Inspired by Philippe Halsman’s Eva Maria Saint, 1954

Toney Murena’s French accordion gave Pleasant Oaks’ sun room an unusually cosmopolitan atmosphere. You’d expect the handful of 80 – 100-year-olds scattered around the room to puff unapologetically at cigarettes, mumbling their disapprovals in the language of love and Paris. Instead: “Sister Rounelle, can you switch that God-awful music to something we can all enjoy?” It was Hendrik who’d had enough of yet another Phil Middleton display of just how cultured he actually is.

Only because Phil felt sorry for Hendrik did he never retaliate. At 91, Phil was in much better shape than the bitter old butcher. The only thing Phil could really complain about was how long it took him to make it to the toilets, having to use a Zimmer frame, but besides that he was in good health. Hendrik, on the other hand was borderline diabetes and suffered from multiple complications, including swollen legs, sores on his feet that wouldn’t heal, itchy, flaky skin and needing a cane to walk. And he was just 82.

Can you bring me my tablets for my skin too? I’m sure I haven’t had them all. My skin is killing me.” What he really craved, probably his whole life, was affection. Hendrik never married, never had a girlfriend.

Sitting by the window, frowning silently to herself was Barbara Louise Farrell. Her thin, 85-year-old eyebrows were sloping further down her worried eyes and Phil knew what was coming. He rolled-walked himself over to her just in time for her to grab him by the arm and plead: “Have I got enough money for the gardener? I don’t think I have.” Desperate tears welled up in her blue-grey eyes. “Will you check for me, dear?” This was the fourth time that day that someone had to take Barbara’s weathered leather purse and show her the hundred Rand notes in it. Of course, Barbara didn’t have a gardener she needed to pay anymore, but the first signs of dementia had reared its ugly head in hers and caused her terrible anxiety and confusion. She was mostly fully compos mentis and her charming self, but it was as though her brain would just short-circuit every hour or so and skip the part where her son Alex and daughter Elizabeth dropped her off at Pleasant Oaks three months ago.

Phil didn’t mind going through the money-counting ritual. With her ballerina posture and her classic grooming, he thought Barbara was the most elegant, beautiful thing he’d seen against the Biggie Best interior of the home. Well, besides Justine, from a few years ago. And Heather, the nurse who was only half his age. He wished he could’ve danced with any of them, like he used to with both his wives when he was younger.

Bed time at Pleasant Oaks was strictly 9 o’clock. The nurses helped those who needed helping, which was practically everyone, and got them into pyjamas and bed. Phil, Hendrik and Barbara stayed on the same floor, a few doors apart. It didn’t explain it, but it meant they made their nocturnal discovery together. That was another reason Phil humoured Hendrik and his abrasiveness. The nights.

For the past two weeks, the elderly trio shared a secret too wonderful and miraculous that they didn’t dare share it with anyone. Besides, no one would believe them anyway. They would just think they’d all finally lost all their marbles. Actually, it was a secret only Phil and Hendrik shared, because Barbara never showed any signs of remembering in the mornings.

One by one, as they each fell into deep sleep, Barbara, Phil and Hendrik’s younger selves would wake up in bed next to them. They’d be wearing the same pyjamas they went to bed in, fitting just a little too big or a little too small. The big difference was their bodies underneath: firm, supple and healthy. They were proportionately somewhere between 28 and 38, Hendrik still the youngest.

They would meet in the kitchen and eat whatever they could find, laughing at how ridiculously easier it was to chew and swallow. They would steal the nurse’s bikes, propped up in the office, and take turns riding down the corridors. They were kids again. Even Hendrik seemed lighter and laughed at Phil’s jokes. Barbara told them stories of her time in India during the war, how she and her sister held cabaret shows to raise money for the soldiers. She told them how she regretted marrying so young and missing out on a bigger, more adventurous life.

On the 14th night, Barbara was eagerly waiting for the other two to wake up. The moon was full.

Come on, you two, I have a gorgeous idea,” she announced when the young men found her in the lounge. “We’re going out into the garden!”

No, we can’t do that.” Hendrik’s voice was heavy and low. “What if, whatever is doing this to us, doesn’t work out there? What if it only works in the building? What if this all goes away?” He was begging her.

Oh, Hendrik, how will we ever know if we don’t try? Think of how heavenly it would be to feel the grass under our feet and do cartwheels under the moon.”

