THIS IS GETTING TO BE SERIOUSLY LONG AND I'LL HAVE TO BRING IT TO SOME KIND OF ENDING ONE DAY SOON. MEANWHILE...
Part 1: A Life In Pieces (click here) Part 2 Another Life In Pieces, part 3 A Life in Anguished Pieces, Part 4 A Life in Mobile Words, Part 5 A Life in Coffee Part 6 A Life in Loneliness, Part 7 A Life In Rags, Part 8, A Life in Confusion, Part 9, A Life In Families Part 10, A Life in Memories, Part 11 A Life in Contemplation, Part 12 A life in church, Part 13 A Life in Lasagne, Part 14 A Life in Chaos, Part 15 A Life in Gossip, Part 16, A Life In Custody, Part 17, A Life in Doubt, Part 18, A Life in Crisis, Part 19, A Life in "It Serves Him Right", Part 20, A Life in Paradise, Part 21, A Life in Holidays, Part 22, A Life in Emotions, Part 23, A Life in Fours, Part 24, A Life on a Bus, Part 25, A Life on the Ocean Waves, Part 26 A Life En-Route, Part 27, A Life in Argument Part 28, A Life in a Hotel Room, Part 29, A Life in the Woods, Part 30, A Life in a Mess and Part 31, A Life in the Freezer
A LIFE IN A BAR
“When I'm a septuagenarian,” sighed Saphie, resting her head against Rusty's shoulder in the hotel bar and smiling as the world gently rolled past in her mind, “when I'm a septuagenarian I'll come back here again...”
“And when will that be, pray?” asked Rusty, who'd never actually got to ask her her age. He was of the old school that thought ladies ages were a private matter between those ladies and their consciences. He'd met a few who were only too fond of announcing the number of years they'd accumulated if they thought it might impress the company they found themselves in – the I'm eighty four and I can still touch my toes brigade. They were more intent on bestowing a large number onto their listeners than the fact they could touch their toes! But mostly he thought an age was no more than a number and never of any real significance.
“You mean, you don't know?” she asked, teasing him.
“I've never plucked up the courage...” he began, and she giggled.
“Well, Mr Naille, It's my birthday the day after tomorrow, and I'll be … no, I won't say: you guess!”
He wrinkled his nose in pretend-concentration, and then “Twenty-one?” he said, with his tongue firmly lodged in his cheek.
“Cheeky. No, seriously: how old will I be the day after tomorrow?”
“I didn't even know...” he began, and he hadn't. They'd never discussed birthdays or ages or anything like that. And he was also aware that trying to guess a lady's age was an activity more dangerous than walking across a minefield in enemy territory at the dead of night.
“That it was my birthday this week? Well, truth to tell, although I know my birthday perfectly well I was more interested in this holiday, so I hadn't thought about it either” murmured Saphie.
“I'm glad we came,” he said, and squeezed her arm gently.
“Ouch!” she exclaimed.
“That didn't hurt!” he protested.
“I know,” she almost purred, “and the day after tomorrow I'll be sixty-nine.”
“You won't, then!”
“Yes I will, Mr Naille. Sixty-nine, without a word of a lie.”
“I don't believe you!”
“Now, Rusty, you can take gallantry just so far before it becomes … offensive.”
“But you don't look … but it's more than looking...”
“Old ladies sound like old ladies and you don't sound like an old lady!”
“That's a tragic generalisation! And anyway, sixty-nine isn't old, not these days it isn't.”
“Of course it isn't. But talking of age, I'm old enough to remember when it was! Back in my parents' generation a woman was getting old when she passed forty: the way she dressed, the way she said she thought, the things she liked to do...”
“Well, that was then and now is now!” protested Saphie. “And I'm here to tell you that a woman of sixty-eight and three hundred and sixty-three days feels every bit as youthful as she did when she was eighteen and fancy free!”
“I don't really feel like the old fart I make myself out to be,” sighed Rusty. “And what's more, I'm younger than you, so I shouldn't!”
“You've never confessed your age,” she admonished him. “Here I am, coming out with the fact that I'm about to enter God's waiting room, and you've kept your own age a secret!”
“I'm less than a year younger than you,” he told her. “So there!”
“Did I hear someone mention God's waiting room?” came the Reverend Josiah Pike's voice as he made his way towards them from the bar, carrying a large glass of red wine. “Is there a spiritual debate going on? Maybe I can help!”
“It's nothing of the sort,” Rusty said, frowning, not welcoming the interruption. “We were discussing our ages, that's all.”
“And in a year or so I'll be entering God's waiting room,” added Saphie, her voice suddenly hollow. “Just think on that for a moment, and pray for me!”
“God's waiting room?” asked Josiah.
“That's it. It says in the Old Testament that we are blessed with three score years and ten,” she began.
“That makes seventy,” agreed Josiah.
“And next year I'll pass that landmark. So next year I'll be joining the queue in God's waiting room. Next year I'll be in the blue rinse and gigantic knickers, smelling of camphor line, waiting to be ticked off in the big book and sent to … the mind boggles!”
“I don't think it's like that...” began Josiah.
“Of course it isn't!” said Rusty, hastily. “When I cast off this mortal coil I'll be gone. Extinguished in, I hope, a moment. And there'll be no queue for my ghostly spirit to join, no ledger to have my deeds checked against, just the long blackness of eternity...”
“Less than blackness...” put in Saphie, suddenly serious.
“Less than blackness,” agreed Rusty.
“You have no hope for the Afterlife, then?” asked Josiah.
“Genetically, yes. Our genes carry on, somehow, either in the loins of our offspring or wrapped up in the hopes of our closest kin... all of us, even childless individuals like me, pass the past on into the future,” said Saphie, thoughtfully. “And there's what those left behind remember of us. The impression we made. That sort of thing.”
“I think you must be right,” sighed Josiah. “I was brought up to believe in all sorts of extraordinary things – the churchy stuff, if you like. But, you know, I was getting to be well on my way to middle age when it crossed my mind that all any of us know, truly know, of events and the like from before we were born is what we've been told, or taught … and I got to wondering whether it was all a mass trick, the churchy stuff, a mass spreading of fairy tales because something inside us can't come to terms with the less than blackness that you mentioned..”
“And you a vicar?” sighed Rusty. “If that's the case, what hope is there for the rest of us?”
“The hope of humanity?” suggested Saphie, “the big dream, the ultimate goal, not in a single life, from birth to death, but in an evolving species, and we're on a single flagstone on the path to who knows where?”
“That's better than a bearded bloke in the skies conducting us as if we were notes on a musical score!” nodded Rusty.
“This is getting too heavy!” protested Saphie. “And all we were doing was talking about my birthday, the day after tomorrow!”
“We'll be travelling back home then,” sighed Rusty. “The holiday will be over, we'll have seen some lovely places, spoken to some wonderful people and be leaving them for good...”
“Not for good!” decided Saphie. “It's what I was saying before all the god nonsense cropped up and we got side-tracked: I'm coming back here when I'm a septuagenarian!”
“And when might that be?” asked Josiah, cheekily.
“Next year,” sighed Saphie, “I want to come back here next year, Rusty, and I want you to bring me … you and nobody else...”
Rusty was about to say how much he was looking forward to a return with Saphie and that of course they'd come, he'd make sure of that, when there was a small explosion as the door to the bar crashed open.
And the sight that stood there like an evacuee from a nightmare turned the room silent.
“Give me a bloody drink!” hissed a dirt-stained Agatha moments before she collapsed onto the doormat in a dead faint.
©Peter Rogerson 17.04.14