Gladys was lying on her death bed. A misplaced footfall descending the stairs at home and she’d tumbled down, almost in slow motion, and come to rest at the foot of the stairs by the front door. She’d gone out instantly and remembered no more. Her granddaughter was in the house at the time and had called the ambulance. Here Gladys was now, the centre of attention. Worried faces, hearts in pain, her whole family brought together through concern, anguish and because they loved her. But Gladys lay at peace, blissfully unaware.
Yet her mind was as active as ever. She was well into her nineties and had been one of those people who never seemed to stop. Working, doing things, cooking, painting, looking after the neighbours’ kids, helping out at the local old folks’ home. Rarely without a smile and a cheery word, she kept her heartbreaks inside, didn’t want to darken anybody’s day with her problems. It’ll all work out, you’ll see, she always thought. Her generation had lived through two world wars, which had taught them perseverence, resignation and an optimism which came from need more than belief. They needed to believe to go on, so they did. But there were hardly any left of her generation.
In observation, while she couldn’t hear or see, she was perfectly aware, awake inside. Outside she knew were her son and daughter, the ones that were left, she’d outlived too many of her offspring, some of her grandchildren, and that no good son-in-law Jim. Maybe that was a bit harsh, he did the best he could, like all of us, just that he was no good at anything. Didn’t seem to want to be, that was the problem. But that was Karen’s fight, Gladys had had hers. And she’d survived them all. The two husbands. All her sisters. Her cousins in Australia, why had they gone so far away? But she’d survived them all, and now it was her turn and she’d go and see them all again. Her time had come and she was ready. People would be sad to see her go, but they’d celebrate her life, she’d had a good innings, they’d say.
And by golly, had she. But it irked her that very few would remember her in her prime. That was the bad thing about living to a ripe old age, there was more of you lived with a wrinkled face and an old body than the shining face, bright eyed beauty she’d been. Maybe that was the cruellest thing about life, all that beauty fading day by day. Even the most bewitching beauty lost it all. She’d seen a picture of Grace Slick, singer with Jefferson Airplane, beacon of hippy light in the late 1960s, a sexy beauty like few sat on a high stool in the recording studio. Slim, long dark hair, slender legs crossed, face a study of bewitching feminine harmony. Fifty years later she was unrecognisable, still elegant, strong willed for her age, yet another person. No less valid, moreso in fact, the wisdom, experience, stuff she’d learnt, a testament to a life lived and well.
So who now remembered Gladys Trinket as she’d been? This Is Your Life. Maybe Michael Aspel was up there waiting. He certainly hadn’t surprised her coming out of Sainsbury’s with the red book and the film crew. She’d often chuckled to herself that us ordinary folk deserve the accolades, the recognition, the lifetime award just as much as the film stars, sportspeople and politicians. But no, that’s fine, we got through two world wars, we kept calm and carried on, no small feat. Size 41, actually.
Gladys Trinket. The first female rower in the south east. The girl who’d passed her school exams with flying colours. She hadn’t been able to go to university, but her natural intelligence and application had taken her far. She was one of the Bletchley Park women. She’d spoken French and Italian, even had a fiancé in Naples, Antonello. Not exactly a fiancé, you know, but we were less overt with our descriptors back then. But amid all those raven haired, dark-eyed Italian beauties, high cheekbones and aquiline noses, she’d swept him off her feet. She still felt proud of that.
Gladys Trinket, the Union rep at her company who’d stood up to the bosses, calmed the waters and got the workforce a better deal. The woman who’d raised a large family, was a figure of admiration for her eleven grandchildren, and who disseminated good energy wherever she went. Who remembered all this? She did, and proud she was. She’d done what was asked of her in this world, now it was time to see what the next would bring. Maybe Antonello would be waiting. Or Michael Aspel.
I can go now, in peace, and she sighed, imperceptibly.