This is a continuation of the story about Wilbur & Charlie
Charlie woke up with a snort and a start, grateful that he had awoken and managed to escape from the weird dream he’d been stuck in. Some dreams are like those pesky vines with tiny thorns that just stick to you and won’t let go, thought Charlie. Fortunately, the mounting pressure in his bladder drove the tendrils of the dream from his mind as he made his way to the bathroom in his underwear.
I’ve got my house back, he thought, with a smile. I don’t have to watch my Ps and Qs in my BVDs, and he chuckled as he scratched himself in private places. By the time that he had showered and dressed, Charlie was in a great mood, even singing to himself in the shower. He could not remember the last time he had done that. There was a time when he was a regular shower act, singing at the top of his voice until one day, Ellie had said something about tunes and buckets. That was the end of his daily concerts.
He fairly bounced down the stairs, free to make as much noise as possible. Having started the coffee, he flung open the back door and was about to call for Wilbur when he saw his companion waiting at the bottom of the steps.
“Wilbur,” said Charlie enthusiastically as he came down to greet his friend. “How are you this fine morning?”
Wilbur, hearing what he thought was excitement in Charlie’s voice, decided to match his mood. His whole body wriggled and wagged with his tail as he nuzzled against Charlie’s petting hands. He gave two little yelps as he leapt with his two front paws off the ground.
“You feel it too, old boy, don’tcha? Let’s get you some food,” said Charlie and the two of them walked side-by-side to the barn.
After breakfast, Charlie turned on the radio, which was tuned to a classic country station, and singing along with Ernest Tubb he began to clean the house. Monday was normally his laundry day, so he ventured into the spare bedroom to grab the sheets. He smiled to himself to see that she had thoughtfully stripped the bed and piled the sheets on the floor. He could faintly smell her perfume lingering in the room and with that scent came a brief vision of her smiling face. Then the phone rang.
“Dammit,” said Charlie as he made his way to his own room, picked up the phone and spoke with a questioning tone, “Hello?”
“Hi uncle Charlie,” said Lynn’s voice. “Miss me yet?”
For a moment or two, Charlie was thrown back into his state of confusion. He did not want to lie, and he did not want to hurt her feelings, so he said nothing.
Lynn, mistaking his pause for him not recognizing her voice said, “Hi uncle Charlie, it’s Lynn. I was hoping to catch you before you left for the diner.”
“Is everything okay? Are you alright?” Charlie was of an age when telephones were either for business or for emergencies only and not for idle chatter. He was sublimely ignorant of the world of instant communication and social media.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine, thank you,” continued Lynn in her bright and cheerful voice, as she would call it, “Are you?”
“Yes, everything’s fine here, thank you,” replied Charlie rather formally.
“How’s Wilbur?” asked Lynn.
“Oh, he’s fine too,” said Charlie.
Suddenly, remembering Charlie’s disdain of “idle chatter” as he had called it, Lynn said, “I just called to let you know I’m okay and I should be home tonight. Give Wilbur a treat for me. I love you, Uncle Charlie. Bye,” and she hung up.
Charlie was about to reply when he realized she had hung up.
“Dammit,” he said as he shot a puzzled look at the receiver before pressing the button to hang up. The morning was flying by, and he wanted to get to the diner to meet his friends. Back in the spare room, he gathered up the sheets then just checked the closet for anything he might have missed. He was surprised to see that Lynn had left some clothes hanging up and there on the floor were those brand new shiny, fancy boots.
“So, she must be coming back,” he said to himself as his mood brightened again after the phone call which had first worried and then confused him. He started the laundry and, remembering to grab a couple of treats for Wilbur, went out of the back door to be greeted by Wilbur to whom he fed the treats saying, “These are from Lynn, who said to say hello.” Wilbur was more interested in the treats than any news of Lynn, so Charlie said goodbye, got in his truck and drove off leaving Wilbur to trot slowly behind.
There was a time, before Benjamin had kicked and broken the dog’s leg, when Wilbur went everywhere with Charlie. He would sit in the cab of the truck, with his muzzle out the window, his long tongue flapping in the wind, watching the world fly by. After the injury, Wilbur’s leg had not healed properly, and he couldn’t climb up into the truck. Charlie had tried lifting him but Wilbur, yelping in pain, wouldn’t let him, so Charlie reluctantly rode alone while Wilbur faithfully took up his post at the end of the dirt road.
