I’d had an emotionally conflicting week. I supported Lil utterly, but having heard Marty’s story I had come to the conclusion that the situation wasn’t as one sided as I’d previously thought. He had to be accountable for his actions, true. However, he deserved to be given some latitude as his own life course had moulded his person and his behaviour protected his own heart from further wounds. It’s never too late to make changes and grow, but I did wonder whether these two pensioners should give it another go. Lil was keen on him, and nothing ventured and all that, yet I couldn’t predict the level of hurt which existed in the future. I was certain, however, that it would be a bumpy ride. They were both adults and would make their own decisions, but Lil looked on us as her supporters, her roots, and I wouldn’t let her down.
The second and more pressing unexploded bomb was that Mavis had orchestrated the date(s) with Lil’s beau. Marty had been sensible and sensitive enough not to appraise Lil of this fact and only Armando and I knew. We had brought Cyril into our confidence but could rely upon his discretion. I couldn’t make up my mind whether to relay this intelligence, and if so, when. Lil deserved to know but it would definitely add additional stress to an already rocky relationship. I had misjudged Marty’s behaviour and had been trying to convince myself that he’d misunderstood a hand of friendship, but it wasn’t sitting comfortably. I was struggling to keep an open mind where Mavis was concerned. The worst case would be that Lil found out that we already knew, and held back, and I couldn’t trust Marty to not set the wheels in motion, whether inadvertently or not. If Mavis became aware that we knew I am thoroughly persuaded that she would stab Lil with the knife of knowledge.
Lil had, thankfully, decided to leave the sanctity of her block and attend Breakfast Club this week with Gisela. I couldn’t quite understand from the garbled message, but there was news from the German member of our clique.
Armando was standing by one of the café front windows with his arms folded as I arrived. His eyes were as red as the sky on a summer’s evening.
‘Good morning Armando. Are you burning the candle at both ends again?’
‘Morning Wayne, and yes café is busy and I might have another bulletin,’ Armando answered with a cheeky grin. I was about to request additional and immediate information when a familiar polka-dotted shopping trolley appeared ahead of Lil and Gisela.
‘This conversation isn’t over,’ I said to Armando as I waved to the girls.
‘Who are you waving at? Silly sod,’ said Lil as she poked the door open with her umbrella which doubled as her stick. It was dotted too and coordinated perfectly with her shopping cart. ‘Now lift my trolley in would you Boulevardier.’
The activity of getting to our table created a fuss. I wasn’t as adept a navigator as Lil and struck several chairs en route to the back of the café. I was glad to see the returned trolley in one sense, as it aided Lil to keep her balance. However, it was also her security blanket which had all but disappeared in recent times. I cleared the thought that Marty associated shopping trollies with old women from my brain before it had a chance to germinate. Gisela looked distant and sad.
‘Now, I have to tell you that I’ve had some upsetting news,’ she said as she adjusted her spectacles to sit higher on her nose.
‘Hang on Gi,’ said Lil, ‘let’s get the tea order in first. I’m parched.’
‘Already in progress,’ said Armando and huffed.
‘My name is Gisela. We all have preferred designations Lillian.’
Lil pursed her lips – her mood was truculent today.
‘What’s happened?’ I asked.
‘One of my school friends has passed away. She was so healthy until the last few months.’
‘I’m so sorry for your loss. Were you close?’ I asked.
‘We have written every week since I left Germany.’ Gisela removed her glasses and wiped the moisture from the corner of her eyes.
‘Are you planning to attend the funeral?’ asked Armando.
‘I am. I am flying to Bonn tomorrow. I’m terrified. I haven’t been home in over 30 years. I feel very emotional. I don’t know what to expect and here is my home now and I don’t want to confuse that.’
Judith was by our side with an extra-large floral pot. We took the opportunity to place our orders. Lil never wavered from her Full English – Armando joined her, which was a surprise and I wondered why he needed refuelling? I had a vegetarian with a sausage, and Gisela a bacon sandwich.
‘I have to keep my strength up. I’m not one of those people who makes a fuss about eating when upset,’ said Gisela. Lil pursed her lips and folded her arms. I poured the tea to alleviate any growing tensions.
‘I think you’re doing the right thing. Hopefully you can cherish some memories of youth again, and celebrate change. I mean Germany wasn’t united when you were last there.’
‘Yes, I’m trying but I’m scared too.’
The door opened and there stood Marty and Mrs McAleen. Nelly approached us first and greeted the table – nervously.
‘Take a seat Nelly,’ said Lil.
‘Sorry for your loss Gisela,’ said Nelly. Marty was hanging back.
‘Pull up a chair Marty,’ said Armando.
Our breakfasts arrived and there was a kerfuffle as space was made for the plates, and condiments were shuffled along.
‘Thank you Nelly. It’s been a hard week.’
‘What’s up?’ Nelly elbowed Marty for asking a question he already knew the answer to. She’d briefed him that morning on their way. The grapevine always wheedled its way through the community.
‘Gisela has lost an old friend in Germany and has to go there tomorrow,’ said Lil through gritted teeth as she tore open her egg and plonked a mushroom into its yellow innards.
‘I always thought she was a bit of a Hamburger,’ said Marty.
Gisela started to cry.
‘What did you say that for?’ said Lil.
‘I think he was trying to lighten the mood,’ I said.
‘Why are you sticking up for him?’
Cyril walked in and straight back out again.
‘You are a saucy baggage when you get cross,’ said Marty.
‘Who are you calling an old bag?’ said Lil and tutted.
‘We’ll go,’ said Nelly glaring at Marty. ‘Shame as I was just in the mood for a Coca-Cola. Sorry Gisela.’ Nelly leant over and planted a comforting kiss.
I hadn’t seen this side of Nelly before. She’d always seemed to be at her brother’s beck and call. Marty pushed his chair back and walked out with a passing ‘See you all when I’m looking at ya.’
‘It’s not him. Any mention of Germany at the moment is hard, and my husband used to call me his little Hamburger, even though I was from Bonn.’
I understood. The emotions associated with the past intensify the more past there is. I recently went to a reunion in the village where I grew up. I walked into the pub which had once been my local, and it looked similar but the people who were now the locals looked at me as if an outsider. I should have felt completely at ease but I didn’t until the flood of old friends appeared. I settled down but the nostalgia of memory didn’t sync with the surroundings that day.
Lil tore tigerishly at a piece of bacon before thrusting it into the baked beans dispelling tomato sauce over the edge of her plate.
‘You are the messy pup today,’ said Gisela.
‘What do you expect when my breakfast is spoiled and I’m given indigestion?’ Lil slammed her cup on its mismatched saucer.
‘Careful please,’ said Armando.
‘How long will you stay in Germany?’ I asked.
‘I have an open return. If I feel good then I might spend a few weeks there and see my childhood home one more time.’
‘And I’m abandoned,’ said Lil.
I started to remind Lil that not everything revolved around her drama but decided better of it. She was responding to more than Gisela disappearing for a few weeks.
‘We’re still here, and your Cyril is only across the hall.’
‘Yeah I suppose – although I saw him come in earlier and vanish straight away.’
Who could blame him I thought as I nodded and refilled our cups.