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A Birthday Treat by Pam Fudge

Edna tucked a wisp of white hair under her hat, grimaced at her reflection, and told the dog, 'Getting old isn't much fun, Sparky, nothing exciting ever happens to you.'

The Yorkshire terrier scrabbled at her shopping bag on wheels and whined. Edna laughed. He was always the same when she was getting ready to go out.

'Of course,' she went on, refusing to be hurried, 'today's my birthday, so you never know.'
She paused to admire the cards decorating the mantelpiece. One in particular she was drawn to, and she lifted it once more to read the words.

Life begins at seventy, Mrs K, it read. Today's the day. Love Kevin.

The card had bright disco dancers on the front and glasses of exotic-looking drinks, and Edna felt a surge of elation every time she looked at it. It wasn't the sort of card you would normally associate with someone her age, but Kevin realised she wasn't ready to slide gracefully into old age, not yet.

She smiled. He was a bright lad, her latest lodger. He'd definitely go far.

Edna automatically checked her reflection again and immediately wished she hadn't bothered. She was getting older, pointless to try and avoid the truth. It stared her in the face, making her clumsy on the outside, while inside she remained the same energetic woman she’d always been. Inside she was young - young and as ripe for adventure as young Kevin.

She'd told him only the other day it was boring to grow old. People seemed to think that all you wanted to do was sit home and knit.

Edna completed her shopping in record time. She could still put her best foot forward when she’d a mind. Reaching the bank in the high street she was pleased to note she’d be the only customer.

She bumped through the double doors, shaking the dog – who had been riding happily with the groceries - down into the bag.

'Gee, ma'am,' puffed a voice behind her. 'You should have waited. I'd have opened the doors.'

'That's very kind of you.' Edna smiled her gratitude.

'Next, please.' The one teller in sight, a young girl, smiled encouragingly at them.

'You were first, ma'am.' The man, easily identified from his accent as an American, swept a hand towards the counter in an inviting gesture.

'You go,' Edna insisted. 'I'll just sit here a minute to catch my breath, and get Sparky settled.'

'Cute little thing, isn't he?' The large hand now stretched towards the dog as if to pat his head.

'Don't touch him,' Edna warned hastily. 'He has a very uncertain temperament, and has even been known to nip on occasion.'

The hand was speedily retrieved, and the American moved to the counter. Edna took a seat, glanced at her watch, and then arranged her bits of shopping more carefully around Sparky. She draped a wool blanket loosely over everything - including him - so only the dog's perky little head peeped out.

The door crashing back on its hinges almost knocked her from the chair, and Sparky disappeared into the bag again.
'Hands up, this is a hold up.'

The young teller gave a shriek, and the American took a brave step forward.

'Now, what...?' he began.

'Shut up, and get over there,' snarled the man, waving a small hand-gun threateningly. 'You, too, granny.' The weapon was aimed for frightening seconds in Edna's direction, and she moved quickly to do his bidding, leaving bag and dog where it was.

'You,' the man rasped at the terrified girl, 'the money. As much as you can lay your hands on, fast, and no tricks.'
It was all over as fast as it had begun. At the last minute, though, the robber almost bungled his getaway, when his legs appeared to get mixed up with Edna's shopping bag on wheels and it nearly sent him flying.

Then he was gone. The teller was hysterical, and it took all the American's time to get her to press the alarm. Edna rushed to Sparky, checking him and the trolley for damage before settling him snugly under his blanket again.
In no time the bank was full of police. Someone had even called an ambulance, and though it soon became apparent that no one was hurt, they still tried to persuade Edna to go to hospital.

'I shall be fine,' she insisted. 'Perhaps some hot, sweet tea, though.' She realised she felt quite shaky and, for once, older than her years.

'Don't touch that dog,' the American warned a foolhardy constable who had reached down to pat Sparky's tiny head. 'He bites.'

'If he'd been a bit bigger, he might have tackled that villain,’ the policeman grinned.

'Did he get caught?' Edna asked anxiously, before sipping her tea.

'Looks like he got clean away,' was the reply.

She was the first to be allowed to leave. Her age was taken into account, and she was treated very considerately. Offered a lift to her door in a police car, she accepted gratefully, provided there was room for Sparky and his bag.
Kevin had been right, she allowed as she closed the front door. Life really could begin at seventy, and today had certainly been the day. The most exciting birthday she'd ever had.

For all that, her shaking hands and frantic heartbeat were clear reminders she wasn't as young as she used to be, after all. Sliding gracefully into old age suddenly didn't seem such a bad idea, and she eyed the formerly despised knitting with something akin to approval.

Edna settled Sparky with the blanket into his own little bed, and then turned to unpack the shopping bag on wheels. A pound of carrots emerged, a pound of onions, a bag of apples, a bag of money, Kevin's gun, and a nice piece of steak for his supper.

Kevin had promised he’d be home early - if he was free. She'd tell him then that he’d have to look elsewhere for an accomplice - and a place to live. A life of crime wasn't for her, after all, not at her age.

Published in The Lady/July 2000

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...© Pam Fudge 2000-2005 .   ..Last updated 10th July 2005    website: design.fudgie.co.uk