Old Molly
Jo Hewlett

    Old Molly lay in her tidy, white hospital bed and thought to herself that things really could have been a great deal worse.
    She had had a nice lunch and was warm and comfortable. They had strapped up her ankle and it was not broken, only sprained. She was still slightly concerned about the funny little pain in her chest, but she had discovered that if she lay quite still, and only took shallow breaths, she could hardly feel it at all. She was not one to fuss so she hadn’t told the doctors about it. In her opinion, doctors were inclined to over-react to these things.
    Molly had been very worried that they were going to send her home again, but instead they had put her in this little side ward on her own. She had been disappointed about this. She loved the noise and chatter of the big ward. When she asked Sister why she had been moved, the woman had answered, in her jolly, tactful voice:
    “We thought you would appreciate a bit of peace and quiet, Mrs. Purviss!”
    Peace and quiet! This struck Molly as supremely ironic. She felt she had had enough peace and quiet in the last few years to last her for ever and ever. Sometimes she went for several days without speaking to a living soul.
    She thought of her nasty little cold bed-sitter at the top of innumerable, exhausting stairs. The spluttering gas fire gobbled up coins so quickly that she could very seldom afford to feed it. No, she was certainly better off here, even in the quiet of the side ward.
    Molly had never expected to find herself all alone. She thought there would always be dear Bert and the children.
    She had had three children. Angie was the eldest – she lived in Australia. They often wrote to each other and talked about Molly visiting, but Molly knew deep down that there would never be enough money for that. Angie had tried to explain the intricacies of Skype in one of her letters, and offered to pay for a computer so that they could see each other and talk. Molly felt she loved her three grandchildren, even though she only knew them from photographs, and the prospect of actually seeing and talking to them really excited her; but she really couldn’t understand Angie’s explanations about the modern technology, and the subject was dropped.
    Her second daughter had been called Cissie. Cissie had died so long ago now that, although Molly put fresh flowers on her grave regularly, and thought about her often, she found it quite difficult to recall her face, except in dreams, of course! Then she could see her clearly: her big, black eyes and cheerful, laughing face. She had other dreams too, when Cissie’s face was white and strained with pain, and her black eyes looked straight at her mother, pleading for help.
    Then, of course, there was Johnny: her lovely, darling, handsome Johnny!
    Johnny had got into bad company and broken her heart. Molly blamed herself. She knew it was mostly her fault; she had spoilt him so dreadfully.  She hadn’t meant him any harm; it was just that she loved him so, and just couldn’t say NO to him.
    The only times she had quarrelled with Bert it had been about Johnny.
    “You’re ruining that boy!” Bert had actually shouted at her once, and the tone of his voice had shocked her. He had never raised his voice to her before.
    Now she hadn’t seen Johnny for over two years. 
    The police called from time to time, looking for him and asking questions. In a funny sort of way, Molly didn’t mind their visits. It was company and she never tired of talking about her wayward son.     Sometimes she would half pretend to know where he was. Then the policeman would stop and have a cup of tea, hoping to wheedle more information out of her. But it wasn’t true; she didn’t know where Johnny was. How she wished she did! Bert had been right, of course; she had spoilt him. 
    Dear Bert! Her mind went back to when she had first met him.
    Ada Chaffinch! What on earth had suddenly made her think of Ada Chaffinch after all these years? Ada had been her one, really, truly, best friend when they were girls, and at the thought of her a smile flickered across Molly’s face. They had worked together in the house of a rich, old lady called Mrs. Rawlings. Molly had been there first and it was very quiet until Ada arrived!
    When she wasn’t working, having no friends of her own age, Molly used to spend her evenings at home reading or watching TV. She had been very shy in those days and could never pluck up the courage to go out on her own. But when Ada came to work for Mrs. Rawlings too, things changed! Ada wasn’t much of a one for reading or watching TV!
    “Come on!” she used to say. “Let’s go out and ‘ave a bit of fun!”
    And out they used to go: to the cinema, or a disco, or sometimes, greatly daring, to a local pub when there was live music billed.
    But, best of all, were their trips to the travelling funfair. Through the long, distorting mirror of memory, it seemed to Molly that the fair had always been there, although, of course, it couldn’t have been. She could almost see the fast-moving lights, hear the music from the galloping horses, the people shouting and the screams of terrified laughter ringing out from the roller-coaster. Her nose twitched as her senses conjured up the heady mixture of candy-floss, engine oil, sugary doughnuts and hot, cheerful people.
