‘Anything Else?’

Submitted into Contest #104 in response to: Write about an introvert and an extrovert who are best friends.... view prompt

3 comments

Contemporary Friendship Gay

Anything Else?

Short story

“So that’s two bacon and egg with red sauce; one bacon and egg and sausage with brown sauce and mustard; a breakfast box; one egg and pepper bap; a sausage roll; one breakfast wrap; and six Nom-Noms.” I look at the Roofer with his stubble and his nice eyes. “Anything else?” He shakes his head and I tell him how it’s sixteen twenty, love. When I give him his change I watch his tight bum as he leaves the shop. Phwoar he could tile my roof anytime!

Chloe’s too busy asking a woman with tea-cakes and a ginger man if there’s ‘Anything else?’ to laugh at my joke. Perhaps sixteen year olds don’t have senses of humour these days. Or voices.

I try again later when the rush dies down. Saying how it was busy there for a minute. How I didn’t think my old brain was gonna cope with that rush then. And as for me body… 

I laugh again but all Chloe does is blush. Third time lucky. I ask her if she thinks one of them roofers would go for an older woman? 

“What d’you think?”

She just shrugs.

“…Or don’t they teach you to think up at the Grange these days?”

“Not about roofers, no.”

Ulrika! She speaks! And sarcastic, too. So there is more about her, then, little madam. 

“I thought Brenda had put me with a bloody mute to make me think I was going deaf as well as daft in me old age.” I tell her.

“‘Thought you were the ‘shy and retiring’ type. To go with me being the ‘should be retiring’ type.” I laugh.

‘Mind, it was good of Brenda to let me back from retirement. There’s life in the old dog yet. Life after retirement. You need to keep your brain working or you’ll go daft. Especially after what I’ve been through. I took advantage of the lull and told Little Mouse Chloe all about it…

When Geoff died my life was over. Obleted.

Well, before that, even. Scrounging lifts back and forth to Saint Rita’s. Relying on the kindness of strangers. And his brother Martin, of course. And I think Jonty blessed us with his presence on the odd occasion and did his driving duty by his Dad.

But it was me having to come back to an empty house. Geoff was all right. Feet up in a warm hospital being waited on hand and foot by an army of nurses. I’m just glad it was July because if he’d been admitted in the Winter I wouldn’t have had a clue with the boiler. It would be ringing Martin again. Or Craig next door.

“Why can’t you do it yourself?” Chloe interrupted me. Who rattled her cage?

“Me!? I can’t do stuff like that. No job for a lady. Better to get a man in.” This set me off again - laughing. “‘Always better to get a man in, ‘know what I mean, Chloe?”

Nothing. Not one for a bit of smut, then. Instead, she went all serious on me.

“‘Cancer, wasn’t it?”

“Mylodysplastic Syndrome.” I corrected her. “That’s what it was he had in the end.”

So not just a cough, then. Blood Cancer. You can live with it with transfusions and biopsies if you’re twenty years younger, but if you’re in your late seventies like Geoff was it takes hold of you like a terrier with a rat and it doesn’t let go til you’re gone. Acute not Chronic. Not quite long and drawn out but not quite a car crash either. It’s Cancer on fast forward. Bastard thing. So he left me all on my own. Bastard thing.

Sixty years of marriage. Up in smoke. Up the swanny. And I can’t keep that place on me own. Geoff did everything. The garden. The car. The kitchen - woe betide anyone who touched his kitchen when he was stood at the sink. 

I told Chloe as much : “ I can’t be expected to start all over again, can I? Driving and whatnot. Paying bills and surfing the interweb.”

“Why not?”

“Eh? Did you say ‘why not?’”

“Yes. I mean, you’re here, aren’t you? If you can come back out of retirement and hold down a job, why can’t you drive and pay bills?”

“That’s different. I’m part of the furniture here.” I told her.

Brenda’s always been good to me. Always let me take home leftover macaroons for Geoff. Seen me alright. Cash in hand and all that. No paperwork. 

“No. I need a man for all that side of things.”

“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”. Chloe said, getting all cocky in her young age.

