tea with lemon
“D’you think that’ll be enough?” Florrie Fanshawe asked, stabbing the air with a bony finger as she counted each of the plastic chairs she’d arranged around the village hall table.
“Mm hmm, six should be enough,” Harriet replied, “Peggy’s still got the ‘flu, Doris is in Brighton and as for poor Gladys…” She crossed herself.
“Oh, yes, Gladys, poor thing. Is she still…?
Florrie wiped her skeletal finger across the top of the table and inspected it. “Just look at this!” she held out the evidence, “Filth!” Clicking open the clasp on her handbag, she pulled out a pack of wipes and scrubbed at the pitted, wooden surface of the table. Once satisfied, she fished in her handbag again and produced a spray of air freshener from which she let out several frenzied blasts. A fragrant, lemon scent struggled bravely with the musty, fusty air in the village hall but was soon vanquished.
“What’s the target now?” Harriet asked as Florrie took a pile of knitted squares from a large carrier bag and placed them in the middle of the table.
“Well, we were aiming for ten blankets but we seem to have got through the first four quite quickly, so I’d like to suggest we increase it to a dozen. What d’you think?”
“Mm hmm. The people at the dog’s home are always appealing for extra blankets, so I’d say yes. It looks like Knit and Natter is a great success. Perhaps we ought to pay for the hall for a further three months.”
“Yes, I think you’re right.”
When everyone had arrived, Florrie took a notebook from her capacious handbag and listed everyone’s name. “Harriet Pettara, Edna Harbottle, Mary Wilson, Rita Gupta, Sebastian Milligrew…” she turned to the new lady, “and you are?”
“Bella Carrossetti, two R’s, two S’s and two T’s.”
“Rrsstt?” asked Florrie reading what she’d written.
“Well, I expected you to work out all the other letters yourself.” Bella shook her head in disbelief and the bun on top of her head wobbled precariously. “Here,” she said taking a handful of business cards from her pocket with a perfectly manicured hand and distributed one in front of each person at the table.
“Bella’s Beauty Box,” she said proudly. “I’m the proprietor. Beauty in Basilwade or Wherever You Are,” she added. “Ten percent off on presentation of this card.”
“Oh my!” she said as Rita reached out to take the card that had been placed in front of her. “Don’t worry, there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” she added as Rita snatched her hand away, “False nails would be perfect for you. There’s not much you can do with nails that shape or in that state but I’ll be able to make them look reasonable. Just give me a ring and ask for a Bella’s Special Manicure.”
Rita stared at the card as if willing it to glide towards her without having to expose her hands again.
“And don’t think that gentlemen aren’t welcome, I have lots of male customers. It’s really quite manly now to have manicures,” Bella said to Sebastian who thrust his hands in his pockets and shrank behind Edna.
“Or facials,” Bella added.
He’s rather shy, mouthed Edna.
“He’s what?” Bella asked, craning her neck to get a better look at Sebastian who checked his watch, rose apologetically, his face crimson. He mumbled something and rushed out.
Everyone looked accusingly at Bella.
“Oh my!” she said, “He forgot his card. ‘Scuse me a moment, while I chase after him ̶ “
“No!” said the Knit and Natter ladies in unison.
Bella sat down and patted her topknot. “I’ll give it to him next week.”
“Now, if we could get on,” Florrie said, glancing sideways at Bella, nostrils flared and eyebrows drawn together. “Well, ladies, we’ve almost finished blanket number five. Just three more squares needed. We’ve had suggestions for a colour scheme for number six. Mary would like blue and red ̶ “
There was a sharp intake of breath from Bella.
“Oh, no! Oh my, no! Red and blue will never do,” she said in a sing-song voice.
Harriet, the peace-keeper, replaced the blue wool that Florrie had laid next to the red one with a green ball.
“Red and blue will never do. Red and green should never be seen,” Bella said.
Florrie turned to Bella and fixed her with the look that even Amy, her teenage daughter, with all the insouciance of youth, recognised as a tipping point before a cataclysmic eruption. Florrie was halfway through the inhalation that would launch the explosion when Bella leapt up.
“Stop right there! Freeze!” said Bella.
Florrie stopped and froze.
Bella pulled a pair of tweezers from her pocket and grabbed Florrie by the chin.
“There!” she said triumphantly as she applied the tweezers to Florrie’s jaw and plucked.
“I’ve never seen such a large whisker on a woman before,” she said holding the hair still trapped between the jaws of the tweezers so that all the ladies could admire it.
“Would you like me to dab that with witch hazel? I swear by the stuff,” she asked Florrie who cradled her chin as if she’d been punched. Florrie shook her head, eyes wide with shock.
The other ladies surreptitiously probed their faces with exploratory fingers, all eyes on Bella.
“Oh my!” said Bella whose gaze had alighted on Harriet. She sprang to her feet. “Such tension!”
Bella rolled her sleeves up and reached out as if to play the piano. Harriet gulped and her eyes swivelled in their sockets as she tried to see behind her without moving her head which was now clamped in Bella’s vice-like grip. With elbows raised, she began to knead the muscles in Harriet’s neck and shoulders.
“Oh my! I’ve never felt such locked muscles. How on earth d’you move your head?” Harriet’s eyes were watering as Bella squeezed and pulled, then performed some chopping actions with the edge of her hand.
HELP! Mouthed Harriet. But no one dared move.
“Better?” Bella asked silkily, poking her head over Harriet’s shoulder.
