The absence of Doris Pinches must have dramatically altered the routine in Romane House for
to shop like an
ordinary housewife. Nevertheless there she was, list in hand, waiting to be
served. She wore a simple dove grey dress and matching sandals which Maureen
Dingle-Jones Audrey estimated was the peak of elegance. Standing
next to , whose wild mane appeared
in desperate need of a brush, Diane
neatly styled hair looked an absolute dream. The striking contrast brought a
muted titter to Audrey's throat. It
was like observing the straight man with his clown.
about-faced, trying hard to suppress her mirth.
'Poor you,' mocked
hitching up her scruffy denims. 'And you do need your sleep.'
caught the contempt, she ignored it. 'I read recently that one is permitted to
shoot the birds now they have become such pests, but if I saw a person
directing a gun at them I would notify the authorities. Even the simplest
creature is entitled to an existence.'
, please! He does hate
his name being abbreviated.' Norman
As she carried a side of bacon to the cold store
Carol gave Audrey
an eyes-to-the-ceiling look, muttering out the corner of her mouth, 'One of
these days I'll abbreviate her.'
'Don't be catty. It doesn't become you.' As
Audrey spoke a noticeable silence descended. She
stopped what she was doing and glanced up to see every head twisted towards the
door, and was dumbfounded to behold the travelling man peering through the glass
beneath the visor he made with his hand. Carol
was hugging the flitch as if to protect herself from transient dangers, Maureen's hands were half way to covering her mouth,
and Diane was hiding her face with her
clutch bag. The remaining shoppers displayed their panic by clustering en masse
at the end of the counter. Audrey cast
her eyes from one to another. 'Just look at you,' she said. 'He's a man, not
the devil in disguise.'
A voice in the queue mumbled, 'How d'you know?'
The cowardly customers drew back as
swept resolutely towards the door. Pulling it wide, she enquired, 'Can I help
'Do you stock throat lozenges?'
It was such an anti-climax after the charged concoction of fear that
Audrey's' previously stifled
giggle threatened to return. She bit her lip to drive it away. 'I'm afraid not,'
she replied. 'Try Settons's, three doors up.'
'Thank you.' He nodded as he strode away.
His voice was nothing like
imagined a tramp would have. She had expected to hear a gruff timbre, not the
precise, succinct, incisive tone of a man accustomed to issuing instructions.
The instant he was lost to view the babble started.
'What did he want?'
'Did you spot the odd socks?'
'How's that for a chiselled face!'
declared. ' Gladys never forgets a
'I must mention it to .' Norman
'You going to serve or am I standing here for health reasons?'
There was a general affirmative response, and
Diane yelled above it, 'Hey, Ellen,
shall we go for coffee after?' before turning back to command Audrey to pack the jumbo eggs.
With all customers now attended to Audrey invited herself to accompany them. 'Give me a minute to clean up,' she said as she disappeared into the tiny area that served as a cloakroom.
'You're lucky to have a beloved to go to.'
Installed in the Copper Kettle, at one of the tables by the far wall, the women waited for their order.
leaned back and clasped both hands on her blonde head. Taking advantage of the
lull in the filter machine's relentless gurgling, she remarked, 'I understand
Paddy Finnigan's fixed up with a job.'
Patrick has significant
The waitress bestowed a sickly-sweet smile on
Audrey as she distributed the coffee and a plate of
biscuits. Diane's watchful eyes
noticed. 'What did you do to deserve that,' she demanded when the girl had
'So you found Paddy full of potential, eh?'
'Yes, indeed. He's a natural plant lover.'
stretched across and scooped it with her teaspoon. 'I should've got Bill to apply. He's after another position. Shop work
might suit him better than slaving all hours in an office.' She replaced the
spoon in the saucer. 'Still, I'm glad Paddy's got it, it'll be the making of
him. Can I borrow your spoon, Audrey.
Don't fancy adding pulped biscuit to the coffee.'
'I imagine not.'
seemed untroubled by the concept. 'Though I do sometimes wish Kate could execute her social work further afield.'
That's terrible news, Maud Maureen. Wait
till I tell Bill.'
'He already knows,'
said. ' Ron told him.'
Following a prolonged discussion on the tragedy
Maureen straightened her shoulders. With an air of
victory she mentioned 's gaffe. Ron
Though it was not a firm arrangement, the majority of
Audrey's half-days were spent with Gladys and today it necessitated walking with Diane for company.
'She was fifty-eight.'
'That's not old! It's men who take badly with hearts at that age. It must have been a hell of a shock for
. Arnold Ron
mentioned it was Brian who broke the
news. At an auction, would you believe.'
'The tramp discovered
lying on the kitchen floor,' Diane
said, as she scraped her nail on the back of her hand. ' Ron
reckons Arnie will take him on as a labourer. You'll never guess what his
'The tramp! His name's
Martin Down Diane cackled. 'Bloody good label for
a down and out.' She inspected her hand. 'I'm sure I've been bitten!'
By the time they arrived at
house, Audrey had digested enough
knowledge of Diane's stepchildren to
last until doomsday. She heard about Kim,
the churlish stepdaughter who caused such unrest in the home, and listened to
an extensive account of how well Ralph's
apprenticeship at the butchers was going. She was made privy to his inability
to acquire a girl friend - a fact Diane
deemed unbelievable at nineteen. Finally she learned of Diane's
exasperation with Ron, whose
inadequate performance was beyond a joke. It took a while to cotton on to what
she meant by performance, but when the realisation dawned that she was
referring to his sexual achievements Audrey
shyly suggested that an appointment with the doctor might be beneficial.
Fearing further disclosures concerning the Pearce clan,
Audrey declined, submitting an explanation about
catching Gladys before she went out.
She was, however, unsuccessful in her quest for according to the note under the milk bottle
had gone out with Sam.
The piercing ring of the telephone penetrated the stillness.
The journal slid to the carpet as she sprang to her feet, trying to dispel the frisson of alarm. 'Silly!' she scolded. 'It'll be
Gladys, or Matty.'
Something told her, as she lifted the receiver, that it was neither of them.
'I know what you're doing.'
She bawled down the phone, 'Who the hell are you?'
His malicious laugh stabbed through her. Ripples of consternation located the route to her spine.
'For God's sake!' she cried, seconds ahead of the dialling tone.
The receiver slipped out of her hand.
(to be continued)