, but opened them again when the first musical strains hit the air. The fiddler was standing on the wobbly chair, tapping one hob-nailed boot in tune to an Irish jig, his red polka-dot kerchief crumpled between the fiddle and his chin. Around him ruddy-faced farmers, fingers dyed blue with crop spray, danced at arms-length with their wives, solemn-faced women, straight-legged and aloof.

Totally bewildered, I joined Patrick and the brothers on the hard chairs and bemoaned my fate. I felt like an overdressed dummy though Patrick continued to assure me I was the belle of the ball. If he could've transferred his intoxication to the poker-faced couples on the chalk-strewn floor, I would have been better pleased. If he had been sober, my presence in a room smelling of classrooms and wood yards might have been more tolerable. And then I saw the funny side of it. I started to laugh, and Patrick laughed, and the brothers joined in. The fiddle-player grinned and broke into a livelier jig. And I wouldn't have missed the experience for the world.

So when I am asked what my in-laws ruby wedding was like, I reply with truth that it was a remarkable affair. But it's not the event that comes to mind, it's the jolly-faced fiddle player with the polka-dot kerchief and the amiable grin.

Please note that this is almost a true story; although I was there and at that dance I felt obliged to change all names

19 November 2017

Confusion Reigns!

This is a follow-up of my last post, written because one of you might have an inkling as to what I should do. I think this is the first time in my life that I have been so flummoxed. 

I am still wondering what to do for the best ... something or nothing? On hearing what doctor said friend, Judy, instructed me to phone the hospital for the result. I waited for the weekend to pass rather than upset the hospital staff by phoning on their days off!!! So, to be prepared for making a Monday phone call, I fished out the letter received before I had the procedure. 

Below is a photo of the instructions received from hospital prior to gastroscopy (not endoscopy as quoted on  earlier post). There is a list of do's and don'ts but it distinctly says 'copy report will be sent to doctor within 10-14 days'.  It goes on to say PLEASE DO NOT TELEPHONE US TO FIND OUT RESULTS. 
Which begs the question, if the doctor says it is not his responsibility to give me the results, whose flippin' responsibility is it?



17 November 2017

ENDOSCOPY RESULT


It is three weeks since I had the endoscopy (a camera inserted in the gullet). At the time, after I had been dealt with, I was told by the head technician that the result would be known in ten days. 

This was a different hospital and better than the one where the gall bladder was scanned. At that time, I was told the result on the spot and the doctor knew the next day. I too received a letter from the hospital to say no problem had been found. The doctor had the same letter and promptly phoned me up with the good news. It was then he persuaded me to consider having the camera scan to find out if anything else could be found to warrant the pain I’d been in.

This second examination had a longer wait before the verdict was known. Ten days, they said. Ten days came and went and I heard nothing except a lot of jokes that no news was good news. I got to thinking the same for a while but after three weeks elapsed I began to feel concerned. My friend nagged me to get in touch with the surgery, which I did. She has to hold my hand sometimes!

Test results and the like means ringing the doctor’s secretary so that the doctor doesn’t get interrupted in the good work he’s doing. A big exclamation mark at this point  
!

I decided that today was the day I stopped being a coward and ring the surgery for the result of the scan. The system at our surgery is to go through the secretary’s office for results. This I did. After much checking who I was, right down to date of birth (ugh!), she happily told me that the note attached to my record was ‘NO FURTHER ACTION’.

A welcome response, and one I was pleased to hear, but why wasn’t I told? 

The earlier medical examination had provided a result and I had been informed – twice – so why not this time. All the doc had to do was pick up the phone, or even get his secretary to do it.

I put the phone down and began to seethe, so I rang back and formally placed a complaint. I asked that the doctor rings me with an explanation. He did so after the first examination so why not now? Secretary said I should make an appointment to see him (three weeks delay there) so I said I couldn’t get there. That’s the truth. Since I got rid of my car I have to take taxis everywhere and why should I fork out when the doctor could just ring me with the news. She said she would ask him to ring me. 

Anyway, although it’s good news I still don’t know the cause of all the problems.  I guess I just keep taking the painkiller

Thanks for listening reading, folks, it did me good to write it down, removing of some of the angst.

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend.

