The large chrome electric fan in my bedroom was fast becoming redundant and balmy heat was giving way to a chill in the air. The last vestiges of summer were clinging on but would soon lose their grip to the melancholy of autumn facilitating the onset of winter.
The only positive I could find was that it was Thursday and that meant Breakfast Club. I pulled the duvet up to cover my cold shoulders and wondered whether Armando had re-organised the café to accommodate a larger table to facilitate Lil’s growing popularity. Attendance was becoming a lottery and I didn’t know who would have a lucky number today. Were Gisela and Cyril regulars or passers-by? Was Mavis going to make another battle appearance? Had anyone heard from Bill? The only one I willed not to see was Marty, and I hoped he was already on his way out.
As I knotted my delicate neckerchief I deliberated as to how the promise of a spring scarf had given way to the cold of its autumn counterpart. Depression was setting in. I could feel its dark veil snuffing out my light.
Our table, which had not altered in size or capacity, was empty. Armando was behind the counter and I nodded and half-smiled in his direction. He reciprocated.
There were three solo customers, each at their own table, clutching their cups and mugs as if searching for the feeling of warmth. No one looked happy.
A gust of pensioner entered the café as Gisela, who was closely followed by Lil, arrived. They both looked flustered.
‘Morning ladies,’ I said with as much positivity as I could muster and rose to kiss them.
‘Morgan Wayne, sorry we are late,’ said Gisela who led the charge.
‘We’re not late, and morning Wayne and to you too Armando,’ said Lil with irritation in her voice.
I glanced at my phone to validate the time as 9.57. No one was late. I decided not to share my findings.
‘We have cut too fine,’ said Gisela and added, ‘I prefer to allow extra time to ensure promptness and we agreed you would arrive at the corner for 9.45 precisely.’
‘I told you I had a last minute adjustment to make and we don’t need fifteen minutes for a four minute walk. Goodness Gisela, you do get dramatic at times,’ said Lil.
‘I’ll order tea,’ I said trying to divert attention. I did understand them both. I would rather be early than late. However, they were neither – they were perfectly on time.
Armando joined us, ‘tea is on its way and café is empty.’
Oh dear the change in season was affecting everyone’s mood.
Judith appeared with a large grey pot which she settled in the centre of the table, and stood, notepad poised to take our order.
‘Full English please,’ said Lil.
‘Me too,’ said Gisela. Lil raised her eyebrows. I surmised that Gisela was attempting a white flag through food.
‘Vegetarian with a sausage please,’ I said.
‘Ha,’ said Lil and cackled, ‘that never gets old Boulevardier.’ Gisela laughed too. It was in fact a small cackle that I hadn’t heard from her Germanic timbre before. Lil was catching and I hoped Gisela was infected by Lil rather than becoming her Single White Female.
‘Blueberry muffin for me please,’ said Armando.
‘No Marty today?’ I asked Lil.
‘No, he’s off to the races. He asked me to go with him but I told him I wouldn’t miss a Breakfast Club,’ answered Lil. She looked upwards and into the distance.
Gisela tutted. She was indeed becoming Lil’s mini-me.
‘How’s the love life Armando?’ I asked.
‘Yes good. He is a nice man. The only problem is his English. He doesn’t really speak any. We have to use a translator application on his phone. It makes for slow conversation.’
‘Time to talk, have you?’ cackled Lil.
Lil removed the cream silk scarf which had been covering her head and patted her very set curls. I took my cue.
‘Fancy-pants hair Lil.’
‘Yes, thank you. I splashed out and went to the hairdressers yesterday. Sometimes I need more than just a rinse at home.’
‘I must pay a visit myself,’ said Gisela as she tried to pouf her own deflated locks, ‘looks wunderbar.’
Lil gave her side swirls another pat.
‘I do love an appointment at the hairdressers; someone gently washing your hair and massaging your head. And then a good session under the dryer with a pile of mags at your side. Ooooo I could go every day if I could afford it,’ said Lil.
‘Why is it at the hairdressers that we don’t get to read anything serious? Does the dye, shampoo and hair-cutting shrivel our brains?’ I asked.
Gisela looked puzzled. ‘I always take my crochet.’
‘Silly sod,’ said Lil, ‘as if you’d read anything deep,’ she added as she pointed at me. She was now fully animated and continued, ‘Look at all that shit you watch? Keeping Up with the Real Housewives of bloody America.’ The magnitude of the squawk filled the café with sunshine.
‘I guess you just want to read something light between the gossip eh?’ I bantered back.
‘Too right sunshine,’ said Lil. She was indeed bringing some sunshine into this grey day.
Our plates arrived leaving a trail of fragrant smoke behind them. I tucked straight in and carelessly pulled my egg apart and watched the yolk blend with the mushrooms and halloumi.
‘Heard anything from Bill?’ asked Armando.
‘Yes, I had a call from him in the week. It was great to hear his voice and he sounded well. His daughter is apparently a bit controlling and has restricted his food intake, but let’s face it, losing a few pounds wouldn’t go amiss,’ said Lil as she frantically added salt to her bacon.
‘You think he’ll come back?’ asked Armando.
The atmosphere started to dip. Lil looked pensive as she chewed on a combination of egg white and tomato. ‘I’m not sure. I’ve not thought anything of it.’
‘He must miss his home. I do, and it’s been a long time since I were in Bonn,’ said Gisela.
Our momentary joy was waning.
‘Autumn always makes me miss my aunt,’ said Lil and dabbed her eye with her pink paper napkin.
I reached over to put my hand on hers, but she moved it too quickly to pick up her cutlery again.
‘But autumn also reminds me of betrayal and that awful Bellamy woman, which makes me very cross,’ said Lil as she tore into an uncompromising rasher of bacon which was proving difficult to slice demurely.
‘I don’t know the history, but she is certainly a multiple faced woman,’ said Gisela as she firmly placed her own cutlery on her plate. She hadn’t managed to finish her voluminous platter but looked sated at her efforts.
Lil was alluding to more than the latest spat with Mavis, but I wasn’t sure now was the best time to pursue her on the subject. The gloom of faded summer had us all in its icy grasp.
‘Yes, well I’m not going to dwell on her and her duplicity, especially as poor Betty isn’t even in the ground yet,’ said Lil.
‘Oh so sorry,’ said Armando and mouthed, ‘who’s Betty?’ to me. Lil saw.
‘Don’t worry boys. Betty came to our Age Club for a while before she got put in care in Highgate. I didn’t know her that well, but the poor sod had no life at the end, according to Mavis. It’s her funeral next Wednesday.’
‘Are you going Lil? Gisela?’
‘Yes, although I didn’t know her. Lil has said it’s OK and that we all go to all the funerals,’ said Gisela.
‘Well they’re the main get-togethers at our age, and I never say no to a free vol au vent,’ said Lil.
There was an air of imminent darkness as seasons were changing but at least we’d shared a few laughs among the tea and sausages at our warming Breakfast Club.