50 Shades of Grey Power

Breakfast Club wasn’t happening every week, however we still invariably spent time together. Our relationships had deepened and we were sharing more of our lives. Real life got in the way of a decadent weekly club dedicated to the first and most important meal of the day. Lil expected us to reserve the time to join her in more pressing pursuits and today was no different. I’d received a call during he week to confirm that my services, and those of Armando, were required at the community centre. The spoils of a year’s worth of patchwork crochet were being sold and the received funds going to charity. Armando wasn’t available due to a staff crisis at the café; news I would have to deliver to Lil.

The Christmas charity sale wasn’t as grand as the recent craft fair and restricted to a smaller section of the hall. There were five or six tables packed with various handmade items, and a general brick-a-brack stall. A couple of gentlemen, I recognised from previous events, were standing at the door as a public relations’ committee – drumming up passing trade.  Lil cooed me as soon as I entered.

‘Ah there you are Wayne, could you get me a tea please. I don’t want to leave my station.’

‘Sure does Cyril want anything?’

Cyril shook his head.

As always tea and cake were being served through the kitchen hatch. I purchased two polystyrene cups of nondescript tea – I had learned not to ask for Assam at these events – and two slices of walnut cake. At 10.15am it was, strictly speaking, a little early for cake, but after forgoing a full vegetarian breakfast with a sausage on the side I thought I deserved a treat. And if Cyril changed his mind when he saw my wares I would venture back to purchase an additional sweet goodie. As my order was being prepared I surveyed the room and felt awash with pride. Lil’s stall was outstanding. There must have been more than 10 crocheted blankets in a variety of sizes and colours being marketed perfectly; spread across three tables and pegged over boards at the back. I recognised a certain grey and pink blanket at the centre of the display as I’d not only seen Lil working on it but felt like I’d lived the birth of every square. The hall was filling up nicely and I had to dodge several prams and buggies on my way back. Lil was chatting to a potential customer.

‘See anything you like?’ she asked as the man fingered one or two of the blankets.

‘They’re lovely,’ he responded as he picked up a toy his child had flung from the perambulator.

‘Thank you. I made this one,’ said Lil lifting the top fold of her personal produce in a tantalising fashion. I did hope I had misjudged her selling technique and glanced at Cyril who rolled his eyes. Was she really flirting with this man, 35 years her junior, with a child in tow? I held my lips tightly together and observed further.

‘It’s great quality, but the colours would clash with our sitting room,’ the man said and smiled apologetically.

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‘I can guarantee there are 50 shades of grey in this design,’ said Lil with a wink. Cyril disappeared behind the back boards. The potential customer didn’t know where to look, fumbled in his pocket for change, and selected a small black and yellow blanket directly in front of him.

‘That one looks like a wasp,’ Lil said through gritted teeth as she took the patron’s payment. He moved on quickly.

‘Bloody prude,’ Lil said as he walked away – hopefully too quiet for him to hear.

‘Lil.’ I placed the morning refreshments down with a start.

‘Cake – delicious.’ She accepted the napkin-wrapped item in front of her. ‘I was building up a good appetite.’

‘For what?’ asked Cyril as he emerged from his hiding place. Lil let out an enormous hall filling cackle. I noticed her customer scrambling for the door with his buggy taking the corner on two wheels.

‘Not you as well.’

‘Have you read 50 shades?’ I asked.

‘No, but I’ve heard it’s a bit saucy which I added to my sales’ banter.’

‘I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard enough to know that it’s more than saucy. It’s blue in a deviant sort of way…’ I said.

‘What sort of way?’ Lil asked as her cheeks starting to flush deeper than the already existing rouge.

‘In an S & M way,’ Cyril said.

‘Bondage?’ announced Lil loud enough to elicit odd looks from a number of others in our vicinity. Cyril and I nodded.

‘Well I never.’ She took a large bite from the cake and sat down.

‘Crochet and bondage and all before luncheon,’ Cyril said.

‘Where’s Armando?’ Lil asked swiftly changing the subject.

‘Staffing problems I’m afraid. He said to nip in this afternoon for a cuppa.’

‘Hmmm – I thought he’d support our event.’ Lil thrust the last piece of sponge into her mouth and dabbed the crumbs stuck to her face with the napkin.

‘Do you think you’ll sell your piece?’ I asked moving on from disappointment and unjust criticism aimed at Armando.

‘I bloody hope so. I’ve been working on it for eight months.’

‘It is rather special,’ I said as I ran my hand over its woollen yarn.

‘Don’t you get it all messy with your sticky cake fingers.’

Our conversation was stunted by another customer, a middle aged woman this time, who chose a navy blue blanket.

‘Any news from Gisela?’ I asked.

‘Yes, we received a note confirming she would be back in time for our Christmas lunch next week,’ Cyril said.

‘Fantastic. How is she?’

‘Don’t know. It was a short note – typical Gi,’ Lil said.

‘Let’s hope the trip hasn’t been too trying,’ I said.

‘She was supposed to be here today to help me.’

‘I think we should forgive her in the circumstances, don’t you?’

‘Hear, hear,’ added Cyril.

‘Yes of course, but I did have to interact with that Bellamy woman. She wanted me to switch to this afternoon and I told her in Gisela’s absence I wouldn’t.’

‘Why didn’t you take advantage of the offer? We could have enjoyed Breakfast Club with Armando at the café.’

‘The only reason she wanted me to change is to clean up. The sale finishes at 1pm and the hall has to be left in the same condition it’s found in. I’m not scrubbing for that two-faced hussy. I haven’t decided how to deal with her yet, but deal I will.’

‘Hello,’ came a familiar voice, ‘isn’t this all grand?’

‘Morning Nelly, how are you?’

‘Yes, I’m fine – Marty’s behind me somewhere and I’ve told him to behave himself.’ Nelly shrugged her shoulders and moved along.

‘Poor Mrs McAleen. She is saddled with her brother’s misdeeds,’ Cyril said as he folded his arms across his diamond-patterned sweater. ‘I’m going to take her for tea,’ he added as he deserted his position, linked arms with Nelly and steered her towards the refreshments.

‘Don’t,’ I said to Lil as she was about to complain. ‘You’re lucky he’s here to help you. You could have ended up with Mavis, and then there wouldn’t be anything left to sell after you two had ripped it to shreds.’

Lil laughed and I was just about to confirm my proposed purchase when she stiffened and spoke.

‘Good morning Mr McGuire, your sister’s taking tea with Cyril.’

‘Don’t be like that princess. I was thinking how cosy it would be if we snuggled under one of these blankets together.’

Lil tried to keep her demeanour and lips pursed but it was futile and another cackle erupted. ‘Now get along with yourself Marty McGuire and don’t be so forward.’

Marty winked and moved along happy that relations were defrosting.

‘Is he forgiven?’ I asked.

‘Not exactly but I do enjoy spending time with him. He makes me laugh and I miss that.’

‘I’m glad you’re feeling more positive, but be careful please.’

‘I will, I will.’ She held up her hand, letting me know that the conversation was over. I was impressed she’d let me make a supportive comment.

‘It doesn’t look as if this old thing is going to sell…’ I said holding the corner of Lil’s throw.

‘Early days yet.’

‘I thought I’d put it out of its misery. It would look beautiful thrown over our sofa.’

Lil beamed as we completed our transaction. Lil leant forward and kissed me on the cheek. I smiled and hoped no shade of grey reference would follow.

 

 

Indian Summer at Breakfast Club

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.

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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.

Armando tutted.

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.

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‘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.