I’d bumped into Bill outside the dentist near my home during the week. It was presented as a coincidence, on his part, but I wasn’t convinced.
‘I’ve still not heard from her. She won’t return my calls. Do you think it’s all over?’ Bill rattled off his questions in quick succession without giving me chance to answer. This reminded me of my mum. She was also adept at that skill.
‘This has hit her hard Bill and I don’t know what’s in the future for you but we have to get her up, out and fighting again. I’d rather see her screaming at Mavis than this.’
‘Mavis has been trying to coordinate different members of our group to call on Lil to try and get a response. She suspects it’s time Lil went into a home. Mavis thinks she’s past it.’
‘Does she indeed,’ I said.
This was typical Mavis-esque behaviour. However this behaviour gave birth to the semblance of an idea. The strategy was high–risk but if anything was going to spark Lil’s fire it would involve Mavis. Lil had to be jumpstarted. Love, support and concern hadn’t worked. I think Lil’s fending for herself too often in life left her unable to rely on and accept the support of others. She blamed this event on her guard being down, and partly due to letting others into her life.
‘Perhaps we should meet up on Thursday Bill? Do you think Mavis would be up to brainstorming ideas?’
‘Yes of course she would,’ answered Bill sounding a bit more enthusiastic.
‘Good then why not come to Breakfast Club on Thursday. How does 10.30 sound?’
‘I thought you met at 10?’
‘Errrr, we do but it’ll give Armando and me a chance to catch up first.’ I spoke firmly and decisively and hoped for no more challenges.
‘OK – great in fact. I hope we can get my princess back to her good ole self. I’ve been so worried; I’ve not been eating… But you know what I’m going to get cake now and a proper dinner to build up my strength,’ said Bill.
I smiled and glanced down and noticed the buttons on Bill’s waistcoat as ready to explode as ever. I’m not sure his concern had dulled his appetite as much as alleged.
I went to the cafe and grabbed a quick word with Armando. The cafe was busy and we couldn’t catch up properly. I managed to ascertain that he didn’t want more trouble in his establishment. He was also looking forward to a date Thursday evening and wanted karma in all quarters.
I called Lil and as usual had to leave several messages, the last of which mentioned an impromptu visit.
‘Wayne I’ll get back to you when I’m up to it. You’re too pushy,’ said Lil as soon as I answered her return call.
‘OK, I wasn’t sure if you were worse –’
‘What did you want so urgently anyway. Sorry if I sound cross. I’m finding life very difficult at the moment,’ interrupted Lil.
‘I hope you’ll be attending Breakfast Club this week.’
‘I’ll have to see.’ The strength was gone from her voice.
‘I’m off to Santorini on Saturday and was hoping to see you before I leave, and even more importantly Armando has a date Thursday evening and I’m sure you’d want to wish him well.’ I nearly added ‘your honour’ as I felt I was pleading a case in court.
‘I’m sure Armando is capable of getting ready for a date without my interference,’ she said.
‘Come on Lil, give me a break,’ I said. I was running out of persuasive arguments and I wanted to see her in public again, at least once before I went away.
‘How will I get there?’ Lil’s voice was incredibly meek. Her will wanted her to attend but fear was disabling her.
‘I’ll come and get you en route, say about 9.45?’ I said hopefully.
‘All right. Don’t be early or late as I’m not answering the door at any time other than 9.45,’ Lil affirmed.
‘Then perhaps we should sync watches.’ I started to snigger as I finished my sentence.
‘Don’t be facetious Wayne.’ And with that the conversation was over.
Thursday morning soon arrived and Lil let me into her flat without incident. It was precisely 9.45 BST.
Lil was wearing a nice light dress with a floral pattern. I hadn’t seen this before but then again I’d only known her since the winter. Her hair was white and there was no sign of a recent funky-coloured rinse.
‘Is the trolley coming?’ I asked.
‘Why would I need that? I’m coming straight home,’ Lil responded.
We shuffled along and admired the beautiful blooms in the Crouch End gardens. It seemed that the front garden fleur du jour was Forsythia. We were surrounded by delicate yellow flowers.
The cafe was quiet and sedate and we shuffled to our usual table. There was a small vase bursting with daffodils.
‘For you Lil,’ said Armando as he greeted Lil with a tender kiss on the cheek.
We sat automatically and Armando stirred the pot.
‘I might just go straight home again boys,’ said Lil.
Armando put his hand across the table on top of Lil’s and looked right into her eyes and implored her to stay. Lil yielded and seemed to settle.
Everything was gentle and I wondered whether this was all Lil needed and not the shock therapy I had planned.
We chatted generally covering the weather, the spring flowers, and adjusting to our spring wardrobes. Lil ordered a Full English on the proviso that Armando wouldn’t be offended if she couldn’t clean her plate.
Time was ticking by and I knew that immanently the door would open and Mavis and Bill would enter. What had I done? I wondered whether I should just up and leave. I reasoned that I shouldn’t leave Armando in the lurch.
Lil was eating slowly and had only lightly scraped butter onto her toast rather than the usual decadent lashings.
‘Have you been to your age group?’ I asked Lil.
‘No,’ she answered and looked forward. Her eyes widened and I knew from the sound of the door that my ill-formed plan was about to kick in.
‘Princess,’ Bill exclaimed with ecstasy as he surged forward forgetting to hold the door for Mavis.
