The Eleventh Hour
Short Fiction ~ Valerie Troy
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 12
‘What are you banging on about now you cranky old fossil?’ accused Granny, playfully interrupting her oldest friend Ethel, friends for more than fifty years.
‘I’m not your oldest friend I’m your longest friend surely’ reprimanded Ethel.
‘Sure we’re not even old’ they compromised. In their mid-eighties now, they reside together in a nursing home, or as they call it, ‘Happy Sanctuary for Cracked Oul Wans’. Because by their own admission, they were happy, and a bit cracked too. They shared a room in the East Wing, or ‘Sunset Boulevard’, housing the homes more independent, elderly residents.
They’re a pair of scoundrels. When not tormenting each other, they were more than happy to mischievously torment the staff. Granny had a soft spot for Donal the physio. ‘If only I was a few decades younger, he’d be in some amount of trouble’ she speculated. Granny always had a keen eye for nice things and Donal was very handsome indeed. ‘No harm having a look’ she’d say.
‘You’d want your hips in better shape too’ added Ethel scandalously.
Granny was widowed fifteen years earlier, her beloved Jack taken by ‘the Big C’ as she called it, determined not dignify the cancerous horror that took him from her. Ethel walked the journey with her and she would never forget her kindness.
She was a proud grandmother to seven boisterous grandchildren - her ‘Kittens’. Notwithstanding this legacy, everyone referred to her simply as ‘Granny’. No one was entirely certain of its origin, but there is a view that it is somehow related to the grandmotherly way she dispensed nuggets of her intelligently curated wisdom. At a discussion on the merits of the Covid vaccine, she said ‘I’ll take it in my bare arse, through a rusty needle live on The Late Late Show if I have to.’
Ethel was the epitome of elegance. She never married. How such an elegant, engaging and witty woman remained single was a baffling mystery. Instead she powered her way through the Civil Service until her retirement. Always immaculately dressed, sitting with impeccable posture, ankles crossed, knees tilted to one side. Her Friday morning hair appointment something of a ritual. Covid restrictions necessitated a degree of hair care creativity. The home dye blue rinse didn’t quite work out as anticipated. Cobalt blue the outcome. Granny didn’t hold back, likening her new aesthetic to a snooker ball. ‘I’ll just give you five points for that do’ she howled through unstoppable laughter.
They kept abreast of world affairs through a trusty combination of the RTE Guide and iPads. The latter recently gifted to them by ‘The Kittens’. Initially baffled at the iPads determination to ascertain if Granny would accept cookies – ‘Of course I accept cookies, Chocolate Digestives are my favourite’, she eventually succumbed. Although she’d regularly wonder why such a sophisticated piece of technology fears she may in fact be a robot. ‘I’m not a robot, I’m an 84-year-old lady’ she’d protest, combatively wielding a rolled up copy of the RTE Guide.
The debate between the two on that particular day cantered around Ethel’s notion for a stylish Black-Tie funeral. ‘Sure what’s the point of a black-tie funeral when you wouldn’t even get to enjoy it yourself’ probed Granny.
‘I’d be the centre of attention’ negotiated Ethel.
‘As the ‘dead person’ at your own funeral, I’d hardly say you’d have much competition’ fired back Granny laughing.
‘That’s true’ agreed Ethel, admiring their logic. ‘But everyone will be wearing black anyway, I’m just suggesting they all glam it up a bit’ she furthered.
‘What about you? Can’t imagine you going out without a bang?’ she teased. Granny, never one to be outdone was desperately in search of an eleventh hour party trick of her own. She was determined to live life to the max, targeting at a minimum her 100th birthday just to secure her letter from the President. She explained that she had half a mind to order an ice cream van for mourners at her cremation, to lighten the mood. Her logic, which was admittedly outrageous, ‘sure everyone enjoys ice cream at a BBQ’.
‘What’ll happen us after we’re gone would you say?’ wondered Ethel.
‘Well, the way I see it, we’re trainee fossils and if we’re going to be fossils, and we get dusted down someday, we might as well be good ones’ explained Granny.
Ethel considered this strategy and felt it had merit. ‘You are dead right’ she said, ignoring the pun. ‘Let’s face it, our Bucket List days are over. Only thing left on that list is to give the bucket a right good kick’ declared Ethel, laughing heartily at her irreverent suggestion.
‘That’s it so, we’ll go six feet under with a bottle of gin, a couple of glasses, giving the thumbs up’ outlined Granny.
‘Don’t forget to laminate the letter from the President’ reminded Ethel as they finalised their plans.
‘Turn up the news there Ethel ‘til we hear the latest about this blasted virus’ instructed Granny.
Ethel passed away a few short weeks later, taken by ‘the blasted virus’.
It was a crisp morning in mid-October when her funeral mass took place. Granny forlornly looked out at the blue cloudless sky framing the orangey autumnal crunchiness of leaves from the massive oak tree gliding gracefully to their final resting place. The TV was on, muted though. Granny had no need for Department of Health statistics today. The damage was done. She watched the mass on her iPad broadcast on the parish YouTube channel. ‘There was none of this back in our day Donal’ she said, only then noticing the black bow tie he wore in Ethel’s honour, barely visible beneath his semi-transparent PPE. They sat apart but together in silence, Granny tightly clutching the iPad, missing her longest friend deeply.
‘It’s a lovely autumn day to celebrate a lovely woman’ consoled Donal.
‘It is surely’ replied Granny, barely able to find the words.
Valerie Troy is an emerging writer of short fiction living in Dublin, Ireland. She is a Chartered Accountant and has a degree in Business Studies from the University of Limerick. Valerie is a member of Writers Ink online writing group and is currently working on her debut children’s novel.