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Wiggling His Ears Like Stan Laurel
By Brian Whittingham

Edward was 86 and lived alone. His flat was sandwiched between an empty downstairs, and an upstairs occupied by the young woman who'd been widowed the week before. Edward was comfortable with his privacy. Kept himself to himself. That was how it should be. Tonight, Edward peered between his curtains onto the street below.

Across the road in the disused garden, flames embraced the cold air. Figures uprooted hedges to feed the bonfire. Guy Fawkes and the familiar soundtrack of sirens, whooshing rockets and sporadic explosions. The only time Edward's partial deafness was a plus. Nature's turning down the volume. He needed no encouragement to imagine the fire spreading, imagine trouble, problems, and had already convinced himself it was getting worse. Things always got worse.

Footsteps filled the close, followed by a sharp explosion that seemed to shake the walls. Edward jumped. He ran out on the veranda. 'Bugger off ya Bastards,' he shouted at the darkness.

'Fuck off ya daft auld cunt,' the darkness shouted back.

Edward gripped the veranda rail. He controlled his shaking as he watched the figures running, giving him the fingers and dissolving into shadow. He chittered, leaving his frozen breath hanging in the air as he sought comfort from his gas fire's blue buds.

Back, behind his curtains, he saw the figures re-emerging round the bonfire, feeding it with fuel. At the window, Edward squinted with his nose pressed to the glass. He watched for a few minutes as the smoke drifted towards other houses with gardens like small jungles.

Standing in the kitchen he shivered, coughed up phlegm as he massaged his chest, spat into the sink and wiped his mouth. He put his pot of water on the stove for a cup of tea. He looked out of his wired up kitchen windows into the back-court. Seeing nothing, hearing nothing.

He'd made his tea, saving the tea-bag for another cup. Waste not etc. He returned to the living room and settled down in his chair. A recliner with worn arms. He'd get covers for them someday. A grand chair for a doze. He checked the clock on the mantelpiece, wound it up setting the time with his wrist-watch. He scanned his other clocks to make sure they weren't too slow or too fast.

He sipped his tea, dunked his digestive and brushed crumbs off his knee onto the floor. He spread out the Racing Weekly and studied form with his magnifying glass. Sherlock Holmes searching for clues. He dragged on a Silk-Cut as he studiously marked out his line. Musselburgh, (going - good to soft) - A five pence each way accumulator, Lucky Domino, Bath House Boy, Easy Dollar and Red Ramona. He was due to give the bookies a fright. He smiled. Betting for 50 odd year and won sweet f.a.

As he was planning the bet that would break the bookie, he again noticed the box of chocolates on the mantelpiece. Wrapped in blue gift-paper and tied with red ribbon, incongruous with its surrounds.

He'd bought them for her upstairs. The previous week, he'd watched the hearse outside the close, the grey sky, the shuffle of mourners. And, as he absorbed the scene, he'd looked at the photographs on the wall of three people that smiled back at him. One was himself as a young man with a Clark Gable moustache, a trilby at a jaunty angle and a Humphrey Bogart raincoat. The others were his son and the wife, before the cancer had got them. It was then he'd thought about the chocolates, a wee something to take upstairs.

No time like the present. He put on his shoes and jacket. Left off his tie, it wasn't like proper going out after all. Kept his bunnet in his pocket. He looked out the window at the dying red of the fire.

A slight drizzle, and the street, deserted, apart from the huddled queue at the ice-cream van chiming its tinny tune. He'd chap the door, hand in the chocolates, say a few words, then back down stairs. No need to stay.

The door opened and he handed the young woman the box but before he could speak she gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He pulled himself away and as he gathered his thoughts, he found himself in the living room, his jacket being taken from him. He was given a whiskey, which he accepted, and the young woman sat Edward in the settee as she introduced him to the company.

'I'm Margaret, this is my mum Elspeth and my friend Stuart … and this is Edward everyone. He lives downstairs. In fact, until now, we've only ever met on the stairs, isn't that right Edward?' Before he could reply, Margaret drifted into the kitchen, her speech trailing behind her.
Stuart nodded with a grin. Elspeth sat next to Edward.

To Edward, Margaret and Stuart looked like something he saw on television. Margaret with her midi-dress, eye-shadow and shiny leather boots. Stuart with his permed hair, large collared shirt and loud Kipper tie. Elspeth was a lot older, maybe 60, 70, Edward couldn't be quite sure.

Margaret re-entered the room with a glass in one hand and cigarette in the other, the smoke spiralling into her perm. Edward noticed the red of her finger-nails. She smiled at Edward then gestured towards the chocolates. 'You really shouldn't have bothered.' she said.

