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Autumn Flush by Andrew Wrigley

© Andrew Wrigley

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A short story and the late flowering of a very English rose

Hello, hellooo...? Marjory, is that you? Oh good.

Now then, dear, when are you coming to see me? I can't move much these days, you know, so don’t expect me to visit you.

Our Susie doesn’t visit. She blames me, you know, not having a family of her own. I did my best to find her a husband. Do you remember the vicar at St Michael’s, the one with the big red nose? I introduced him to her and, well, you’ll never guess what she said. She said a drunkard and twenty years older than her. Oh, and she said he was gay too. No wonder she never got married. What did she expect, Rock Hudson? She said he was gay too!

What did you say Marjory? No, how could he be? Dead too? AIDS you say. Really? Oh well, sometimes I think that everyone has gone gay. Men aren’t the same anymore.

Do you remember my daughter Susie? Well, you’ll never guess. She’s got a boyfriend. At her age, can you imagine it? It’s ridiculous. She doesn’t know how to have a boyfriend. She should be looking after me, not cavorting around with some little chappie. I introduced her to such nice people, a vicar even. But oh, no, they weren’t good enough for our Susie.

So how are you Marjory? Did I tell you I was interviewed by a real detective yesterday? I asked him what he wanted to know, and he just said "Tell me about Joe, dear." So I told him all about the secret cucumber garden in Joe's room. He said "Now that's very interesting, dear". He wrote it all down like a real policeman.

Elspeth says Joe was selling something illegal. Must've been his cucumbers, I am sure we’re not allowed to have a garden in our room. But she says it is all about a little pill. She said something about bringing the dead back to life. I have to say I am a bit curious, it can get a bit boring, what with all these old people living here.

What was I going to tell you? Oh, yes. Do you know? Joe gave me a kiss. I gave him a slap, the cheeky monkey. Well, more like a pat really. I quite like Joe, you know. He's got all his hair, like he was young. He dyes it, you know, keeps up appearances does our Joe, but I pretend I haven’t noticed.

He calls us The Gang. We watch TV together, the three of us in the TV room. Joe and I and Elspeth. Faye is usually there too, but she doesn’t count anymore.

The other day there was one of those sex scenes on the TV. Elspeth put her hands in front of her eyes, like she doesn't want to know what she missed. Not like my George and I. You wouldn't believe the things we did. Anyway, this girl jumps on Paul and starts having oral sex with him without as much as hello. He couldn’t stop her. How could he? He was carrying a huge bouquet of flowers for little Florence who is pregnant. Paul is so in love with Florence. I like Florence. The poor thing! She doesn’t even know yet.

What? Yes, yes. Right there on the telly. You could see her tongue and all. I was shocked, but I didn’t want Joe to notice. You see, I like Joe. He says we live in the Big Brother house and that we don't die, we're just evicted. I just think he is joking. I mean, we do die, don’t we? Sooner or later, that is.

When Joe sees what is happening on the TV, he says “Hurrah! Go for it lass!” And laughs like it was funny.

That annoyed me. So I nod at the TV and say to him, “Did you have oral sex with your Janet?” Matter of factly, you know how one does these days.

Our Joe just sat there looking at me, opening and shutting his mouth, like there was something wrong with him.

Elspeth went quite white. “Got something to do,” she squeaked, looking all stupid and then she scuttled off, leaving Joe and I alone with Faye.

I don’t want to embarrass him, so I say “Where did Elspeth go?”

Joe just looks back at me. Right in the eyes. His breathing has gone all heavy. Just like the last time I saw your Malcolm in fact. He was only walking down the street, but he was so out of breath he could hardly speak.

Anyway, Joe is sitting there gulping. I got quite scared. I thought maybe he was having a heart attack, like your Malcolm. I didn’t want Joe evicted.

“Maybe we should go… Somewhere… Alone…?” Joe says to me.

So I say “But we ARE alone, Joe.”

And he says “Oh no we're NOT!” And he winks at me.

And I say, with just a hint of sarcasm, “Oh yes we ARE!”

Joe repeats “Oh no we're NOT!” and he jerks his head in Faye's direction, who is humming to herself and nodding and smiling like she was really, really happy. But she isn’t, is she? She can’t be. You can’t be happy ALL the time, can you?

So I lean forward, and in a very hushed whisper so that Faye can’t hear, I say “Faye doesn’t count, does she?”

Well, when I say that Joe’s face goes bright red. I'm leaning forwards and his eyes slide right down into my blouse. I’ve got that awful rash again, so I don’t wear a bra. Doctor’s orders.

Did I tell you that Elspeth thinks that Joe is gay?

