Girls with dolls

I’ve never had one before. I used to grow my nails long, like Barbara Streisand defying her parents when they wanted her to learn to type, ‘just in case’. But now they are short, close-cut, so that I can type and make things. And yet, I like my hands to be neat, clean and soft to touch. They are certainly expressive. I use them when I talk.

I like being touched. She has a firm but tender touch. I like to look at her when she talks. It’s not an Aber accent, not really, it sounds South Walian. Oh, your boyfriend is from Swansea, that explains it. I ask about her ninety-year-old grandmother. She has a nickname for her, a pet name, but I’ve forgotten it now. I think she called her grandfather her ‘Dickie’. Her gran is in hospital. She fell and broke her artificial hip. It had to be replaced. A seven hour operation. Poor thing, I say. Now they’ve found an infection. She will be in for months. We talk about hospitals. Hospital food. They gave her an omelette and mash for Christmas dinner, she says. Imagine. The food’s terrible. We take in home-made soups. What does she like to eat? I ask. Puddings, she replies. Rice pudding. If there was a micro we could warm some up.

I love the chatter. I love its inconsequential-ness. It get’s me out of my head. I like her. I like her humour, her warmth, her round lusciousness.

She has a little bit of dementia, she continues. It’s making her a little racist. She’s only nice to the nurses who can speak Welsh. There was a doctor and she kept asking me mum in Welsh, is he English or Welsh? It was really embarrassing. What’s she saying? the doctor asked. He’s probably half and half, me gran said eventually. And the snoring. What your gran snores? I ask. Something terrible, she says. That’s probably why she’s been put on an end ward.

We talk about old age. I’ve no children, she says, to look after me. I’ll probably top myself or go to Digitas or something. I’ll look after you, shouts her younger colleague from the other room. Ta, she says. They should be dry now, she says, touching my nails. Are you ready for feet now?

Pedicure too. What a treat. Have I told you have much I love my feet being massaged? He does it every night. It is heaven.

She brings in a foot spa filled with hot water. The boiler’s off, she says, so I had to wait for the kettle. Is it too hot? You’ll have to do a bit of dancing. Now, pop them up on my lap. She washes and exfoliates them. I watch her. In her mid-twenties she’s an efficient, yet cosy (in an Aber-ish way) young woman. She chatters away. Have you booked your holidays yet? How was Christmas? I steer the conversation back to her. She is happy to talk. And I want to hear about her life. Really I do. Her parents-in-law are getting re-married in Thailand. She wants me to be bridesmaid. I hate flying, she says. Last time I didn’t leave my seat for seven hours. I won’t go to the toilet. I won’t close the door. Me mum has to come with me. Her boyfriend’s in the Navy. He’s leaving in April. It’ll be the first time that they have lived together permanently. God, it’s freezing in here. I can’t wait for me lunch, she says. What will you have? I ask. A baguette or maybe a baked potato. I’ve got a thing about cheese at the moment. I even had cheese on me tuna, yesterday. I go to Chives. It’s all home-made. She tells me about her in-grown toenail. I can’t wear shoes. Are you squeamish? she asks. Shall I show you a picture? Poor love. It is grotesque, and looks so sore. They’re going to operate. 2016 without a toenail, she says.

I like her. I like them both. Small-town girls, happy with their lot. Making their way. It’s their third move. The last place they were only there a couple of months. She put in sunbeds, she said. It was too noisy for our clients. They’re happy in their new place. At least we will be when the boiler’s fixed, she says. You’ve made it look lovely, I say. Thanks, she says. At least it’s quiet this side of the building. There’s only the graveyard out back. Perfect, I say.


Was it an owl? Still pitch. It must’ve been about 4.30am. I was walking home, up through the courtyard when I heard it. It was overheard. I couldn’t see it but I heard it. It made a kind of whaa, whaa sound. Almost a screech. Perhaps it was a screech owl.

He reads the column out to me at breakfast sometimes. That is after we’ve done the birthdays. Jan Leeming? he asks. God, I say it’s been a long time since she’s been on TV. 67, I say. The column is about the day-to-day changes in Nature. A seasonal diary. He reads about the song of the blackbirds. Yes, I say, I hear it on Llanbadarn Road in the early morning. And that of the robin. They bound on the pavement ahead of me. Almost as if they are greeting me, I say. It is lovely, companionable. I call out to them, softly. They bounce along, warily sociable.

She sounds better. Her Christmas was quiet. The weather’s been awful, she says. I don’t like too much water, she says. I ask what she’ll do today. Read your Have a Break magazine? Yes, she says. Oh, and I’ve started reading a book too about the man who plays the organ. Have you read it? No, I say, but I think I saw an article about him. Is it good? (I keep thinking about Dylan Thomas’s Organ Morgan.) Yes, she says, cos’ I know a lot of the people that are in it. I knew his wife. That’s nice, I say. It makes you feel connected. Yes, she says.  I tell her I have to go to work. We’ll speak longer next week, I say. Thanks so much for calling, she says. I like her, too. Her voice is querulous. A shy woman. I treat her with care, with tendresse. It is an honour to be let in. Let in to her life, albeit it briefly. Have you walked today? I ask. Yes, she says, a little. Just to wake myself up. I wish I could describe her voice. It cracks sometimes. So much restraint. So much held in. Breathe out, I want to say. Have a deep breath. She reminds me of Winifred. Winifred who is so afraid of snow.


By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.