Sunday 21 January 2024

Sunday Serial: The Story Weaver and Other Tales by Sally Zigmond, white wine, A LOGICAL EXPLANATION


‘But forty’s young these days, Mum,’ Helen said when Lynne was having one of my ‘I’m past it’ days.

She  looked down at my shapeless skirt and Tee-shirt that had been through the wash one spin-cycle too many and said nothing.

Helen and Debbie were paying me one of their duty visits, both sprawled on my sofa leaving me the floor as Charlie was stretched out on the armchair, shedding hairs, his claws shredding the upholstery. Bless them, they both feel she needed ‘taking out of herself’ since the divorce. The first months were spent drinking her wine and eating her out of Pringles whilst they pontificated on the ‘all men are a waste of space’ debate. Since both of them still adored their father and were never without some member of the hated species somewhere in the background, she felt this was a bit rich.

It didn’t last, of course.

They’ve now changed tactics. Their latest project is clearly ‘let’s get mum fixed up whether she wants it or not.’

       This tactic started when they took her out for an outrageously expensive dinner. It was when they were all at that mellow stage, giggly and stuffed with profiteroles that Helen murmured oh-so-casually, ‘By the way, Mum. I'm having a few friends round to my flat on Friday. Why don’t you come along?’

            Discreetly undoing the top button of her skirt, Lynne said, ‘Your friends won’t want an old wrinkly like me cramping their style.’

            ‘Don’t worry,’ said Helen waving her glass, ‘there’ll be one or two people your own age.’

            ‘And, you need to get out more, Mum,’ confirmed Debbie, not altogether helpfully.

            Afterwards, Lynne couldn’t believe she’d fallen for that one. She could only blame herself when she'd found herself in Helen's flat, wedged between a sofa and bowl of avocado dip and the only person her own age in the room who just so happened to be male, who decided she needed to know the rules of crown-green bowling.

            A few weeks later it was Debbie's turn. ‘I've got a spare ticket for Les Misérables. Please come.’

             ‘Not sure it's my sort of thing’

            ‘You'll love it.’


            But again she was beaten into submission, only to find that Debbie had gone down with flu and had been replaced by a limp-wristed individual, carrying a box of soft-centres and a wilting bunch of lilies.

            ‘I really thought you and Len would get on like a house on fire,’ a miraculously-recovered Debbie sighed the next morning when Lynne phoned to complain.


            ‘Well, because ...’

            ‘Because he's old and boring?’

            ‘Don't be silly.’

            Helen took up the challenge with a seeming never-ending supply of available candidates. Where did she find them? Rent-a-Grandad? ‘But, Mum, this one's so right for you. Mature. Rich. Architect. Designed that precinct by the bus-station.’

            ‘The one that looks like an abattoir? No thanks.’

            ‘He's an animal-lover. Keeps budgerigars.’


            ‘And gerbils.’


            ‘Perhaps you’re right.’

            Eventually, the girls got the message and the match-making attempts ended. Lynne breathed a mental sigh of relief, took up watercolour-painting and got a job in the make-up department of her local Debenhams. She enjoyed it because her customers were women. Not that she was totally against meeting an eligible man. But she wasn’t going out of her way to find one.    

            Peace at last. Every evening when she got home from work, she would pour herself one glass of chilled white wine, kick off her shoes, put her feet up on her new reclining armchair and check for phone messages. Most of her friends always seemed to forget she was a working woman and hadn’t got out of the habit of phoning her during the day.

            ‘You have three messages,’ chirped the disembodied voice. Message one. Beep. ‘Hi Mum. It’s Helen. Fancy a girl’s night out tomorrow? No ulterior motive. Honest.’

            Message two. Beep. ‘Debbie here. How's the job going? Any chance of free samples? Let's catch a meal and talk about it.’

            It would seem the truce was over. They meant well but needed to be told enough was enough. She was about to tell them both so when the last message whirred into action. Beep. A male voice filled her ear. Gravelly enough to be intriguing but warm enough to be seductive and yet, so forlorn she felt her heart tighten. ‘Why don’t you ever pick up the phone? Why don’t you return my calls? Please give me another chance. Please. I’ll be in The Grapes of Wrath at half past eight tomorrow. Please be there. I need to talk to you. I love you so very much.’ Click. End of messages.

            Who the hell was he? Not a clue. She trawled through the metal database of ‘men who were in love with her’ only to find it empty, of course. Then it dawned on her. She didn’t know this man from Adam. It was a mistake. In his distressed state, he’d misdialled and blurted out his misery to a total stranger.

            Poor soul. The hard-hearted bitch didn't deserve him. Lynne could see her clearly. A size-eight-blonde who, even as he declared his misery, was slipping into five-inch Jimmy Choos and applying jammy lip-gloss in preparation for a date with another man. And tomorrow, there he’d be in The Grapes of Wrath, wherever or whatever that was, waiting for her to appear, lifting his head eagerly every time the door opened, only to lower it when it wasn’t her, which it could never be because she hadn’t got the message ...  So what? She plunged a fork into the film lid and slammed the pack of vegetarian moussaka into the microwave. After all, if he was stupid enough to dial the wrong number, that was his problem.

            And then as she gazed upon the moussaka turning a stately dance behind the glass, she saw him again, tears blurring his vision. No wonder he’d got the wrong number. Divorce or no divorce, she still recognized a broken heart when it landed on her answer-phone.

