Unfortunately I had been away with work most of the week, and busy into the evenings, which meant that I couldn’t check in with Lil as often as I’d have liked. Armando, as ever, stepped up to the plate and corroborated her mental and emotional condition and Cyril had become Lil’s garde-malade as he lived across the hallway. Lil hadn’t left the flat, aside from a Remembrance Day service, for fear of bumping into the interlopers. By all accounts she had barely responded to Gisela. I suspect the latter for her previously cited views on Marty.
Breakfast Club had been supplanted by a late lunch at Cyril’s. I collected Armando from the café at 1.45, who was, for once, empty handed. Cyril had everything under control.
‘How are you?’ I asked Armando as we made the short walk to Lil and Cyril’s block.
‘Doing fine I think. I have focused on increasing events at the café.’
‘That’s excellent. Who knows you might even meet someone at one of the events.’
‘Maybe, but not the purpose. It seems that Lil and I are in, and out, of relationships in sync.’
I pressed the familiar buzzer but knew that once granted permission to enter we would take a different direction at the top of the first staircase.
‘She’s flopped out in the sitting room,’ whispered Cyril as he opened his front door. The floor plan was a mirror image of Lil’s flat, but with a different ambience. A wonderful aroma emanated from the kitchen. It was indeed a late lunch and my appetite needed no whetting. The hallway was lined with gilt-framed photos. The pictures were mostly black and white, and the faces perhaps people from Cyril’s past. Today wasn’t the day but I hoped I would have the opportunity to seek an explanation for each. I didn’t spot Lil when we first entered the sitting room as she was lost amid the rich tapestry of fur (I assume fake) throws by which the sofa was swathed. She looked small and fragile. Lil had shattered my illusions regarding the elderly. She lived with extreme emotions, high highs and low lows as an everyday part of her life. It wasn’t all lavender and Countdown. However, there was an aroma of lavender which I assumed came from one of the oil burners situated on the sideboard. Next to Lil was a small occasional table with a slim glass containing a dark liquid, and a lamp with a red velvet tasselled shade that wouldn’t look out of place in a bordello. After greeting Lil with an affectionate peck I sat in one of the two upright arms chairs filled with brocade cushions. Sherry wafted from her breath. Cyril appeared carrying a tasteful gold-coloured tray with two additional small Sherry glasses.
‘Oloroso Wayne, I hope you approve,’ said Cyril as he bowed to offer his wares. It was incredibly sweet of him to remember my preferred tipple.
‘I’ll have a top up please,’ said Lil.
‘Just the one Sherry before luncheon,’ answered Cyril.
‘Stop gawping Wayne,’ said Lil.
‘I wasn’t dear, I’m lost for words. It’s like I’m in the middle of a Greek tragedy with Medea at the centre.’
Lil snorted in appreciation of an attempt at a lighter comment.
‘There is nothing as dead as a dead love affair,’ said Lil informatively.
‘Honestly Lil, you don’t seem to be doing too badly, lying there, wrapped in fur, eating bon bons and drinking Sherry – rather sybaritic if you ask me,’ I said.
‘Has he still been pestering you?’ asked Armando moving the conversation along.
‘I have to keep taking my phone off the hook, and thank goodness we have the security downstairs otherwise he’d be knocking down my door. He has got into the building a couple of times, and pleaded at my door. I can’t face him yet.’
‘It’s shameful, Irish barbarity,’ said Cyril and then disappeared to put the finishing touches to lunch.
‘It’s Nelly I feel sorry for. He’s got her to call a few times too,’ said Lil.
‘It’s probably not the first time,’ I said before biting my lip to stop any further vitriol escaping. Armando glared at me to stunt additional inflammatory comments.
‘I didn’t see Nelly there last week Lil. Was she?’ I asked.
‘No, she came later, and was mortified according to Gisela,’ said Lil.
‘Is Gisela joining us today?’ Armando asked.
‘No, she had a meeting which would run into the start of lunch.’
‘I’m sure Cyril wouldn’t mind her coming late. It’s only lunch,’ I said as I polished off the remainder of my Oloroso.
‘You haven’t been to Cyril’s before. It’s more formal than you’d expect and it wouldn’t be appropriate to arrive mid-way through an event. You’ll see,’ said Lil.
‘Please come into the dining room, lunch is ready,’ said Cyril.
‘Can’t we eat here?’ implored Lil.
