Miss B receives curious visitors at The Fossils Care Home
To anyone visiting Twitten Towers Care Home – a neo-Gothic monstrosity, cheerfully renamed The Fossils by the villagers – an encounter with Miss B could be an unnerving glimpse into the future. Mason, the corpulent grandson of one of the other inmates – as Miss B called them – paused in the act of eating his Big Beast Triple Cheeseburger and stared at a woman who appeared to have already entered the afterlife. She was sat on a wooden throne, and clearly intended to spend her unlimited future as Queen of the Space Fairies. Virtually motionless, the old lady’s grey eyes were focussed on the joyful wooded landscape visible through the gothic arched windows of the old house.
Adding to Mason’s sense of the technologically surreal, above Miss B’s seat a plasma screen blinked and flashed; figures of dwarves and demons, fairies and armies, trees striding across a deserted landscape would appear, a continuous video screen of creatures and monsters and gigantic birds, all moving in sync with Miss B’s occasional nod and twitch of her head, or the movements of her lips in wordless dialogue with whatever was making these shapes appear. He noticed that Miss B’s right hand, grasping a Pixel Witch wand, would dart and sweep across the shimmering surface of a Demon ePad.
Mason did not know, of course, that this Queen of the Space Fairies had only the capacity to move her right hand and the muscles of her face but was incapable of speech. And yet, this enforced solitude had liberated an inner voice in Miss B that had been suppressed since childhood; now, in harness with technology, the old lady was able to speak and give shape to her inner visions with a clarity that rendered normal discourse unnecessary.
Mason could only gape uncomprehendingly, and he wiped his hands and mouth on his Tranmere Rovers Goth hoodie; his eyes blinked from the depths of the dark cowl, blissfully unaware that he cut the image of a pantomime Grim Reaper. Mason, not unsympathetically, considered Miss B’s features and dimly wondered what level of consciousness could possibly exist within this emaciated alien with limbs of chalk, deathly white complexion, a mane of silver streaming from her crown, topped by a platinum coronet of daisies?
She reminded him of a creature from Alien Exorcism – Mason had acquired the status of Supreme Phantom in the computer game, having exterminated an entire fleet of death-fighters with his galactic laser – all piloted by extra-terrestrials who shared Miss B’s otherworldly features. He stared once again. What sort of bleedin’ life was that? No Gogglebox. No football. No beer. Perhaps she ate lizards for breakfast – and were those specks of blood around the thin ashen lips? A shout came from across the room. “Mason! Stop starin’!”
Pearl Furkiss, amply filling her blue carers tunic, bustled into the room as Mason turned his attention to his benignly beaming grandmother.
Miss B had just finished her lunch, and Pearl wiped away the last residues of jam roly-poly from around her mouth. “There you are my love.”
Miss B reached for her ePad and scribbled one word: “Lipstick!”
“Oh, right you are. Now where d’you keep your lippy?” Pearl held up Miss B’s vast leather handbag. Miss B nodded. “In ’ere? Oh, my Lor’… There’s so much stuff in ’ere.” While Pearl rummaged, Miss B looked through the arched Gothic windows of The Fossils. They afforded a clear view of the old cart track as it curved through the grounds beneath the stately oaks and elder trees, and across to the little wood that bordered Stoggie’s Farm. She had the same view every day. She liked it. She enjoyed the way the winds swung aside the full-leafed branches of the trees to unveil a fleeting vision of the valley down to Wystcombe. Will the young couple come to the woods again today? she wondered.
Pearl had found the lipstick and did her best to apply it while Miss B puckered and pouted. In her youth Miss B had scandalised her prim, wealthy parents by appearing topless in The Daily Splash—the stable lad had handed a copy of it to her father, she recalled with a smirk. The old man nearly swallowed his pipe. Her next outrage was to be photographed again—which she had arranged—dancing naked at the Isle of Dogs Pop Festival with her completely stoned friends, her body painted purple but for a single sunflower growing from where the sun could not possibly shine.
Her colourful career as an art and music teacher concluded abruptly when, under her tutelage, one of her students persuaded a thirty-foot-long inflatable penis to wobble ominously through the window behind the Headmaster’s head as he was addressing a governors’ meeting. She had then married one Timothy Smallpiece, the curator of a tiny art gallery in Sleephaven where her work was featured. One of her sculptures—a wicker basket containing a severed head on a bed of exotic fruits—memorably caused one elderly voyeur to pass out.
As she was ever a woman of lustful pleasures, her husband had passed away from exhaustion a few years before. Now she sat on her Celtic dragon throne chair, propped up by vermillion and gold cushions, and spent each day nagging the staff, scribbling incomprehensible poetry, and sailing on a sumptuous ocean of memories and pure invention. It was a constant voyage that she loved.
“Mason. Stop staring at that poor woman.”
“Yes, mum. Gawd, I wouldn’t want to end up like that,” he remarked.
Miss B heard the remark. She pulled a wooden lever and her chair rotated to allow her a glimpse of Mason. She assembled a sinister and toothless smile that, more eloquently than any words, expressed her feelings. Thank God I never ended up like you, she mused; and that was revenge enough for his insult. Miss B deeply savoured victories of the mind. She lowered the lever and turned her attention once more to the joyous landscape.
She had been watching the storm’s lightning fork the land. Its shifting ghostly drift across the valley and punishing needles of rain excited her spirits. Now the emergence of the sun’s balm and kiss on the dripping trees and patient stones of the old house summoned joy from within her. The sun caught the blond hair of her favourite piano student as Yvonne entered the room. The light faded briefly as Yvonne bent down to kiss her.
“Mrs. Smallpiece. How are you?”
The old lady scribbled, “Call me Miss Bonkers! Or Miss B! How are you? Tell me about Alison.”
And Yvonne did. She received a rapturous hug. But Miss B started scribbling again. It is about the young couple she saw from the window, sitting on the stile by the wooden gate, playing chess. An image of them appeared on the screen. Yvonne rushed to the window and looked back at Miss B, shaking her head. “Not there now,” she said.
Miss B wrote, “They were there. And dogs.”
Yvonne looked towards the woods, wistfully. “A young couple?”
We will leave them there in the fading afternoon light, talking among the eclectic scenery of Miss B’s room: the William Morris prints; cushions of tulip, rose, and pimpernel; a carved oak armoire and dresser; deep ruby curtains; the stained-glass table supported by a carved dragon; the chess set of nemesis fairies and ghost mirror.
As Mason and his mother crept furtively from the room, they failed to notice that, on the plasma screen above Miss B’s chair, the image of a gigantic three-toed sloth had appeared, crawling across a dystopian landscape. Curiously, it was wearing a Tranmere Rovers hoodie.
"Brilliant descriptions of characters and places enrich a twisty plot that kept me guessing right to the end. John Simes is a master story teller."James Stevenson, Author