Acquitted of his sense of smell after a nose operation many years ago, he shifted his attention to other sensory stimuli. Something red had slipped the net and now all of his vests were pink. When asked what his favourite colour was he said that he always thought his wife looked nice in pink but that really, his favourite colour was blue, the same shade of electric blue that his daughter had worn for his granddaughters graduation. Only after having a heart attack and taking medicine, which he referred to as ‘rat poison’ did his sense of smell miraculously return one day. When asked what his favourite smell was he replied ‘bacon’. It was unclear what his favourite music was but he often spent Sunday’s hoovering the house to ABBA pan pipe CDs which were only audible in the pauses when he changed plug sockets.

The palms of his hands measured the time that had lapsed since his retirement at sixty-five. Formerly a member of the building trade, his hands had been dried and carved by the Novembers stood on scaffolding and the time passed shovelling cement and laying bricks. Now softened by years of Wilkinson’s hand cream, his hands only endured the hardship of pressing the smooth rubbery buttons on the remote control. Upon retiring he had proudly hung a ceramic sign on the front of the house that read ‘Dun graftin’, in other words ‘Finished working’, only to get a part time job delivering parcels for a catalogue company three weeks later. He cleared out his red builder’s van, put his tools and cement bags in three different garden sheds, and lined the inside of the van with carpet. He and his wife navigated the van through the city’s housing estates delivering credit bought shoes and coats for quite a few years until they decided it was time to finally relax. Their new life consisted of traipsing around the city centre’s Poundshops on Wednesday afternoons and drinking lattes in BHS cafe. On Friday afternoons they went ballroom dancing at a tea dance: he mainly went for the tea and she mainly went for the dancing. When asked how tea dance went he would reply ‘beautiful sandwiches’. Tea dances stopped after a second heart attack and his wife blamed the doctor for prescribing something he shouldn’t have. When asked how his health was he replied ‘I feel like someone switched me off one day…strange’. His health festered and blurred the stronger the drugs became and fantasy and reality became warped in nightly hallucinations.

It was a Tuesday in early March when he woke up in the dead of night to the sound of someone breaking into his red builder’s van. That night he had awoken as a young man, perhaps in his late twenties or early thirties. Upon hearing the disturbance outside, his athletic body leapt out of bed and peeped out through the velvet brown curtains. “Who the blinkin’ ecks that at this time?” he grumbled. He had to be at the building site early in the morning and he didn’t appreciate his sleep interrupted. He saw the shadow of a man removing his toolboxes and bags of cement from the back of his van. “Cheeky swine”, he thought as he made for the bedroom door.

On his way to the landing he caught a glimpse of himself in the wardrobe mirror doors. He was all cheekbones, muscle and brown locks. He shot down the stairs and flung open the front door and then the porch door ready to chase the thief up the street. He had fought many men before; at school, in the army. Once he even got out the car at the ASDA roundabout ready to fight a man half his age because he’d cut in front of him and then had sworn at him from his Peugeot 206. He was unafraid as always, strong and in his prime and he felt his muscles swell and tighten ready to take a swing.

But as he lurched out into the midnight gloom, there was no one to be seen in the street. Nothing to be seen in the columns of orange streetlight. No thief, no tools, no cement bags and certainly no red builders van. Nothing but a fog of silence that was broken by a distant dog bark that suddenly awoke him from 1967. Upon awakening, he stood perplexed at the end of the garden path in his towel dressing gown and BHS slippers wondering where both the thief and the past fourty years of his life had gone. He tied his open dressing gown to cover up his stomach, slid a confused hand over his milky white hair, furrowed his eyebrows and exhaled briefly through his clenched underbite of jagged teeth. He waited for a moment, as if to check for something, and then he walked back down the path, through the porch door, though the front door, and into the living room where he sat in his usual armchair.

He watched the golden carousel clocks swirl around in the dark until his wife woke up a few hours later to make him breakfast. He wondered if his building tools were the only thing he felt that he had been robbed of but thought better of it as he switched his gaze to the roomful of photo frames, degree certificates and anniversary cards that glittered the walls and windowsills. He recalled all of the things he had accomplished in his life and was unable to think of a single thing that he had regretted or hadn’t done with his heart and mind open. As the fear of dying left him, and the previous five minute’s confusion melted away, his wife appeared with a plate of toast, butter no jam, and a mug with tea in it that read ‘BEST GRANDAD EVER’.

 

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