‘No,’ said Cyril but lamented and added, ‘but you can bring a fur if it would make you happy.’ Lil wrapped a mink-coloured throw around her shoulders and led the charge to the dining room. A formal table was laid, without cloth, but with stunning, shining silverware and an ornate candelabra at the centre. A Rococo glass mirror hung on the wall, beneath which was a delicious arrangement of pussy willow and gladioli in a vase atop a dark wooden bookcase. I spotted novels by Willa Carther and Nancy Mitford before turning my attention to the table where devilled eggs were set out; name place cards guided us to our appointed position.
‘Would you pour the wine please?’ Cyril asked Armando.
‘Yes please,’ said Lil before she was asked, although as the only lady present she would have been served first in any event.
‘You have a lovely home,’ I said.
‘Thank you. I try to keep it decent and comfortable. The mirror there came from my family home.’ It was like being in an aristocratic council flat. Decadence oozed from every pore but with frayed and faded edges.
‘The fish is in the oven, so please eat up,’ said Cyril.
‘Anything from Mavis?’ I ventured to enquire.
‘Nothing,’ answered Lil with such finality in her voice I dared not pursue it further.
‘Look, I know this has hit me hard and it has and I feel bloody humiliated, but I’ve been worse. I knew that Marty had wandering eyes, but that was part of his charm.’
Armando and I eyed each other in a way which agreed that we would have to meet with Marty, establish his true intentions and aid this affair to reach its conclusion one way or another.
‘Shall I tell you something of the outside?’ I asked.
‘Yes please,’ said Cyril welcoming new life into the discussion.
‘Last Sunday I went for a power walk with my friend Marina to Alexandra Palace –’
‘Power walk?’ interrupted Lil with a cackle.
I glanced at her in an overtly dramatic manner and continued, ‘an unusual, well unusual for Ally Pally, smell hit our nostrils, and Marina said she could smell cheese. I recognised the smell from childhood and it wasn’t cheese. Let’s call it a farmyard smell. I took a deep breath and declared that it was muck. I further tried to isolate the aroma, and pronounced it was most likely pig. Well Marina almost fell on the floor laughing. ‘Trust you, she’d said to be able to know whose backside it came from. It was a perfect country boy meets city girl moment.’
‘Silly sod,’ said Lil looking slightly cheered.
‘Country gents don’t have to analyse muck,’ said Cyril, ‘especially during a civilised luncheon.’
‘You’re a sillier sod than he is,’ said Lil waving her fork at Cyril.
Cyril took this as a cue to remove the plates and attend to the stuffed and roasting haddock in the oven.
‘I know whose face I’d like to push into that muck,’ said Lil.
‘Now,’ said Armando as he topped up the wine glasses. We used to drink Assam tea, and were devolving (or evolving I can’t make my mind up) into lunchtime drinkers.
‘When do you think you’ll return to society?’ I asked Lil.
‘I don’t have to leave the block and I have Cyril here, and Gisela is visiting regularly, but I know that moment will come. I feel ashamed,’ said Lil with water forming in the corner of her eye.
‘You have nothing to be ashamed of,’ said Armando and rested a comforting hand on Lil’s thin arm.
‘Exactly,’ I echoed, ‘Marty and Mavis should be mortified.’
Cyril reappeared carrying antique gilt-edged white plates loaded with roast fish, sautéed potatoes and spinach. As we started to tuck in the door buzzer rang – urgently.
‘Ignore it,’ said Cyril. He feared it was Marty.
The buzzer rang again and it did sound pressing.
‘Excuse me,’ said Cyril as he stood with irritation and slapped his napkin on the back of his chair. We listened intently and heard Cyril grant the caller entry. Lil looked suddenly ashen. We heard a recognisable voice, and an out of breath Gisela joined us in the dining room.
‘Sorry to disturb but I had to come and tell you immediately,’ said Gisela and welcomed the wine glugging into a glass in front of her. After taking a sip she continued, ‘I was walking home from the community centre and I bumped into Mavis with three or four children, presumably relations. She greeted me sheepishly and I returned the greeting with a polite but formal attitude and carried on my way. However, hiding and poking his head from the very next corner was Marty. It was no coincidence in my opinion. He is not sorry for behaviour.’
‘I never trust a woman draped in children,’ said Lil with pursed lips.
Whatever she said, Lil didn’t blame Marty anywhere near as much as she did Mavis. History and past hurt leaned heavy on her views but she was dangerously close to allowing that to cloud her contemplations. I glanced from Gisela to Armando and Cyril and knew we were united in purpose. Armando and I would meet with this Irish Don Juan.