Dust motes danced in the beams of sunlight that fell across Ethel’s prison bunk, at least that’s what she called it.
At the top end of the bed, Ethel’s worn and wrinkled face protruded from the rest home’s putrid green covers. Creased eyelids were closed over cloudy cataracts. Slack cheeks bordered thin, dry lips. A witchy nose sprouted grey hairs, with more vigour than those thinning on her flaky head.
At the bottom end of the bed lay a tabby cat, its eyes also closed, and its furry chest rising and falling in sleep. A stripy tail and triangle ears sometimes twitching as it dreamed.
A junior nurse dressed in hospital- blue popped in. Pretty and smart, she closed the blinds a tad, lest a sunbeam make its way across the old biddy’s face. She didn’t want to wake this one up, even if the rules stated she should.
Ethel had a temper; everyone knew and was best not woken. Nurse Kelly popped the paper cup of capsules on the bedside cabinet and beat a quiet retreat in her soft-soled shoes.
An old eyelid squeezed even more wrinkles together as it lifted. A single eyeball swept left and right, scanning the room for the Gestapo. Its surveillance stopped on the second sweep, settled on the cat and widened.
“Oh no, you farking don’t!” Ethel growled through gums and false teeth.
Two gnarled hands appeared from under either side of the prison blanket, as she called it. She leaned forward, her creaky spine complaining all the way.
A rest home cat is a dozy feline. It doesn’t face many threats, adored by those inhabitants that have enough energy to love it and ignored by those that don’t. It is said these cats can sense death and will sleep on the bed of the patient next to die.
Ethel had other ideas.
Mister Horace, the tabby, did not have Ethel’s years of experience, nor her stealth. And being one of those rest home cats, he was not alert to much danger. Ethel’s clawed hands came within inches of his furry neck before she pounced, securing a grip she had no right to produce with her eighty-year-old strength.
An innocent ball of fur transformed itself into a writhing mass of claws and teeth in an instant.
“Faaarrkkk!” Ethel spat out her teeth in the melee.
She could have abandoned the assault, with justified fear that her paper-thin skin might be shredded. But she was made of stronger stuff. With amazing dexterity, she bundled the cat into her prison blanket and twisted the corners just so. She now held a wriggling, screeching bundle of blades.
Nurse Kelly appeared in the doorway. Ethel glanced over and rolled eyes. Kelly was far too attractive for Ethel’s liking. Having it off with the prison guards no doubt, for extra favours. Probably stockings.
“Quick, open the window, ya dopey tart,” Ethel snarled.
“I will do no such thing. Is that Mister Horace you’ve got in there?”
“The grim reaper more like!” Ethel declared and tried to shuffle her way to the window side of the bed, clutching her hysterical prize.
“Now open the window, I’ll toss the little blighter out, scythe and all.”
“We’re on the top floor, Ethel!”
“Are we? Marvellous! He’ll have a lovely view on the way down.”
Kelly stepped further into the room, unsure of her next move. Fortunately for her, as the front end of a mobility scooter crashed into the doorway where she had stood a second before.
At the controls sat a plump old lady. A wig of blue curls on her head clashing with her rosy-red cheeks and nose, a symptom of the hipflask of whiskey secreted somewhere in her yellow cardigan.
She appraised the scene in an instant; saw her friend’s predicament, calculated that the chances of any help coming from the twelve-year-old pretending to be a nurse were slim, and came up with a plan.
“To me! Chuck it here, Ethel!” she yelled from the doorway, as if calling for a rugby pass out of the scrum. “I’ll bung it down the laundry chute.”
“Enid! Thank Christ, someone with a clue. Mister Horse Shite here was trying to kill me. Little fekker chose me to sleep with!”
Enid manoeuvred the scooter through the door, taking some institutional grey paint with her, and received the living rugby ball wrapped in green. Bundling it in her lap and holding it down with a saggy elbow, she pulled off an impressive about-face and headed for the hills, with Kelly in tow.
“Hey, isn’t that John’s scooter? You know he can’t get around without it. Enid!”
A voice echoed down the rest home corridor from the direction of Enid’s escape.
“He’s fine. I left him on the bog. He won’t need his wheels for ages now; he’s been blocked up since the Sunday roast.”
At the end of the corridor, Enid scored for the team, flinging a spitting, screeching Mister Horace into the laundry chute, to massacre the first poor soul he came across down below.
Ethel leaned back in her bed, repositioning her teeth before grinning in triumph.
Enid tried her best to run over Nurse Kelly’s toes as she turned John’s ride back towards her best friend’s room for a celebratory tipple.