After exchanging numbers last week I’d called Lil twice to check in with her. She was curt on the phone and I suspect didn’t appreciate being asked, or cared for. She was a proud, independent woman. What I didn’t realise was that Armando was calling too. I hope she felt looked after as well as fussed over, even when it wasn’t so welcome.
I arrived at the café just before 10am as usual on Thursday for Breakfast Club. As I looked through the glass door I could see a figure in the corner and knew that Lil was already there and back to normal. As I opened the door she called out rather urgently to me.
‘Wayne, please hurry up, close the door, and come straight over.’
I wondered what was happening now. Firstly Lil had never addressed me by my Christian name. She would say ‘Boulevardier’ or ‘Our Boulevardier’, and secondly I didn’t understand the rush.
As I sat down I asked ‘What’s up Lil? Why the hurry?’
‘Shhhh just sit down. Armando, a fresh pot of Assam for my friend and me please.’
Lil was behaving oddly again. I looked round and the café was moderately busy, and nothing seemed out of place. The polka-dotted trolley was back by Lil’s side and she was wearing a dark-coloured woollen sweater and a woolly hat. Her purple curls spread under the fur rim of the bonnet. The purple bruising on her face was still evident but faded from its violent appearance the previous week.
‘What’s wrong?’ I whispered.
‘It’s that bloody hoity-toity woman from the Age club sitting over there. She is well above her station. She wanted to join my table, but I heard enough of her bragging on Tuesday. I told her I had a meeting with a young author I was assisting and she couldn’t join us. I wasn’t having her interfere and grab you when you walked in.’
‘How would she know it was me?’ I teased.
‘Ahhh well that’s a point but there is no need to take unnecessary risk. Are you having a full veggie breakfast, with a sausage?’
Lil was acting jealous and possessive. I was seeing a different side to her today and I was glad our meetings meant something special to her too.
‘Armando, I assume you’ll be taking our Boulevardier’s order and joining us as usual.’ The ‘as usual’ was emphasised. Lil was protecting her territory and making no space for unwelcome intrusion.
I wanted to take advantage of a distracted Lil. She hadn’t shared much of her life and might be more open when preoccupied.
‘Were you ever married Lil?’
Armando had just arrived back with the tea and took a seat.
‘What?’ Lil did have this habit of asking ‘what’ to give her some thinking time.
‘Married?’ Armando impatiently asked.
‘Of course I was. Do I look like a bloody frigid spinster?’
‘Do you have any children?’ I pushed my luck.
‘No. Right let’s get this tea poured before it stews. And why the sudden questions? I don’t like being interrogated.’
Armando and I glanced at each other. Lil noticed.
‘He was a lot better behaved than Mavis Bellamy’s husband. From what I hear Mr B had much more than a roving eye.’ Lil spoke in a lower confidential voice.
‘Who’s Mavis Bellamy?’ Armando asked.
‘Shhh – She’s right over there in the corner. For goodness sake Armando don’t you listen!’
Our breakfasts arrived which signalled a halt in the conversation as we focused on our food. The toast was thick and of a mottled brown – perfect.
‘What was your husband’s name Lil?’ I asked as I spread butter across the first slice of toasted bread.
Lil didn’t answer. Her lips pursed. I wondered whether I’d pushed it too far.
‘Oh hello again Mavis,’ Lil said in a formal voice. I realised I hadn’t upset Lil but rather a defence against the incoming invasion.
‘I thought I’d pop over for a chat before I left. There’s lots to do today.’
‘Thank you. Well don’t let us hold you up‘
‘Aren’t you going to introduce me to your breakfast companions Lilian.’
‘I’d love to Mavis, but another time. We’re right in the middle of a detailed literary discussion and we mustn’t lose the thread or hold you up. See you next Tuesday. Good day.’ Lil smiled widely.
Mavis smiled slightly, nodded and backed away. She obviously understood the rhetorical nature of conversation with Lil.
‘Lil,’ I said. ‘Wasn’t that a little rude, she was just being friendly?’
‘Friendly? She couldn’t bear the thought of me being here with a writer and her not being part of it. You really need to see her at the Centre. I guarantee it. Raymond, he was called Raymond.’
‘Drama with the OAPs.’ I said.
Lil let out an enormous cackle just as Mavis Bellamy closed the café door. I wondered if she was spontaneously laughing at my amusing comment or for Mavis’ benefit. But better still we now knew that Lil had been married. She was mysterious, and not to generalise, but older people usually love talking about their lives, memories and experiences. Lil was an enigma and sometimes you could see sadness in her eyes when she let her guard down and didn’t realise you were looking.
I would get her story one day.