It was disappointing but not surprising to receive a note from Lil on Tuesday indicating that she wouldn’t be able to attend Breakfast Club this week. I called in to see Armando and he’d received a similar note – delivered by a rather forlorn Bill. We agreed that I’d call Lil to establish whether a house call would be more amenable. I wasn’t holding out much hope as she hadn’t been receptive to anything since our last meeting.
‘If only I could get my hands on that bastard,’ said Armando.
‘That wouldn’t do any good, you’d end up in trouble with the police too,’ I responded. I shook my head as I raised the 1970s pottery coffee cup from its saucer to my lips.
‘Maybe, but it make-a me feel a lot bloody better. There is no respect for older people.’
We consumed a second slice of Madeira cake to suffocate our sorrows.
I called Lil – answer-phone, again. I explained my concern and that in the absence of a response I would have no alternative other than to make a personal visit. I tried to sound funny rather than forceful. Lil was down due to a forced invasion, but I wasn’t going to let her be out.
She called back and sounded like a vanishing echo of her former self. Fortunately there was a glimmer of her essence. I detected a sliver of indignance.
‘I’m not feeling great Wayne and I don’t appreciate your “or else” scenario,’ Lil said as soon as I answered her call.
‘Sorry to hear that Lil. I hadn’t heard back from you and then I got your note and I had to try again.’ I always found situations of this nature impossible and struggled to balance supportive and directive against pushy and interfering.
The line hung quiet for a few seconds and then I heard a tut, another pause, and then she continued.
‘Well? What did you want?’
‘I wanted to persuade you to receive two callers tomorrow morning, just briefly, and as a tempter Armando is baking Battenberg today and there is a wedge with your name on it,’ I said.
‘If you mean that you and Armando are going to pop over tomorrow morning with Battenberg then I suppose that’s OK, but you can’t stay long, I’m too tired,’ Lil answered.
‘Thank you Lil. I know it’s not easy. We’ll come at 10am if that’s convenient. Don’t eat too much breakfast.’
‘Righty-ho – see you then.’
And with that the line went dead.
I met Armando at 9.50 as planned. The café, ironically, was full and it was odd seeing two young women and their oversized perambulators inhabiting our usual spot. I pursed my lips at them, in honour of Lil.
Armando asked me to wait for a few minutes as Lil’s ‘meals-on-wheels’ wasn’t ready. He passed me a bag and informed of the muffins and cake inside. I licked my lips.
After a couple of minutes Armando emerged with a plate wrapped in foil and indicated that our mission had commenced.
It was 9.55 when we closed the cafe door and spotted Bill looking in the window of a neighbouring shop.
‘Shit, I forgot Assam,’ said Armando and disappeared back inside his cafe.
‘Morning Bill,’ I said.
‘Morning Wayne. Isn’t your Breakfast Club about to start?’
‘Lil wasn’t up to it. We’re popping over to her flat instead. Have you spoken to her this week?’
‘No, I tried a couple of times, but Mavis said probably best to leave her to it, until she’s ready to deal with life again. I don’t want to hassle her, however much I miss hearing her cackle,’ Bill said.
I wondered if it were wise to be seeking the counsel of Mavis. Bill read my face.
‘There have been a spate of bogus callers in the area and Mavis is working with the police to heighten awareness for us oldies…’
I wasn’t sure he should be jumping to Mavis’ defence. It was perhaps fortunate that Lil wasn’t talking to Bill. I doubt she’d want to hear Mavis’ pearls right now.
Armando re-emerged, armed with Assam, and we politely excused ourselves from Bill’s company.
We made it through the intercom without incident and were soon outside the front door waiting for entry to be granted. Lil didn’t look too bad physically and the purple from her eye had all but mottled into her skin.
Armando took charge and inhabited the kitchen with purpose and I guided Lil to her sitting room. She sat gingerly and gave a weak smile. My eyes wandered and I was pleased to note the mantelpiece was full of cards.
Lil read my eyes, ‘Old people, ha, never miss a chance to send a condolence card. There’s even one from Mavis stuffed with pamphlets. It’s a bit late to read about validating unknown callers. That ship has sailed…’
Armando walking into the sitting room with a tray. The foil was gone and its absence revealed a full-English which he set on Lil’s lap. Lil didn’t say anything but picked up her cutlery and set about consumption. He was a generous guy. His café hadn’t dabbled in take-away until today. Lil didn’t speak but her appreciation needed no wordy confirmation.
Armando went back to his temporary kitchen and returned with muffins on side plates and a pot of tea, and sat beside me on the sofa.
I poured the tea and placed a cup by Lil’s side.
‘Wow, I never thought I’d actually get served by you Boulevardier,’ said Lil. Her voice wasn’t as confident and determined as usual but the sarcastic spirit was encouraging.
‘Needs must Lil,’ I answered.
We fell into silence again. Who should lead the conversation, and what subjects should we cover?
Lil ate slowly and managed a few forkfuls, but didn’t shovel with her usual gusto.
I tried again. ‘Have the police been back to see you Lil?’
‘We saw Bill outside the café today. I think he wanted to bump into you,’ I continued.
‘I’m sorry I’m tired and I need to lie down. This is too much. I have to be on my own,’ said Lil.
Armando and I looked at each other. Our eyes wore a mutual concern.
‘Now stop that. I’m fine. I’m just tired. Armando could you please put the foil back on this lovely feast. I will reheat it later.’
‘Of course Lil, and I’ll leave the Battenberg in the bread bin,’ said Armando.
We knew that she wouldn’t be eating it later. Who reheats breakfast? But she wanted her solitary sanctuary. And hopefully she’d savour the Battenberg.
As we left she allowed us to kiss her on each cheek and raised an affectionate smile. There were the early signs of tears in her eyes.
I was frantic with worry but didn’t want to let it show. I didn’t want to let Lil sink. It would be like abandoning my own mother.
As we walked back to the café I said to Armando ‘We need to come up with a plan to lift her spirits.’
Armando agreed and suggested I purchase a slice of his lemon meringue pie to feed my plotting.