The diner was half full of the usual crowd when Charlie arrived. Trixie waved and said hello and his friends welcomed him back into the fold. As he was walking to their table, two middle-aged matrons turned and, shaking their heads in unison, gave him their best disapproving looks.
The two women in question, were well-known around the town for being the self-appointed moral watchdogs of the community, vocally passing judgement upon all those who, in their eyes, strayed from the path of righteousness. The tall, skinny one with short brown hair and very smartly dressed, looking the epitome of propriety, was Ethel “Potty” Potts. Her friend was Thelma Zubrinski, known to all and sundry as, Thelma-Zoo. She was heavy set, with a unibrow and a set of teeth that would make a beaver proud. The two were spinsters and destined to stay so for the rest of their days.
“What’s the matter with those two?” Charlie asked his friends as he sat at the table. Three of his friends rushed to tell Charlie the latest gossip, all at the same time. Roger, a former marine corps drill sergeant, with his loud, gravelly voice, won out and proceeded to tell Charlie the tale.
Roger said that yesterday, at the church social following the service, his wife had overheard Potty and Thelma-Zoo talking to the preacher’s wife and that Charlie’s name was mentioned. Roger said his wife got as close as she could without appearing to be too nosey and heard Potty say that she was outraged that a member of this fellowship was openly flaunting his transgressions in public without one sign of remorse.
Charlie interrupted saying, “What in heaven’s name was she talking about?”
“Well later, the preacher’s wife told my wife that Potty, and Thelma-Zoo claimed that you, Charlie Stone, were living in sin with a woman half your age. A loose woman, from the big city no less, who had something to do with what went on at the Sunset Inn. And that you should be made to bear witness to the fellowship, repent your sins and beg for forgiveness.” Roger finished his story, took a sip of his coffee, leaned back in his chair and gave Charlie his best drill sergeant stare before cracking up at the look of horror on Charlie’s face.
Charlie was flummoxed again; he didn’t know what to do. Should he laugh; should he be angry; or should he go and confront the two meddling matrons? To the relief of his friends, who were eagerly awaiting his reaction, Charlie came out with his customary, “Dammit,” before managing a tentative smile and asking, “You’re making this up, right?” and he looked around the table for confirmation from the others. To his dismay they were all shaking their heads, no. Then they all banded together to assure Charlie that they knew the truth, that the young lady in question was a distant relative of Charlie’s trying to discover her roots and he was helping her. A few mild, locker room jokes were made at Charlie’s expense about his age and sexual prowess, or lack thereof. They advised him to let it blow over, as it surely would and perhaps feel a little proud that people would consider him capable of having an affair with someone so young and attractive.
By the time Charlie was ready to leave, he was feeling much better. Thelma-Zoo and Potty had left so he was spared from walking the gauntlet of stares. Trixie, of course, had to add her own opinion, by waving her finger at him as he walked by, saying, “Naughty, naughty boy, Charlie.”
Wilbur was patiently waiting in his spot, shaded by a large oak tree. Charlie had been gone for longer than usual and he was glad there was a small stream nearby where Wilbur could get some water. When Charlie pulled into the yard, he was relieved to feel the silent welcome of his house and see the quiet vista of the pastures down to the river. He was glad to be out of the close confines of the diner and friends or not, he’d had his fill of people for the day. He hung his laundry out to dry, grabbed a light dinner and went upstairs for a well-deserved nap.
The emptiness echoed through the house like an old church bell in a mountain village. Charlie tried to keep his mind occupied with his cleaning chores and the radio on, trying to fill those empty spaces with music, but the song selection was so morrose that he had to turn the radio off. Thinking a walk might lift his spirits, he and Wilbur set off at a brisk pace, taking a different path than the one to the river. Sadly, nothing helped as Charlie trudged along unaware of the simplicity of the surrounding beauty.
Charlie recalled the preacher once giving a sermon about blinkers. The preacher explained that just as some working horses were made to wear blinkers to prevent them from being spooked by sudden movements off to their sides, some people go through life as if they were wearing blinkers too. With their vision restricted, these people only see what is right in front of them. If they were to remove those imaginary blinkers and fully open their eyes, then they would see the full scope and glory of God’s creation. The sermon rang a bell in Charlie’s mind and the preacher’s images stayed with him. Today was a blinker day. Charlie’s vision was narrow and confined and focused inward, restricted by imaginary blinkers. Try as he might, those blinders could not be removed or even adjusted.