PS, after writing the above I had a phone call from the doctor. He was a little put out by my phone call and told me that it wasn't his job to tell me what was what as referral to hospital meant I was then their responsibility. I think he changes the rules as he goes along. It still doesn't alter the fact that nobody told me anything. However, he did let slip that a lot of tummy parts were fine. Of course, none of this reveals why I was in so much pain!!!!!

13 November 2017

PILLOW TALK


My Joe didn’t often go shopping on his own but he decided that when he needed a new pillow he was the one to buy it. What he meant was, he wouldn’t like what I chose. So I let him go to the store on his own, secretly pleased since the two of us together should never be let loose in big stores. 

He spent more on the pillow than I would but that was his affair, not mine. Actually, his choice was good, or so he said. It was one of those pillows that remembered where you liked to put your head but always came back to the original position … a bit like memory foam, I suppose.

I have a memory foam mattress and hate it. However, since it is less than two years old I have to put up with it. Do you like sleeping on a bed that tells YOU where you should lie? I like to be my own boss in my own bed so one of these days I might change the damn thing. But I’m getting away from the subject……

Pillows!

I have to admit that my pillows were long past their sell-by date. In fact, they could be classed as archaic. So, I turned them over to the cat since he likes a pillow to lie on. One here, another there, sort of thing. I think he likes the pillow cases as much as anything. So what to do? Well, it’s obvious, use Joe’s still-new pillow – me, not the cat.

It is comfortable to lay the head on but moving to a different position promotes pillow talk. Yes, it makes peculiar noises while it settles in the new place. No kidding. I sometimes do a count to see how long it takes to settle. I guess you could say the pillow won’t settle until it’s had a chat but I ask you – at midnight? I need to sleep, I don’t need to have a conversation with a stupid pillow that is still as good as new so doesn’t warrant being chucked out.

Does anyone else have a talking pillow?

09 November 2017

AN UNTITLED FUNNY


This would be funnier if it wasn't so true. Someone had to remind me, so I'm reminding you...

01. Kidnappers are not very interested in you

02. In a hostage situation you are likely to be released first

03. No one expects you to run--anywhere

04. People call at PM and ask, Did I wake you?

05. People no longer view you as a hypochondriac

06. There is nothing left to learn the hard way

07. Things you buy now won't wear out

08. You can eat supper at PM

09. You can live without sex but not your glasses

10. You get into heated arguments about pension plans

11. You no longer think of speed limits as a challenge

12. You quit trying to hold your stomach in no matter who walks into the room

13. You sing along with elevator music

14. Your eyes won't get much worse

15. Your investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off

16. Your joints are more accurate meteorologists than the national weather              service

17. Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can't remember them          either

18. Your supply of brain cells is finally down to manageable size

19. You can't remember who sent you this list

20. AND YOU NOTICE THIS IS IN BIG PRINT FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE


Forward this to everyone you can remember right now!

Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night

04 November 2017

The Letter (written in 2009)

Spot the deliberate omission!

Tired of staring at the Headmaster's ample girth she transferred her scrutiny to the clock, its brass fingers glistening in the morning sun. A solitary wasp hovered near, duped by the brightness. Dust motes prepared to dance in more mature rays. Nine twenty-four-and-a-half. Somewhere in the distance sirens wailed. Fire-fighting appliances, she thought, but couldn't be sure. As the big finger clicked onto the five she estimated that ten minutes had elapsed since being summoned to the stage, in disgrace for reading in assembly and not singing hymns. The second accusation was a joke. She wasn't singing up here either. Nine twenty-six. She flinched as the wasp whizzed past her ear. Her shoulders ached through standing at attention. What wouldn't she give to slouch, to stand with hands in pockets and legs crossed in unladylike fashion? Nine-thirty. The final hymn commenced. Perhaps now she would be excused.

As the piano's last notes faded the Headmaster, with a grim glance in her direction, extracted the letter from his pocket, strewing twisted toffee papers and spent matches in the process. She was horrified. Surely he wasn't going to recite the letter to the entire upper school. Had he no regard for her feelings? As if confiscation was not enough, was he going to reprimand her in front of her friends? Not daring to look at the mass of students before her, she bowed her head and fixed her sights on the wrappers lying on the waxed floor. Shifting her weight to the other foot, she thought how unfair the situation was. It should be Matthew on display not her. After all, he wrote the letter.

