Rum Balls

I can smell rum balls. Someone is rustling a bag. A paper bag? They should be in a paper bag. I’m straining, but I can’t see who’s got them. Ah, my beautiful granddaughter. That’s right, pet, you enjoy them. No, I can’t have one, hinny. Can’t eat them anymore. Can’t eat anything anymore.

I remember rum balls. I remember going into the sweet shop and looking along the rows and rows of jars. Bonbons, sugar mice, cough sweets, chocolate limes…and rum balls. The bonbons got stuck in your teeth. The sugar mice were gone too quick. The cough sweets were what your grandma got. The chocolate limes were what your ma liked to pinch when no-one was looking. The rum balls were what your da liked. And I liked them too, he gave me one when ma wasn’t looking. I got them with my first ever wage. ‘A quarter of rum balls, please.’ I said that so often, soon I didn’t have to say it any more.

Then HE started working round that way. He was a conductor on the buses. He was shy, poor lad. I offered him a sweet when we got talking. He didn’t like rum balls much, I don’t think, but he took one anyway. Then he started buying them, and offering me one whenever the bus stopped near the Co-op. I would be out doing some job or other, whatever I could think of that took me outside. Checking the delivery boy’s bike, polishing the brasses, cleaning the windows. Them windows. Little sticky prints all over them. Little tinkers. But I’d get them shining again, and the bus would rattle past and five minutes later he’d wander along, pop into the sweet shop and come and offer me a rum ball. I’d eat it quick, before Mrs Milburn saw.

Can I have a drink, please? I need a straw, hinny. Ta.

It wasn’t bad, working on the buses. He stopped being shy, started chatting to the passengers. Started chatting to the sweet shop girls, too. But he always remembered to bring me a rum ball. In the summer, when he was in his shirt sleeves and the dust clung to his black trousers and he had to keep taking his hat off and giving it a wipe. In the winter, when he had his greatcoat on and the buttons shone and he stamped his feet and clapped his hands together to keep warm. There was one spring day, when the rain came down in sheets. It was dripping off the peak of his cap. It was running down his neck. It was soaking, even through his greatcoat. He came into the Co-op and I gave him a towel to dry off a bit. The fire made his coat steam a bit. There was a smell of coal, and damp wool, and, and, just him. Then he put his hand in his pocket. I won’t ever forget his face. He pulled his hand out, and there was a wet paper bag. Just a mush of rum balls. He said he was sorry, and we laughed about it. We laughed about it for years.

Your grandad never forgot about them rum balls. Me neither.

Can you turn the light on, hinny? It’s getting dark. Is that as bright as it gets? Ah, well.

Maybe I could try one of them rum balls, pet. Just a tiny crumb, just break it off for us. Just for a taste again. They can’t do any harm now. Ah, they’re not as good as they used to be. When I was young and the light was brighter and the colours were brighter and it was me and him laughing about soggy rum balls.

I can still smell them rum balls. I can still hear the bag rustling. I’m going to have some sweet dreams tonight, pet. I love you. Tell yer mam I love her. Time to sleep now.