You see, when new Michael came to the nursing home after old Michael was evicted, Joe got really friendly with him. Faye hated new Michael. She said he was gay and hadn't I noticed? Why else would he have a villa near Rome, with a swimming pool that was "always full of Italian boys"? What’s wrong with that? There must be some Italians who aren’t gay.

Anyway, Joe started spending all his time playing dominoes with new Micheal. He abandoned us. He didn't play cards with us anymore or even watch TV. The Gang wasn't the same without him. It was boring. Still, I kept talking to him, but Faye wouldn’t even look at him. Elspeth thought Joe had gone gay too.

New Michael didn’t last long. He was evicted and Joe was straight back asking if he could join the Gang again. Faye went all white.

"I don't want him back," she whined like she was going to cry.

"Why not?" I asked her, but she started shouting at Joe.

“How dare you?” she howled. “You haven’t even spoken to me since… since… Never!”

Stupid cow. It was her who wouldn't speak to him. She always was stupid, but now she’s old as well.

We let Joe back into the Gang in the end. Faye started shouting and screaming at him and tried to hit him on the head with a flower vase.

"Faye," I said, "they will send you to jail." She was covered in wilting daffodils and green water.

"So fucking what?" screamed Faye. At least, that’s what I think she said. I can’t be sure because her false teeth came flying out.

Nurse took her away. She was allowed back eventually, but she didn’t count after that.

So, there I was in the TV room alone with Joe looking down my blouse.

Joe opened his mouth and stuck his tongue out at me and there on his big fat tongue was this little blue pill. He pointed at it and rolled his eyes and swallowed it. It must have been for his heart. So I said:

"Now that IS a good boy, Joe. Just what the doctor ordered!"

"Will you take your false teeth out?" he says and winks. That rather scared me. It didn't make any sense at all. I thought maybe he had had a stroke, but then he gave me a kiss!

Well, I never! I gave him a little pat on the cheek, just to calm him down and said to him "Now then Joe, I think it is bedtime, don't you?"

I straightened up and took him by the hand, like he was a little boy. When we got to his room he wanted me to come in. He was quite insistent. He said he had something to show me, he said he had a huge cucumber in his secret garden. That made me quite curious.

"Oooh," I said, "now you're talking. Can I see it?"

I may have to cut you off at any moment, Marjory, I have just seen Nurse with that nice detective. Where are my glasses? I have so much to tell him...

Oh. No, it’s not the detective. It's just that awful doctor again, the flat chested one. Her stethoscope sticks out more than her... Oh good! She’s gone straight past me. I couldn’t face talking to her. I really don’t like her.

Which reminds me. My rash has got worse. It used to be just a rash, but now it has turned into huge pink blotches, all over me. I had to stand in front of that horrid doctor, naked as a little baby. It was terrible, but I couldn't let her see how I felt, so I said:

"I look like a rose bush, all in bloom." And I smiled at her.

"Yes, dear," she said, "quite an autumn flush."

Skinny little tart! She didn’t have to say that, did she?

She took some more blood samples. Nurse said they were taking blood samples from everyone, not just me. All the residents have had a blood test. They say it has something to do with Joe.

Oh! I've just remembered something. Elspeth says that Joe has got AIDS! She says that new Michael gave it to him. I said I didn't know that new Michael had AIDS. She said "What do you think he was evicted for then?" "Cancer," I said. "No," said Elspeth, "it was AIDS." Well, how was I to know? Anyway, I don’t see how Joe has got AIDS. Can you get AIDS just from playing dominoes with someone?

I’m a bit scared. You see, when I said Joe kissed me, I was lying. He stuck his tongue right down my throat. I nearly suffocated. I really don't know what people see in oral sex.

So that is why I phoned you. You were a nurse, weren’t you? My George and I were academics, but you and your Malcolm were practical people. A nurse and a car mechanic. I wanted to ask you about AIDS, can you get it from oral sex?

You see, my George never wanted oral sex. He didn't know how to be fair, how could he? We grew up without television and then there was the war and all. He would just pout his lips and peck me. And he always tried not to prickle me with his moustache which was very considerate of him.

Did I tell you that Joe got evicted today? Elspeth say that the Police took him away, for questioning. She said they found him guilty, but they released him on compassionate grounds. Elspeth says he is in hospital now, but I don’t believe her. She says he has got AIDS.

What? Sorry, Marjory, can you repeat that? Susie keeps interrupting me. No, Susie. I don’t want my bath now. Can’t you see I’m on the phone?

Marjory…? I’m a bit scared. I… This... This doesn't look like my room. It looks... It looks like a hospital ward. It is full of sick people. Have I...? Have I been...? Evicted?

I'm rather scared... Oh, dear… I... What was I saying?

Hello, hellooo...? Marjory, is that you? Oh good.

Now then, dear, when are you coming to see me?


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