By heck, the itch was so toe-curling I couldn’t bear it anymore. I’d shuffled my legs from side to side, and I even bent over, pretending to tie the laces on my new shoes, but it wouldn’t go away. And I was sweating madly from the lights and the tension. I’m not used to this kind of fuss. In the end I gave in; there was no two ways about it. I had to itch it.
I reached round with my left hand and pinched the seam of my suit trousers (which were too tight). Oooh, the bliss! Just a couple of seconds, that’s all. I made a scrunched grimace with my eyes closed, like I was gurning.
Unfortunately, and frankly the word hardly begins to tell you just how very bad this was, unfortunately, when I opened my eyes, she was standing there, right in front of me, about six inches from my face. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, The Second. That’s right, the Queen was stood right in front of me. She was wearing one of those pill-box hats and a strange half-smile. Perhaps that was her normal expression for these occasions when she has to walk down a line of people and congratulate them for some achievement or other. Or maybe it was disgust at having seen me itch my bum. Had she seen me? Of course she had seen – how on earth could she have avoided it? She was standing there, right in front of me!
She was speaking to me while all these thoughts bustled around in my head, and I started to make a sort of stammer-mumble noise. I wouldn’t quite call it speaking.
‘H… errr… g. yes. I… erm… wha’?’
Honestly, it was that bad. I sounded like I was chocking or something. Her smile widened either out of pity, or perhaps she was amused. She’s quite old close up, but there is definitely something about her – you know, a kind of glow – charisma. She smells very nice too.
An extremely tall gentleman in an elaborate suit next to Her Majesty had to bend down and clarify what she was saying, owing to the fact that I had completely lost the plot. His voice was dark brown and public school.
‘Her Majesty was enquiring what it is, that you did.’
‘Ooh… err… I built a bridge.’ I said.
Wow! What an articulate speech; an excellent summary of the highlight of a forty-year career. There you are then; a man’s life, complete with stammering.
She said a couple more words which I didn’t hear, and that was that. Smashing. You work hard your entire life for one moment of recognition, and then you make an utter balls of the whole thing.
I turned to the smart bald guy on my right who had been before me in the queue – an academic, he wrote about the Prussian Empire or something. He smiled without opening his lips and raised his eyebrows. What must he think? He’d been charm personified. He had bowed and spoken clearly.
Perishing heck! I didn’t even bow! No wonder she was unimpressed. One thing you have to do; bow. I forgot to do that. They should tell you when they prep you. They should say; “Only speak to Her Majesty when she asks you a question, don’t forget to bow, and if at all possible, please don’t itch your bottom at the very moment Her Majesty is standing in front of you!”
There was a reception afterwards, but I was sweating so much I just wanted to take my suit off and deal with my discomfort. My piles were killing me, and my new shoes were far too tight. I squeaked with every step causing people to look down at me with patronising smiles. They were all thinking, “Here comes the leper, the idiot – the ARSE ITCHER.”
I needed to see Marjorie and, small blessings, she hadn’t seen the incident (obviously not – the Queen was stood right in front of me, blocking her view). She looked so elegant and proud in her new burgundy frock. I handed her the box. She adjusted the medal around my neck like she had straightened the kids’ clothes every day and my tie for all the years I’ve worked for the county council. There’s nowt like seeing real pride in the eyes of the one you love. That’s what makes it all worthwhile. I can’t wait to show the kids and the grandchildren.
After that there was some handshaking and a drink of something sickly sweet, and I started to feel a bit better.
And that was my big moment; the greatest day of my life. I am Robert Wilson, infamous itcher of his bum-crack, bridge engineer, happy husband, proud father and grandfather, OBE.
Dr John D Rutter has been writing short stories for ten years and has been widely published in the form. His first novel, Approval, developed from short stories, won the Northbound Book Award 2020 and will be published by Saraband Books in 2021.