'The Unwashed Bowl' by Karen Storey
His entrance was almost regal, he the king, and the gaggle of gangly youths trailing in his wake, the courtiers. It was because of the quiff, she thought, the slicked-back hair a crown making him taller than everyone else – and sexier. Alice blushed. What would her mother say if she knew what her well-brought up daughter was thinking, and in All Saints’ Church Hall too?
Then there he was in front of her asking her to dance. As she stepped into his arms, he …
“Damn and blast it!”
Cold tea poured into her lap as her grasp on the mug slackened in her sleep.
Alice sighed. Jack would never have looked twice at her now, she thought, old bag of bones that she was. But in her heart she knew that wasn’t true; from that first night at the dance, he’d been hers. Even after all this time she missed him.
Leaning on her stick, she hobbled down the corridor to the gloomy kitchen. A narrow band of evening sun crept in at the edge of the window. She reached up to pull the lopsided curtain aside, but only succeeded in make its rail sag even more. Old age was a bugger.
Alice picked up a dishcloth and sniffed it gingerly. Not as bad as she feared; fine to mop her shabby skirt anyway, and tomorrow was Marta’s day to clean so it could be washed then. The thought of Marta lifted her spirits. At least she’d see another human being.
As she tossed the greying rag into the sink, it caught a bowl perched on the pile of unwashed dishes and sent it arcing through the air, splattering her with stale milk. Instinctively Alice grabbed at it, only to find herself toppling onto the tiles as the china shattered around her. For a moment she felt nothing, but as soon as she moved, pain seared through her side. Her stomach clenched in fear; there was no way she could stand up on her own.
“Get a grip, girl,” she told herself. “Everything will be fine in the morning when Marta comes.”
The grandfather clock in the hall struck hour upon hour. Alice drifted in time. Her long hair streamed out as her father pushed her swing high into the boughs of the apple tree. She smiled to hear Marta singing loudly and tunelessly over the whine of the vacuum cleaner. Jack’s hand, sticky with nerves, took hers as he proposed on Brighton Pier. But in the grey dawn, she returned to the present and her eyes strayed to the overflowing drawer of the Welsh dresser. Somewhere in there was a newspaper cutting about that place in Switzerland, a reminder that there was a way out if things became too much. Jack would have been ashamed of her for even contemplating such a possibility, but then he wasn’t here, crumbling away day by day, was he? Well, she wouldn’t have to disappoint him now.
Alice closed her eyes.