Throughout the school years
Sheila and I were inseparable. It was a strange
friendship. She had everything and I, being the daughter of impoverished
parents, had nothing. I used to wear her clothes because we were of identical
build and the same colouring. My three younger sisters would regard me
enviously when I turned up on Sunday nights wearing Sheila's
pink mohair twin-set and black pencil skirt. Never once did I wonder what her
mother would say about my friend's disappearing apparel. I got other things as
well, handbags, flimsy scarves and gloves. On occasions, when we set out to
congregate on the street corner with the lads, Sheila
would lend me a coat, but that always had to be returned lest
complained to her husband about Mrs Pickering Sheila's
When she was twenty she met the actor, suave and handsome
. I was never quite sure
if it was his money or his looks that swept her off her feet. Whatever it was,
by twenty-one she was married and had a child on the way. Casey
I married, of course. Twice. My first husband was Cedric Messenger. A gambler. He liked to bet on horses, football, the dogs, and the weather. He spent all our money and rarely won.
was great, giving me money and clothes like the old days.
My second attempt at wedded bliss was better. Even
Sheila approved. Charlie May was fifteen years older than me and
suffered with multiple sclerosis. That's why I worked and he didn't. I
sometimes got a bit worried when he had a flutter on the horses - thinking of
Cedric, I suppose, who never won.
Whenever I worked overtime
my rich, famous and very best friend, took Sheila Murchison Charlie
out. She settled him in her limousine, his wheelchair in the boot, and off they
would go to tour the park and call at the shops or maybe visit the theatre.
While I slaved long hours at the factory.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't jealous. On the contrary, I was pleased that
had the opportunity to see the sights. Left to me he wouldn't get the chance,
you see, not while I was working at the factory.
Panic swirled around my innards. I'm a stranger to excitement and unsolicited news terrifies me. I think it's with working so long at that dreary factory … there's never a happy face to be seen in there. Anyway, I pushed away my apprehension and waited to hear the news. I looked to
Sheila for some kind of enlightenment but she just
stood behind Charlie's chair gripping
the handles and grinning like the proverbial cat.
you tell Lottie or shall I?' asked
Charlie of Sheila. She inclined her head in his direction to indicate that he
should do it.
Manoeuvring his wheelchair to my seat by the fire,
Charlie took my hand. 'I won the
raffle at the drama group,' he said. He looked me square in the eyes so I knew
he wasn't having me on.
Fingering the frayed edge of my apron pocket, I looked away and breathed deeply to quell the suspense.
'And I had the third,' announced
My voice croaked as I timorously asked what they'd won.
'A holiday ...'
'A hamper ...'
Roaring with laughter, they tried again.
said Florida Charlie.
'For Christmas,' said
I looked from one to the other, finding their news difficult to assimilate. It was
who finished the tale. Apparently Casey
had provided the holiday as a prize and included with it two thousand pounds
spending money. 'And it's yours,' she said, placing in my hands a buff envelope
'It's yours,' she repeated.
Two months after our holiday, I totted up the expense sheet to see how much of the two thousand was left. I still felt indebted to
Sheila, who had spent a
lifetime waving away my gratitude, never once looking for a return. Not that I
could give much back on the measly wage I picked up. I sighed with frustration
when the total differed a third time and wished Charlie
was available to have a go. But he was at a charity do at Sheila's
mansion. I would have gone but for the overtime at the factory.
As I moved up the column a fourth time, I heard the front door slam. There was much tittering in the hall as
Sheila struggled to get Charlie
up the step. Laying down the pencil, I went to help, inching open the living
room door in case Charlie was on the
other side. I gazed with disbelief at the sight of him with my best friend,
seeing their lips separate, noting the speed with which they pulled apart. They
smiled at me.
Clearing his throat,
began, ' Lottie ...'
'Don't tell me,' I countered, sarcastically. 'You were just kissing her goodnight.'
and I ...'
I closed my eyes, not wanting to know what
Charlie and her were about.
'We want to live together.'
I stared at her. 'Repayment?'
'In kind. Your husband for all the gifts and loans and favours.'