Thursday, November 05, 2009

new magic windows

The last of the day’s light is flying in exile ahead of the great lidded storm rumbling in from over the sea. It crashes up against the white facades of the Georgian terrace, bringing into focus the knotted wisteria stems, the thick black railings, the cracked mosaic steps. Stepping up onto the raised pavement that runs along in front is like stepping onto a great stone stage; two hundred years of comings and goings. And so onto the next scene – An ambulance calls for Mrs Winifred Carter-Hains in the ninth year of the Twenty First Century.

Her carer opens the door.

‘I’m not normally here,’ she says, then lets the enormous door swing open fully and stomps ahead of us up a delicately turning staircase two flights and on to a creaking landing. A long, lopsided vista, a wallpaper of shadows set with endless photographs - a pilot, a punt beneath some willows, two boys on a swing, a dog in a hat. In an alcove, there is an old sea chest, open and spilling with lace and books and old boxes.

‘She’s in the bedroom and she needs the loo.’

The carer goes ahead of us into a high-ceilinged, dusty-dry room smelling of perished leather and Cuticura talc.
‘Hello Mrs Carter-Hains. It’s the ambulance.’
‘Call me Winnie,’ she says, swiping the air in front of her with a claw. ‘What did you say your names were?’
‘My name’s Spence and this is Rae.’
‘Ray? How peculiar. The man who painted that was called Ray. I won’t forget that in a hurry.’
She gestures to a small picture, a confusing scene, something like a wooden jetty in a hail storm. The little gilt frame seems to vibrate against the wall with the power of the strokes.
‘It’s lovely,’ I say.
‘Thank you. Now, would you be a dear and help me to the toilet?’
The carer tells us Winnie is ninety four, had a fall in the early hours, crawled back to bed, called for her doctor to visit her at home, and the doctor had arranged for us to take Winnie to hospital to investigate her hip.
‘Are you in much pain? We have something here if it’s too much.’
‘No, darling. Only when I move. Then it’s a bother. But look – could you help get me to the loo? I’m desperate to spend a penny or three. Except I haven’t any drawers on. Celia, could you oblige?’
I tell Winnie I’ll give her some privacy, and walk over to the windows opposite. Through the distorting panes of old spun glass the approaching storm is even more darkly furious.
‘We saw lightning on our way here,’ I say. ‘Great rods of it, way out over the sea.’
‘Did you really, darling? How wonderful. I absolutely love storms. And of course you have a marvellous view from up here.’
Her drawers securely in place, I join them round the bed again.
‘Are you really ninety four?’ Rae says. ‘You look amazing.’
‘Thank you darling, that’s so sweet of you.’ She grasps Rae’s hand and gives it a squeeze. ‘But do you know? I’ve never seen a ninety four year old, so I’m not sure what they’re supposed to look like.’
I click the carry chair into position.
‘There we are, Winnie’ I say. ‘Your carriage awaits.’
‘Well goodness me, what a thing,’ she says, leaning out and patting the canvas seat speculatively. ‘Do you know, that’s the second amazing object I’ve had in this room in just two days. You’ll never guess what was set up yesterday. Exactly where you are standing now, Ray. A theodolite.’
‘Are you having building work done, then?’
Winnie taps her nose.
‘Yes I am. And it’s all part of my plan. See all that there?’ she says, with a grand gesture to the windows I had just been looking out of. ‘That’s where the new magic windows are going in.’

12 comments:

Gerry said...

Bless Winnie. I believe I'm going to see about having some magic windows installed at the Writing Studio and Bait Shop.

The Explorer said...

She sounds awesome :)

Beautifully descriptive as always - and you've got me wanting a good thunderstorm to watch now!

Pat said...

What an absolutely charming old dear! And I believe her when she says the windows will be magic...it's all in the eye of the beholder!

lulu's missives said...

Hello Spence,
I love wonderful older ladies.
Growing up we knew the most amazing woman, who finally died at the ripe young age of 106. She had been my grandfather's governess and was an independent 'miss' who loved schnaps, took garlic daily and ate the fat off the lamb.
You have a new photo!
xx

Rach said...

Right in there with you Spence as ever...

On the dog note from yesterday the dogs where probably more scared then you after all that racket, but must admit I was imagining you jumping over all the fences in a row of houses to get away from them..xx

cogidubnus said...

What a wonderful piece of suspense you've contrived there...But you do realise of course that we're simply NOT going to let you leave it at that!

Spence Kennedy said...

Gerry - I want some magic windows, too. And someone with a shining theodolite to come and take measurements for a magic drawing. I think I'd make them magic french windows, so I could walk out there...

Explorer - You can't beat a good thunderstorm. Any time I see storm clouds far away over the ocean, I have a strong urge to jump in a kayak and paddle out there. When I lived in London I used to love going swimming in Hampstead ponds in the pouring rain (in the summer - I'm not quite that crazy).

Pat - I believe her, too. There's a bit of me - that grumpy old Capricorn down-at-heel - who thinks 'Bah! She probably just meant double glazing that cuts out traffic noise and opens easily - but you don't want to listen to them.

Jo - What struck me most about Winnie was you could see the young woman in her. She still had a brightness about her, an optimism, and a interest in new things.
106 is incredible! I love that term - 'my grandfather's governess'. I must start drinking schnapps.
Yeah - new photo. My eldest daughter got the grumps that she hadn't featured in the other one!

Rach - Have you seen 'Hot Fuzz'? I imagine that would've been me leaping over the fences (Nick Frost, not Simon Pegg). Crash!

Cogi - Unfortunately I was the driver on that one, so I didn't get the pleasure of riding in the back and talking to Winnie some more. As far as her hospital appt went, she wasn't symptomatic of a NOF injury, but it's difficult to tell sometimes. Unfortunately - in my usual slack way - I didn't follow up her case, so I don't know how she fared at hospital. We weren't unduly concerned, though.

Some of these characters are so lovely to write about, though, it's tempting to expand their story more into the realms of fiction. Especially with a magic window to climb through...

Thanks for all your comments! xxx

Silje said...

Love the writing, love the lady - thank you for bringing them to me!

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Silje! x

Kitty said...

She sounds utterly wonderful, the kind of person I'd love to sit and spend a few hours with..I bet she has some amazing tales to tell..

Thank you Spence x

Kitty =^,,^=

Spence Kennedy said...

There are definitely patients you meet and think wow - wouldn't it be great to sit down, have a cup of tea and a long chat. They're one of the real bonuses of the job.

BTW - The photo of the pilot was amazing. A forties portrait of a debonair, David Niven character in officer's uniform. You could almost smell the pipe smoke wafting up the stairs.

Thanks for the comment! x

uphilldowndale said...

Magic lady. Wonderful