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U3A Writing: Spring In December

Albert Hoskins, an 82-year-old resident in Eventide Home, falls for one of his carers, a beautiful young Polish girl…

Master story-teller Patrick Hopton’s tale contains satisfying surprises.

Albert Hoskins was in love. He cursed himself for a fool, but it was a force he was powerless to resist. Eighty-two years a bachelor, his health far from robust, he had fallen in love with a girl young enough to be not his daughter, but his granddaughter – his great granddaughter even!

Maria Walewska, who could not long have been out of her own teens, had reawakened feelings within him that had lain dormant since his teenage years. She was blessed with curly blonde hair, sparkling brown eyes, a laugh like chimes blowing in the wind, and a lack of familiarity with English that gave a lilt of pure music to her voice. Maria came from Poland and her arrival at Eventide Home several months back had breathed life into the gloomy establishment. Accustomed to the uncaring, automated administrations of the existing team of so-called carers, the residents of the home all fell under her spell. None more so than Albert.

She invaded his dreams by night; she dominated his thoughts by day. He luxuriated in fantasies in which she loved him in return, cared for him alone, absorbed him into her life. He longed to savour her loveliness in its entirety, purely in an aesthetic sense it must be said, and not a sexual one. He was realistic enough to admit that he was past all that sort of thing. It was her spirit, and not her body, he craved to possess. Crazy old fool! he admonished himself.

Albert particularly liked it when Maria worked the night shift. His room was situated at the end of the second floor corridor, conveniently placed to be the last for her to visit when she made her nightly rounds. Once there she would linger and chat, seemingly never in any hurry to get away. Annoyingly, Harold Goodman’s room across the corridor, was situated equally conveniently, and Maria was punctilious in dividing her last calls between the two men. Last night Albert had heard the pair laughing together and a stab of jealousy had transfixed him. Tonight, he was grumpy in consequence.

Maria pretended not to notice. ‘This morning the wind was so strong,’ she was telling him. ‘A stone it fell from a roof. Crash just a few metres from me. My guardian angel saved me certainly.’

‘Your what angel?’

‘My guardian angel. Everyone has one to look after them. You have one. Tomorrow at mass I say my thank you to him.’

‘I don’t believe in all that sort of stuff,’ Albert grumbled. Religion was a subject he could not relate to. Why she felt obliged to trot off to church each Sunday was beyond him. What a way to waste her day off! Still, if it produced somebody like Maria, her faith, strange as it might be, must have something going for it. He didn’t tell her this, of course; instead he preferred to continue his sulk. Normally she would have tried to jolly him out of this mood, but this evening, after cursorily making sure that he had everything he needed for the night, she left him. Perversely, instantly he regretted his boorishness. He had surely upset her.

Throughout Sunday, Albert had no desire for food, disturbed by a churning sensation in his stomach. It was a feeling he had never expected to suffer again, last experienced in the days, long ago, when he was vainly courting Shirley Carter. He was desperately impatient to make things right, but he had no choice but to wait: this was Maria’s day off. How he chafed for tomorrow, when he would be kindness itself to her and make her smile on him once more.

Albert did not care to submit himself to the tedious company of the other residents any more than he had to, so it was his practice to take breakfast in his room. When Maria was on the day shift there was an added bonus: it was she who brought in his breakfast tray. It was an opportunity to have her all to himself for a few minutes. But on the Monday morning after his Sunday of wretchedness it was the sour faced Doreen Wilcox, the care supervisor, who entered. Albert thoroughly detested the woman, who bullied not only the residents, but her colleagues as well. She was particularly hard on Maria, jealous no doubt of her youth and beauty. She plonked the tray beside him ungraciously. ‘Now make sure you don’t make a mess with this,’ she admonished. ‘I’m forever cleaning up after you, Albert.’

‘Mr Hoskins to you,’ he retorted. ‘Where’s Maria?’

‘That creature!’ Doreen snorted disdainfully. ‘Gone back home to Poland, that’s where.’

Instantly Albert’s heart plummeted, to be restored, at least in part, when Doreen added, ‘Two weeks off she asked for, as bold as brass. Her father’s ill. Or so she says.’

So began the longest fortnight of Albert’s long life. But even the longest fortnights pass eventually, and at last Maria returned, pale and wan, mourning the widowed father she loved, who had died before she could reach home. Doreen apart, who ignored her completely, the staff and residents duly muttered expressions of sympathy; but, uncomfortable with her sorrow, they tended to steer clear of her subsequently. It was only Albert to whom she could talk. This role of confidant was one he was delighted to assume.

For the first time she spoke of her home life.

‘I was a farmer too,’ Albert responded proudly. ‘Just as your father was.’

‘Really? So you and I both share a love of the land. And was your farm near here?’

‘Just on the edge of town.’ He didn’t like to add that the land she believed him to love was now buried under acres of housing. Instead he changed the subject. ‘So you have a sister and a brother. What do they do?’

‘Katya, she is learning to be a nurse; and Thomas is a builder; but sadly there is little work for him.’

‘He should come over here. There’s plenty of work around for builders – for nurses too.’

Maria sighed wistfully. ‘I wish so. Maybe one day. My dream is that Katya and I work here together. But she wants me to return to Poland to be with her. We shall see.’

Albert was horrified. ‘Return to Poland! But that would be terrible.’

She laughed. ‘Not so terrible. It is my home.’

But Albert had not meant that it would be terrible for her.


On the day after this conversation Albert felt unwell, and remained in his bed. ‘I shall telephone Dr Kent to see you,’ Maria told him, ignoring his protests that the visit was unnecessary.

The doctor, when he came, prescribed antibiotics and bed rest. Before he quit the room, he retired with Maria to a corner where they conversed in low tones. Albert feared they were discussing his condition and that it was graver than the doctor had let on; but then the pair laughed and he felt reassured.

