It isn’t junk!” Albert snapped.
“I never said it was, Mr Wetherby.” Ben held his hands up in innocence.
“But you were thinking that, in that face of yours!” Albert slowly sunk to the floor, teardrops balanced precariously on the edge of his sunken eye sockets, ready to tumble down over his creased and cracked face.
Ben sat down next to Albert. “I’m sorry, Mr Wetherby. I didn’t mean any offence.”
Albert took out his spotted handkerchief and smiled, as Ben took it and dabbed away his tears. Albert sighed, as he looked upwards into his carer’s face. The skin that was as smooth as marble unlike his own lined with creases and wrinkles, the brown eyes that glistened with life, unlike his own hollow, watery blue ones. The rich brown hair fashioned into one of those new-fangled hairstyles, which contrasted with Albert’s own scraggly grey locks.
“It isn’t your fault, Ben. I’m sorry. You’re a good lad and I’m not just saying that because you’re married to my granddaughter.”
Ben smiled, showing a full set of dazzling white teeth. “Thank you, Mr Wetherby. If you’d like, I can come back in a few days and help you pack everything up then?”
Albert nodded. “Thanks Ben.”
“I’m afraid we can’t put it off much longer. We’ll have to move you on Saturday.”
Albert swallowed and his skinny Adam’s apple bounced up and down.
“I understand. You can go now. I’ll see you on Thursday.”
“Goodbye, Mr Wetherby.”
Albert watched Ben pack up his kit and run past the chair-lift and down the stairs. He smiled longingly at the young man’s agility and energy. He was like that once. Albert would have hit a wall in frustration, if he was a younger man, but now, he couldn’t afford to damage his fragile body. Instead, he sighed over his few remaining original teeth. Using his cane, he limped into his bedroom to get changed, out of his pyjamas. He knew that he should call Ben, who was always at his beck and call, to help him, but Albert hated having to rely on other people. For the first sixty-four years of his life, he had been entirely self-reliant, but for the last twenty years, his body had started disintegrating.
Albert shrugged off his dressing gown and reached into his wardrobe for a neatly folded shirt and grey formal trousers, all washed, dried and pressed by Ben. Albert took off his t-shirt and striped trousers, revealing white hair and pale skin. Inch by inch, he slipped on his salmon pink shirt and sitting on the bed, he pulled on his slate grey trousers and picked a black tie to fit his formal look. He wanted to look smart for Annie. He set down at his desk and looked into the old-fashioned make-up mirror that Valerie used. He pulled it closer to him and tried to bring some order to his chaotic hair. Albert picked up his comb and Brill cream that were lying next to his and Val’s sepia wedding picture. Albert sighed again. She was so beautiful. The old man stood up and stumbled over to the chairlift. Using a far too skinny finger, he pressed a button and it slowly began to descend.
Albert could still hear the bellowing of the bells. They were deafening over the chatter of the excited guests, the rumbling of the bellies of the little boys in their tailor-made suits. The Western doors swung open and Valerie stepped through, her arm interlocked with her father’s, dressed in a blinding white dress with a netted veil. Her father walked her down the aisle and Albert was glad to see that he wasn’t the only one that was crying. Valerie took her place opposite her fiancé and they stared at each other, as the Vicar’s words were lost in a blissful happiness
“Do you, Albert Wetherby, promise to take his woman, Valerie Belle, as your lawfully wedded wife in sickness and in health, til death, do you part?”
“And do you, Valerie Belle promise to take this man, Albert Wetherby, as your lawfully wedded husband, in sickness and in health, til death do you part?”
Albert jolted awake at the third bellowing of the doorbell. He had fallen asleep in the chairlift again. He stood up and edged towards the door. He opened it and Annie was standing on the other side of it.
“Hey granddad!” She said, as she hugged him.
“How’s my beautiful granddaughter?”
Annie blushed. “You say that every week, but I keep telling you I’m not.”
“Nonsense! You could even give Val a run for her money.”
“You know I could never be as beautiful as her.”
Albert smiled and knelt down. “And who’s this pretty little girl?”
The little girl blushed and giggled. “Me.” She replied.
Albert chucked. “Gilly certainly isn’t as modest as her mother, is she?”
Annie smiled her agreement and helped her granddad to his feet.