“Well my fish has wheels, then. I need a man. Always.”

“Not just “after midnight”?”

I ignored her sarkiness and told her how Jonty comes and does a bit now and again. Hoovering through and that. “Do it one room at a time” he says. “One room a day and then sit in the conservatory and have a cup of tea”. The conservatory where Geoff used to bring me a cup of tea. In the sunshine. 

I had Jonty dusting his Dad down the last time he came. He’s on top of the dresser in his pine box, bless him. Still warm from the Crem. I can’t reach - even with the pouffe - so I get Jonty to do it. ‘Least he can do under the circumstances. Staying away. So he dusts down his Dad - reluctantly, I reckon. Moaning about how we should bury him.

“Maybe you should.” Chloe interrupts me again. “Somewhere to visit. Give your son closure.”

“No he’s mine and he’s staying on my wardrobe.” I snap. She should mind her own bloody business.

“Do you think there’s anything after? Life after death, I mean?” she changes tack. 

“I bloody hope so. For me, at least. Where was I?”

“You were telling me how you force your son to dust your late husband’s ashes against his will.”

That’s right. So I tell her about Jonty dusting down his Dad. How I say to him : “Kiss him”. He looks at me like I’m mad for a bit and then he kisses him and climbs back down, flicking the dust from the duster into his face, making him blink and cough.

“Do you want the Conservatory doing?” he asks, all matter of fact. I tell him yes. And to wipe down the pine chairs while he’s about it.

He was bloody useless when his Dad was on a downward spiral. ‘Came once and acted all silly with a face mask - saying he didn’t want to be the one breathing germs on his Dad and screwing up his blood cells and his immune system. The Ward Sister said she wishes more visitors would be that considerate, but I think he was just being a Big Girl’s Blouse. Then he just dropped me off, eating his dust, when we got back home. Left me alone again while he crossed country to be back with Phoebe. Everyone has family around them bar me. Daughters. That’s what you want. ‘A son is a son til he finds a wife but a daughter’s a daughter for all of your life’. Daughters don’t migrate. I told him as much when I picked up before his third ring that evening. I told him straight : fat lot of good he was. “He brings a leftover spag bol and he thinks he’s fucking Jesus!”

Chloe reckons I was a bit ungrateful.

“Well, your son Hoovered for you, and brought you a meal…”

“Cooking and cleaning! I can do that me bloody self, can’t I? ‘Woman’s work. Anyway, who cares? I’ve got Len now, haven’t I?”

“I thought you were just friends now?”

“It’s a cooling off period. Plutonic, what says you. But he knows what side his bread’s buttered.”

“I thought he was with this Sue now?”

“They’re just friends. Have been for years before I met them both at the Good Grief Cafe.”

I told Chloe how now we’re all three of us friends. Sunday lunch, all that. I do the main, Sue does the pudding and Len brings the wine - when he remembers after getting tanked up over dominos.  Sometimes he doesn’t turn up at all he’s had so many. 

“So it’s just you and Sue?”

“And the dogs.”

“You and Sue and the dogs. And no wine?”

“I have to go and get it meself from Mr Singh.”

And so I tell Chloe how me and Sue drink the Vino Collapso between us and sit in the garden with her Tiramisu and watch the sun setting over her tomatoes - her going on about men being from Mars and women being from Venus, whatever that means.

“Enjoying some quiet time - without Len?” Chloe asks.

“He always means to come. He just gets … waylaid.”

“‘Waylaid’ out of his head on cider.”

Then she asks why did he want to ‘cool it off’, do I think? So I tell her he just said it was too much too soon. After Geoff, like. 

But I just don’t get it. He was brilliant - bringing me the papers and cleaning out the fishpond and clipping me conifers…

“…Jobs Geoff used to do?” Chloe pointed out. 

“…And he loved me bringing him Brenda’s stale macaroons…” I carried on.

“…Like you did for Geoff?” 

“…And that time he came out with me and Jonty and Phoebe. He looked so handsome in that midnight blue tie…”

“…The tie that belonged to Geoff?”

