TALENT SHOW • by Hermine Robinson

“Hey Kiddo, I need a scarf, maybe seven.”

Gwen looked up from her computer screen at the old lady standing in the doorway of her office. Hilda, with her halo of pinky orange hair (the faded aftermath of the hairdresser’s attempts to dye her stubborn grey back to auburn) never failed to catch Gwen when she was busy. “Scarves?” She asked. “What do you need scarves for? And why so many?”

“Never you mind why. It’s a surprise.”

If there was one thing Gwen had learned as activity coordinator for the seniors’ home, it was that Hilda’s surprises required caution. “Well, I can get you one scarf right away.” She glanced at the ragged knit shawl hanging on her coat rack.

“Not that kind of scarf, you idiot. That thing looks like road kill. I want some of those gauzy or silky scarf things.”

Sometimes Gwen wondered why Hilda was her favourite resident at Sunnyvale Seniors’ Home. “Gauzy scarves? Do you mean like a veil?”

“Yeah, them. Veils. And not just one, I need seven of them, in nice bright colours.”

“And you’re sure you can’t tell me why?”

“No, but sign me up for the next talent show.”

Gwen tapped at her keyboard. “Okay, got it. Hilda, seven veils, Sunnyvale Talent Show.” While she was at it, Gwen surreptitiously typed in a search for ‘seven veils dance’ and Wikipedia confirmed her suspicions. She looked up at Hilda, trying not to smile. “I should be able to get the veils to you by tomorrow.”

“I need time to practice my act.”

“I’m kind of in the middle of something.”

“I can wait.”

Hilda might have had a bad hip, but her mind was sharp, and Gwen knew the woman would not simply forget why she was there and wander off like most of the seniors at Sunnyvale. Gwen sighed and closed the laptop. “I could check the supply cupboard and see if we have any scarves in there.”

“Damn right,” said Hilda. “Ain’t any of us getting any younger around here.” She hobbled to the end of the hallway to the storeroom and tapped her foot while Gwen searched through stacks of clear plastic totes full of donations and items left behind by former residents.

“Found it.” Gwen held up a collection of light mesh squares in neon colours. “I think the therapists use them to teach juggling, but I’m sure you can borrow them for your act.”

“They’re kinda small.” Hilda examined the hankies closely. She tied three together into a length and waved it around. “I wish they were silkier,” she said. “But I guess they’re okay.”

“So, are these veils the right size for your… um, dance? Gwen asked.

“Dance?” Hilda paused in the process of stuffing the string of scarves under the cuff of her sweater. “What are you talking about a dance? You know I have a bad hip, Kiddo. My dancing days are done.” Hilda struggled with the lump of scarves hidden up her sleeve, found the loose end and pulled out the colourful streamer with a grand flourish. “Ta-Da! Look, it’s magic.”

“Oh! Thank God,” said Gwen. “I mean, that’s great, Hilda. You’re doing a magic act.”

The senior glared at Gwen suspiciously. “Of course it’s a magic act, what did you think I was going to do?”

“It’s just that when you asked for — ” Gwen had the decency to blush and wondered again why Hilda was her favourite resident, fairly certain the woman had set her up. She handed over the rest of the neon scarves. “Is seven enough?”

Hilda chuckled on her way to the elevators and left Gwen to deal with the stack of plastic totes. As she jammed them back into the storage room, a box labelled PROPS caught Gwen’s eye and gave her an idea. She dug out a battered top hat and with a bit more searching located a white-tipped wand.

The door to Hilda’s room was slightly ajar and Hawaiian music leaked into the hallway, punctuated with trilling exclamations of ‘ta-da’. Gwen smiled and knocked. “Hilda, I have a surprise for you.” She knocked again a little harder and the door swung open just enough for Gwen to see Hilda’s backside gyrating to “Pearly Shells” in an ersatz hula. The gauze scarves tucked into the waist band of Hilda’s polyester pants swished back and forth with the sway of her hips (obviously not as painful as she claimed) as the senior practiced her dance routine for the potted geraniums lined up on the window ledge. With an exuberant ‘ta-da’ Hilda pulled a scarf loose and flung it aside to flutter down and join the others already scattered on the floor.

Gwen groaned. Fooled twice in one day.  She backed out of the room still holding the top hat and wand. As the door closed with a quiet click she heard another ‘ta-da’ followed by a coquettish giggle, and Gwen remembered why Hilda was her favourite resident at Sunnyvale Seniors’ Home.

Hermine Robinson lives in Alberta, Canada where winters are long and inspiration is plentiful. She loves all things ‘short fiction’ and refuses to be the place where perfectly good stories come to die. Hermine is married with two children and most people know her by her nickname “Minkee”.

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