Vera Twinge rubbed two circles – side by side – in the condensation on the café window. The four other members of the Creaping Bottom Post Box Topper Society who were seated at the table with her stopped knitting to watch. Leaning towards the window, Vera peered through the two clear spots into the street.
‘Can you see anything?’ whispered Petronella.
Vera shook her head. ‘I made the circles too far apart and I can’t see through them both at the same time.’
‘Shall I make some?’ Stuart raised his hand to rub two more circles in the misty glass.
‘Certainly not! We’re on secret surveillance. We don’t want the culprit to see us. If lots of clear spots suddenly appear in the condensation, it’ll look rather obvious, like a lot of owls blinking in a dark barn.’
Vera pressed her nose to the glass and peered through one of her spy-holes. ‘The rain’s coming down in stair rods now and I can’t see anything. But the good news is I think we can safely assume no one’s going to interfere with our post box topper while the weather’s so bad.’
‘That means we can enjoy our tea and buns… and each other’s company.’ Sally glanced sideways at Levi and blushed so deeply, her cheeks matched the red wool she was knitting.
Vera sighed. She wished Sally wasn’t so obvious in her adoration of Levi. It was undignified.
The Creaping Bottom Post Box Topper Society had moved from the community hall to Bonzer Buns next to the Post Office on the High Road. They intended to protect the new February post box topper they’d lovingly positioned on top of the pillar box outside. Of course, they couldn’t monitor it twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, but Beryl, proprietor of Bonzer Buns, had offered to help. In exchange for them swapping their venue for her coffee and cake shop, she’d offered to spy for them when they weren’t there. And better still, she had a CCTV camera in the café positioned in such a way that it could also see into the street, including the post box and its magnificent topper.
Sadly, since Vera had agreed to change venues, the CCTV camera had been on the blink and hadn’t produced any useful footage. But Beryl assured her the technician was due any day. Just as well, because a saboteur had struck on several occasions, removing many of the knitted hearts on the February Valentine display. And no one had witnessed the act. They’d spent ages deciding on the February display. And now to know it had been vandalised was heart-breaking.
Vera had crocheted the bonnet which fitted over the roof of the post box. January’s had been dull grey, but this one was red – the colour associated with Valentine’s Day. And everyone had spent hours knitting hearts. They’d sewn them together and stuffed them to make tiny, heart-shaped cushions which had been arranged in an artful design and attached to the red bonnet. Accompanying them was a profusion of red and pink knitted roses and ribbons.
Stuart had been responsible for the roses which, Vera acknowledged silently, bore very little resemblance to flowers, and were more like miniature cabbages. But luckily, no one had mentioned this to him. He was rather prickly when it came to criticism.
Once the topper had been completed, the members of the group had taken selfies and congratulated themselves. However, the following day, Vera received a complaint via email from the mysterious A. Godbin.
She was still certain A. Godbin was male, and his message gave her no reason to suspect otherwise.
Snooty and snotty. That’s what Vera thought about his email. It had been written in similar tones to the message she’d received from him in January. This time, he’d been just as disagreeable. He’d requested – no, demanded – she remove the topper. He’d previously described the January topper as an ‘outrage’. Apparently, he considered the February creation a ‘downright disgrace’ and ‘a blot on the Creaping Bottom High Road’.
How could anyone object to a Valentine’s Day celebration? Where was the man’s heart?
He obviously didn’t have one. But if he had, and if Vera had known where it was, she’d have ripped it out and added it to the display. Especially when they’d discovered some hearts had gone missing. Oddly, none of the roses had disappeared, and Stuart had been most relieved. Vera was grateful no one had put forward a plausible explanation for this.
Luckily, they were able to replace the missing hearts with spare ones. There could be no doubt who the culprit was, and so Vera had called this extraordinary meeting in Bonzer Buns to prevent further sabotage.
Who knew when A. Godbin would strike again? But if he did, The CBPBTS would be ready – well, during Beryl’s opening hours, anyway.
However, as a secret surveillance operation, the extraordinary meeting had failed. Despite being Saturday, any hardy souls who were out shopping had deserted the rain-sodden High Road and had gathered in Bonzer Buns for Beryl’s delicious coffee and homemade cakes. Such a crush of people, with their wet dogs and damp coats, ensured the large window where the society members sat was running with condensation.
But it wasn’t all bad. If the society members couldn’t see the post box from their surveillance point, well, they could knit, chat, and plan future toppers. All in the cosy warmth of the café – with coffee and cake only a nod away. Beryl allowed them to remain at the large table in the window for as long as they liked and was going to charge them what she called ‘Mates’ Rates’. It was just as well. Vera had already lost count of how much they’d spent that day, and she was leaving it to the society’s treasurer, Stuart, to settle the bill from their funds.