Next day came the bombshell. Maria, when she visited him that evening, told Albert that it had been announced that Eventide Home was to close. The owners were selling out to a company who wanted to convert the building into an hotel.

He stared at her, his mouth agape in dismay. ‘But what’ll happen to you and me?’ he wanted to know, as though they were the pair of lovers of his fantasies.

‘They will find another home for you.’ She shrugged. ‘And me, I shall go home to Poland.’

‘But I’ll never see you again.’ He sounded horrified.

She smiled sadly. ‘That is true. But In your new home you will have a new carer, an English one. You will soon forget me.’

But he didn’t want an English carer in a new home; he wanted this Polish carer in his present one.

Already feverish, that night Albert tossed in his bed, turning the crisis over and over in his mind. On the next morning Maria entered his room to find him struggling into his clothes. Stubbornly he resisted all her scoldings, pleas, threats, insisting that he must go out shopping. Seeing that he was not to be moved, she offered to push him to the shops in a wheelchair, but he refused this also.

He returned several hours later, obviously very pleased with himself. ‘Here,’ he said thrusting a small bag into her hands. ‘I’ve brought you a present. I thought you needed cheering up a bit.’

She opened the bag to find a CD.

‘It’s Chopin,’ he announced proudly. ‘I asked in the shop for something Polish and they told me that he was.’

‘That is so sweet of you, Albert,’ she told him. Leaning forward, she kissed him on the cheek. Such a reward made the closure of Eventide Home almost worthwhile.

It was all a false alarm anyway. A few days later it was announced that the prospective buyer had pulled out. In the interim it was as though Albert’s shopping excursion had exhausted him. He had taken to his bed. He was not distressed; he was not in pain; it was more a case of fatigue.

‘It’s pure self indulgence,’ complained Doreen, ‘So you can get that Polish creature at your beck and call as usual. There’s not a thing wrong with you.’

Albert smiled serenely at her. There was more than a germ of truth in what she said. He could not understand how he could have failed to adopt this tactic before. Simply by lying in his bed he had managed to become an object of Maria’s constant attention. It became her custom to look in and fuss around him, not only at every opportunity during her working hours, but in her non working time too. He did not make the mistake of being too demanding; he merely smiled gratefully at her slightest ministration. He had other visitors too. His family solicitor called; Doctor Kent, always attended by Maria, diligently came daily to examine him; even the Roman Catholic priest twice dropped in for a chat. (Albert could detect the hand of Maria in this, but hadn’t the heart to scold her.)

When Maria came to bid him goodnight at the end of his tenth day in bed, Albert was feeling more tired than usual. Perhaps she sensed his genuine fatigue this time, because her ministrations were more tender than hitherto. ‘Goodnight Albert, I’ll look in on you later,’ she told him, squeezing his hand and leaning forward to kiss him on the forehead. He fell asleep with the vision of the beauty of the woman he loved imprinted on his eye lids, the fragrance of her hair impregnating his senses, the feel of her hand still tangible in his, and the touch of her lips still warm on his forehead.

Somewhere in the course of that night Albert made a seamless, painless transition from the mortal world to the eternal one. No man ever had a happier death.

Six days later at the short committal service in the crematorium chapel, pallbearers and celebrant apart, only two mourners were on hand to bid Albert farewell: a tearful Maria, and, sitting next to her, Doctor Kent.

The small turnout was of no consequence to Albert, looking down on the proceedings from somewhere near the chapel ceiling. ‘Look at that! She’s crying for me,’ he exclaimed jubilantly to his companion. ‘And Doctor Kent is here too. Isn’t that good of him? I bet he doesn’t usually go to the funerals of his patients.’

Then Albert noticed that the doctor was holding Maria’s hand and understood the reason for this attendance beyond the call of duty. The mortal Albert would have been cut to the quick at this revelation, but the refurbished, ethereal Albert merely nodded approval. The doctor seemed a pleasant young man: he would do nicely for Maria.

‘It’s time to go,’ said his companion.

‘But can’t I just wait for the reading of the will?’ Albert pleaded. ‘I’m really looking forward to that bit.’

In the solicitor’s office, Maria looked flabbergasted. ‘But, I still don’t understand,’ she said, even though the matter had been explained to her twice already.

‘I know it’s a shock, my dear,’ the solicitor said kindly.’ But it’s really quite simple. Albert Hoskins came to me some weeks ago. He told me he wanted to buy Eventide Home, to save it from closure. He could well afford to do so: he was a wealthy man, having made a great deal of money selling his farm to property developers. His purchase of Eventide was completed within days and a new board of trustees appointed – Doctor Kent, Father O’Connor and myself. Of course it is up to you to appoint new trustees now, should you so wish. It is your property to deal with in any way you wish. In his will, Albert left everything he possessed to you - a portfolio of investments worth a considerable amount of money . . . and Eventide Home.’

Maria sat facing him, tears coursing down her cheeks. ‘Oh the dear, dear man,’ she sobbed. Witnessing her reaction made Albert feel really good.

‘And now we simply have to go,’ his companion said. ‘We are expected.’

‘But can’t I just wait for the bit when she sacks Doreen?’ Albert protested. ‘And I want to see Maria’s sister, Katya, when she comes.’

‘I am sorry Albert, no. I have indulged you long enough already.’

Albert shrugged philosophically and turned away. ‘Ah well,’ he said. ‘I feel good just knowing that these things will happen.’ He shook his head in wonder. ‘And she was really crying for me! Did you see that?’

‘That is because she loved you, Albert: loved you in the purest sense.’

‘Love,’ breathed Albert ecstatically. ‘Maria loved me. Now I’m ready to go.’

Protegee and guardian angel drifted beyond the room, up, up towards the intense light.

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