That evening’s supper was a rather dismal affair for Charlie, sitting alone at the kitchen table without Lynn’s chatter. He tried to distract himself by talking to himself as he did in the old days when riding his tractor.
“And what did you have for supper, Mr. Stone?” Charlie said aloud, speaking in his version of a radio announcer’s voice.
“Well Dick, I had mixed feelings, for supper,” replied Charlie in his regular voice.
“Mixed feelings?” continued the radio announcer. “I’m not familiar with that dish.”
“It’s one part happy that life is back to normal and two parts sad because the house is empty and I’m lonely. You mix ‘em all together and then put ‘em on the stove to simmer for a day or two,” replied Charlie.
Later that evening, after his solitary shot and cigarette, he tried to talk it out with Wilbur. They were both on the couch, Charlie with his head back and Wilbur curled up next to him. As Charlie rambled on, Wilbur would occasionally open one eye to let his friend know he was still listening.
Charlie was speaking, “Life is strange, Wilbur.” Wilbur gave his one-eyed look. “I’ve been around for a long time now and I still can’t work it out. Here we were all settled with an easy routine, taking care of ourselves. I thought we were happy, Wilbur.” This time Wilbur gave a little twitch of his tail. “Then, out of the blue, comes this stranger, bringing the FBI and all kinds of noise and trouble. She stays for a week, completely disrupting our lives and then suddenly leaves. After she’s gone, we find out we weren’t that happy after all and we’re downright lonely now. Dammit, it just ain’t right, Wilbur.” Wilbur grunted then turned over with his back to Charlie who said, “Am I boring you? Okay, I’m going to bed and by the way, you need a bath.”
Take Two Aspirins
Life slowly returned to normal for Wilbur and Charlie. After a few false starts, they found their rhythm again. Wilbur got his bath and Charlie resumed his regular diner routine where he learned that his nickname had changed from “Dammit Charlie” to “Stud Muffin.” He suspected Trixie was behind the name change and although secretly pleased by the title of “Stud,” he wasn’t too sure about the “Muffin” part.
Lynn had called to say that she had made it home safely with no sight of or interference by special agent Schultz. By Charlie’s reckoning, they had a long and enjoyable conversation. If asked, Lynn would beg to differ, but she would admit that Charlie was friendly and did manage a few more words beyond, “Yes, no, Wilbur and dammit.” The last word came at the end of the conversation when Lynn had told Charlie that he had to check his emails because she had already sent two that he had not even opened. It left him wondering how she knew he hadn’t opened them, but he promised he would open them, and they said their goodbyes.
Charlie’s main focus for the time being, was not on emails but on how to build a bench for their spot down by the river. In his mind’s eye he pictured something sturdy and concrete that would stand up to the occasional Spring floods. He found a small one at Lowe’s that he reckoned cost three times more than it should have. The moment of truth came when he went to lift it. It was three times heavier than he was expecting.
“Dammit,” he said to the amusement of a couple of young employees. “They got lead inside of this concrete?”
“No sir.” they replied and walked away still laughing.
The incident bothered Charlie and it was on his mind as he drove home. He had always been strong from lifting bales of hay by the truck load and bags of grain, seed, and feed. He knew his back was a problem and he had to be careful lifting but, “Dammit, I’m not an old weakling yet,” he said as he ran his second stop sign.
Sheriff Watkins happened to be on the cross street and watched as Charlie failed to make the stop. He didn’t even slow down. Luckily for Charlie, the sheriff who was about to go after him, pull him over and give him a verbal warning, got a call from dispatch and sped off in the opposite direction.
“I’ll talk to him next time I see him,” the sheriff vowed to himself.
Charlie was still mulling over his diminished strength when he pulled into his yard. Getting out of the truck he went straight into the barn where he tried lifting various heavy objects. He was doing well, and his bruised self-esteem was healing until he came across an eighty pound bag of grain in one of the stalls. He felt his back twinge as he bent to pick up the bag, so bending his knees in the correct fashion he tried to lift the bag, He could not. In fact, he could barely pull the bag upright, never mind off the ground. And now his back was really hurting.