“Come in and sit down. I’ve got a present for you, Gilly.”
Annie and Gilly sat down on the old-fashioned sofa, whilst Albert rummaged around in a box on his hands and knees.
“Where is it…it should be in here…I know it is.” He muttered.
“Are you alright, granddad?” Annie asked.
“I’m fine thanks.” Albert said and continued rummaging.
“Do you want any help?”
“Don’t worry about it.” Albert declined.
“It’s no bother. I’ll come help you.”
“Annie, I told you, I’m okay! I’m not a bloody child.” Albert snapped.
“I never said you were.” Annie mumbled in response.
“Ah, I’ve got it!” Albert stood up and tottered over to Gilly. As the little girl unwrapped her present, Albert looked up at his granddaughter. She really did look like Val. The same rich brunette hair, the same eyes that shone with happiness, the same naturally pretty face that never required an ounce of makeup.
“Oooh, a beanie baby,” Gilly exclaimed, “it’s the Rooster!” Her heart-shaped face beamed with excitement.
“I know you’re collecting the Zodiac line. I hope this helps.”
“Thanks, great-granddad.” Gilly hugged Albert tightly.
“Easy, Gilly. I’m getting old.”
“That’s one reason I wanted to talk to you. Ben told me what had happened.”
Albert’s lip started to quiver and his eyes had become wet. Sentimental old fool.
“And I do wish you had let me invite him round today.”
“Annie, you know I love Ben, if he were my own and I’m not just saying that because he’s your husband, but he’d be fawning all over me and you know how I hate that.”
Annie smiled sadly. “Gilly, why don’t you play with your Rooster? I’ll get your great-granddad a cup of tea.”
“I can get my own tea!” Albert protested.
“Go on then, granddad.”
Albert struggled to his feet and limped over to the kitchen. He picked up the kettle and he tipped it towards a cup that he thought looked clean enough.
“Granddad, is that water boiled?” Annie asked.
“Silly me.” Albert put the kettle back on its stand and flicked a switch.
“Granddad, are you sure there’s actually any water in there?” Annie signalled to the water level indicator that barely registered anything.
“I’m getting forgetful in my old age.” Albert picked up the cup and kettle and slowly moved towards the sink. And then the cup hit the ground. The impact obliterated it. Albert sighed and began to kneel down to collect the fragments. Halfway down, he collapsed and fell onto the floor. Annie knelt down and put her arm around the old man.
“Thanks Annie,” Albert said, trying to keep the tears out of his wrinkles, “I’m just getting feeble.”
“I know you don’t want to hear it, but it’s in your best interests to go to the Willow Tree.”
“There you go again with your nursing home business.”
“It’s not a nursing home. It’s a retirement community. You can socialise with people your own age.”
“Yeah, we can play bridge and shout BINGO,” Albert snapped, “sorry Annie, I didn’t mean that.”
“You did, but it doesn’t matter. Look granddad, I’m not going to patronise you by saying that I know how you feel, because I don’t, nor do I have any right telling you what to do, but-”
“I know, I know, you think the Willow Tree is the best option for me.”
“Maybe you’re right. Help your granddad to his feet.”
“How about that cup of tea now?”
The teabags had decayed and discoloured, as the darkness had sneaked up on the day.
“Wow granddad, it’s almost 6. Gilly and I had best get going.”
“Oh stay for dinner please.” Albert begged.
“I guess we could get something delivered,” Annie suggested, “I can call Ben and I’m sure he can find something at home.”
“No, I was thinking of making Corn Fritters. I know it isn’t much, but Gilly likes it.”
Annie agreed and called Ben quickly, whilst Albert made the food. After the two had finished their respective tasks, they all sat down at the dinner table.
“Ben told me he’s coming round here on Saturday.”
“Yeah, he’s going to help me pack everything up.”
“Do you want me and Gilly to help you?”
“Yeah Val, that would be great.”
“I don’t understand how this infernal thing works!” Albert yelled in frustration.
“Why are you playing with a shitting rubik’s cube? Your bloody daughter is giving birth.” Valerie snapped.
The pair heard screams and grunts coming from the delivery room.
“How long do you think she’ll be?” Albert asked, pulling at his collar. He had arrived at the hospital in a 3 piece suit, that had been reduced to an open-necked shirt and formal trousers, as the minutes had ticked by.