With all the money they’d saved when they’d cancelled their booking in the Creaping Bottom Community Centre, their finances would now stretch further. The room in the community centre was cold and uncomfortable. What’s more, if you wanted a cup of coffee, you had to chip instant coffee granules out of the jar with a knife. But in Bonzer Buns, it was warm – if currently, a little damp, and Beryl served cakes and a variety of coffees – cappuccino, latte, Americano, and double espresso, which was particularly useful for Levi. He was an artist who often forgot to go to bed at night if he was caught ‘in the moment’. He was so tired the next day, he’d fall asleep, his head nodding perilously closer to his knitting needles until Sally jogged him with her elbow to prevent him from impaling himself. But they’d have to think about raising more funds very soon.
Perhaps if they could attract new members... But that relied on good publicity, such as having an unmolested topper on display on the High Road for all to admire.
A. Godbin’s sabotage attempts were not helping.
Vera had reported the vandalism at the local police station, but they weren’t treating it as a priority. No, she knew she couldn’t rely on the local constabulary. In his latest email, A. Godbin had once again mentioned he’d complained about the toppers to Detective Inspector Crimini, who, he reminded her, was a fellow member of the local golf club. Vera cared nothing for any arrangement between golf club members. If she caught A. Godbin in the act of sabotaging the February topper, she’d grab him by his scrawny neck and wring it like a chicken. That would put a stop to his nonsense.
‘I think we’re wasting our time, keeping watch for the perpetrator,’ Stuart said, staring forlornly at the opaque window. As ever, he was several beats behind everyone else,
Sally looked at him in alarm. ‘Oh, surely, we shouldn’t give up just yet…’ she glanced at Levi from beneath her eyelashes.
‘Yes,’ agreed Levi. ‘I want another of Beryl’s Canberra Cupcakes.’
Sally almost swooned with pleasure.
‘So, any ideas for March’s topper?’ Vera asked briskly, with a surreptitious shake of her head at Sally’s silliness.
‘Well, we could make something to celebrate Mother’s Day,’ Petronella said.
Thank goodness for Petronella, thought Vera. Such a sensible woman. But then you’d expect a librarian to be organised.
‘And St. David’s and St. Patrick’s Days. We could knit leeks and shamrocks,’ Levi said as he raised his hand to summon Beryl’s teenage assistant, Tilly, to take his order.
‘What about Pi Day?’ Stuart ran his tongue over his upper lip to mop up the froth from his cappuccino. The action only pushed the residual foam further upwards to form a blond Dali-esque moustache.
‘Any particular sort of pie?’ Sally asked. ‘Meat or fruit pie? Pork pie? Or just pies in general?’
‘No, not pies. Pi. Mathematical Pi.’
There was silence for a few moments while they all tried to imagine – or, indeed, even remember – what mathematical Pi was.
‘Trust you to think of that,’ said Petronella. Her eyes narrowed. ‘Mathematical Pi Day? Seriously? Are you sure you’re not pulling our legs?
‘Absolutely not! It’s on the fourteenth of March. A day to celebrate the wonder of mathematics.’
Levi yawned. His eyelids drooped and his knitting dangled from his hands.
‘You’re a typical accountant, Stuart,’ Petronella said.
‘I beg your pardon!’ said Stuart. ‘There’s nothing wrong with accountancy—’
‘Enough!’ said Vera. ‘If Stuart can think of something sensible that we can knit to represent Pi, then let’s include it.’
‘We could knit an apple pie,’ said Levi sleepily. ‘It could be a culinary interpretation of mathematical Pi. A sort of allegory—’
‘Bunkum,’ said Stuart. ‘Apple pies never stood in for 3.1415—’
‘Moving on,’ said Vera quickly.
‘Bunkum… Now, there’s a thought. I wonder what colour bunkum is…’ said Levi thoughtfully, his eyes almost shut.
‘Such a superb imagination,’ Sally said with a soppy smile on her face.
‘It’s Red Nose Day in March, isn’t it?’ Petronella said. ‘That’ll mean more red wool…’
Everyone except Levi, who was now studying the interior of his eyelids, looked down at the hearts they were knitting.
‘Can we bear more red wool? It’s giving me spots before the eyes,’ Petronella said.
‘Let’s have lots of daffodils,’ Sally said. ‘That’ll ring the changes. Yellow isn’t as hard on the eyes as red.’
‘Yes. Nothing says March like daffodils.’
‘What else shall we have?’ Vera asked.
Levi opened his eyes. ‘If we’re ordering, I’ll have more coffee…’
‘For goodness’ sake, get him a double espresso to go with that Canberra Cupcake he ordered, Sally, or we’ll be carrying him home,’ Vera said.
Sally leapt up and rushed to the counter.