“Dammit to hell,” he swore as he stomped out of the barn. Wilbur, who knew that tone did not bode well, stayed out of sight in one of the other stalls.
Once inside the house, Charlie’s back pain was worsening, the steps up to the back door had aggravated whatever was causing the pain. He searched all over downstairs for a bottle of aspirin and finding none and taking a deep breath he started climbing the main stairs. The journey up and back down, the search proving unsuccessful, was an arduously slow and painful process.
“Dammit,” he said, leaning on the kitchen counter until the pain subsided. Not wanting to drive the twenty miles back to the Wal-Mart, he decided to go to the local gas station/convenience store. Once there, he was pumping gas into the truck when the sheriff walked up to him.
“Afternoon, Charlie,” said Sheriff Watkins.
“Afternoon, Tom,” replied Charlie.
“Everything okay?” asked the sheriff.
“Yup,” said Charlie, hanging up the hose. “Why’d you ask?”
The sheriff explained that earlier had seen Charlie go through a stop sign, failing to stop and that he was driving really slowly, and it seemed like Charlie was distracted. Charlie, proud that he hadn’t had a ticket or an accident in over fifty years, was mortified. Stuck for something to say, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
“Oh, my back’s killing me, and I don’t have no aspirins, so I came to get some.”
The sheriff nodded and said, “Well, I was going to pull you over and give you a verbal warning, but I got called away. Consider this your warning. Just be careful, Charlie and keep your mind on driving. I’d get that back seen to if I were you. You ain’t getting any younger.” Then Sheriff Watkins walked away.”
“Dammit,” said Charlie and thought, “Now, why’d he have to go and say I was getting old?
Charlie’s mind was loaded on the drive home, but he was very careful to stick to the speed limit and come to a full stop at all two of the stop signs along the way. “Dammit Wilbur,” he said as he painfully got out of the truck back at the farm. “First my strength goes, next my back and then the sheriff thinks I’m getting senile. The day’s gone downhill fast.” Wilbur, sensing something was wrong with his old friend, stuck by his side all the way to the back steps, where he sat down on guard duty.
The phone was ringing as he got into the house. It was Lynn and grumpy as he was, he was glad to talk to her. She, like Wilbur, immediately sensed that something was not right.
“What’s the matter?” she asked straight away.
“Nothing,” growled Charlie.
“Don’t you lie to me, Charlie Stone. Now out with it, dammit.” Lynn was back in her business mode.
With a little more gentle prompting from Lynn, Charlie finally told her about his back. He agreed to call the doctor as soon as they hung up and she promised to call back in an hour. Which she also did, and Charlie said he had an appointment in the morning. Using her best interviewing techniques, Lynn managed to get him to confess his other woes. Lynn was silent for a moment or two and then said, “Let’s get your back sorted out and then we can deal with these other issues. None of us are getting any younger, Charlie and I think you’re doing just great. I’ll call you tomorrow after your doctor’s appointment. Bye: love you,” and she hung up.
The two aspirins he’d taken after he’d called the doctor’s office had taken the edge of his back pain, so he popped two more into his mouth and crunched them with his teeth.
Once in bed, pain and sleep were wrestling over Charlie’s body, like St. Peter and the devil fighting over his soul.
At midnight, Charlie had this thought, old age creeps up on you when you least expect it.
At one-thirty, Charlie started fixing all his faults.
By two am, he was fixing everyone else’s faults.
At three-oh-three precisely, by his bedside clock, he gave up fixing everything.
Old age re-entered his thoughts at three-forty-five am as he began to ponder the aging process in general and to curse his advancing age in particular.
By about 4:30 am, he reached several conclusions before sleep finally gave him a short respite from the pain. These conclusions were that getting old is not the problem; being old is the problem; that the body declines far faster than the mind and therefore the body is a traitor.
When pain finally won its duel with sleep, Charlie got up and did his morning routine. He was pleased to notice that his level of pain had gone from acute to nagging. He had time to kill before his doctor’s appointment, so he decided to read Lynn’s emails. Opening his mail page, Charlie was shocked by the number of unopened emails in there. Dammit, he thought, I’ll never get through all these. But Charlie was not a quitter, not only did he find and read her emails, but he painstakingly stabbed out a one-fingered reply.