Edward decided she didn't seem too distressed. He was getting confused, didn't know if it was a party or what. Margaret sensed his puzzlement. 'In case you're wondering Edward, I was glad to see the back of that bastard. Nothing but a chancer, isn't that right Stuart?'

Stuart smiled, winked at Margaret, and raised his glass in a mock toast.

Elspeth winked at Edward as she crossed her legs, covering her varicose veins. He could smell the drink from her breath. 'Never mind them' she said, 'let's enjoy ourselves.'

Margaret put a single on her record player, asked Stuart for a dance. She draped her arms round his neck. They shuffled in circles. 'Ever danced a moony Edward?.' she said.

'Never mind her,' Elspeth said, 'you look more of a "slow, slow, quick quick slow" man to me.' 'In his time, Edward would have been what you call a real dancer.' she shouted. 'A proper dancer.'

Edward shifted to the end of the settee, checked his watch, tugging his shirt collar with his finger.
Elspeth squeezed up next to Edward.

The music stopped. Margaret rummaged through her stack of records for something else to play. She grabbed a bunch of singles, lifted the plastic arm, positioned the singles onto the chrome spindle, lowered the arm, then clicked the play lever. The room echoed to the sound of sixty's optimism.

'Can anyone do this?' shouted Stuart, who was touching his nose with his top lip.
Elspeth and Margaret tried. Made stupid looking faces.

'No, but I can do this,' Margaret said as she bent over backwards putting the palms of her hands on the ground. She was trying to show her suppleness but only succeeded in crashing into the record player, the stylus screeching its objection on the vinyl. Elspeth applauded while Stuart helped Margaret to her feet.

'Do you live on your own then?' Elspeth asked Edward.

Edward swallowed, then spurted out 'can anyone do this?' and began wiggling his ears like Stan Laurel. The others tried to do it. No one could.

'Edward, gies a shot of yir bunnet?' said Stuart.

Edward got it from his jacket in the hall. He gave it to Stuart and sat in an armchair in the corner of the room.

Margaret gave him a fresh whiskey. Elspeth came over to Edward's chair and draped her arm over the back while giving him an Elspeth look.

Stuart put on one of Margaret's jackets which was way too small, then put on the bunnet pointing sideways on his head. 'Mister Grimsdale,' he began to whine, 'Mister Grimsdale.' Stuart stuck his elbows out and walked with stiff legs, toes pointed inwards and the centre button on the jacket fastened.

'Always did a good Norman Wisdom,' Elspeth said, touching Edward's hair, 'Did you ever see "the Square Peg?"' I saw that picture over and over. Do you go to the pictures much Edward? I used to go all the time, but since … well … being on your own … it's not the same is it?'

Stuart, pleased with his performance, sat in the settee and skited the bunnet over to Edward as if it were a flying saucer.

Margaret found a bottle in the kitchen and was dishing out her, 'Everyone must sing a song …' spin the bottle rules. Margaret spun the bottle clumsily and it skited across the carpet stopping at Edward's feet. They all looked at him in anticipation.

'Come on Edward, give us a song.'

'No, really, I can't sing, I …'

'Who cares, come on now, a bit of wheesht for the singer.'

'One singer one song.'

Edwards drank his whiskey down. He started singing softly and slowly, almost as if talking. 'Oh - ma lads - we love to see them gangin - gangin along the Scotswood Roaaaaaaad - tae see the Blay-don ra-ces.' Wet trickled down Edward's cheek as he sang.

Margaret and Stuart cuddled each other, forgetting about the bottle, the sing song. They started winching.

'Will you look at that!' Elspeth said, smiling at Edward, nudging him in the ribs with her elbow. She took a hanky from her bag and dabbed Edward's cheek. She held his hand and led him to the door. In the hall she pointed to the bedroom, 'I'm feeling a bit faint, going for a wee lie down.' she said as she staggered into the bedroom half smiling at Edward.

Edward snatched his jacket from the hanger in the hall, quietly closing the front door behind him. He felt a little unsteady and breathed the cold close-air deep into his lungs. He held onto the banister and he made his way downstairs to his own flat. Once inside, he felt calmer after he'd locked his locks.

In his bedroom he sat on the edge of the bed looking at the photo of his wife. His eyes were getting wet. He dabbed them with the corner of his hanky, ignoring the echoing rattle of the big-ben bell on his door. Ignoring Elspeth, who clattered the letterbox as she tried to look the wrong way down the spy-hole on the door. She could see nothing.

Edward gripped the damp hanky in his clenched fist as he gave himself a hug, rocking from side to side. The tears flowed freely down his face. On top of the chest of drawers, the dust covered photograph looked impassively on, as he shivered from the inside, out.

The End

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