“What are you incinerating, Chloe?” I asked her. Kids today. Too clever by half. I wish the little bitch was struck dumb again.

She suddenly looked very serious at me - old before her time, like.

“Nell…” she starts, but then she’s suddenly interrupted by her pinging phone.

“Hang on - let me get that.” she says, getting the thing out. “It’s Syd - my better half.”

Young love. How romantic. Oh, to be a teenager in love again. Jonty says that’s what I am. That I’ve ‘reverted back to the 1950s’. Lonnie Donagan and poodle clips and pencilled stockings and all that.

“Oooh, your young man, is it? What’s he saying? Let’s have a look. Have you got a picture?” I budge her up to take a look but the little Cat pulls the phone away from me. “I see. I don’t blame you. You’re worried he’ll fancy me, aren’t you? He could be after a bit of cougar.” I laugh it off but I stop laughing when she lets me see a picture of this so-called ‘Syd’ of hers on her phone.

It’s only a bloody girl, innit? Short black spiky hair and all metal pinned in her face and ink everywhere - but it’s a girl alright. Female of the species.

“But that’s a girl.” I point out, as if she didn’t already know.

“That’s right.” she says, all matter of fact. Like she’s proud of it, like.

“So you’re…’One of them’ are you?”

“If ‘One of them’ means part of a loving relationship, then yes. I am ‘One of them’.”

I throw the phone back at her. I didn’t want to catch AIDS from it.

“Eugh. A lesbian. Does Brenda know?” I ask her.

“Of course Brenda knows.” she says.

“And she lets you serve kiddies ginger men?” I couldn’t believe it. What is the world coming to? It beggars belief! “And I thought you were a nice girl. I don’t mind the odd gay as long as they don’t force it down your throat. Jonty had a few pals that way at Uni. They were good for a laugh. But it’s just not natural, is it?”

So she tries to get all clever again. “And trying to manipulate some poor old widower into becoming a clone of your dead husband because it’s easier than grieving is natural, I suppose?”

I can’t believe what I am hearing. And from some jumped up little Dyke, too!

But then her voice gets all low. Not cross, like. Just questioning. “And what about your nights in with Sue when Len’s too pissed to join the threesome? That sounds natural to me. Natural and beautiful. Maybe you’re closer to Sue than you are to Len. Perhaps you’re better suited.”

“I have never been so…” I start to say but she cuts me off. Again. So much for the Little Mouse. Rat, more like.

“Think about it.  You’re back here - proving there’s life after retirement. You’re out there having a good time even though you’ve clearly not dealt with your grief in any way - ‘Limbo Dancing’, I think that’s called. Playing the grieving widow while playing the field.” She nods at the fairy cakes and macaroons. “Having your cake and eating it. You’ve convinced yourself there’s more to life than death. Maybe there’s more to life than men, too.”

I just stand there open mouthed at this girl telling me I might be queer when a customer tings into the shop wanting scones.

“Hello.” says Chloe. “Just the scones, is it? Nothing else?”

The End.

July 26, 2021 17:53

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3 comments

Megan Sutherland
14:24 Jul 27, 2021

Okay, so my first question: Are you British? XD This has a really good plot and I enjoyed reading it. The only critique I have is that to me, it's just a little confusing. The way you write is different than anything that I've read in a while, so maybe I'm just not used to it yet. There isn't a lot of detail and your sentences are short and choppy, so they don't flow together as they should. It was a good read otherwise, even though it's not my genre of choice. -Megan

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Tim Roberts
07:43 Jul 28, 2021

Hi Megan, good to hear from you. You’re right about the sentences. I think the piece is suited better to a duologue - or even a monologue from Nell’s point of view. It’s first person how Nell speaks and so the short spiky staccato sentences suit her spiky character. Think I’m going to rewrite it as drama. Was thinking it could even be a dark sitcom. Thanks again and in answer to your question yes I am British. Does it show that much? 🇬🇧Xx

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Megan Sutherland
21:33 Jul 28, 2021

I just kind of caught the British-ness when you used the word "bloody" like seven times lol I only know what that means because of Harry Potter :p

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