As he was sorting through the rest of the emails which were mostly junk, he found one from Brad Beasley, the bank manager, dated two weeks ago. “Baldy” Beasley, who was Charlie’s financial adviser and accountant, of sorts, wanted to meet with Charlie and “discuss some matters,” and to please give him a call as soon as possible. Charlie hoped there was nothing wrong and although “Baldy” had given Charlie good advice and his financial future was very secure, Charlie did not completely trust bankers. Over the years, bankers and farmers have had a contentious history. Charlie had grown up hearing stories about farms being foreclosed and banks failing during the Great Depression, and banker Brad Beasley was as city-slick and country-crafty as they came. But Charlie had no choice other than to trust him and so far, things had worked out well. Making a mental note to call him later, Charlie shut down the computer, which was acting and sounding more and more like his old truck and left for his appointment.
The bumpy road, worn shocks and the truck’s crumbling bench seat took their toll on Charlie’s back, so that by the time he got to the doctor’s office, his pain was back in full force. Doctors were another breed of professionals that did not benefit from Charlie’s full blessing and this one was new, very young and all business with no small talk. Charlie was in and out within twenty minutes with two prescriptions and a “Call me next week, Mr. Stone, if it doesn’t improve.”
While waiting for his prescriptions at the drugstore, Charlie went next door to the diner, but he could only manage to sit for ten minutes before the pain got the better of him and he left. Prescriptions in hand and back in his truck, Charlie dry swallowed his pills and headed home. He was feeling a little light-headed by the time he got home and left the prescriptions in the truck. By the time he returned to the still grumbling truck to get them he had a strong feeling of déjà vu. Wilbur just sat and watched all the activity, his head following every movement.
“Dammit, Wilbur, didn’t I just do the exact same thing a week ago?” Charlie complained. Wilbur threw his head back and yawned as if that were answer enough.
The pills were making him a little groggy and he stumbled going up the back steps badly hitting his right shin bone. Wilbur was watching all this, like a Charlie Chaplin movie in black and white, but as soon as Wilbur heard the customary, “Dammit,” he knew Charlie was okay and resumed his daily sniff-and-forage around the yard.
Ten minutes later, as Charlie was leaning on the kitchen counter wondering where the blood on his right boot came from, the phone rang. After fumbling with the buttons on the phone Charlie finally answered the call. It was Lynn wanting to know what the doctor had said. By now, Charlie was feeling decidedly groggy, like being drunk but without the gaiety, he was speaking slowly, and a few words were slurred. He told her what the doctor had said and about the prescriptions.
Lynn grew increasingly concerned as she heard the grogginess in his voice as he was telling her about his sleepless night and how sitting was still very painful for him. All Lynn could do was listen helplessly, say a few encouraging words and worry. After saying she would call back that evening, she hung up.
The medications had now reached the peak of their effectiveness and Charlie felt that if he didn’t lie down, he would fall down so he made it out to the couch on the front porch. After gingerly getting down on the couch and finding a reasonably comfortable position, Charlie immediately fell asleep.
He was woken up four hours later by Wilbur licking his face with decidedly bad doggie breath. Pushing Wilbur away, Charlie sat up too quickly and was reintroduced to his new companion, back pain. Wilbur watched as Charlie tried several different postures and movements before he was able to get up off the couch.
“Dammit, dog. What are you laughing at?” asked Charlie. With his mouth half open, tongue hanging out and a twinkle in the eyes, Wilbur had the look of canine laughter. Then his ears twitched, his head swung round, and he was off running to the back yard barking. A few seconds later Charlie heard the gravel crunch of a vehicle coming up the road.
“Dammit, who the hell could this be?” muttered Charlie as he walked back through the house, grabbing some more pills on the way. A brand new, white Cadillac SUV was parking in the yard. Must be Baldy, thought Charlie and sure enough the banker Brad Beasley got out of the car. Having grown up on a farm himself, Brad wasn’t bothered by barking yard dogs and completely ignored Wilbur, he walked up to the back steps just as Charlie was opening the door.
“Afternoon Charlie,” said Brad with his best customer service smile.
“Brad,” replied Charlie. “I was about to call you and now here you are.”
“I tried to call you a few times, but you never answered so I sent an email and you still didn’t answer, so I thought I’d stop by. You got a couple of minutes?” Brad took off his sunglasses and put a foot on the first step.
