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Autumn

Autumn

“You’re in the autumn of your life, my dear,” he said, “but you’re doing pretty well for your years.”

Really? Did he honestly think that I didn’t know that was ancient, as ancient as Methuselah? And how does he know that I’m doing pretty well for my years? He doesn’t have to fiddle with putting hearing aids in. He doesn’t have to wear glasses hanging around his neck in case he loses them. He doesn’t have to write everything down to stand the remotest chance of remembering what day of the week it is. He doesn’t have to take a pint of pills every day. I could go on and on, but…

I am not one to complain, never have been. I am not one of those who spend their days reminiscing about what might have been. What’s the point of going back over missed opportunities? What’s the point in berating yourself about those things you should have said, and those times when you should have kept your mouth firmly shut? What’s the point of thinking of all those you loved and left you? I’ve lived most of my life in the present – today and tomorrow. That’s about all I have got the energy to do these days. What’s gone is gone. You can’t relive the past; you can’t bring it back or change it. All those people who write their memoirs - sheer vanity, nothing more. Don’t they understand that nobody is remotely interested in their past? And why should they be anyway? You can’t change history – isn’t that what they say?

“And how are you on your pins?” he said.

God, whatever is the matter with doctors these days? Didn’t anyone ever teach them King’s English?

“Is that a medical term?” I asked. “In my day pins were small sharp objects with a rounded top that you used to hold two pieces of material together when sewing.”

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “As it happens, a pin is a medical term as well. We use pins to fix bones together and in place, but that, of course, is not what I was referring to. I should have asked how well you are on your legs.”

I glanced across at my walking stick hiding on the far side of my chair. “My legs are perfect,” I said. I couldn’t help but notice his eyes follow mine. If he had spotted the stick, then at least he had the decency not to mention it.

“No aches and pains in your legs then? No veins giving you trouble? No breakouts?” he said.

How many times did I have to tell him? By that time, I was getting quite exasperated – what was his compulsion with legs?

“Just routine questions. Nothing more,” he said. “It’s just unusual for someone in the autumn of their lives to be quite so mobile.” There he was again, back to his bloody autumn.

“I have never had any problems whatsoever with my legs. On the contrary, my legs have been my life. Would you be interested in knowing my leg vital statistics as well?” I smirked, wondering how he might react to my question.

“Er, hum,” he muttered. “It’s not a question that I would ever think of asking a lady.” He looked quite embarrassed if I am not mistaken.

“For your information, I am five foot eleven in height and my inside leg measurement is thirty-three. My thighs and legs are pure muscle, never an inch of fat on them.”

He raised his eyebrows. “I’d better be going. I’ve another house call to make this afternoon.” Cheek of the man. He was the one asking the questions about my legs and now he was going to walk away.

“Is that all you’ve got to say about my legs? You had a good deal of questions not so many minutes ago.”

“If there’s something you want to tell me, dear, then feel free,” he said, peering over the top of his spectacles.

“What would a girl do with legs like mine?”

“Marathon runner?” he said.

“Wrong.”

“Olympic high jump champion?”

“Good God man haven’t you got any imagination?”

“You must have been a model. I’m right, aren’t I?”

“No.”

“Silly man. I was a ballerina first and then when I grew too tall, I joined the Bluebell dancers, in 1951. In those days you had to be five foot eleven inches tall, well proportioned, and be blessed with a charming personality.”

“That’s interesting, dear,” he said. I could hear it in the tone of his voice; he was humouring me. Not only humouring me, but he’d made a quick mental calculation and added senile dementia to my list of ailments. Now that really made me cross.

“You don’t believe me, do you?” I challenged him.

“Of course, I do,” he laughed. There it was again – that little ‘humour the old biddy’ nuance.

“Sit right down there.” I pointed to a chair. “I will be back in two minutes and I don’t expect you to have moved a muscle. Do you understand me?” He looked quite taken aback, poor chap.

As I said earlier, it is not in my nature to dwell in the past. Live for the day. And the photograph album that I pulled off the shelf bore witness to the truth of my words. Covered in dust, it hadn’t been touched for the best part of fifty years, but I knew which one I wanted – the one with the blue cover – blue for Bluebells.

I returned t the lounge, put my glasses on, opened the album to the first page, plonked the album on his lap, and pointed at the first photograph in the book. “See that girl at the end of the line,” I said, “that was me in my heyday – one of the Bluebell girls. Did you ever see a kick like that? Turn the pages,” I said.

Wordlessly, he turned one page after another, his mouth agape, his eyes on stalks, his breath getting shorter and shorter. “Wow,” he said. Not a word I would use myself, but I have to say that, looking back through the photographs, I was rather proud of myself and what I had achieved. The memories raced back to me: the hours of practice, the sequins, the costumes, the feathers, the camaraderie of the girls, the adulation of the audiences, the after-theatre cocktail parties, the line of men outside the dressing room desperate for a chance to take me out.

He looked at his watch. “Damn,” he said. “I’ve got to be away. Can we look through the rest of the photographs on my next visit?”

“You may,” I promised him.

After he had left, I reached for the other albums, dusted them off, and set them down on the coffee table beside my chair. That evening I turned page after page and let my memory run riot – the Folie Bergère and the Lido Club in Paris, Le Boeuf sur Le Tôit in Brussels, the Stardust Club, Las Vegas. Such glamour. It was in Paris that I met Henri – a tall, devastatingly handsome man. We had twenty years of wonderful married bliss before he was taken from me. It was after his death that I vowed that I would not look back, not dwell on the past but concentrate on the here and now. It was my way of blocking out the hurt. It was the 7th of February 1973 when he died; I have not opened my precious albums since that day.

It was soon time for my nightly ritual of getting ready for bed. I undressed, folded my clothes neatly and placed them on the ottoman, removed my hearing aids from my ears and placed them in the box, unstrung my glasses from my neck, reached for my pot of night cream, and looked in the mirror. I stepped back sharply, shocked at what I saw. Were my eyes deceiving me? This woman’s eyes sparkled, there was a smile on her proud face, the wrinkles of old age seemed to fade before me. I was a Bluebell again; Henri stood tall and handsome behind me, his hands resting on my shoulders.

My dreams were joyous that night, intermingled with a tinge of regret that I had waited so long to enjoy my past.