Sorry about the long delay with this chapter!
Nothing felt the same after George's passing. Very quickly the family began to realise how integral his quiet wisdom had been to their lives and how much they would miss his stories of the past. Georgina seemed to shrink before their very eyes, reverting to the quiet, timid old woman they had known during the hungry years. At first she could not bear to sleep in the bed her husband had died in and Mrs Bucket made her a bed in the living room, sometimes coming downstairs during the night to check on her. Even when she finally returned to her own bedroom, she just wanted to be alone all the time and ate very little, which worried everyone.
And as the days passed, Joe missed having another adult male in the living room. He missed having someone to roll his eyes at when he was being nagged to do something, someone with whom to exchange disparaging remarks about the dreadful soap operas their wives liked to watch, someone to defend him when he tried to choose what record to listen to. Sometimes, when outnumbered in an argument he would instinctively turn to the empty armchair in the corner and his grief would feel almost brand new again. Soon he began wishing he could resume his wanderings around the town, just to get away from the house, and yet Mr Wonka's words haunted him as the infernal man had no doubt intended.
Charlie did not feel he could tell his mother how he felt, given that she was grieving herself but it felt good to unburden himself to Mr Wonka, high up in one of the apple trees in the Orchard as they hung toffee apples from the branches.
"Your grandpa loved you, Charlie. He wanted the best for you and, for him, that meant making sure you had enough to eat," Mr Wonka told him gently.
"I wish we'd all had enough to eat, that things had been different."
"So do I. I wish I could have helped."
Charlie stopped working for a moment and turned to face him. "Well, you're definitely helping us now. And we've had lots of food since we moved here. Grandpa George did too, he really liked his food once we didn't have to eat cabbage soup any more. Mom was always saying how relieved she was to see him eat a good dinner."
Mr Wonka put his arm around him and the two sat on the wide branch for a while, watching Oompa-Loompas come and go and just enjoying the atmosphere. "Well, it's my pleasure to look after you all," he told Charlie, "And you are helping me, remember. I don't think I could have come up with Jelly Eels on my own, or, at least not that exact recipe. I like having you here, to offer suggestions and a fresh perspective, and you've taught me a lot about what candies young people are eating. We can teach each other."
"You don't mind that?"
"Of course not. Why would I?"
"It's just Mr Turkentine used to say that it was rude for a student to teach his teacher."
"That fellow is an imbecile. How is he even allowed to teach? No instructor should be afraid of learning new things from anyone. Still, regardless of your teachers, being at school means that you're around children on a daily basis so you're able to find out what candy they like, which is very useful."
"So I'm kind of like a spy?" Right at that moment Charlie realised how that must have sounded.
"Sorry… I didn't mean to remind you-"
"It's fine, my boy. Come on, I think it's time for lunch."
They climbed down using one of the liquorice ladders and walked down Candy Cane Lane to eat their lunch on a hillock surrounded by toadstools. Charlie could not express how much he still loved this place and how flattered he was that Willy Wonka, of all people, valued his ideas and wanted to include him in all the new things he was creating. After lunch they took the Wonkavator to the Inventing Room where they worked on various new products and lost track of time for a pleasant few hours.
"Ess, I really wish you'd let me do something new with your hair, instead of just a trim. I think a shorter style might suit you," Sally told her as she added some hairspray to Mrs Bucket's freshly blow-dried hair.
"I've told you, I'm happy with the way it is. But thank you, it's looking much better now." She was anxious to get back to the factory as she wanted to squeeze in a few English lessons before lunch and she needed time to prepare. After Sally had brushed off all the stray hairs she followed her to the cash desk to pay, admiring her hair in a mirror as she passed it by. A haircut used to be such a rarity for her that it still felt like a treat to come here and she was hoping to cheer her mother up a little by bringing her here on pensioners day. The salon had only just opened for the day but Sally was expecting a rush fairly soon so she wanted to get away before that. Her friend glanced at the appointment book as she was getting Mrs Bucket's change out of the till.
"Lucky you, going back to Wonka's while I have to stay here and listen to Mrs Simmons wittering on about her five cats. Mind you it's not as bad as listening to Mrs Peterson telling us everything that's wrong with the country. And I mean everything; that woman never shuts up."