Reluctantly, Charlie invited him in, offered him coffee and a chair. The coffee was declined but the chair accepted. Charlie explained about his back and said he preferred to stand and then asked if everything was alright with his affairs.
“Couldn’t be better,” replied Brad, then slipping into his smooth sales-pitch voice he said he’d been reviewing Charlie’s assets. “Everything’s fine,” he quickly assured Charlie, “but I was wondering about your property, this farm and the land.”
“What about it?” asked Charlie, his warning antennas suddenly buzzing.
“Well, it’s a large property and I was thinking that it must be getting harder for you to maintain it all by yourself. You ain’t getting any younger, you know.” Baldy was trying to tiptoe around telling Charlie he was too old to look after the place and he should consider selling it.
Dammit, here’s another one telling me I’m getting past it, Charlie thought, standing up straighter and defensively folding his arms across his chest.
Like any good salesman, the banker sensed Charlie’s resistance and quickly added, “I know you’re managing very well but I think we need to consider the future. As it stands right now, you can live comfortably but…” He saw Charlie shift his stance and changed his approach. “Have you thought about who will inherit this place, when the time comes?”
“Nope,” said Charlie. The meds were kicking in again and his thoughts were slow and jumbled so, looking Brad straight in the eyes he said, “I don’t feel too good right now. Can we talk about this later?”
“Sure,” said Baldy, standing up. “Just bear this in mind. This is a prime piece of real estate and I have a couple of people who are really interested. Think about it and call me when you’re feeling better.” With that he left, and Charlie noticed he’d left one of his business cards on the table.
“Boy, he’s as slick as his own bald head,” Charlie said to himself as he looked at the business card before tossing it into the kitchen catch-all drawer. Then, stomach grumbling, he set about fixing a light supper for himself after first feeding Wilbur. Over supper he decided that he would be glad when this day was over, there had been too many decisions to make and Charlie’s mind was worn out from all the ifs, ands and buts.
“Seems like everyone’s butting in and tellin’ me I ain’t getting any younger. I already know’d that, dammit,” he said, his voice getting louder. The drugs were relaxing him so much he was reverting to the country talk he learned when growing up. He was still grumbling about all this when he faced his next decision as he walked out onto the porch where Wilbur was patiently waiting.
“Now where in tarnation am I goin’ to sit, Wilbur? I’ll never git back up off’n the couch and when did I start talkin’ like a hick?” Charlie didn’t look at Wilbur while he was speaking but his companion was listening to every word and thumping his tail on the floor. Charlie had finally settled on the rocking chair, figuring that the rocking motion would help him up out of the chair when he was ready. He had just settled into a semi-comfortable position when the phone rang.
“Dammit,” said Charlie. “That phone will go months without so much as a beep but as soon as my back goes bad and just as I get sorta comfy, it goes and rings. Dammit, it can ring all it wants, I ain’t answering it.” The phone continued to ring, and Wilbur got up and barked, looking at the front door. This got Charlie’s attention, so he said, “You want me to answer that?”
Wilbur barked again, Charlie dammitted again and on the third rock managed to get up out of the chair. He took two steps towards the door and the phone stopped ringing which caused another, “Dammit,” followed by a filthy look in Wilbur’s direction who had now curled up on the couch. Charlie had just lit his one daily cigarette when the phone started again.
“Dammit to hell,” he said as he walked into the house, cigarette still in hand.
It was Lynn on the phone. Maybe because he was tired or maybe because of the medications or probably a combination of both, Charlie talked, and Lynn listened. His thoughts, his feelings, his pain and his fears; he dumped everything onto Lynn’s lap. This only took about five minutes, real time but in Charlie time it was an eternity. When he was done, he felt empty, as if he’d suddenly lost twenty pounds. Lynn, sensing that it was probably the drugs talking and taking their emotional toll, did not say much. Her great capacity for compassion emerged as she soothed Charlie’s worries and tried to shore up his crumbling self-esteem. She told him to take it easy with his back and they would talk about the other stuff when he wasn’t so tired.
They said their goodbyes then Charlie, ignoring the pharmacist’s warning about mixing alcohol with the medications, had his usual shot of bourbon and went up to bed leaving Wilbur chasing rabbits in his sleep on the couch, the tree frogs giving their evening recital.
© John Longbottom 2021