    It was at the fair that Molly had met Bert. Molly had gone with Ada, and Ada’s boyfriend Henry had brought Bert. They had gone round together all evening. Molly and Bert had hit it off straight away. Molly remembered it as though it was yesterday: the noise, the fun, and Ada’s terrible, loud laugh! They had all gone on the Ghost Train and, her shyness forgotten, Molly had pretended to be frightened so that she could grab Bert’s hand. She didn’t need to pretend on the roller-coaster where she grabbed his hand in earnest!
    Thinking of happy, far off times, old Molly drifted off to sleep.
    It must have been a good while later that she woke up as the shadows were beginning to lengthen. She felt very rested.
    The door opened and a nurse, whom she didn’t recognise, poked her head around the door.
    “Visitor for you, Mrs. Purviss!” she said brightly.
    Molly never had any visitors, well, except for the vicar, of course. She sometimes pretended to be asleep when he came, as she could never think of anything to say to him!
    She opened her eyes. A large, bulky looking woman strode into view. She was in a purple coat, with an awful green velvet hat pulled down over her ears. She came stomping into the ward, clutching a large shopping basket, which she plonked down by the bed.
    “I ‘eard you was poorly so I come to see you!” she said, in that loud voice that was somehow familiar to Molly.
    Taking off the awful hat, the woman sat herself down in the chair by the bed.
    Molly stared at her in amazement.
    “Don’t you recognise me, Moll?” the visitor demanded “It’s Ada!”
    “Ada?” queried Molly. “Is it really you?”
    “Of course it’s me!” said Ada, laughing out loud with that terrible, honking laugh that Molly would have recognised anywhere. She had always been dreadfully embarrassed by Ada’s laugh, but Ada didn’t care. She always used to say that if she was out of work she could always get a job on the river as a foghorn!
    “What’s the matter with you, then, you poor old thing?” Ada enquired.
    “I’ve got a bit of a pain in my chest,” said Molly. “But it’s much better now … oh, and I’ve sprained my ankle.”
    “Let’s ‘ave a look at it then!” said Ada. And she pulled back the blankets to inspect the offending joint.
    “It doesn’t look too bad,” she remarked, poking it gently with a finger. “Can you stand on it?”
    Molly looked at her ankle in some surprise.
    “I must have been more woozy than I realised,” she exclaimed. “I don’t remember them taking the bandages off.”
    Now that she was sitting up and could see her old friend properly, Molly thought that she didn’t look too bad at all. The mop of white curls looked almost blonde in the setting sun. Ada had always had lovely hair.
    “Come on, Moll, ‘ave a go at walking! You can do it!”
    Molly slipped carefully out of bed and gingerly tried her weight on the damaged ankle. It really wasn’t too bad at all, hardly a twinge.
    Ada took off the purple coat; she was not nearly as fat as Molly had thought when she had first seen her.
    “You’ve kept very well, Ada,” said Molly.
    “Yes,” Ada replied, peering at herself in the small mirror over the washbasin. “You don’t look so bad yourself.”
    Molly stared over Ada’s shoulder into the mirror and patted her nice brown hair.
    She could see the reflection of her bed in the mirror and turned round in amazement.
    There was an old lady lying in the bed who seemed to be asleep. She had wisps of snow-white hair spread out on the pillow, and she looked vaguely familiar to Molly.
    “Who on earth is that?” she asked Ada.
    Ada gave one of her dreadful loud laughs.
    “Oh dear, oh dear!” she said. “You still haven’t cottoned on, ‘ave you? You always was a bit slow on the up-take!”
    “I wasn’t!” retorted Molly indignantly.
    “Well, come on then,” said Ada, (who seemed to Molly to be looking younger by the minute), “unless you’re planning to hang about ‘ere all night! Let’s go out and ‘ave a bit of fun!”
    Molly looked through the open door of the little ward. In the distance she could see the fast-moving lights of the funfair and hear the carousel music. She felt the old, familiar tingle of excitement.
    “Right ho!” she said, and, as blithely as a young girl, she skipped after her friend.