The Principal placed the letter on the lectern, squaring it with the top edge and securing it with his leather-bound bible. Stroking his goatee beard he solemnly scanned the room, peering over the tortoiseshell spectacles he used for reading. He cleared his throat and began to condemn her personal possession as a piece of worthless trash, expounding the importance of upholding moral values.

Surreptitiously, she withdrew her handkerchief to swab her clammy hands. She tried to remember what Matthew had written which had driven the Head to lecture and his emaciated deputy to look aghast. Was it the reference to their engaging activities at the youth club or the comments about kissing in the Odeon? Or was it the mention of how many babies they would one day have? If it was the latter then they need worry no more. The romance was over. Crumpling the handkerchief in a tight ball, she vowed never to speak to Matthew Kelly again.

At length the assembly was dismissed. The Headmaster disappeared through a side door ahead of an entourage of mentors, his deputy scuttling behind, his scholars on trust to repair quietly and in single file to their respective classrooms. As she retrieved the letter from the lectern, peals of boyish tittering penetrated the corridors like shards of friendly derision. Guessing that Matthew had admitted his folly to his mates it occurred to her that he was more astute than she gave him credit for. Not signing his name on the letter was a brilliant stroke - it enabled him to survey from afar the agonizing drama on stage. Fierce loathing surged like a fountain, sending ripples of repugnance through her body, making it imperative to eradicate Matthew Sebastian Kelly from her life.

The girls rally round

The girls rallied to support her and express their anger. One or two confessed they wouldn't mind reading the letter, their curiosity having been aroused by the Head's remarks about lust baring its evil face and declaring his intention to stamp it out before it became rife. She could not fathom how a man with such a narrow viewpoint had accomplished the siring of twins. Ordinarily she would seek Matthew's opinion on such a subject, but after enduring such humiliation she was disinclined to breach her pledge not to communicate.

Dinner hour was spent by the river with Kate, a gawky girl, slow to blossom, her attraction to boys being in the nature of a willingness to mind coats during football games. Her knee-high grey socks graced her ankles, elastic garters unsuccessful in their objective. Beside her on the grassy bank was a square lunch box filled with beef and pickle sandwiches. There was also an apple, a pear, and a banana. While studying the antics of a pair of mallards, a sandwich in one hand, can of Cola in the other, the girl spoke of failing to understand what the hoo-ha was all about, claiming it was sweet of Matthew to pen those lovely words. Such expressions would make her proud to be the recipient.

The girl wedged the can in the grass and chewed a segment of her sandwich before adding that when her chance came to procure a boyfriend she hoped he would refer to her as sexy and allude to her boobs as terrific. The girl wiped a hand over her brow as if allusion to the female form had brought on a fever.

Showing Matthew's letter had obviously been a big mistake. Rather than pity the plight he generated, the girl was applauding him. The Head's action had been assessed as scathing, bearing in mind that Matthew was such an affectionate lad, with desirable attributes most girls would simply die for. No thought was given to the distress he caused or his incomprehensible reluctance to share the anguish of centre-stage exposure. The whole conversation served to cement the decision to steer clear of Matthew Kelly.

At the end of the interminable afternoon Matthew romped out of the school building with countless companions cuffing his back as though he was some kind of genius. It pained her to see his arrogant stance as he took part in a game of fisticuffs with the former group leader, a burly lad deposed to lower ranks by one of Matthew's knock-out punches. Several times the other boys glanced at her with rude admiration, though their leader paid no heed. His eyes were glued to his wily opponent, oblivious to everything else. The girl Kate was at her post by the green railings, surrounded by sports bags and coats, her socks in base position, the tip of her tongue protruding from the side of her mouth as she eyed Matthew with adolescent reverence. Sudden cheers and acclaims of Good on ya, Matty, indicated the end of the amicable battle. Happy to have won, Matthew recovered his blazer, hurled 'See you' at his gang and propelled himself through the iron gates.