“You can’t predict these things, Alb. You know how long I took giving birth to Danni.”
“Yeah I do.” Albert muttered. He sat back in his seat and stretched out his legs.
“Is that why you brought the rubik’s cube?” Valerie exclaimed.
“I’ve already done two sides of it.”
Valerie sighed and hit Albert around the head.
“Val, we’ve been married for twenty-five years and you haven’t stopped hitting me for a single year of them.”
“You haven’t stopped acting like an idiot for one of them.” Valerie retorted, before bursting out laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“Danni is about to become a mother and here we are squabbling like we’re children.”
Albert’s and Valerie’s laughter echoed around the halls and it was only when a nurse came that the pair quietened down.
“Danielle’s ready to see you now.” Albert and Valerie followed the nurse into the delivery room. There they saw their daughter holding a minutes old baby in her arms.
“Come in.” She beckoned.
“Aww, Danni,” Valerie beamed, “can I-”
Danielle transferred the baby into her mother’s arms.
“It’s a healthy and happy baby girl,” the doctor said, “What are you going to call her?”
“Is great-granddad asleep?” Gilly asked.
“I don’t know. Granddad? Granddad?” Annie prodded Albert who awoke with a great snort.
“I wasn’t sleeping.” Albert exclaimed.
“Of course you weren’t,” Annie agreed, “before you weren’t sleeping, you called me Val. I’m Annie, remember?”
Albert rubbed his eye. “Sorry Val, I didn’t mean to call you that.”
Annie sighed. “Right, we should get going now. It’s almost Gilly’s bedtime.”
“I’m 8 years old. I don’t need a bedtime.”
“Gilly!” Annie snapped.
“It’s okay, Annie. It’s almost my bedtime too. I’ll take you to the door.”
As one the family stood up and Annie and Gilly walked ahead, whilst Albert struggled to keep up.
“We’ll see you on Thursday with Ben and we’ll help you pack everything up.”
“I’ll see you then.” Albert hugged Annie and watched the two walk away from his house. He closed the door and shook his head despairingly, as he felt his eyes begin to water. Albert blew his nose into his spotted handkerchief and let the tears roll down his face. Droplet by droplet took their turns to hide in the old man’s creases and wrinkles. He sat down in his chairlift and let it carry him up to bed.
Albert woke up before his alarm clock went off. He always did. He didn’t know why he still set it. Valerie had always slept like an elephant and could never wake up without an alarm clock. Maybe that was why he did it. Albert got out of bed and went through his morning routine. Half an hour later, he was leaving his house to do his weekly food shop. He knew he could have asked Ben to do this, but he had his reasons.
Twenty minutes later, Albert hobbled into his local supermarket. He took out his shopping list and looked at the first item: cream style sweetcorn. That was at the other end of the store. Albert sighed and started shuffling over there. Before he knew it, he was in front of the cosmetics stand. Valerie had passed away seven years ago, but Albert could still remember what lipstick, eyeliner and blusher she wore, not that she ever needed it. Maybe that was why Albert didn’t want Ben to do the shopping for him. No matter how hard he tried, he could never stay away from the make-up section. He always called himself an old, sentimental fool who couldn’t let things go, but that never stopped him from returning here.
“Can I help you, sir?” A shop assistant asked.
Albert looked at her and cursed, as he welled up. “You’re alright, love.” He croaked out, before limping away to buy cream style sweetcorn.
After Albert had finished his shopping, he sat down on a bench.
Albert’s phone rang and he rummaged through his pockets.
“How do you answer this damned thing?” He asked, before pressing a button.
“Hey granddad. I’ve got a problem.”
“What is it, Annie?”
“Gilly’s starting nursery tomorrow and she’s supposed to bring a soft toy with her, but we can’t find anything suitable and Gilly’s crying. I feel awful.”
“We can’t have that now, can we? Tell you what, I’ll go out now and buy something and bring it you tomorrow. Tell you what, I’ll go one further and take Gilly to the nursery myself.”
“You’re a lifesaver, granddad, thank you.”
“Don’t mention it sweetheart. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Early on the next morning, Albert stopped at his granddaughter’s house and picked up Gilly. He could tell that she was excited, as she was leading him to nursery, rather than the other way round.
