Monday, 25 November 2019

The Saving of Banerjee and Wilson

Penny Rogers

 Nothing to drink, just suck a lemon drop


It can’t get much worse, mused Sandra. The night was very dark; the storm that had caused the power cut was still raging and no light filtered through the none too clean windows of the holiday chalet. Her primary concern at the moment was Kenneth; more specifically the strain upon his octogenarian bladder. ‘No you can’t go downstairs to the toilet. It’s pitch black and that ladder’s unsafe.’ She was sure there were regulations about holiday lets that stipulated handrails on stairs, but now was not the time to worry about that. ‘Try and think about something else. Would you like a boiled sweet?’
            ‘Lemon drops? No thanks, I think they might be diuretic.’
            If only she’d remembered the torch. It was in the passenger door pocket of her blue Renault Clio. Only it wasn’t hers anymore; it was on its way to an automotive knacker’s yard, the life-saving torch still in it. At least they were safe. She’d known that it was foolish to continue along the flooded road but she’d seen cars coming the other way and Kenneth was anxious not to be late. The meeting of the natural history society was scheduled to start at 2.00 in the beach car park. It was already 1.55 and their satnav had taken them through an industrial estate rather than to the shore. To make up time, and against her better judgement, she’d driven under the bridge. They didn’t make it out of the flood and the last she’d seen of her car was it being pulled unceremoniously out of the water and away down the road suspended by the front axle from a breakdown truck.

‘Could I pee out of the window?’ The desperation in Kenneth’s voice was obvious.
‘No, the window ledge is too high. I’ll think of something.’

Aided by a police officer who looked just like Meghan Markle, Sandra had paddled around in the muddy water rescuing coats, bags, road maps, even a tin of sweets from the doomed car. The water was seeping up the seats by this time. She didn’t even think of the torch.
            The fire engine left; there was no pumping out to be done. Sandra felt relieved when it had gone.  She hadn’t realised the impact that her 999 call would have. As soon as it became obvious that the flooded engine was not going to restart, she’d made the call and Kenneth had swung into action. Swivelling round in the confined space of the Clio he’d rummaged through the bags on the back seat. ‘Must make sure Banerjee and Wilson doesn’t get wet.’     
         Sandra helped him find all of his precious books among their rapidly dampening possessions. She even found a robust bag for life to keep them dry and made sure that the bag took priority when help arrived.

‘Do you realise that I went to Rugby with Mohandas Banerjee?’ Kenneth cut into her thoughts. His preoccupation and passion was his collection of books on littoral invertebrates of north-western Europe, and among those his first edition of Banerjee and Wilson was his most treasured possession.
            ‘You have mentioned it’ Sandra was thankful he was distracted from his immediate problem. ‘Did you once tell me you started annotating that book when you left university and that he used some of your observations in the second edition?’ She listened patiently to his detailed answer and by the time he’d got to the reproductive cycle of the sandhopper she’d had an idea.
            The next time he said ‘I’ve got to go downstairs’ she had her answer ready.
            ‘Give me that bottle of water. I’ll empty it out and you can pee in that.’
            ‘I can’t pee through that tiny hole; it’ll go all over the place.
            ‘I’ll cut the bottom off and you can hold it upside down.’
            ‘But it’ll run out the top.’ For a Professor Emeritus at a highly respected university Kenneth could be very slow.
            ‘Leave the cap on.’ Sandra snapped. She was tired, cold and worried about her car. All her belongings were damp, the heating didn’t work in the chalet and there were dead woodlice in the bath.
            Using the faint light of her phone she emptied the water bottle out of the window; it ran down the roof along with the thousands of gallons that were still crashing from the sky. Fumbling about in the gloom she found her washing bag and the pair of nail scissors she always kept in it. As Kenneth described seasonal variations in mud crabs, she carefully cut the bottom off the bottle by the fading light of her phone. It wasn’t easy, and she didn’t want to risk cutting herself. The prospect of making another emergency call was more than she could contemplate.
            Triumphantly she held up the receptacle. ‘You can go now. Be careful when you’ve finished. Better give it to me.’ She had a vision of going to all that trouble and Kenneth absent mindedly spilling it all.
            ‘Don’t think I need to go any more.’
            ‘I think you do.’ Sandra was terse.
                                                                                 
Sandra’s helpful neighbour Ian had come round with advice on acquiring a replacement car. The autumn sunshine poured into the cosy living room as they enjoyed tea and homemade cake. Between mouthfuls of shortbread Ian asked ‘So, when did you get the power back?’
            ‘The lights came on at exactly 3.07. Sandra made all that fuss about me peeing in a bottle and half an hour later the power was restored. I could’ve waited that long.’ Kenneth helped himself to a scone.
            Before Sandra could reply Ian chipped in again. ‘How did you get home?’
‘Hired a Ford.’ Kenneth volunteered. ‘Trouble is it was manual transmission and Sandra’s forgotten how to drive them, so I had to.’
            ‘It was all you did do.’ Sandra got up to re-fill the tea pot.
            ‘That’s not true. I had to pee in a bottle and I saved Banerjee and Wilson.’

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