époque press ezine
Buckets & Bunions
by Vanessa Horn
Violet lifts her right leg with both hands and guides it awkwardly through the prised-open window. She sways – neither in nor out – so I carefully take her other leg and manoeuvre it over the sill, helping unite the two lower limbs inside the hut. Done! She pants by the brightly-painted sill, then peers out as I pass over her bulging handbag. “Thanks, Kath. Now, don’t forget your carpet bag, yes, here it is.” I lift it up with some difficulty – God knows what she’s got in there – and heave it towards my friend. “Right; move out of the way, Vi, I’m coming in now.” I begin my own reasonably graceful ascent, proof, if needed, that a daily intake of cod liver oil tablets is advisable, or even essential.
Now we’re both inside, we look around the small, moonlit-emphasised beach hut. It’s tastefully if sparsely decorated: white-washed walls dotted with small sea-themed pictures, rag rugs on the stained wooden floors, a small kitchen unit with sink in the corner. Nice. I spot a collection of deckchairs balanced against the wall and taking first one then another, I force them into creaky compliance. Finally, we sit down with collective mumbles of relief, grinning sheepishly at each other.
Next, Violet takes a small bottle from her bag, pops a pill in her mouth, swallows, and then turns back to me. “I can’t believe we’ve actually done it! Who’d have thought?”
Typical; she’s always been the more timid of the two of us, has been a Doubting Thomas right from our very first day of school, back in ’51. I sigh. “There was never any question that we wouldn’t do it. Well, not in my mind, anyway.”
“Yes but…” Her voice peters out, presumably as she contemplates the boldness of our exploit – most likely the one and only illegal deed during her seventy-one years on the planet. I won’t tell her that, actually, I too have a few collywobbles. Not least concerning our breaking and entering. But it’s all about putting a face on it, isn’t it? Acting confident. Assertive. And, anyway, I’d have done anything she asked of me – always have done, always will. I had to find a way and I did.
So I waggle my finger at her. “Don’t go all moral on me now, Violet Johnson; we both agreed that this was how we’d do it. It had to be like this – you know that.”
She gazes at me for a few seconds then appears to relax, her wrinkles smoothing out like Febrezed linen. She nods. “You’re right Kath, we’ve got to make the most of it. Enjoy ourselves. YOLO, I believe they say.”
“Exactly.” I reach into my bag, bringing out two small flasks. I hand one to my friend. “I’ve added a small drop of our favourite tipple to help us sleep.”
She nods approvingly. “Splendid. And the blankets are in the carpet bag, if you could get them out, luv.”
Some seconds later, we are fully ensconced in, if not exactly the lap of luxury, relative cosiness. Smiling to myself, pleasantly tired owing to the unaccustomed exercise and excitement, I close my eyes.
The next thing I’m aware of is Violet tapping me on the shoulder and proffering a mug of tea. I blink rapidly, wondering where the hell I am, but once I’m reasonably compos mentis, I grin at her. “Good morning Vi.”
“Morning sweetie.” This morning’s Violet is dressed in velour tracksuit, complete with sandals and a fetching yellow bandana. She presents a striking picture – one very different from the night before. And her demeanour also seems different. She appears more… energised. Yes, that’s the word: energised. “You all ready for today, Kath?”
I take a few welcome slurps of tea, then get up slowly from my deckchair. “I certainly am. Just give me a minute for my ablutions, and I’m all yours.” After using the screened porta potty - as well as guaranteeing the owners were safely abroad, my other research included ensuring the facilities were at least fairly civilised - I join my friend at the front of the hut. We look at each other, waiting and wondering, before I ease open the wooden door.
And yes – the view is all we could’ve wished for. Standing motionless, we stare out at the pebble-free sandy beach. Its pale-yellow graininess is dotted with an occasional clump of wrack and clatter of sea-shells then, just yards beyond, the sea sparkles, tempting and tantalising in its shimmering glory. Violet expresses our collective reaction in just two words. “Bloody hell!”
“Quite.” I don’t want to crow, but, in all fairness, I can’t resist. “See – didn’t I tell you it would all work out for the best?”
My friend doesn’t bother answering – she’s already spurred into action, now grabbing what she obviously considers essential beach equipment: sunshade, blanket, bucket, spade and… rubber ring. Riiiight. Once she’s relinquished some of her burden into my hands, I follow her onto the sands, relishing the squidge of already-warm sand-beads on my bare toes. Bliss! We spent some minutes just padding across the beach, investigating this and that, exclaiming over driftwood, picking up shells. I can’t believe it’s been years since I walked bare-footed on the sands. When did I stop doing that sort of thing? I can’t remember. I suppose you just get into that middle-age followed by old-age mentality, don’t you, where you just don’t do that sort of thing anymore? You lose your inner child. Shame.
After a while, although I assume we’ll be settling down comfortably, blanket-kneed and magazine-reading true to form like any other two ladies of a certain age, I discover that Vi has other ideas. No sedate undertakings for her – she now makes a beeline down to the sea, sandals flung aside, dipping her big toe in the water and squealing irate-seagull fashion. I join in, wincing at the early-morning chill but, at the same time, enjoying the ‘in the moment’ sensation. It’s a feeling I’ve learnt to recognise and enjoy more and more over these past few weeks and, in particular, with Vi.
The hours that follow are a picture-book regression into childhood. The beach artfully stimulates us into making sandcastles, popping bladder wrack, laughing hysterically over the slightest thing. Nothing daunts us. Even the occasional early-morning runner or dog-walker looking curiously at us only causes us to laugh louder and longer.
Early afternoon. We finally retreat to our dune-placed deckchairs, lay back and raise our faces to the sun. A small breeze puffs across the hazy calm of the beach, the silence only occasionally interrupted by squawking from a distant gull.
“You’ve been great, Kath.”
“Mmh?” Shaking myself from my daydreams, I open my eyes, and turn round to Violet. My friend. My voice sounds strangely gruff when I come round enough to acknowledge what she’s saying. What she means. “Ah… It’s ok.”
She smiles at me. “So - that’s my last item ticked off now. And… I think I’ll be able to face the next few months. Thanks mostly to you.”
I nod, unable to put into words what I really want to say. But it’s alright: I think she knows. No, actually, I know she knows. Right, enough of that - I prise myself out of the deckchair and grab my handbag. “Well, I don’t know if there’s anything on that list of yours about ice-cream but my stomach tells me it’s definitely ready for a 99 – I’ll go and get us a couple.”
Vanessa Horn first became interested in writing in 2013, when she took a sabbatical year off from work. Since then she has written several hundred stories, many of which have been published in magazines, and others having won prizes in short story and flash fiction competitions. In 2015, her first book ‘Eclectic Moments’ – a collection of short stories – was published by Alfie Dog Fiction.