The house wasn’t nearly large enough for so many people, and life was extremely uncomfortable for them all. There were only two rooms in the place altogether, and there was only one bed. The bed was given to the four old grandparents because they were so old and tired. They were so tired, they never got out of it.
Grandpa Joe and Grandma Josephine on this side, Grandpa George and Grandma Georgina on this side. Mr and Mrs Bucket and little Charlie Bucket slept in the other room, upon mattresses on the floor. In the summertime, this wasn’t too bad, but in the winter, freezing cold draughts blew across the floor all night long, and it was awful…
Then very slowly, with a slow and marvellous grin spreading all over his face, Grandpa Joe lifted his head and looked straight at Charlie. The colour was rushing to his cheeks, and his eyes were wide open, shining with joy, and in the centre of each eye, right in the very centre, in the black pupil, a little spark of wild excitement was slowly dancing. Then the old man took a deep breath, and suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, an explosion seemed to take place inside him. He threw up his arms and yelled ‘Yippeeeeeeee!’ And at the same time, his long bony body rose up out of the bed and his bowl of soup went flying into the face of Grandma Josephine, and in one fantastic leap, this old fellow of ninety-six and a half, who hadn’t been out of bed these last twenty years, jumped on to the floor and started doing a dance of victory in his pyjamas.
INT. DAY. THE BUCKETS’ family home. CHARLIE and GRANDPA JOE have just left for their factory tour. MRS BUCKET puts down her laundry stick and gazes over the four-poster bed.
MRS BUCKET [tiredly]: How many of the rest of you can walk?
MRS BUCKET: I mean it. Just tell me. Just – please tell me. I won’t get angry.
Grandma Josephine, Grandpa George, and Grandma Georgina slink a little lower under the covers.
MRS BUCKET: Tell me that none of you knew. That he kept it from all of us, somehow. That you didn’t know about it, that he could…Just tell me.
MRS BUCKET: Because I don’t think I could take it. [She swipes at her eyes furiously] It’s been twenty years. Twenty years of sleeping on the floor and taking in laundry and…Four bedpans. Four bedpans, for twenty years. Tell me I wasn’t cleaning the bedpan of a man who could use the facilities by himself for twenty goddamned years.
Grandma Josephine coughs slightly.
MRS BUCKET: Grandma Josephine. He was your husband. You knew him the best. Please tell me. What you knew. If you knew anything.
GRANDMA JOSEPHINE [quietly, as if to herself]: We – he tried to say something, at first.
MRS BUCKET: At first?
GRANDMA GEORGINA: Well, it’s a very comfortable bed, you have to understand.
GRANDMA JOSEPHINE: He spilled his soup on me. We had a deal, and at the first chance he got, he revealed our secret and left me covered in soup.
GRANDPA GEORGE: Josephine, don’t –
MRS BUCKET: Don’t what, Josephine?
GRANDMA JOSEPHINE: He forfeited his right to secrecy when he left me covered in cabbage soup to go on his damn candy tour. Kate…we can all walk.
MRS BUCKET: Christ.
GRANDMA JOSEPHINE: And dance too, pretty well, most of us.
MRS BUCKET: Do you have any idea how many nights I’ve stayed up until two or three in the morning to wash enough strangers’ clothing to keep this family together?
GRANDMA JOSEPHINE: Well, we can hear you pretty well from the bed, actually.
MRS BUCKET: How did it start?
GRANDMA GEORGINA: How does anything start, really. Who even remembers.
MRS BUCKET: I remember. I remember the day you stopped working. My own son sleeps on the floor.
GRANDMA JOSEPHINE: Good for children, to sleep on the floor. Keeps the spine straight.
MRS BUCKET: You said you broke your ankle.
GRANDMA JOSEPHINE: I’m not a doctor. I only knew that if I stayed in bed, the odds of my ever coming down with a broken ankle would substantially diminish. So I made the choice that made sense for me.
GRANDMA GEORGINA: And I saw how comfortable Josephine and Joe looked, and you kept asking someone to help you with the sweeping, and so I thought maybe if I said I broken my ankle too…
MRS BUCKET: For twenty years?
GRANDMA JOSEPHINE: If it helps, we stopped lying about it after the first six. You just sort of stopped asking what was wrong that day.
GRANDMA GEORGINA: You really only have yourself to blame for that.
MRS BUCKET: I’ve been supporting this entire family single-handedly for twenty years and now I find out the four of you were just resting?
GRANDPA GEORGE: I really did break my ankle.
GRANDMA GEORGINA: Oh, did you?
GRANDPA GEORGE: Yes. About fourteen years ago, I think.
GRANDMA GEORGINA: How’s the ankle now?
GRANDPA GEORGE: Oh, it’s fine, thanks for asking.
GRANDMA GEORGINA: And then you had to go and ruin everything, Josephine. You and your husband. We had the greatest con on record going, and now look at us.
GRANDPA GEORGE: Probably going to have to help with the dishes now, I shouldn’t expect.
MRS BUCKET [tremblingly]: Get out.
GRANDMA GEORGINA: Be reasonable, Kate. We don’t normally get up until after you’ve left to go rag-picking at 11. Give us a little time to adjust.
MRS BUCKET: GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.