I’m sitting here again in Venus de Milo’s coffee shop, at my usual window seat, with a tall latte. The first time I came here I asked for a small latte, but the snotty young girl said, ‘oh, you mean a tall latte?’ ‘No,’ I thought. ‘I want a bloody expensive mug of milky coffee, Dear.’ I don’t really care for the stuff, but it keeps my hands warm and anything stronger sets my migraines off.
Coffee is not why I come here though, it’s to people watch. It gives me an insight into possible characters for my first novel, which I promised to write once I’d retired. Daughter keeps telling me to stop procrastinating.
I imagine her sat on my shoulder like my very own Jiminy Cricket.
‘Mother, just get on and do it. At least make a start.’
From my position on the high stool, I can view the varied shops across the pedestrianised street. There are a number of shoe shops, department stores and interesting smaller boutiques, gift shops and deli’s down the arcades, adjacent to the main street. As well as having a good nosey out, being up here, and inside, stops my bony ankles from being knocked by those bloody three-wheeled buggies. I know it’s accidental but it hurts.
‘Mother, you’re so intolerant. And stop swearing.’
She makes me feel like a kid; like one of her little brood. Yes, I’d be the cuckoo in her perfect nest.
On Monday, a new man, about my age, came in from Carter’s bookshop and sat in the far corner behind me. He’s been here all week with his newspaper up, all shifty and secretive. He’s a spy.
‘Oh Mother, you’re such a fantasist.’
Well you never know, do you? He even wears the stereotypical spy uniform of dark trousers, trench coat and trilby hat. Oh, of course, there’s the essential newspaper. You watch Miss Maple and I dare you to be dissuaded from the truth. What can I say? He’s a spy, or maybe a private investigator.
In fact on Tuesday, he sat in the same seat and whenever I sneaked a peak; and this is difficult when you’re perched precariously on a stool; his paper shifted up. His hands I noticed were marred by the printing ink, and he wore a wedding band and a Raymond Weil watch. I pretended to be touching up my make-up and used the compact mirror to observe him, but his perplexing reflection looked back at me. I quickly buried my face in the steam of the hot drink.
Two women have just walked in together, each carrying a small holdall and sit on the comfy seats to the right of me. They arrange their baggage on top of each other, out of the way, and one starts to shuffle her brochures whilst the other flicks through the menu.
‘Tea for two, Jane?’ she says to the slim one. She’s dressed entirely in linen; wearing a white, long-sleeved shirt and brown, wide-legged trousers. ‘We’ve got an hour to spare now before we can register.’
‘Yes, that’ll be great thanks,’ says the fuller figured one, in her indigo blue jeans, red blouse and blue blazer. ‘I’ll pay, Elizabeth,’ she adds, but is quickly dismissed by a waving hand.
I continue to listen and take my jotter out to take notes as Elizabeth returns with the drinks.
‘I’ve been looking forward to this for days. Have you ever been to a place like this,’ says Elizabeth, pointing to the brochure. ‘I mean, for a massage? It’ll be nice to feel relaxed and pampered for once.’
‘I know what you mean. I’ve not had a massage either, except for Russ doing my feet but that was half-hearted. The grounds look wonderful don’t they, so peaceful. We must get lost in the maze before we leave.’
‘Definitely,’ she agrees. ‘Just think, about this time tomorrow they’ll be married, my Chris and your Ruth. I’m so excited I can’t tell you. You know, I went out and bought a hat as soon as they announced it.’
‘I know how you feel; I felt the same with my first. Chris is your only one, so this is a special time for you.’
‘For all of us, Jane. We’re going to be one big happy family, just what I’ve always wanted. Are you a little anxious about tomorrow? I know your trying your best, but you seem distance somehow.’
‘Sorry Elizabeth, but I don’t want anything to ruin their big day. It’s just… Oh, I don’t know. I’m afraid this marriage won’t workout. We don’t exactly have a good record of happy, long marriages do we? Look at my four girls, none of them lasted ten years between them. What hope can I hold for this one? Stop me if I’m being maudlin.’
‘Jane, this isn’t like you to be so negative. I thought you were okay about everything. Ruth and Chris are solid with five years behind them. They’re a strong couple.’
‘It’s Russ I’m worried about. After a few drinks he’s going to be difficult to control, God knows what he’s going to blurt out.’
‘I thought you…’
‘It was all sorted? Not quite, Beth. Far from it, he’s threatening to let it all out during the speeches; on one condition.’
‘And that is?’
‘He wants the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’
‘Come on, he wouldn’t dare. I thought Ruth was his blue-eyed baby, he wouldn’t want to deliberately sabotage her wedding would he?’
‘I really don’t know anymore.’
‘Jane, he can’t do this surely. Do you want me to have a quiet word, put him straight again?’
‘I don’t want to antagonise him anymore than we have to. Maybe he was winding me up, you know, to put me in my place. You know how manly he likes to be. You know, after….’
‘Yes. Look, let’s enjoy today and get chilled out. We’ve got the massage, manicure, sauna and jacuzzi to look forward to. We’ll be so laid back we’ll be floating home.’
‘Your right Beth, as always.’
Elizabeth takes out a city map from the side of her holdall and Jane joined in, trying to decipher where the rendezvous is. She places an empty glass in the middle to stop the overhead fan from blowing the map away, changing a friendly but innocent scene into an intimate yet sinister séance. Shortly after, they finish their drinks and leave for their taxi.
I’ve got some good material to work with here. I thought my life was complicated, but it sounds like that wedding’s going to be very entertaining, especially when the drinks start flowing. What’s going on with Russ? I was dying to ask.
I’m actually quite pleased with myself for once. I mean, I should never have thought the book was going to materialise on to my lap without some hard grafting. But sitting here, enjoying a drink and ear wigging into some juicy titbits is my idea of an interesting retirement. I’m not old enough for those ‘clubs’ yet, Daughter Dear. Do you hear me, Daughter? There’s a book in me and I’m going to get it out.
‘Serenity Mother, at all times.’
Yes, we don’t want people thinking there’s a live wire in the house, do we Daughter Dear.
‘Oh Mother. A book. We always knew you’d do it. We’re so proud to share in your limelight.’
Sure you are, Dear. Now take that parasol out of my sunlight, so I can bath in my glory.
I write todays date on the top right corner of my jotter. Today is the first time I’ve written anything of worth. Then I realise, something is missing, or rather, someone.
Today is Friday and Mr. Spy seems to be late, or has his cover been blown. I’m wrong though, he’s just been to Carter’s for his paper which is rammed up his armpit like a drill sergeant’s baton. Has he bought a book, too? He crosses the path of Jane and Elizabeth and smiles at them knowingly. I can’t see their faces but I’m assuming they are giggling to themselves, like fresh faced teenagers. He does have one of those handsome, older faces that even youngsters would agree, was attractive; rather like Paul Newman.
I’m embarrassed now as he looks straight at me and docks his hat. Is he smiling or grimacing now? As he enters he glances at my books and heads to the snotty girl to order a mocha-choca-what’s-it-drink. He sits in his spot and I wonder about the book he’s bought. I have to move virtually one hundred and eighty degrees to see him as he’s lent right back in the chair. Did he do that on purpose? I subtly manoeuvre myself as if to check out the menu board and find him smiling back at me. And it is a smile. Taking out the book, I can now see that he begins to read, A-Z of Creative Writing. Returning a smile, I turn to my notebook to continue my novel.