I’ll go with you, Barbara,” was Phil’s answer.

Barbara wriggled loose the rusted old lock on the lounge door leading to the garden and when she turned around to give Hendrik another chance, she was beaming. Her excitement infected both of the young men and the they all ran out onto the lawn, holding their breath to see what would happen. But nothing did and they burst out laughing, jumping and hugging each other when they reached the far end of the manicured garden.

We should dance!” Phil took Barbara’s slender hands and hummed Edith Piath’s La Vie En Rose as he swayed her from side to side. Her ripe body against his was suddenly overwhelming. It was the first time he felt the soft of her breasts. They were pressing against his chest, but she could just as well have been running them all along his entire body, because their effect was contagious. He loosened his grip just enough to be able to have his face in front of hers. What an exquisite creature. Her long, blonde locks almost looked silver in the moonlight. Her full lips curled in a surreptitious smile. She was dreamy. He couldn’t resist any longer and he checked her eyes for consent. Barbara dropped her gaze to Phil’s mouth and he leaned in and kissed her.

Slowly and carefully they felt each others’ lips. Their mouths were wet and their bodies shivered with excitement. Phil gently took Barbara by the back of her neck and slid a his fingers into her hair. He ran a middle finger down her spine and the sensation made her gasp for a breath of air. She suddenly remembered Hendrik was there and flung around.

He had turned away from them and looked like he was having an angry, internal conversation with himself, fiddling with a piece of branch. Barbara saw how excluded he was from this new experience and she wanted to share it with him.

Hendrik,” she walked up behind him, but he ignored her until she put her hand on his elbow. He got such a fright at the touch that he gave her a fright. She watched his eyes and they were full of resentment, but she pushed on.

We have to enjoy this while we can, Hendrik. We’ve been given an unbelievable gift.” Hendrik could feel her getting closer to him and he was confused. She was coercing him, sliding her hand down to his. He was rigid and stood stiff. She was also afraid, but she persevered and put his hand on her chest, just low enough so that he could feel the top of the soft of her breast. Everything inside of Hendrik wanted to leap out. He was excited and nervous at the same time, his own chest rising and falling faster and faster until his whole body and his mouth leaped towards her. He enveloped Barbara so completely that you could hardly tell where she ended and he began.

They stood there, grabbing and kissing violently and desperately, forgetting about Phil until Barbara felt a tap on her shoulder. She pulled herself from Hendrik and when they turned around, they burst out laughing. Phil had gotten down to just his underpants and was offering his lily-white physique, not only to the moon, but to them.

What? If we’re going to do this, we might as well do it properly.”

With teenage enthusiasm Barbara yanked off her clothes. Hendrik hesitated, but followed her lead. His body exposed made the other two stop their giggling and stare. A thick, fleshy scar made a big backward “c” all the way from his left nipple to just above his hip. Barbara took his hand, then Phil’s and the three of them stood facing the moon for a moment, bare except for boxers and grannie knickers. They soaked in the rays and felt the crisp night air on their skin.

Barbara turned to Phil and ran her hands along his broad shoulders. He took her face in his and kissed her softly along her jaw, until their lips met and they continued where they left off. Hendrik stepped closer and stroked her back. He felt the curve of her voluptuous arse with the back of his hands, slipped his hands around her waist and felt her taut stomach.

The two men took turns having Barbara’s mouth and attention on them. But there was an unspoken agreement between them that stopped them from taking full advantage of her. It was almost loving more than lustful, the way the three explored one another.

Back in their hallway, in front of Barbara’s door, the trio was more content than ever to return to their older selves. Without a word, Barbara kissed the men goodnight and they headed for their own rooms.

Morning in the breakfast room brought the usual shuffling, complaints of aches and the smell of oats and prunes being served. On his slow trek to the serving table, Phil paused next to Barbara, sitting as upright as usual, delicately tucking into her porridge.

Good morning, Barbara.” He kept his eyes fixed on hers to interrogate her response.

Oh. Good morning.” She was surprised he knew her name, but smiled politely and returned her focus to her bowl.

Commotion on the other side of the breakfast room doors, drew Phil’s attention away from the lady. He could just see through the glass pane.

A nurse was calling another and the two went into a room and closed the door. It was Hendrik’s room.

Phil’s eyes smiled. “Lucky bastard,” he thought to himself.


The End