Vera put her knitting down and wrote on her pad. ‘I meant what other things could we make to represent March? So far, we’ve got daffodils, leeks, shamrocks, red noses and some sort of homage to Pi. Any more ideas?’
Petronella searched on her phone. ‘World Book Day on the second of March…’
‘We should be able to knit a book or two. Not red books, though.’
Stuart frowned at her. ‘I’m not sure what you mean, Vera. You can’t read knitted books. They’re… well… knitted.’
Sometimes, Stuart was so dense, Vera thought crossly. ‘I meant we shouldn’t knit any books in red wool. Not that we shouldn’t include any books in our display that had been read.’ She sighed. It was like being whisked back twenty years to when she’d been in charge of a class of six-year-olds.
‘Oh, here’s a good one,’ Petronella said. ‘It’s Barbie Day on the ninth of March. I’ve got an old Barbie doll somewhere in the loft. We could knit some clothes and use her.’
Sally rushed back to their table. ‘I say! I just looked out of the door and our topper’s been tampered with.’
It was true. Vera and the other members of the society gathered around the post box in the pouring rain and surveyed the topper. Hearts had been carefully clipped away and removed.
‘When I get my hands on him…’ Vera’s voice was low and menacing, and her fists were clenched and worked back and forth as if she was throttling something.
‘Come on, let’s go back inside. We’re getting drenched and there’s nothing we can do,’ said Petronella, leading the way back into Bonzer Buns.
‘What a shame,’ said Beryl when she heard what had happened. ‘More coffee and buns, everyone?’
The society members nodded.
‘We will not be beaten,’ Vera said, wiping the rain off her face with a tissue. ‘I fear we must concede the first battle. But the Creaping Bottom Post Box Topper Wars are not over. However, we must change tactics. Subtlety does not appear to be working. We must be more overt.’
‘I’m not standing outside in the rain being overt for anyone,’ Petronella said. ‘I’m just saying.’
‘Oh, you’re such a lightweight, Sally,’ said Levi with a smile. ‘This is war, you know.’
Sally roared with laughter. ‘Oh, Levi, you’re so funny!’
Vera ground her teeth and frowned at Sally. ‘We will simply wipe down the window and then we’ll all be able to keep an eye on what’s left until we can sew on more hearts. Secrecy is overrated. We will not be owls blinking in a dark barn. We’ll floodlight the barn and then we’ll see what’s what.’
‘Well, don’t wipe the window with your tissues,’ Petronella said. ‘When they get wet, they disintegrate… Like they’ve done on your face.’
Vera looked down at the mushy remains of the tissue, and her hands flew to her face to discover countless tiny scraps of soggy tissue sticking to her skin.
Later, after a trip to the ladies to wash her face, she reappeared, to find Tilly scowling at the society members as she wiped the condensation off the window with a cloth.
What a sulky teenager that Tilly Dawkins was. Vera had no idea how Beryl put up with her.
Vera surveyed her troops. Levi was asleep. Sally was trying to rescue his upturned needles without waking him as his chin dropped closer to them. Stuart had put his glasses on and was poring over the list he’d made of all the cups of coffee and buns they’d had. And Petronella was alternately knitting furiously and peering at the post box outside. Ah, bless her. Vera could rely on Petronella. If they really had been troops, Petronella would have earned her sergeant’s stripes.
Outside Bonzer Buns, unnoticed by the members of the CBPBTS, stood sixteen-year-old Shane Fowle. He was drenched through but would have been willing to go through flood, fire or pestilence – had he known what that was – for the love of his life, Tilly Dawkins.
Not that his love was returned. So far, she was playing hard to get. Very hard to get.
But he’d win her over. After all, how many other boys were standing outside in the rain waiting to walk her home?
None. Just him.
And one day, she’d recognise his devotion. She’d already spotted him when she’d cleaned the windows a few moments ago. He thought she’d been smiling at him, although he couldn’t be sure. For a smile, it was a bit intense. But intensity was good, wasn’t it? Love was passionate.
He put his hand in his pocket and moved the penknife to one side to feel the knitted hearts he’d just found on the post box. It was a shame they were drenched. He gave them another squeeze, soaking his pocket further. Oh well, they’d dry out, eventually. Although his jacket was now so wet, the hearts were becoming more sodden – if that was possible. He frowned. The Valentine’s card in his pocket might be too soggy to give her, but he was sure she’d find the hearts romantic. For a second he wondered whether to go back to the post box and liberate some of those red and pink coiled things but decided against it. He wasn’t sure what they were, and they had a sort of snail vibe. No, perhaps he’d leave them. The hearts said it all.
Yes, he had a good feeling about his chances with Tilly tonight.
To read the first part:
Part 1 – The Post Box Topper Outrage - https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2023/02/the-post-box-topper-outrage-by-dawn.html