"Oh, I know; I remember her from the laundry when she used to drop stuff off with me. I think someone winds her up with a key every morning." They both chuckled at the thought just as a rather large figure in a blue coat with a large mop of curly greying hair passed by the window.
"Oh God, she's early-" Sally began, just as the bell rang and Mrs Peterson herself entered, her very presence sucking the cheerfulness out of the room almost immediately. "Mrs Peterson, how lovely to see you again! Please, have a seat over here and I'll be with you-"
"I can't stay too long; I'm on the bus today so I need to get done fairly quickly as there's one due at half past. Mind you, that'll probably be late as usual. Apparently my daughter's too busy to give me a lift. Such a selfish girl, don't know where I went wrong-"
"I'd better go and leave you to it," Mrs Bucket whispered to her friend, who had found some more stray hairs and was brushing them off. She knew Joe would sort out lunch for everyone but she still wanted to find out her rota for this week before the lessons started. She wondered if they were going to put her in charge of the playgroup again or maybe she was needed in the packing room? There was always plenty of work to do. Some of the younger ones were starting on work teams and she was looking forward to meeting them.
"-not that she listens to a word I say, don't know why I waste my breath," Mrs Peterson was saying now although the two women weren't even listening any more. Mrs Bucket put on her coat, thanked her friend again and turned towards the door, ready to depart. Suddenly she jumped.
"Hey, you! It is you isn't it? The woman from the laundry?"
Her heart sank but she turned to face the other woman, who was making herself comfortable in the chair she had just vacated. "Yes, it is, I'm Esther Bucket."
"Knew I recognised you. You're up at Wonka's now aren't you?"
"Yes, I am, we've been there for over a year now. Good to see you again, Mrs Peterson," she replied.
"I remember you got a wine stain out of my good tablecloth. Haven't forgotten that."
"Well, I've never met a stain I couldn't get rid of," she replied nervously, keeping her hand on the door handle.
"Hm, well, you've gone up in the world, haven't you? They say your son's going to be the next owner of Wonka's. That'll be a good job, a job for life probably."
The phone was ringing and Sally's colleague Elke went to answer it. Mrs Bucket stood away from the door to let some new customers in, still hoping make a quick getaway as far away from that shrill voice as possible.
"What's going on up there anyway? Who's working there? Is it true they're illegal immigrants?"
You have no idea…Mrs Bucket thought.
"I don't care for chocolate myself, never did, but I do follow the news and that tour shocked a lot of people around here, you must have known that. That Willy Wonka fellow, sending out tickets-"
Just then Sally came to her rescue.
"Mrs Bucket is trying to leave," she explained patiently but firmly, "She's a customer like everyone else, she's had a haircut and now she wants to go home."
"Hm, I'll bet she does. If I had a nice life like hers I'd want to go home too. There's something not right about it all."
Mrs Bucket tried to leave with as much dignity as possible even though her cheeks burning with embarrassment. She had heard things around the town, mostly silly rumours, and she thought she was used to it by now but since her father's death she seemed to be more sensitive to these things. Anyway she knew that Mrs Peterson's husband had worked for Mr Wonka, back in the early days, and had been let go along with the rest. She was bound to be curious, as many still were.
Sally stepped outside just then, her comb still in her hand, and shut the door behind her. "I swear, I'll dunk her head in the basin one of these days. Are you ok, Essie?"
"I'm fine. I'll call you later. I just need to go home," she replied, "And thanks again for the haircut." She walked down the street with as much dignity as she could manage. She was a grown woman and she would not let the local gossips get her down any more.
Later she discussed this with Sally over the phone, but neither could find a solution. Like many things, it was something she would have to learn to live with. And Sally herself must be curious about it all too, considering her brother had also lost his job. Some of the former workers had moved away and others, like Mrs Peterson's husband, travelled to another town each day for work. But it had all happened many years ago, before Charlie was even born. She could not share Mr Wonka's guilt and he would never expect her to.
Joe was actually getting used to the half objects in the office, something he could never have imagined. He still remembered seeing this room for the first time, at the end of the tour when they had been dismissed so bluntly by their host, just before their lives changed forever.
"I'm glad to hear he's doing well at school. He didn't seem happy when he started there," Mr Wonka was saying, jolting him back to the present.
"His teachers seem happy with him, especially his science teacher. He did well with his last assignment. I should have brought it with me to show you but you can see it the next time you're over for dinner," Mrs Bucket told him.