‘Hello Bill,’ said Lil ‘moved on have we?’ She was looking behind Bill. Her voice was still quieter than it should have been and wore a defeated tone.
‘Morning Lillian,’ said Mavis before Bill had an opportunity to respond to Lil’s question, ‘how are you feeling dear?’
‘Not great Mavis to be honest. Thanks for the card,’ responded Lil.
Armando jumped up to allow Bill and Mavis to sit. The table seated four and another chair could have been added but he was making his escape in advance of any untoward behaviour. ‘Coward’ I uttered under my breath.
‘I’ll bring a fresh pot of tea,’ Armando said to give a smooth fluidity and reason for his sudden movement. He may have also heard my comment.
Lil placed her cutlery on her plate and looked across at Bill. She looked as if she would start sobbing.
‘You look so pretty,’ said Bill meeting Lil’s eyes.
Mavis shuffled in her seat and patted down her cardigan. Her body language suggested her resolve to help Lil was waning.
‘Do I? I don’t feel it. And I’m getting tired. I don’t think I can cope with too much company today.’ Lil looked away from Bill, and at me with longing. Her eyes yearned to be back at home, safely behind a locked door.
Goodness, I didn’t know whether to press on or assist her freedom plan.
‘I’m so happy to see you. Let’s just sit here for a while and rest,’ added Bill.
Mavis put her glasses case on the table in a rather heavy handed way. I wasn’t sure whether this was accidental, or a growing annoyance at Bill’s puppy–dog behaviour.
‘Well at least you’re out. You mustn’t let those ne’er-do-wells win,’ said Mavis.
‘Precisely,’ said Bill ‘and I’m not letting you go into a home.’
‘Why would you say that?’ ask Lil. Her sorrow had turned to bewilderment.
‘Mavis was concerned –’
‘I’ve seen so many fall victim of crime and end up in homes and was worried,’ interrupted Mavis.
‘Oh I see,’ said Lil accepting Mavis’ explanation.
‘No, you said she should go into The Arbours in Highgate last week Mavis. Remember at age club? Dotty and Hilda were there,’ added Bill helpfully.
‘Did you indeed,’ said Lil. The truculence in her tone was increasing. Was that fire I saw in her eyes?
‘I may have suggested it.’ Mavis picked up the milk jug and moved it to the side of the table. She put it down heavily. This time I knew it wasn’t accidental. ‘You have had a few funny incidents lately Lillian and perhaps you’re not capable of looking after yourself, and others, anymore.’
Lil looked at Mavis and had tear droplets starting to form in the corner of her eyes. I might have to intervene. Had the fight really evaporated entirely from Lil after a few lines of banter with Mavis?
Mavis continued ‘And poor Bill it’s not fair on him.’
‘I’m fine – ‘ Bill started to respond and was interrupted by Lil.
‘You are a beast Bellamy.’ Lil picked up her fork and pointed it at Mavis.
‘I’ve had a dreadful time and maybe you meant to help or maybe you didn’t, but to try and manipulate Bill is disgusting,’ said Lil. There was definitely fervour in her eyes now.
‘Here we go again,’ said Mavis, you’re a liability Lillian –’
‘Hang on Mavis.’ It was Bill interrupting this time ‘you told me that we’d have to replace Lil on the committee and you’ve offered to cook me dinner three times this week. You said something about the grass being greener and every cloud. I had no idea you meant Lil!’
‘You said what? Evil –’ Lil started to say.
‘I’m not having another public row Lillian,’ said Mavis firmly. Armando looked relieved from his station behind the counter. ‘All I do is try to help and it’s not my fault if people don’t know what’s best for them.’
Lil slammed down her fork and went to speak but Mavis held up her hand and continued ‘I’m leaving now, and you Bill need to learn to keep private conversations confidential.’
Mavis picked up her glasses’ case and pushed it into her handbag and was up and off before anyone could get another word in.
Lil picked up her cutlery and started tucking into the half-eaten breakfast which must have been cold.
‘Everything seems to be going to pot. I take a couple of weeks to get over a traumatic experience and anarchy sets in,’ said Lil. She sliced her sausage as if a woodsman chain-sawing a tree trunk.
Bill smiled, ‘that’s my girl,’
‘I’m not your girl especially as it seems you have been cavorting and two-timing me with her.’ Lil was starting to sound more Lil-like and was tucking into her cold breakfast as if it was the first meal she’d tasted in weeks.
‘Wayne we’ll catch up on your Greece trip when you’re back. What is that round your neck?’ asked Lil as a mushroom plunged into the depths of her mouth.
‘It’s my spring scarf,’ I answered.
There was a semi-cackle followed by ‘spring scarf! I wouldn’t take it to Greece. I’m not sure they’d understand your London ways.’ Lil looked towards the counter and called to Armando ‘So where are you going on this date tonight? I hope it’s somewhere appropriate.’ Armando looked at Lil warmly and nodded.
Lil put down her cutlery. She hadn’t managed to clear the plate but there was definitely an improvement.
‘Wayne, could you walk me home please?’ Lil asked. She was looking tired.
‘I’ll do it,’ said Bill enthusiastically.
‘Not today thank you Bill, I’m with Wayne. I’ll consider calling you at the weekend.’
As we walked home we didn’t exchange a word. Lil gripped my arm tightly and kissed me tenderly as we parted. She suspected my part in this chance cafe showdown but would never be able to openly thank me for involving Mavis.