“Slow down, Gilly. I’m just an old man.”
“No, you’re not. My great-granddad could never be old.”
A short while later, they reached the nursery and Albert took out the toy he had bought.
“This is Manes. He’s a lion cub and he’s part of a group of toys called Beanie Babies. He’s only young, so I want you to look after him.”
“Aww, he’s so fluffy.” Gilly gave her great-granddad a quick hug before running into the nursery.
“Knock ’em dead little lady.” Albert blinked away a tear.
“Hey mister, are you dead?”
Albert jolted awake. “What did you say? He said, to a pair of curious eyes looking up at him.
“I said, hey mister, are you dead?”
“No, I’m not dead. Not yet at least.”
“Chardonnay! Leave that old man alone.” A coarse voice scratched out and Chardonnay ran back to her mum.
“I’m not old,” Albert retorted, “and who names their child after a type of wine?”
Thursday was a grey and drizzly day. Albert had been up for a couple of hours and was now sitting on the sofa to kill some time. The third bellow of the doorbell woke him up. Albert turned off the TV and hobbled to the door and found Ben, Annie and Gilly standing behind it, with the little girl clutching onto the Rooster Beanie Baby. He gave his grand and great-granddaughter quick hugs and was about to do the same to Ben, when he saw the young nurse stick his hand out.
“Good to see you again, Mr Wetherby.” Ben said.
“I’m not going to tell you about calling me granddad again, Ben.” Albert warned, before hugging his grandson in law.
“You might have to, Mr. Wetherby.” Ben replied, after breaking free of the hug.
“Come to the attic and we’ll get started.” Albert rushed as fast he could to the chairlift and pushed the ‘up’ button. The rest of the family overtook him and waited at the top of the stairs.
Albert tried his best to stand with apparent confidence and tried to keep himself steady, as he walked to the attic door. He pulled the draw string and climbed up the stairs that fell to the floor. His family followed him.
“So, where should we start?” Annie asked.
“I guess we create three piles? One, with everything Mr. Wetherby definitely wants to take with him, one where he isn’t so sure and one with everything he doesn’t want.”
“Good plan, Ben. You’re a smart lad. Let’s get to work.”
Over the next few hours, the family of four sorted through the random assortment of items that Albert kept in the attic. As the day hobbled into evening, three very definite piles began to emerge, which were slowly transformed into two.
“I guess we’re done.” Annie said.
“Guess so.” Albert agreed.
“I’m afraid we have to go now, Mr. Wetherby, but we’ll take everything you want to the Willow Tree tomorrow and we’ll come round on Saturday and take you there.”
Saturday morning arrived and, as usual, Albert was awake before his alarm clock went off and, as usual, he fell asleep in front of the TV whilst waiting for his family to arrive and as usual, he was woken by the bellowing of the doorbell. He opened the door and saw his family standing behind it.
“Hey granddad,” Annie greeted him, “all of your things are already in the Willow Tree. Are you ready?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be!” Albert said and allowed his family to lead him Ben’s car. Ben got into the front seat and drove off.
Ben stopped the car and rushed to the side of the car to help Albert out. For once, the old man decided not to complain about this. He also didn’t complain when Ben and Annie helped him to the front door, with Gilly clutching onto one of his gnarled hands, the other holding her Rooster Beanie baby. Annie walked up to the reception desk.
“I’m the granddaughter of Albert Wetherby. He’ll be checking in today.” Annie told the receptionist.
“Oh yes, right this way, Mr. Wetherby. I’ll take you to your room.”
Albert followed the receptionist down a corridor to a door, which had his name printed on it in a bronze, italicised, swirly writing. The receptionist opened the door and Albert took his first step inside.
“I’ll leave you to get settled.” The receptionist returned to his desk.
“What do you think, Mr. Wetherby?” Ben asked, after a few moment’s pause.
Without a word, Albert struggled over to the bed and reached into the carrier bag, he had been carrying with him, since he had left the house. He took out three items and placed them in turn on the bedside table: Manes, a Rubik’s cube and Valerie’s wedding veil.
“Do you like it granddad?”
Albert sat down on the bed. A single tear rolled down his face and settled in one of his wrinkles.