Sad, sweet, short story – Colin Devonshire
The Scent of Floss
‘Hi, Mr Perkins, your father is in his room.’
‘Is he okay? No dramas?’
‘He is fine.’
‘Thanks, I’ll go see him. Oh, my son is in the garden with one of your carers. Can you show him the way to his grandad’s room when he’s ready?’
‘Of course. Have a pleasant visit,’ the nurse smiled and bustled down the corridor.
‘Hello dad, how are you feeling today?’
Silence followed by a grunt, ‘I don’t know why you are here.’
‘Dad, please, do we have to go through this each day I come?’
‘Please open the window, I can’t smell the flowers.’
John Perkins smiled and pushed the windows wide.
‘Beautiful day dad, the sun is shining.’
‘I can tell when the sun is out, even with these eyes.’
The grey orbs could detect changes in light, but not much else.
‘Yes dad, can you smell the roses down there?’
‘I can list the flowers by smell. Who are you again?’
‘Your grandson is here today. He is growing fast and will start school next term. He is very excited about it. Please say pleasant things about school.’
‘What is his name?’
‘His name is Paul. Here he is.’
A timid lad was hiding behind a green uniformed lady. Left and right she moved, young Paul remained behind her.
The old man suddenly beamed, ‘I can smell candy floss!’
‘Where did you get that, it’s bad for your teeth,’ said son to grandson.
‘One of our residents loves it. Her daughter always brings a stick when she visits. Unfortunately, the lady is unwell. Young Paul was in the right place at the right time,’ the lady explained.
‘Once in a while won’t hurt, I guess?’
The lady smiled and led Paul to his father.
‘Can I have a taste?’ said the old man.
Paul carefully placed the stick in his grandfather’s hand.
A grin spread across his face as he breathed in the sweet aroma.
‘Let me tell you a story, young man. Come and sit next to me.’
A gentle breeze blew the curtain as the old man drifted back in time.
‘I was a little older than you when I first thrilled at the travelling fair. It came to our village every summer. My granny had saved up a jar full of coppers, which she emptied into my jacket’s pockets. I can feel the weight of those old pennies pulling me down now. Off we went to the common, I could feel the excitement growing as we neared the fairground. The first thing I spotted was the helter-skelter. “Can I can I”, I asked. “It’s your money,” she said. I raced off to join the queue of boys and girls all waiting their turn.’
His grandfather’s every word entranced Paul.
‘It was while I was looking at the children sliding round and round, that I got a whiff of heaven. A huge lady was spinning a stick in a vat of pink sugar. When she finished her creation, a cloud of rose-coloured candy floss was presented to a pig-tailed young lass. She skipped away. I no longer wanted to clamber up the stairs to the top of the ride, I wanted the pink treat.’
Son and grandson were speechless. Entranced by the speech, that summer day all those years ago. It had started a train of thoughts they would never forget. Young Paul pinched a hand full of sticky floss, bringing delight to his grandfather’s face.
‘I was standing, holding my prize, staring at the dodgems. My granny grabbed my hand and led me to the stepped rim of the circuit. The rumble of the wheels, the squeals of excitement and the thrill of the chase were all too much for a young boy. I had to have a go.’
The small audience grew. Two of the nurses heard him talk at length for the first time since he arrived at the care home. Soon the room filled with residents and more staff as people crept in to hear more.
‘I fell in love with the dodgems. Every year when the fair came, I worked for “Old Pikey” the owner of the ride. My job was to knock at neighbouring houses and collect newspapers used to clean the “cars”. In exchange for a pile of newsprint, I handed them tokens for free rides. My wage was also tokens, but I also got free candy floss. The candy-floss lady was “Old Pikey’s” wife. My mind is drifting away from the dodgems, as they skidded across the steel floor. That lady always smelled sweet, but her husband smelled of fish,’ he grunted at the thought.
The afternoon’s tea trolley pulled up outside and offered a steaming cup to all inside. The bedroom had filled with intrigued listeners.
‘It was then I met your grandmother.’
Paul’s hair was ruffled by shaky fingers, and his head rested on his grandfather’s chest.
‘Old Pikey had a daughter. He kept her away from the ragamuffin customers and workers. I included. We did not know about her, we didn’t know she existed. One day I was delivering papers, the door to the caravan opened a little, and a slender finger signalled me to come near. I crept over, “Take me to the bus stop please,” I heard whispered from behind the door.’
He stopped talking, frozen in time and deep in thought. He shook his head, then slowly and confidently continued his race on the memory circuit.
‘She was fifteen, I was fifteen going on sixteen. She told me she wanted to run away. Her father and mother kept her locked away, she didn’t go to school and had no friends. She had watched me each year when the fair arrived on the common. She wanted to speak to me, but couldn’t get her nerve up. Until that incredible life-changing day. She was beautiful. I was in love.’
Again the storyteller drifted, lost in ancient memories. The audience was transfixed by his tale. They were holding their breath until he continued. This was from a resident who didn’t speak more than a handful of words.
‘We ran away, we went to Brighton, thinking we would find work. It wasn’t to be. We had nowhere to live and were starving. My mum allowed us to return. The police had been to the house and scared the life out of her with talk of kidnap. We were both sorry for all the distress we caused. Sally fell pregnant, we had a hastily arranged marriage, and I found a job. John here was born, fit and healthy. All was well until one day there was a knock at the door. It was a Sunday, my mum was at church. I opened the door and smelt candy floss.’
Tears ran down his cheeks.
‘I never saw her again. Her sweet-smelling mother dragged her away. Her father punched me, then used a tool from the dodgems and poked my eyes out. Sally was screaming as they frogmarched her away. Years later, Old Pikey died and Sally tracked me down. She had sold the fair and came to live with our son, yes, John, you, and my mum.’
A burst of applause shattered the silence.
An old man wondered what all the noise was for. Why were the people in his room? And who was sitting on his bed?