Percy by John Young

Percy, a widower, elderly, overweight, and increasingly untidy in his habits is passing time waiting for the taxi which will convey him to his golf club and its bar where he and his aged companions will spend some hours together laughing and grumbling in harmony. He looks forward to these hours with his friends. They structure his week and give it forward momentum; they provide brightly lit points in what is otherwise a darkly hued and solitary life; they encourage him to feel that, though often lonely, he is not in some vague sense alone. 

As he waits for the taxi he thinks as he often does of his friends, now sadly diminishing in number. He knows they will attend his funeral, perhaps contributing recollections which, suitably embellished, would feature in the oration. In subsequent weekly get-togethers in the bar he would be remembered for this or that remark or for other reasons. “That problem with your knees, Percy had a problem like that. Got a special ointment from the doctor, or was it a vet? Said it helped a lot.” Or: “That reminds me of the joke that Percy used to tell about…” They would chuckle as they called up his memory.  In a sense he would be present with them in these moments. Whatever his passing moods, he has, he thinks, an obligation to be robustly jolly in their company. Being dark and broody has no place among his friends. 

Percy hears the annoying buzz. A wasp. As a young man he was stung on the lip by a wasp, a painful experience which has left him with an enduring hatred of the insects. He eases his bulky, aging body out of the reclining seat by the window in the sunroom, draws a hefty magazine from the overflowing paper bin, pursues the insect around the kitchen, until, with a lucky but decisive thump, he obliterates it against the glass panel in the back door. With a grunt, he bends, picks up a portion of the creature by a wing, deposits it in the food waste caddy, then pausing for a moment to consider the splatter of wasp innards on the glass, ambles back to his seat. 

In his mind his wife’s voice calls to him from the past: “Percy, you’ll HAVE to clean off the wasp squishy stuff, right away, before it goes hard.” Then more softly: “You HAVE to learn to do these jobs promptly – and properly too.” He recalls her sadly shaking her head. “You have to keep on top of things Percy. I may not always be here.” He sighs and glances at a picture of his wife on the sideboard. Still being nagged, he thinks with a faint smile. Though he despises self-pity he is momentarily overtaken by a sharp pang of loss. 

But, yes, I am beginning to let things slip – just a bit. His glance briefly traverses the floor, taking in the assorted piles of paper, the bills, and a few days’ newspapers. Ok, job for later, perhaps tomorrow, tidy up a bit.  Or maybe not!  Tidiness: the need for it always caused tension with his wife. Her near panic at the prospect of having visitors, the anxious scurrying around, picking up his papers from the floor, that irritated him, sent him out of the house to cool down in the garden. “What does it matter what people think,” he would fume. But now he looks around: Yip, he decides in a rush of resolve, need to tidy up a bit – probably tomorrow

Marginally energized by the prospect of domestic activity his thoughts alight once again on the question of the wasp innards. He glances at his watch. There are still a few minutes before the taxi is due. He pads to the utility room to gather together what he refers to as his ‘cleaning stuff’, half fills a small bucket with water, adds a squirt of liquid soap, soaks a cloth and attacks the stain. Then he vigorously applies a generous rolled up bundle of kitchen towels to the resulting circle of running water. He steps back to admire the result. “Not bad Percy,” he imagines his wife saying a note of hesitation in her voice. “But…..” The doorbell rings. The taxi! 

The golf club bar awaits.   

Author is an old chap who lives in St Andrews, Scotland exploring themes of limits and longings.

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