Julia woke up on Christmas day feeling better than she had in a long time. She opened her eyes. Her room, normally sad and grey during the winter months, was cheerfully bright.
She needed the bathroom, and wondered if she’d get there in time, or if it would be a matter of getting one of the carers to clean her up afterwards. She still found that embarrassing, even though the carers were used to it, even though it was the norm in here.
Push yourself up, a voice inside her said. She rolled onto her side to see if she could push herself to a sitting position. She was delighted to find that she had no problems. She reached for the button and pressed it, but thought she’d try and get up with the aid of her Zimmer frame, ready for the trek to the bathroom. It was with some surprise that she found she could manage this with only a modicum of difficulty. She trundled the thing to the door, opened it, and made her way along the corridor to the bathroom. No sign of any carers coming to help her, but she’d got this far, she’d try the rest. It was something of a relief that she not only managed to get to the bathroom, but that when she sat down, she peed long and noisily, without any hint of irritation that had accompanied her in old age.
With renewed confidence, she pushed herself up onto her frame again. She needed a cup of tea, and was hungry, and though it was the norm to dress before breakfast, they had been told that as long as they had on a dressing gown, they didn’t need to dress for breakfast as it was Christmas day. They’ve done something to the lighting, she thought as she made her way along the usually dimly lit corridor. Today it had the same warm glow as her room.
In the breakfast room, she found she was not the first to arrive. “Hello Frank, hello Sandra, happy Christmas.”
“Happy Christmas Julia,” they responded. They too were in dressing gowns and were seated at a table set for eight.
“Where are all the other tables?” Julia asked as she made her way to the single table and sat down.
“Dunno,” replied Frank. “We were just discussing the same thing. Ah, here’s Harry. Perhaps he can shed some light on the situation. Merry Christmas Harry. Any idea where all the other tables have gone?”
“Buggered if I know. As long as there’s somewhere for me to sit, I don’t care.” Julia noticed that Harry didn’t have his Zimmer frame this morning, just a stick. “Good day for it, anyway. Now, where’s some coffee. And I fancy kippers if they’ve got any.”
As they ate, they were joined by Richard, Felicia, David and Rachael. But no-one else. They all wondered what had happened to the others. “Perhaps they’ve gone to their families,” said Felicia.
“Don’t think so,” said Frank. “Betty’s got no family. And George Bayliss can’t stand his family.”
“Perhaps,” said Harry, “they’ve been put into one of the other dining rooms. My family said they would pay for the deluxe Christmas experience. I said I didn’t want any presents, what’s the point at my age? But they said the deluxe Christmas was a special treat. Must say, I quite like this place with just us lot here.”
They all sat having a leisurely breakfast, no carers on hand, yet anything they fancied be it kippers or toast, was suddenly there at the table.
“Right,” said Julia after a while. “I think I’m ready to get dressed now. And I fancy a shower. I’m off to look for someone to help.”
“Good luck with that,” said Richard. “I’ve not seen anybody.”
Julia made her way back to her room and got her sponge bag before making her way to the bathroom where she pulled the cord for assistance. She thought she’d be able to manage her teeth on her own, but there was no way she’d manage a shower. What if she slipped?
She finished her teeth, but no carer had put in an appearance. Damn. Her head felt itchy, and she needed to wash her hair. She could really do with a shower. Go on, you can do it, the voice said. You’re so much more stable this morning. All you need to do is hang on tight. Could she? She took off her dressing gown and let her nightdress fall to the ground, careful to avoid looking in the mirror. That was a sight she didn’t want to see today, or any day. The shower, which was a walk-in shower, had switched itself on, she noticed, so she took hold of the grab rails and gingerly walked into it. The temperature was just right, and as she reached up to rub her hair, she found that shampoo was already in her hand. She quite forgot herself while she was in there, soaping her body, though careful not to look at how it sagged. It was the best shower she’d had in a long time.