Although the thought of Mr Wonka at their dinner table yet again made him groan inwardly, he put on a brave face about it. At least they had a good dinner to put on the table now. And he knew how much it meant to Charlie.
Afterwards they strolled back across the square, waving to some of their Oompa-Loompa friends who were passing by upstairs windows. He was surprised when Esther wanted to know if he'd had any bad experiences when he went outside.
"Not that I can think of. They're usually just glad to see me out and about, to be honest. Why?"
She told him about the incident at the hairdressers a few days ago, which he was not happy about.
"Actually, she cornered me in a store once, asked me if I'd help to get her husband's job back. I had no idea what to say. Hard to say no to her but I just walked out."
"Better not tell Mr Wonka any of this."
"Indeed not." He stopped in his tracks. "I can't believe it. I'm starting to talk like him now. Next thing you know I'll be wearing purple and swinging a cane."
"Really? You want me to go up in the glass Elevator with you?" Charlie could hardly believe his ears. They hadn't flown in it together since the day of the tour.
Mr Wonka raised his sailor's cap to some Oompa-Loompas on the shore as Joe eased them around a bend. "I've been investigating the possibility of using it for more distant travel. It would be interesting to see how far we can travel in it."
Joe could not help but overhear. "Hold on, you want to take my grandson on a flight in that thing again?"
"I don't see why not. It's a perfectly viable form of transport."
"So is a car," he replied curtly. He asked two of the Oompa-Loompas to take over from him and he turned around to face Mr Wonka, unable to believe what he was hearing.
"A car! Dreadful contraptions, apart from the Wonkamobile of course. Absolutely no beauty in them, just functional machines… I can't abide functionality. And besides, I don't have a driving licence."
Charlie was astonished at this. "You don't? But I thought all adults did. My mom has one."
"What made you think I was like other adults?" he replied, with a wink, "And as you might have guessed, the Wonkamobile has never even been outside the factory and that's the way it's going to stay."
"But you could learn," Charlie pointed out.
"My dear boy, I can only carry a certain amount of things in my head. What if I learn to drive and forget how to make unmeltable ice cream? That would never do."
Neither of them believed for a moment that this highly creative, intelligent man in front of them could only carry a limited amount of ideas in his head. Knowing that their benefactor was not in the mood for a sensible conversation today, Joe sighed, took the wheel back and steered them towards Ice Cream Mountain, a new creation that Charlie was eager to show him.
Dinner was actually going well, with Charlie's stories about funny things that had happened in school and how he ran, quite literally, into Mr Turkentine on his way home and got a lecture about not looking where he was going before being told to give Mr Wonka his regards. Georgina was even managing to eat a decent portion of the delicious fish that Esther had prepared and Mr Wonka's compliments and whimsical remarks were helping to cheer her up a little.
Joe was worried about her. She was now suffering from muscle weakness and fatigue, according to the doctor, not just because of her condition but also because of the many years of inactivity. Josephine was the same, but she was trying to get out as much as possible and sometimes accompanied him on his outings. But at the moment he was trying to enjoy the meal and the comfortable atmosphere. They even let him tell one of his war stories, which he drew out as much as possible while they tucked into bowls of delicious ice cream, made right here in the factory. And then Charlie told them about Mr Wonka's plans for the elevator.
"Don't worry; Charlie will be perfectly safe with me. You know I'll look after him. We'll just take it locally at first," he told them gently.
Joe looked around at the rest of his family. They were gushing about how much fun it sounded and how it would be a great invention if they succeeded. Was he the only one who was worried?
"Hold on, hold on," he insisted, trying to drown out his wife and grandson's voices. "We still don't know the first thing about how that elevator works. What does it even run on?"
"Hot air," Mr Wonka replied straight away, "You should be able to provide us with plenty of that." His smug grin did nothing to help Joe's irritation but he kept quiet. His family thought Mr Wonka was the centre of the universe, and to be honest, he was the centre of their universe. So much of their life was dependent on him, even with the money from Tom's candy bars. And at his age maybe he should be grateful that someone was looking after them, considering what the alternative could have been.
Later on, when he was about to go to bed he looked out the window at the apartment across the courtyard and thought about how everything had changed since they came here. This was their life, their world, and Charlie would be a big part of it some day. Some day, off in the future… And suddenly he could not think about that any more. With the house in silence he made his way to bed.