Short Story: Bagatelle
October is a month where nothing ever really happens. Unless you consider Halloween, which I’m not. According to our local Golden Oldies Thursday Group, and specifically my mother, trick or treat should be illegal. And I’m in agreement with all of them, especially mother. Prohibition would be safer and certainly more cost effective for the darlings’ parents who would soon be experiencing the financial strain of the Christmas cavalcade. Global marketing powers aren’t even sure what they want to sell to the general public at this uninspiring time of year, other than BOGOFs. It’s simply too late for summer sales and too early for the Christmas rush.
It’s true, nothing happens in October. Unless you go looking for it. Take our parents for instance; they’re not fifty any more, are they? To be honest, Father needs a hearing aid and Sky Sports. Mother has rheumatism and independitis. Her rejection of a walking stick or Zimmer frame demonstrates this clearly. Might she consider an electric scooter, complete with armchair seating facility and shopping basket? Not that anyone else would. In theory, a motorised scooter for my mother should not be an option. In practice, and judging by the way she’d steered my children’s pushchairs and driven supermarket shopping trolleys over ankles and into people’s personal space, I’d have to disqualify her. If ailing victims had called Claims Direct, she’d be bankrupt.
Hazardous. Erratic. Calamity and Danger - these are just a few words which spring to mind when I think about that scooter. Rover is the word Mother prefers to use. It’s her name for the three-wheeled peril that has been putting my life in jeopardy every since our family presented it to her on her seventy-fifth birthday.
It has been our third outing to our local and historical village of Thistleton. It’s only a short walk from Mother’s mellowed red brick, rose gardened bungalow to the centre of our bustling village. For the third time, I placed my life in danger, repeating a strategy I’d carried out on two previous excursions, placing myself centre road to hold up the two lanes of traffic only to find Mother meandering on along the pavement, completely oblivious to my traffic management skills and horn blowing, fist shaking drivers mouthing rude comments.
I caught sight of her, trying to conquer a dropped pavement at a fearsome angle. Her transportation vehicle was tipping slightly onto one side.
‘Mum’, I called out, running over to her. ‘Mum.’
As I approached Rover, Mother accelerated across the road without looking in either direction. Hadn’t she heard me? Hadn’t she seen the oncoming traffic? There really wasn’t much to choose between a teenager attached to earphones, a businessman on a mobile ... or Mother.
Mother meandered on absent-mindedly. And I remained in pursuit.
‘Walk on the other side Jenny’ she bossed. ‘I can’t hear you.’
That was because I hadn’t said anything but her instruction, easily inferred by any foreign person visiting England for the first time, implied quite clearly that she wanted me to entertain her with senseless chatter.
‘Where would you like to go today Mum?’ I asked obediently.
She was busy fiddling with Rover’s dials, attempting to alter the speedometer to a slow stroll.
‘Bagatelle’, her red lipstick snapped.
I knew well that Mother’s irritable attitude was due to excessive concentration when manoeuvring her Kawasaki 500 around the beds of flower displays and zig-zag of advertising boards along the journey. Also, that her right leg, which would or could not bend, protruded over Rover’s running board with the ability to trip up passers by and flick up raincoat hems like a cleverly staged theatrical farce.
Bagatelle, implied by its name is perceptively a handbag and fashion accessories shop: chic, intriguing, bursting with panache and wonderfully stocked with handbags, purses, diaries, chiffon scarves and copious amounts of glittering, beaded and Boho costume jewellery. Holding a dominant position at the main entrance to the shopping precinct, Bagatelle’s open double doorway, dressed with two tall display stands, entices passing shoppers with rich satins and pastel silks.
All was going well, apart from the stop - start staccato journey, caused by any member of the public who dared to cross Mother’s onward path. I began to relax. Mum seemed to have got the hang of conducting Rover at last. She was beginning to take notice of her surroundings, nodding occasionally to a friendly fluffy hat, a Burberry jacket, a pair of patterned King Charles spaniels, often executing a mild sneer to pedestrians with walking sticks.
Veering towards Bagatelle, Mother was taking care not to park in front of the window display. I was impressed by her consideration. Yes. I felt reasonably confident. We’d made it. I heaved out a long held sigh. All I had to do now, was enthuse greatly about the choosing of a navy blue handbag. Simple. But Mother’s specifics are second to none. The handbag had to provide at least two surface compartments suitable for mobile phone and disability parking licence; a roomy pocket; a thick single strap for shoulder carrying; must not be made from leather; display coloured trims, patterns, logos or carry jewelled accessories and must be under twenty-five pounds. Like I said, simple, if it wasn’t October and brown wasn’t the new navy.
My premature thoughts and silent sigh had peaked too soon, my team congratulations on the expedition, too hasty. Mother had parked directly outside the entrance and was experiencing a problem dismounting Rover. Her face told the story. Her hip must have been throbbing during the excursion, referred pain from her leg hanging awkwardly off the scooter’s main board. I guessed she was suffering extreme pins and needles from the way she was rubbing her legs, as if she had just stepped from an exfoliating shower experience.
At this point, I must explain that Rover’s steering column accommodates a horn and two levers, one on each handle; the forward and reverse; and the accelerator and breaking systems. The column is designed to lift upwards for the driver to exit with ease. Mother had remembered this technique and moved the steering handlebar in readiness for her departure. Seconds later, she made her one fatal mistake. Whilst using the handlebar as a prop, she stepped firmly onto the speckled marble floor, accidentally catching hold of the accelerator lever, revving and over-revving Rover to his peak, thrusting the unwieldy unit and herself upwards, outwards and forwards, elevating the handbag display at the entrance to Bagatelle into the air like a Paul Daniel’s magic trick. Pink Fiourelli handbags rained down in a paler shade than Mother’s face. Scarlet chiffon scarves plummeted like ruptured clouds. Costume jewellery exploded, getaway gems and beads rolled rapidly out through the gangway and into the shopping precinct. Mother lay as gracefully as possible on her side. All the clocks in the world seemed to have stopped as people rushed from all directions to Mother’s aid, fussing, patting, dragging her up onto a straight backed chair and offering her water, each and every one of them glaring at Rover as if he was some sort of disobedient pet.
That was the third and last time we took Rover for a ride. Rover is now parked in Mother’s garage, awaiting a new owner, whilst Mother, realising her scootability days are over, sits happily in wonderment flicking through magazines over a cup of tea with Marjorie, her new friend from the shopping precinct, at new wave wheelchair possibilities and the next ride of her life.
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