Lil was on her own as I entered the café the week after Easter. I hoped that all was well as Bill should have been back from an Easter visit to his family. Armando was not in sight.
I greeted Lil with a kiss on her rosy cheek. She was wearing a rather glamorous sparkling grey sweater. The pink of her hair was fading.
‘How was your Easter Lil?’ I asked.
‘It was satisfactory,’ Lil said without emotion.
‘Still at his daughter’s. He decided to extend the visit. I don’t mind. I’ve quite enjoyed the peace and quiet. If you don’t expect anything from anyone then they can’t disappoint you.’ Lil pursed her lips and I knew it would not be wise to pursue this topic of conversation.
Armando appeared and explained that he wouldn’t be able to join us today as the main oven was on the blink, or rather ‘in the blink’ as he said. Don’t you just love it when those who don’t have English as their first language pick up little phrases and then get a word or two wrong?
‘Did you enjoy your chocolate Easter Bunny Lil that Armando and I got you?’
‘Ooooo yes thanks, I ate it on Sunday. In fact I ate it all. It left me feeling queasy. I forgot to ask whether you and Michael have a good time in Hastings? Did you go and see that author friend of yours again?’
‘Yes it was great. Shall we order breakfast and then I’ll tell you all about it?’
‘I suppose so,’ Lil answered. I was starting to get the impression that she hadn’t had a good Easter, but there was no real reason why. Armando had invited her to eat at the café which she declined, and her Age Group also had lots of pre-arranged Easter activities.
With breakfast ordered – a full English for Lil and porridge with blackberries for me – we settled.
‘We arrived mid-afternoon Friday and went straight to the front to get a late lunch. We were desperate for fish and chips. What is it about arriving at the seaside, hearing the rush of the tide and the vile gulls and needing to satisfy a need for fish and chips irrespective of the time of day?’
I laughed at my comment, which I thought was quite funny. Lil looked down and stirred her tea. I wasn’t being silenced that easily.
‘I think it’s because you hope the fish was caught minutes before it’s fried. It’s almost an involuntary action. Although it was quite funny when I visited my aunt in Norfolk a couple of years back and we went for fish and chips on the front to find a sign informing us that the ‘fresh sustainable fish’ was ‘from Iceland.’’
‘They only sell frozen fish in Iceland,’ said Lil with a smirk. She was toying with me and I’d play along.
‘The country not the shop you ninny.’
‘We then drove up to the West Hill and went for a lovely walk across its expanse and the neighbouring streets.’
Lil made a ‘hmmm’ sound, and while she wasn’t encouraging me to continue she was at least listening and so on I went.
‘The people are so friendly and everyone says “hello” and shares a little story – ’
‘What do you mean?’ interrupted Lil.
‘Well for instance there was an unusual display in a big bay window along St Mary’s Terrace and Michael and I were pondering whether it was a shop, a home or something else. A lady appeared from next door and explained that the residents liked to have a big display window at the front of the house for passers-by to appreciate. She also said that it used to be a pub, hence the large display window at the front. We wished each other a happy Easter and carried on our walk.’
‘Hmmmm. I see,’ said Li. I’m not sure Lil was enjoying my story much as it didn’t involve her. Her face changed and she looked happier as her breakfast arrived.
‘Shall I continue?’ I asked. Lil nodded, head down as she salted her steaming plate.
‘We then went to Val’s house.’
‘Is she the author?’ asked Lil.
‘Yes, and she lives on the West Hill. We enjoyed drinks and a vegetarian feast.’
‘With a sausage?’ Lil asked and let out an enormous cackle.
‘No sausages Lil thank you very much. After a fine night’s sleep we left Val and took the West Hill Funicular down to the Old Town and walked along the seafront to St Leonards. There is a massive block of flats on the front called Marine Court which is built to look like a ship from the beach. We walked onto the beach and I asked Michael if he thought it looked like a ship and he said “no” and that was that.
St Leonards has a very up–and–coming young artist vibe, perhaps akin to Dalston about ten years ago. We had coffee in a delightful small gallery.
“Two Americanos please. Do you have skimmed milk?” I’d asked.
“No we don’t, sorry,” the young server dressed like a Hackney boy with a chequered quilted jacket and floppy hair had answered.
“We don’t have that either.”
After I’d said that full milk would have to do the server had exclaimed “Oh no.” and had clutched his hands over his mouth.
“Please don’t tell me you’ve no milk,” I’d asked.
“I’ve got milk, but I just realised the guy I just served asked for soya milk and I gave him normal milk. What if he’s allergic?” the server continued.
“Well at least you have some milk,” I’d said. The server hadn’t looked best pleased at my lack of compassion for the poor man who was probably lying in the street clutching his throat.’
‘Well you could have shown a little more empathy Boulevardier,’ said Lil and chortled with a subterranean tone.
‘Hmmmm.’ I moved on with my story. ‘The curiosity and antique shops are amazing Lil. Think of Camden Lock Market 15 years ago. I actually said so to one of the owners and she’d said it was what they were going for. Despite this she didn’t have a decent antique gravy boat and my hunt continues.
We checked into the Swan House, a beautiful Bed and Breakfast in the Old Town and after resting, and looking in more Curiosity Shops, despite Michael suggesting that I’d looked in plenty, we went to Webbes, a fish restaurant on the front with Val for dinner –‘
‘Why did you meet her again? I thought you’d seen her the previous day,’ Lil said as she put down her cutlery with a clank.
‘We did but we were also having dinner on the Saturday evening too. The restaurant is lovely – ’
‘How old is she again?’ interrupted Lil.
‘Early sixties I think. Why?’
‘I don’t understand why you had to go away at Easter…’ Lil faded away.
I’d pushed my stories too far. I did have something for Lil and I’d left it too long in presenting her with it. I reached into my manbag and pulled out a copy of VG Lee’s Always You Edina and pushed it across the table.
‘Val asked me to give you a copy of her latest novel Lil.’
Lil picked up the book and looked at the cover. She looked up at me and asked ‘How does she know who I am?’
‘She reads my blog Lil.’
‘Then she doesn’t really know as you have a tendency to extend the truth.’
‘Michael always says I exaggerate stories,’ I said.
‘He sounds sensible. Perhaps I’ll meet him,’ said Lil.
Lil pursed her lips, put the book down and took out her reading glasses. She opened the first couple of pages and read a few lines and smiled. She then immediately put the book down again, but carefully, by the side of her bag and looked at me.
‘What is that silly flouncy item around your neck?’
‘It’s a spring scarf,’ I said.
‘Is it new?’
‘Yes, I got it in Hastings. Don’t you like it?’
‘Humph! Did VG help you choose it?’