Defiance and anger set in


Observing the Headmaster strutting across the quadrangle with his haggard deputy, it occurred to her that he had unwittingly done her a huge favour. But for him, she would still be passing herself off as Matthew's girl, with her head in the clouds, her brain fuddled by adulation. 'Never again,' she muttered as she advanced towards the gates. It would be a long time hence before she dated boys, particularly fickle ones.

Slinging her blazer across one shoulder, dragging her satchel by its strap, she sauntered home and summed up the day. This morning she had a boyfriend; now she had nothing. Tossing her hair from her face, she thought how satisfying it was to be free of Matthew who had swaggered around all day enjoying the kudos of his conquest. Angrily, she booted a stone into the gutter, kicking so energetically that her blazer fell to the ground. She picked it up and shook it vigorously to expel the street dust. The letter slipped out of the pocket. Promptly her hand shot out, but she was not quick enough to save it and the envelope coasted through a grating. She laughed, professing it to be the best place for it. Maybe it would end up in a sewer full of rats. Maybe one of them would enjoy chewing a fellow rat's scribblings.

Relocating the blazer she journeyed on, pondering whether or not to relate the Headmaster's deed to her folks. It might be relayed to them by sundry well-meaning neighbours, those with girls in the same form as herself, spiteful females who couldn't boy-catch if their lives depended on it. But there was no need to tell. Her parents had educated their offspring properly. They trusted them to do the right thing and not plunder the family honour. Her brother would plague her, but it would be good natured. He fancied that being the eldest gave him the authority to tease. She told herself she had brought no shame on her family. It was Matthew who committed the outrage, she had merely read it.

Suddenly hungry she broke into a run, tugging her tie from her neck as she went, almost drooling in anticipation of the beef stew her mother had promised for tea, with apple pie to follow.

She veered round the corner, then stopped dead. Matthew was leaning on her garden gate, his blazer dumped at his feet. His face was streaked with dried ice cream, his blue tie askew, his funny blonde quiff standing erect. He held a bouquet of wild flowers, the big daisies that grew by the churchyard wall, sweet peas from outside the railway station. Matthew bestowed upon her the cheeky, loveable grin which attracted her to him in the first place. Giving a noble bow, he proffered the flowers. Seeing his knuckles scratched and bruised and the knee of his grey trousers torn, she was charged with emotion and a savage desire to protect him, and in that instant she knew that one day they would have babies - and to hell with the Head's philosophies.

02 November 2017

PHOTOGRAPHED FROM THE INSIDE

endoscopy camera

Okay, I did it and I never want to do it again. Do what, I hear you ask. I am, of course, talking about photography, but not the sort of photography you thought of. Mine was an attempt by doctors to view me from the inside. It worked, so I believe, although at this stage I haven’t had the result of the investigation.

Everyone told me there was nothing to the procedure of having a camera inserted in the mouth and down the throat, though they did tell me that it would be tiny instead of my imagined camera and tripod!! They didn’t tell me how it would feel or how I would feel. 

I was advised by the hospital staff to go for a local anaesthetic rather than sedation on the grounds that I would have nobody to escort me home after a bit of a sleep. This meant I was fully aware of what seemed like a great lump of steel being shoved down my throat. Swallow, the doc said, and I tried, but the blessed camera seemed to be in the way. I did my best to relax and the nurse who was holding my head and my hand kept telling me I was doing really, really well. I believed her for a while, that is until it felt like the camera was twisting round inside me.

There were lots of ‘strings’, mainly pink ones, which the doc’s assistant kept pulling away. As she did so she gave each one a number and a name. I presume it was some kind of film but I didn’t dwell on it because I was too wrapped up trying not to pass out. And then it was over, done and dusted as they say. I reckon the procedure lasted about ten minutes but I may be wrong on that score. I was forced to have a bit of a rest afterwards even though I wanted to get the hell out of there, but the nurses kept popping in to make sure I was okay. As I'll ever be, was my thought!

There's only one word for the nursing staff ... brilliant,  what's more they were friendly (unlike two unfriendly ones I had the displeasure of meeting at another hospital) and full of little jokes. One of the jokes was given to me at the end of the procedure, when my head holding nurse laughed and said there would be no more today but they would have another go tomorrow … and to think I almost believed her.