            The moussaka tasted of cardboard dunked in a ‘rich sun-dried tomato sauce.’ She found Eastenders even more depressing than usual and opted for a good book and an early night but couldn’t sleep. She thumped her pillow. What on earth was she doing lying awake worrying about a stranger?  She’d even looked up The Grapes of Wrath in the Yellow Pages for goodness sake. It was a wine-bar in South Street. Only a short bus ride away. It wouldn't take long. It couldn't do any harm. Could it?

            Next morning, bleary-eyed and still undecided, she called Helen. Her daughter was not amused. ‘Have you completely lost your marbles? He sounds a real loser. Can’t even use a phone. You need to find a man who can look after you. Strong. Dependable.’

            ‘I’m not after a date with him. I merely want to tell him what happened.’

            Debbie was equally emphatic. ‘Don't be stupid. He might be a psychopath.’

            ‘He sounded sweet and loveable.’

            ‘I bet they said that about the Hannibal Lector.’

            Instead of putting her off, their words had the opposite effect. She'd show her daughters she could take care of herself. She wasn’t some starry eyed teenager wearing rose-tinted spectacles.

            The Grapes of Wrath turned out to be a dim and dingy cellar from which music of high decibels and low quality boomed forth. The tables were fashioned from old barrels and the seats were smaller barrels cut in half and upturned. The whole place was a hideous throw-back to the nineteen seventies, even down to Marc Bolan warbling in the background.

She took a deep breath and told herself she had to see it through. She checked her watch. Almost eight. All she had to do was find the man and explain. He might even buy her a drink to say thank you. They’d make an evening of it and then find they had a lot in common . . .

            Kerchungg! It was that quintessentially comic TV moment where the background music screeches to a halt. The penny had dropped. What an idiot! The message left on her answering machine wasn't a mistake. It was a set-up. And Lynne knew who to blame. Helen and Debbie had lulled her into a false sense of security. They were at it again. And this time they thought they were being really clever. They knew she had a stubborn streak and that she always liked to do the opposite of what people expected. They’d set up the sting, pretended to put her off, knowing she’d be bound to trot along. She had to smile at their persistence. But she wasn’t falling for it. No way.

            She swung round and made for the exit.

            What happened next wasn’t entirely clear to her. She must have collided with one of those heavy tables or skidded in a slick of spilt wine. Because there she was, seconds later, flat on her back. Even as she lay there, pain radiating from her wrist to her shoulder, she was aware of the corny nature of the situation. As  a  strong male arms gathered her up and placed her on one of the upturned barrels, she knew she he would be the right age, handsome and definitely not into crown-green bowling. He was tanned, slim, immaculately, but not over-immaculately, dressed in a pair of dark blue chinos and a beige shirt, casually unbuttoned at the neck. His hair was slightly greying at the temples and deep laughter lines framed his hazel eyes.

            Not bad, girls. Not bad. And it may have been the bang on the head that allowed her to accept a glass of very expensive red wine from him. Not only that. She downed it so quickly that he immediately bought a bottle of rather luscious Cabernet Sauvignon and led her over to a quiet, secluded corner.

            After her third glass any injury she might have sustained had melted away and the hideous wine bar miraculously transformed itself into a temple of delight. His name was Adam, divorced like her. He was an actor, currently appearing at the local theatre in the very production of Les Misérables she’d been forced to endure in the company of Len and his wilting lilies. As they swapped anecdotes, discussed the books and music they loved, chatted and laughed, the pieces began to fall into place. Helen or Debbie must have met him at a party somewhere, found out he was an actor and had concocted the plan. She knew exactly what they’d have said to him. ‘Sound pathetic. She's very soft-hearted. We’ll make sure she turns up. Give her a lovely evening. Dad’s been a total plonker. Let her know there are still some decent men around.’

            Only it hadn’t worked totally according to their little plot, had it? He never got a chance to put his acting talent to the test before she literally fell at his feet. And yet, if he was acting, he was very convincing, so she decided to play along for a while.

            All too soon, the flickering candles had melted to stubs. It seemed a shame to spoil what had been the most enjoyable evening she'd had in ages, but the time had come to tell him she wasn't fooled.

            ‘So how did you know it was me when you picked me up from the floor?’ she began cautiously. ‘After all, there must be hundreds of middle-aged women with bags under their eyes and swollen ankles.’

            ‘I beg your pardon?’

            Perhaps she sounded more drunk to him than she did to herself.  But she wasn’t drunk. She’d only drunk three glasses, well, four, she supposed if she counted the first glass he bought her. She was high on happiness. She repeated the question with difficulty. ‘Still not with you,’ he said, frowning but still looking wonderful.

            Maybe, she hoped, he was playing dumb because he liked her just that little bit, after all and wasn’t ready to end the evening just yet. But Lynne couldn’t live on dreams. She wanted things out in the open.

            ‘I don’t usually drink with strange men,’ she explained. ‘I only meant to give you the message and go home. Only there wasn’t a message, was there? No size-eight-blonde nor a broken heart. You really are a brilliant actor.’

            He looked anxious. ‘Are you really sure you’re all right? Perhaps he thought she was the psychopath or at least a pathetic case of post-divorce flakiness. ‘I’d better get you home,’ he said and get to the bottom of all this. I’m sure there’s a logical explanation.’

            Just then a bearded man in green tweed emerged from another part of the bar she hadn’t known was there. He pushed past them, muttering into his mobile. ‘I’ve been here for hours,’ he moaned. ‘Perhaps you couldn’t make it but you could have let me know. I’ll be in The Noble Rot at eight tomorrow. Please be there.’

            ‘There’s an explanation all right,’ she said, hooking her arm into Adam’s, ‘but I’m not sure it’s at all logical

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