A humorous love story about active retirement
Listen or download on www.podcasts.ie, July 2013
Published in Senior Times, April/May 2011
Awarded 1st Prize – Bealtaine Short Story SDCC Competition, 2010
The movement of a large, black, hairy spider caught Betty’s eye as she pulled a hairbrush through her auburn tinted hair. Looking at her watch she muttered under her breath as she made her way downstairs and into the kitchen. She returned to her bedroom with a glass in her hand, opened her window, grabbed a magazine from her locker then expertly placed the glass over the spider while manoeuvring it onto the magazine where she had laid it flat against the wall. Balancing all three she crossed to the open window and flicked the spider out onto the extended roof of her kitchen. He can make his own way back to the garden she thought, as she hurriedly locked the window and remembered to bring the glass down to the kitchen where she gave it an extra vigorous wash.
Moments later she locked the front porch and with her large handbag hoisted on her left shoulder she strode up the road.
“Hi Betty, are you off to school?” shouted her next door neighbour as she flicked her pigtails back from her face.
“Yes Amy, but hopefully I won’t get loads of homework,” chuckled Betty as she smiled at Amy’s mother Joan waiting at the door to welcome her six year old home.
“I’ll knock in for you on Monday for the Ladies Club,” said Joan
“Great, I’m looking forward to it this week. They’ve a landscape gardener coming in to give us all a few tips. Sure I’ll see you then for a chat,” said Betty calling back over her shoulder.
Entering the front door of St Jude’s Secondary School she arrived, breathless, at the classroom door just as everyone was going in. She headed for her usual computer terminal beside her friend Mary, took out her notebook and pen and changed her glasses.
“Well, we have a new member joining us today,” announced Sarah, their tutor, from the top of the class.
Betty looked up and felt a slow heat rising to her face as she slid further into her chair.
“This is Paddy and he’s hoping to learn a little more about computers so that he can keep in touch with his kids in New York and eh . . .”
“And Cavan,” smiled Paddy with a twinkle in his eyes.
As the laughter subsided Sarah pointed out the members of the Active Retirement Computer Group; John, Eoin, Jim, Angela, Mary and finally Betty.
“Paddy, I’ll put you sitting beside Betty today, Tom is at his daughters wedding so he won’t be here and Betty can give you a hand if you’re stuck – sure she’s nearly in the advanced class. We’ll have you up on Skye and Facebook before you know it!” she said as she pulled the chair out for him.
“Hi,” mumbled Betty barely looking up. Paddy sat down and turned toward her, then did a double-take.
“Not Betty the best ballroom dancer in Dublin – also known as Cinderella” he laughed.
Betty looked up as Paddy settled his long legs beneath the desk. He was even more handsome than she’d remembered with his snow white hair cut short and combed neatly to the side. But it was still those piercing blue eyes, so clear and bright, that made her heart miss a beat. At my age, I can’t afford to miss a beat, it’s only the medication I’m on that’s keeping it beating at all.
“I hope I’m not making you uncomfortable, if I am I’ll leave after today, you were here first and I wouldn’t like to . . .”
“No, it’s absolutely fine” she cut across him as she inhaled the fresh scent of Old Spice emanating from him.
“Okay class, let’s continue on from last week where we were attaching photos to your email,” said Sarah while Betty, who normally listened intently while jotting notes for later, thought back to the last time she’d seen Paddy.
It must have been close to two years ago, she thought, when her friend Mary had begged her to go to The Ierne Ballroom for the Valentine’s Day Dance. Betty, a widow for over twelve years by then, was used to being on her own but Mary was still coming to terms with it all and needed to get out and about. Reluctantly Betty agreed to go. Much as she loved the ballroom dancing she attended each Friday afternoon with some of her friends, she didn’t feel the same about going into dances in town where she didn’t really know anyone.
It was on that night that Paddy, who she’d noticed watching her earlier in the night, had asked her to dance. He reminded her of her husband Tommy the way he swirled her around the dance floor, her feet barely touched the ground all night. He told her that he was a retired Painter and Decorator – just like her Tommy had been – and he too was widowed, but only the year before when Lily’s weak heart had finally given in. They had spent most of the night dancing and laughing, enjoying each others company, but then fate had intervened.
Betty had taken a break and was sitting chatting with Mary. The night had been a great one – neither of them having laughed so much in ages. Mary recounted her adventure here last time when a guy called Jack had taken her up for every waltz, only to stand on her toes so often that she’d had to bathe her feet for a week to get rid of the blisters. Taking a sip of her vodka and red Betty, with tears of laughter streaming down her face had started to cough, Mary had patted her on the back and when she’d looked up Mary had started to choke with laughter – Betty’s beautiful white teeth were gone! Realising what had happened Betty hurriedly buried her head beneath the table in search of them. Finding the bottom set of dentures she pushed them into her mouth – who cares what’s on the floor, this is an emergency – but she couldn’t find the top set. In between bursts of laughter they’d searched everywhere to no avail.
“We have to go. NOW!” mumbled Betty, grabbing Mary’s arm as they grabbed their coats and bags. They headed out the door and down the steps just as the lights came on behind them.
Hailing a taxi they slumped in laughter into the back seat, tears streaming down their faces.
“Just gone midnight and we’re already on our way home,” said Mary.
“I couldn’t stay there, if anyone saw me I’d die,” mumbled Betty as Mary looked at her friend and tried to stop the laughter erupting again. “I knew I shouldn’t have worn those new teeth out until I was used to them.”
As the taxi turned onto their road and they both rummaged in their bags for their keys and purses Mary could hold the laughter no longer as she pulled out Betty’s top teeth where they’d landed in the open compartment of her bag! They’d paid the taxi driver and spent another hour in Betty’s kitchen with a cup of tea while they replayed their evening.
“Well they always say laughter is the best tonic,” said Mary touching her teacup to Betty’s, “better than a gin and tonic any day.”
Betty was drawn back to the present as Paddy stood up and bent across her desk.
“Let me get that for you, Lily used to hate spiders, not that they do any harm, mind you.”
Cupping the spider in his large hands he walked across the classroom and dropped the spider out through the open window. Sitting down again he swivelled his chair around towards Betty.
“You know, I went back to The Ierne a couple of times after that night hoping I might see you. I really enjoyed the dancing and the laugh, you miss that most I suppose,” he said wistfully. “Lily wasn’t much of a dancer but we’d go to meet up with everyone.”
“Well you can always come to the ballroom dancing on a Friday in the school hall. Jim and Angela and Mary all go too,” she smiled.
“You know Betty, I just might do that, anything to see that beautiful smile of yours again,” he grinned.
“Ah, that’d be the Colgate,” whispered Mary while Betty felt a gurgle of laughter, like the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, begin to erupt!