Strangely enough the back pain lessened as soon as the operation was over.  You should have heard me bragging to my neighbours as we sat in their house drinking tea and eating cake. The cake was homemade and gorgeous bearing in mind I’d had nothing to eat for very many hours. What a pity the pain returned to spoil the day, now it comes and goes!

It is a week since the procedure and today I tried lying on the floor to relieve the back pain. It worked - hell at first but it gradually loosened up. Now I’m thinking I should get back to the chiropractor and resume the treatment I had to stop because of the other overwhelming problem.

I await the doctor’s comments when he gets the hospital report. Will everyone please keep their fingers crossed that the news is good. 

31 October 2017

Insight into November

I had a serious burns accident in November and that is why this piece of writing gets aired every year. I wrote it specially to say 'be careful'
The Prose 
November is perhaps the most moving month of the year, steeped in tradition and teeming with expectancy. Why yearn for sunnier climes or a terracotta tan when November's seasonal pulchritude comes free of charge. Broad avenues awash with colour and piled high with copper jewels: red-gold gems, cascading from majestic trees, making way for fresh creations of embryonic buds.

Natural beauty contrasts sharply with more morbid attractions. Searing bonfires concoct a vivid tableau. Orange flames triumphantly lick the feet of man-made guys, egged on by a jubilant audience gobbling sausages and baked potatoes. Historical, traditional, and macabre, as are the fireworks: pretty explosives noisily winging, gloriously beguiling.

Scarlet poppies adorning our attire signify remembrance for the soldiers who fought for liberation … the war dead, who gave us optimism. Yields of mistletoe and holly and sometimes early snow prompt thoughts of Christmas celebrations, of nativity, and gatherings of families and friends. 

Thus, November is a month of diverse elements: breathtaking, poignant, and sad. But it is never dull and those who claim that it is should examine its true potential, and wrest a soup├žon of comfort from the depths of the sombre monotony that exists solely within their hearts. This is November. Enjoy.

The Poem 
Broad avenues awash with colour,
Red gold gems tumbling to the ground;
Evolution preparing fresh creation,
Embryonic buds already sound.

Beyond the mists stem glowing vistas.
Nature sighs in resignation,
No challenger for graphic scenes
Of morbid fascination.

Poppies, red and unembellished,
Symbols of commemoration
To men in bloody trenches; soldiers
Sacrificing lives to give us liberation.

Carousals of darting, searing fire,
Triumphant flames of orange hue,
Incited by beholders’ hearty cheers
To kiss the feet of guys, and maybe you.

Motley fireworks, spectacular and loud,
Spiralling in the darkening night,
Gripping young ones, riveting them to pain.
Inevitably their shocking plight.

Advance through crumbly autumn leaves
Amidst displays of deciduous attraction,
But heed the groans as flames descend
And human euphoria condones the action.

28 October 2017

MOM.... AND ME!

I always clear up, in fact I am fastidious when it comes to tidiness. The following is probably why I am how I am.
As a child I would be beaten by mother if I hadn’t done my bit towards keeping the house tidy. My mother was someone to fear - permanently. Even my Dad was careful to avoid upsetting her, although it didn’t always work.
I remember one particular occasion when I was attacked for no reason. It wasn’t funny, like an earlier attack which over the years had people laughing fit to burst. Okay, let’s start with that one, although I believe I’ve told this before. Yes, I’m sure I have, nevertheless I’ll launch it again because there is a humorous side to the tale.
At home we had an outside toilet. An internal one came many years later which led to… no, I musn’t relate that one on this post. So, we had an outside toilet which meant that on the many occasions when I came home from school bursting to do a wee I could go straight to the toilet without needing to go into the house.
There I sat, navy knickers round the ankles, enjoying the privilege of urinating, when the door opened (we didn’t lock them in those days) and my mother slapped me HARD across the face, closed the door and went back to the house. Speechless isn’t an adequate enough word and I wasn’t old enough to know any expletives.
I never found out what I had done because Mom went into one of her ‘not-speaking’ moods. 

