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Page 6

Jane Downing

We do get couples in, observed the Polly-ish worker as she handed the glass to Arthur. There was nothing more than conversation in her voice.

Beatrice took the opportunity to sit down. She took the second glass of water offered. Arthur stayed standing, pale, one thick hand grasping the pail, the other his icy water. Sweat trickled down from under the brim of his straw panama with its smart black band. Had he been to a brothel before, Beatrice wondered, belatedly. Did this explain his discomfort? Because what did the years of devotion that had gone into growing to look like each other, actually hide? She would have cared. She caught herself, shook herself – as if they’d had spare money for such things at the time they’d had libidos. The good old days, when the smell of an oily rag was luxury.

Through all this musing, the water was doing Arthur no good at all. His flushed face drained, he swayed. Hands reached out to save the bucket. They reached out to save him.


The paramedics came through the back entrance of the brothel as a courtesy. They cranked the stretcher up to the height of the bed in the Island Paradise Room, so it wasn’t too difficult to hoist Arthur across.

You can follow in the car, we’ll meet you at Emergency, Beatrice was instructed by the paramedic in the high-vis jacket that crackled as she moved. She didn’t like to say she hadn’t driven for years, not with the arthritis in her left leg. She reached into Arthur’s trouser pocket and fetched out the keys. She stroked his hand. He blinked startled-deer-in-the-headlight eyes above the oxygen mask. The stretcher clattered like a shopping trolley with a wonky wheel through the lounge, around the kitchen table, into the alleyway.

Near the fancy fridge one of the sex workers whispered to the one with the tattoo of Elvis on her breast. Beatrice didn’t mean to listen. Lucky man. Typical male fantasy, she heard, to die in a brothel when you’re ninety.

Beatrice wanted to protest. But the shame on the woman’s face when she realised Beatrice had overheard was enough, and too much. The receptionist saw it all too. She hurried forward with the World Wildlife Fund bucket. It’s pretty heavy. Can I carry it back to your car?

Beatrice didn’t want this charity. Pity would make her cry. In amongst the welter of emotions she registered the insult that she and Arthur had been thought that old. Did they really look ninety? She knew humour was a safety valve and that Arthur would have made the joke himself if he could. They’d come back later, after, to thank them for their kindnesses, she decided, and then he could correct the sex worker: that it was the fantasy of seventy year-olds too.

But first she had to pull herself away from the comfort of the kitchen.

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