When she got out, she found a warm towel to hand and somehow dried herself off, making sure she used the Zimmer for support. Dressed in only her dressing gown, she made her way back to her room. Her favourite blue dress was hanging on her wardrobe door, washed and pressed. She didn’t realise that she still had that dress, thought it long gone, thought it too small. But she’d look ridiculous in it now, wouldn’t she? Still wouldn’t hurt to try it on, just for old times’ sake.
Somehow, she got her underwear on, though she couldn’t quite remember how, and then she put on the dress. To her surprise, it fitted perfectly. But that was wrong, she’d put on weight since she last wore it. But then again, hadn’t she lost weight since she’d come in here? She chanced a look in the mirror. Not half bad as it turned out. The dress made her look more erect than she usually was. The sight made her realise she wasn’t holding onto her Zimmer, and the thought made her wobble slightly before she caught hold of it. She looked at the chest of drawers. There was a lipstick, her favourite colour. She’d not worn makeup in years, but it was Christmas, so what the hell. She applied it shakily and was surprised at the result. This was going to be the best Christmas in a long time.
She made her way along the corridor to the living area with its large Christmas tree and open fire. But they don’t have an open fire here, she thought, health and safety. But the others didn’t seem to be too bothered. They too were all dressed nicely. Harry, she noticed, looked quite dapper. “Julia,” he shouted. “Hurry up. There’s presents.” Sure enough beneath the tree there were presents for everyone. Julia’s was a beautiful silver necklace, something that Gordon, her late husband, might have chosen for her. She knew the silver would go well with the blue dress. “Here,” said Harry, “let me put that on for you.” And as he took it from her, and fastened it tenderly around her neck, his hands reminded her of Gordon. He still had his stick, Julia noticed, but he wasn’t using it much.
Julia hadn’t had alcohol in many years. As she’d got older, she’d lost her taste for it. But drinks were on hand, and it seemed rude to decline. It was Christmas, after all. Julia had a gin and tonic, and as she took the first sip, thought how nice it tasted, like it did when she was young. Better not have too many of these, she thought. The others had drinks as well, and they chattered and laughed as if they hadn’t an ache or pain in the world.
“Ooh, I think it’s lunch time,” Rachel said. Sure enough, the smell of cooking wafted in their direction.
“Come on,” said Richard, “let’s get there before the others.”
“Can I escort madame into dinner,” asked Harry, holding out his arm to Julia. “Come on, you don’t need that old thing,” he said indicating the Zimmer. I’ll make sure you don’t fall. With a backward glance at her trusty Zimmer, Julia took Harry’s arm and they made their way towards the dining room. There was the table laden with food, the centrepiece of which was a beautiful golden-brown turkey. There were oohs and aahs from the others as they took their places.
Frank took charge. “I’ll carve, shall I?” That was normally something that would have been done by the carers, not by someone who had parkinsonism, yet the tremors that were part of Franks everyday life were absent today as he deftly carved the bird.
As dinner progressed, the wine flowed, and they all chattered and laughed. Once it was done, the leftovers vanished, and a pudding appeared together with jugs of brandy sauce. No one was quite sure who had cleared away dinner, who had brought pudding, but there it was.
Once pudding was over, Frank took charge again. “Come on you lot, let’s go out to walk off some of that wonderful lunch.” They walked to the entrance of the care home, and there was a coat stand with their coats on it, together with gloves, hats, scarves. After getting her outdoor clothes on, Julia looked down at her feet to see that she already had boots on, though she couldn’t remember putting them on. They walked towards the entrance door, which should have been locked. They weren’t allowed outside unless it was with a family member. Yet the door just opened for them and allowed them out.
The front of the care home was not as Julia had remembered it. Rather it was like the grounds of a stately home. Snow was falling gently, covering everything in its virginal blanket. There was no wind, so although it was cold, it was not bitingly so. They went down the steps, Julia clinging to Harry’s arm for support. He wasn’t even using his stick now, she could see, and her Zimmer was back in the living room. She hoped no-one moved it. It was one she was used to by now.