On another occasion, when I was old enough to work in an office I would go home at lunchtime to break the day up a bit. Sadly, Mom did the same. The two of us sat at the kitchen table doing our own thing, one opposite the other. Suddenly my mother reached across the table, slapped me
hard on the face and accused me of taking something (never found out what!) from her purse. I had done no such thing but trying to tell her that was useless. She was in such a rage that, fortunately for me, instead of a full-blown attack she walked out of the kitchen and out of the house. Yet another occasion I got smacked for no reason.
I now know I was the butt of her frustrations, of which she had many. I suppose if my father hadn’t worked away so much he would have been the butt instead of me. Or perhaps that was the problem… I’ll never know!

21 October 2017

The Annual Check-up


'Have you ever had an operation, dearie?' croaked the old woman, her wizened fingers meddling with a black chiffon scarf.

Annabel looked at her in astonishment, more for her boldness in speaking to a stranger than the question itself.

The woman inched along the green bench until Annabel felt her bony elbows touching hers. She could smell her age, that fusty smell of old bones and looming death. The colourless, egg-shaped face, framed by silver-white hair, was strangely familiar. 'I’d like to hear about your operation,' the woman said.

Had she to have one herself? wondered Annabel. Was she het up because of it? Idly, she surveyed her surroundings. Two bowler-hatted men strode towards the reception desk. A nurse with a clipboard escorted a man on crutches. On the benches, injured toddlers whimpered into the comforting breasts of anxious mothers, and not much braver adults sat in stony silence, waiting.

The woman’s question was probably fairly normal, considering where they were. It would be something to do while she waited and it might be amusing to humour her and list her medical experiences. Like the one where that brute of a doctor dug out an ingrowing toenail. Or the harrowing extraction of her third wisdom tooth which had wrapped its roots around its neighbouring molar, necessitating a drilling process guaranteed to put her off dentists for life. Then there was that glorious out-of-body experience when she gave birth to Kim, whose foot was wedged in her ribcage and caused such excruciating pain that she fled her physical form entirely unaided for half an hour.

Annabel studied the old woman sitting beside her. A harridan of minute proportions, craggy chin, heavily lined brow, and intensely blue eyes which seemed capable of scanning a body like an x-ray machine. Perhaps she was an x-ray machine! Perhaps she had grown a heart overnight and been cast out of the department as useless. Given the sack, so to speak. Whatever she was, she was uncannily familiar.

A man in a white coat pushed an empty gurney through the rubber flaps that served as doors. A stethoscope hung from his top pocket. Annabel’s nose wrinkled as the smell of ether wafted in her direction. Quite like old times, she thought, evoking the event which had the most impact on her life.

Now that she had decided to relate her story, Annabel was tempted to ask the woman’s name but in the end she felt perhaps it was better not to know. Examining her fingernails, she speculated about where to begin. Her tale could be classed as an accidental incident rather than one of a medical nature, although a surgical procedure might well have been carried out had there been enough time.

The action took place this very day, long ago. It was enough to say it occurred on her fortieth birthday. The year was irrelevant. Andrew had taken her to a bell-ringing contest to celebrate. Celebrate! There was nothing to celebrate in that dismal hall with those disgracefully ragged drapes covering the windows and teams of bell-ringers incessantly brandishing brassy bells by their wooden handles, coloured streamers fluttering in their wake. Up and down, up and tediously down.

Annabel shuddered as she remembered the rancour which flooded through her and the accusation she was tempted to fling at him: If you thought this was my idea of fun, you were sadly mistaken. Fortunately, Andrew sensed her disquiet and suggested they leave. Thank God, she mutely cried, not really wanting to upset he who had not yet produced her birthday present and who must, for the time being, be kept sweet.

Kim was waiting outside, leaning against the wooden panels from which the cheerless hut was constructed. Annabel had been surprised to see her daughter dressed in her best blue trouser-suit, wearing the lovely perfume Andrew bought at Christmas. Gardenia, she thought. These days Annabel had difficulty remembering precise details like which scent it was though she did recall that Kim’s blonde hair was swept into a French pleat with not a single securing pin in sight. Kim was very clever at disguising things. Even her love was hard to find. Annabel sniffed and swallowed hard, knowing she would never find it now.

Kim was idly swinging a set of keys which glinted in the light of the hut’s swaying lantern. Annabel briefly wondered why her daughter was dangling them in front of her when they were not her keys.

'Your car, Madam,' Andrew proudly announced.

