Thursday 3 September 2020

Golden Hair

by Hannah Retallick
Orange Juice

Six children in high-viz jackets visited the care home. A young woman and two men held their hands, and a carer ushered them into the conservatory. It was a hot Saturday afternoon. Sun shone through the glass roof and landed on two old men who were seated there. Other residents tottered in, assisted by sticks, walkers, or supportive arms. 
            An old lady was wheeled in by a nurse, in a big armchair. She was a small hunched body, a burgundy cardigan, and a fluff of short grey hair which curled over the twisted collar of her white blouse. 
            The three girls and three boys clustered around a linen bag, picking out of it brightly coloured percussion instruments. There was an attempt to manoeuvre the children into a straight line. The young woman quickly counted to four and they began to sing, ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’, accompanied by maracas, rattled in a chaos of rhythm. 
The old lady’s face stirred, as though she recognised something and strained to remember what it was. The young woman handed her a blue plastic tambourine. The old lady laid it on her grey-skirted lap, running her fingers around the small metal discs. She began to tap along – at the right speed but a little behind the pulse of the music. 
Most of the children had gentle, lyrical voices, but one of the boy’s was loud. He became fidgety after the fifth song, seeming to have no wonder in twinkling little stars and what they are, and no patience to pretend. A fidget chain began. The adults exchanged looks, released the boys and girls from the untidy line, and asked if they could please put their instruments back in the bag more gently, please. The fidget-instigator rubbed his mess of hair and looked at the old lady in the big armchair. 
‘And what is your name, my lovely?’ she asked, taking him by the hand. 
‘You have a lovely voice, Tim.’ 
He rocked back and forth, heel to toe, balanced by her grip. 
‘Such lovely hair,’ she said. ‘It’s golden, isn’t it.’ 
‘Ginger,’ said Tim. 
‘Lovely golden hair.’ 
            ‘Mummy says red.’ 
‘The light,’ she said. ‘Such a lovely voice. I had a lovely voice. Well, that’s been a while.’ 
Leaning forward, she touched the boy’s hair, finger curling loosely around a lock. Tim stared, as though trying to work out what she was.
‘Such a lovely voice.’ 
‘Right, I think it’s time we made a move,’ said one of the men. 
 Tim adjusted his high-viz jacket and allowed his hand to be taken by the one who had led him in.  
‘My name is Amelia,’ said the woman. ‘Such a lovely voice, Tom.’ 
Tim’s eyes didn’t leave her until he had stepped over the conservatory threshold and into the dark living room. The old woman’s hand remained suspended for a moment before coming to rest on the peeling faux-leather arm of her big armchair. The tambourine slipped from her lap. 

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