She was beyond speech.
“Goodness me,” said Edna, checking her watch, “is that the time? I really should be going.” So far, she and Mary had been the only ones to escape Bella’s scrutiny.
“So soon?” said Florrie, whose tone dripped acid. She might just as easily have said ‘Sit down! If we’ve had to put up with these indignities, don’t think you’re going to get away with it!”
Edna went into the kitchen with a toss of her head and returned a few minutes later with a tray of mugs and a plate of biscuits.
“Tsk,” said Bella wagging her finger at Edna, “What crosses the lips ends up on the hips.” She half-rose to peer over the top of the table at Edna’s ample hips, then moved the plate out of her reach.
“I’ve got the perfect diet regime.” She splayed thumb and little finger as if representing a telephone receiver and mouthed Phone me.
“Well, if we can proceed,” said Florrie with a quick glance to her left to check on Bella.
“So, what do we do?” asked Bella.
“The clue’s in the name!” snapped the usually peaceful Harriet, picking up her knitting needles. She aimed the points at Bella.
“Indeed,” said Florrie, “we knit. We natter. We make squares which we sew into blankets for the local dog’s home.”
She passed Bella needles and a ball of blue wool. The next blanket would be red and blue as Mary had requested. She rubbed the tiny irritated area where until a few minutes ago she’d unknowingly harboured a whisker. Yes, red and blue would definitely do. She’d make sure of that!
“Oh my!” said Bella.
Everyone went rigid, heads moving like meerkats.
“You’re knitting a triangle. I thought you said squares?”
Harriet dropped three stitches as she turned, her needles pointing towards Bella and eyed her warily, “We knit from corner to corner.”
“But I don’t know how to do that.”
“Oh dear,” said Florrie, keeping her chin tucked down, “well, I don’t have the pattern on me,” she said pushing her bag containing the patterns further under the table with her foot. “And we’re all decreasing, so no one can demonstrate how to do it. Oh dear.”
Five pairs of needles clickety clacked faster and faster, as if out of control.
“I know,” said Florrie, “I’ll bring the pattern next week. So, rather than waste your precious time now…” She stood ready to escort Bella out, needles still moving so fast, they were a blur.
But Florrie’s hint was obviously too subtle for the beautician. She slid her chair closer to Harriet who swung round, needles aimed.
“Umm,” said Rita who was knitting with her hands under the table, “you could always drop into the dog’s home. They’ve got several of the blankets we’ve made and there are lots of volunteers there who’d probably love some beauty tips… and your card, of course.”
Five Knitter Natterers collectively held their breath.
“Excellent idea,” said Bella, patting her topknot and then powdering her nose. She smiled benevolently at the ladies. “Well, no time like the present,” she said and rose to go.
“Mm hmm,” said Harriet, still holding her breath.
Florrie was the first to breathe out. “Has she gone?”
The high-speed knitting ceased.
“Mm hmm,” said Harriet, gasping.
Florrie took out her lemon-scented air freshener and gave two prolonged blasts in the direction of the door. It was hard to tell if she was attempting to annihilate the beautician’s lingering floral scent or whether she was imagining she was firing at Bella herself.
“Thank goodness she’s gone,” said Mary.
“I don’t know why you’re so pleased, Mary, you’re the only one who escaped attention.”
Mary’s bottom lip trembled. “Not exactly.”
“Well, she didn’t offer you any ‘helpful tips’, did she?”
“No but I got plenty of attention. I kept feeling her eyes on me. She was looking at me as if I was beyond hope…”
“I think you’re being a bit sensitive, dear,” said Rita, her hands curled so her nails were hidden in her palms. “There’s nothing wrong with curly, ginger hair. Honestly.”
“Nor so many freckles,” said Florrie.
“And your face is pleasant being round. It wouldn’t suit you to lose much weight,” added Edna eyeing the biscuits.
Mary’s bottom lip trembled even more.
“Just as well Gladys wasn’t here,” said Rita.
“Oh yes, poor Gladys. Well, at least she was saved the indignity of an encounter with Miss Basilwade. Although…”
“I know,” said Harriet crossing herself, “I think I’d rather an encounter with Miss Basilwade than go through what poor Gladys has been through. Although I still can’t work out exactly what happened.”
“Me neither. I can’t understand where the baked beans came into it.”
“No, nor that rabid badger.”
“Badger? I thought it was her lodger.”
“Was her lodger rabid?”
“I don’t know. Someone told me it was a wildebeest.”
“Hmm, I’d heard it was a wild beast?”
“Well, one thing’s for sure, we won’t be seeing Gladys back here for some time.”
The ladies sat silently with their thoughts for a while.
“Suppose Miss Basilwade comes next week?” asked Edna eventually, “she might bring wax or… lasers…”
“Suppose she comes to what?” asked Florrie.
“Knit and Natter, of course!”
“No, she won’t be able to, because it’s cancelled.”
“Oh, that’s a shame. Surely we’re not going to let some botoxed bimbo break up our group?”
“Absolutely not,” said Florrie, “next week a new group will meet at my house and it will be called… umm… Blankets and Blarney or Squares and Squawk and the membership is firmly closed.”
About the author
Dawn’s third book ‘Extraordinary’ was published by Chapeltown in October 2017. She has stories published in various anthologies, including horror and speculative fiction, as well as romances in women's magazines. Dawn has written a play to commemorate World War One, which has been performed in England, Germany and France. www.dawnknox.com