Annabel remembered those words as if they had been uttered only yesterday and she recollected the joy she felt when she saw the bright orange second-hand Beetle parked at the kerb. Beetles were her favourite cars in all the world, prompting thoughts of Howard, that wonderful man who took her virginity on the leather-covered back seat.

It’s yours,’ Andrew said, tossing back a wayward lock of mousy-brown hair. Taking the keys from Kim, he placed them in Annabel’s hand and curled her fingers over them. ‘Happy birthday, darling.’

She vowed the driving seat had been moulded especially for her, though the pedals were a distance away even when the seat was adjusted. She strained her slender ankles to reach them, smiling at Andrew who sat in the passenger seat. Kim had by that time gone home.

Pausing briefly to brush her dark fringe from her brow, Annabel imperceptibly shook her head at the crystal-clear image of that night. She moistened her dry lips so that she could continue.

She had driven Andrew to the restaurant where they were to have dinner and where they imbibed much champagne. It was, after all, a celebration of her fortieth birthday. Afterwards she drove home in the rain, the pair of them singing country and western songs as loudly as they could. Annabel got so carried away she let go the wheel and waved her arms above her head.

The car skidded on the greasy road and careered into a telegraph pole. Momentarily, she saw a woman’s face through the window, timeworn and ashen with fear, her mouth widening into a scream. Her black scarf fluttered as the screen abruptly shattered into a fog of tiny fractures. The image had tormented her ever since.

It took two hours to release her broken body from the tangled wreck. Andrew was lucky to have been thrown clear. Long after he and the elderly victim had been carted off to hospital, firemen worked steadily and untiringly to free her from what remained of the birthday gift, operating their cutting equipment proficiently and with no time to lose. Even in her distressing incapacitation she could not help being impressed by their strength. She felt comforted by the efficient way they worked and watched trance-like as they carefully removed the metal covering and exposed her body to the rain.'

'A disasterous end to your birthday,' observed the old woman.

'It certainly was,' replied Annabel, looking round on the off-chance she might see Andrew or Kim.

'I imagine you were glad when it was all over.'

Annabel laughed. 'You could say that.'

The woman nodded knowingly. She adjusted the bag on her lap and hooked a hand through the strap. Then her brow puckered and she inclined her head to one side. 'But wasn’t there an operation?' she asked.

Annabel’s reply was gruff. 'It wasn’t necessary.'

'As with me.' Easing herself to the edge of the bench, the woman struggled to her feet. tottering slightly with the exertion. Annabel shot up in order to steady her, cautioning her to be careful not to fall. An appreciative expression was etched on the pallid, elliptical face. Flattening her copious grey skirts to her side, the woman gave Annabel a toothy grin. 'I’m glad you told me ,' she said, and went on to ask if Annabel was waiting for someone.

'Not really,' Annabel remarked. 'I come once a year to make sure nothing was overlooked. An annual; check-up, you might say.'

Livid weals appeared on the woman’s face as she scratched the diaphanous skin with grimy nails, giving the appearance of having been slashed by something sharp, like a knife or a piece of glass. 'Strange I haven’t seen you before,' she said. She began to fidget, her arms restless at her side, fingers meddling with her skirt. An agonised frown etched her forehead, yet when she spoke again her voice was calm. 'My mission has long been the search for truth.' Laying a gnarled hand on Annabel’s shoulder, she added, 'Now that I have it I am grateful, though gratitude is perhaps an ill-suited sentiment in view of what you did.'

So it was her, thought Annabel, the unknown casualty. All these years being haunted by that anaemic countenance, yet she failed to recognise it when they met. What on earth could she say? Was an apology enough? Indeed, would an apology be accepted? She was about to attempt some kind of justification for what happened that night when the old woman spoke again.

'Don’t fret about the accident. You did me a great service, as it transpired, since the cancer would have been a sight more painful.' Fiddling with the ragged scarf, she peered at the clock on the magnolia painted wall. Bustling clerks and nurses tidied the place ready for the next day’s batch of emergency patients. Gripping her capacious black bag, the old lady stepped away from the hospital bench.

Annabel queried if she was leaving.

'As soon as my hearse arrives. It’s late, as usual.'

'You can share mine,' offered Annabel. 'Mine’s invariably early.'