Frank almost skipped onto the grass, where he scooped up a handful of snow and threw it at Richard. Richard retaliated. “Ooh, it’s like that, is it,” said Harry, and disentangling himself from Julia, he left her stranded with no support as he and David went off to join the other two. Soon the women were making their way to the lawn to play their part, like a group of schoolchildren.
Don’t worry, you won’t fall, said the voice inside Julia’s head. Was it Gordons voice? Had she died? Was that why everything about today felt not quite right, not matter how wonderful it was? Don’t worry, you won’t fall, the voice repeated. Well, there was one way to find out. She took a tentative step forwards, keeping an eye on the ground, hoping she didn’t slip. In three steps she’d reached the lawn. Don’t worry, you won’t fall, the voice repeated, but she didn’t think she was up to stooping down to get snow from the ground. She moved to her left where there was suddenly a raised bed she’d not noticed before. She gathered snow from there and joined in the fight.
They didn’t remain too long. David was out of breath after fifteen minutes, and Felicia was beginning to feel the cold, so laughingly they returned to the house, Julia clinging onto Harry’s arm once more.
Once they’d taken off their coats, they returned to the living room, where there was a piano and games on the tables. Richard went over to the piano, Felicia by his side. David and Frank took opposite sides of a chess board. “Does that mean I’ve got all you lovely ladies to myself? How’s about a game of bridge?” said Harry.
“Sorry, can’t play bridge,” Rachel announced. “What about sevens?” Sevens it was, and for the next couple of hours, they amused themselves, swapping who was doing what, and what card game was played. At some point, sandwiches and cake, tea and coffee appeared on a side table, and they picked at those as they wanted.
David suddenly announced, “Hey, music anyone?” He’d found an old phone that had a load of music downloaded onto it. “Looks like something my grandad might have had. Don’t know what the volume will be like.”
“There’s some speakers over there,” said Sandra. “Will it plug into that?” Somehow it did, and before long, music was playing.
“Can I have a dance,” Harry asked Julia. And they began to dance, somehow all of them overcoming the infirmities of their age. Time passed, and Julia noticed that Richard was on his own. She stopped dancing and pulled Harry over to where Richard stood.
“Where’s Felicia, Richard?”
“Oh, she had to leave, said there was some sort of family emergency.” He looked forlorn, but then brightened up. “But we’ve had a fantastic Christmas day though, haven’t we? The best ever.”
They went to bed soon after that. The following morning, Julia was the same, stiff old self, needing help to get out of her bed and into the bathroom. The carers were there, the rest of the residents were there. Except for Felicia. Ah yes, she’d had a family emergency, hadn’t she. Had yesterday all been a dream? Was it still Christmas day, a sad tired apology for Christmas day? But no, one of the staff was asking Betty what presents she had got. And Julia looked down at the silver necklace that she was clutching in her hand.
In the office, Alice asked Jack if everything had gone okay the day before, was there anything to report.
“Everything’s fine,” he said. “I believe they all had a good time. The executive group had a bit of a problem. Felicia Jackson. Her heart gave out in the evening. Luckily they were all dancing at the time, so it was only Richard who saw her disappear. I think I managed to paper over the gaps though. Popped in the loop where she says she’s got a family emergency.”
“Poor old love. Well, we knew she was unwell. Any of the others any problem?”
“Julia was rather hesitant, wasn’t sure what was happening. She’d not been warned, had she, so I had to keep telling her that she’d be fine. The others had no problems adapting though. Just hope Frank doesn’t want to carve a turkey today, that’s all.”
“Good work Jack. Looks like the trial of this software is a success. If we can do this on a large scale, it makes cover over the Christmas period so much easier, when you only need a couple of you to monitor it. You never know, in a few years, people might live the rest of old age like that.”
“Hey, you trying to put me out of a job?” Jack laughed.