Jigs and Reels/Breakfast at Tescos

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Breakfast at Tesco's

We all get the Mean Reds once in a while. For some of us, however, Tiffany's will always remain slightly out of reach . . .


'GOOD MORNING, MISS GOLIGHTLV. YOUR USUAL, IS IT?'

That's what I like about this place. That human touch. The way Cheryl always brings me my usual and calls me by name. I only know her as Cheryl, of course; that's only right, as she's such a young thing. One day, maybe I'll ask her to call me Molly.

Two rounds of white toast, strawberry jam, a currant teacake and a pot of Earl Grey. That's my usual. Cheryl knows always to bring it to my seat by the window, to serve the milk in a proper jug - can't stand those little plastic tubs - with two wrapped lumps of sugar in the saucer. There's something so very safe about coming here every Saturday morning and having the same breakfast, seeing the same faces, sitting in my favourite place and watching the people


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go by. It's my reward for'having scrimped and worried all week; my little treat.

Cheryl is twenty-nine. She has bleached hair and a pierced nose, and wears those built-up trainers, like the orthopaedic shoe Doris Craft wears down at the Meadow bank Retirement Home. I suppose you could say she looks cheap. But she brought the milk jug from her own house because Tesco's don't provide them - a tiny, tiny ceramic jug which she later admitted came from a doll's teaset - and she always calls me Miss Golightly.

Not everyone is so polite. At the Meadowbank Home, where I go twice a week to visit my sister, the nurses call me dearie, with that awful, vulpine coyness, as if they know that it's simply a matter of time before I end up there too, alongside poor Polly, who has long since ceased to care about names at all, and rarely even remembers mine.

Perhaps that's why I always try to make an effort with my appearance. They must think I'm rather ridiculous at the Meadowbank Home; always so correct in my black dress - a little shabby now, but still good - my gloves and my red spring coat. Who do I do it for, they wonder. Surely I'm far too old for vanity. I don't wear my pearls to visits, though; not since Polly forgot how she'd given them to me, all those years ago, and made a scene. I shouldn't feel guilty, I know her mind was quite sound when she gave them to me, and they are only cultured - yet somehow I always do.

There's a carnation here on the table, in a narrow glass vase. Cheryl again. No-one else would bring me flowers. But she will deny it if I mention it to her, laughing and saying


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that it must be a gift from one of my gentlemen admirers. I sense that I fascinate Cheryl; to her I am a fragment from another world, like a piece of moon rock. She finds excuses to come and talk to me; to ask me questions.

At first she was incredibly ignorant. Two years ago she had never seen a black-and-white film. She thought Hepburn was the name of a pop group. She had never heard of Luis Bunuel or Jean Cocteau or even Blake Edwards. Her favourite movie was Pretty Woman.

Two years on, she is still strangely shy of me. It comes out in a brashness which she means to be cheery but which to me sounds defensive and not entirely happy. She has the dirtiest laugh, though. When she laughs she could be pretty; perhaps even beautiful. There is a man, but no wedding ring amongst the dozens of cheap glittery things she wears. She seldom speaks of him. He has been through a bad patch, she explains reluctantly. I take this to mean that he is unemployed. I've seen him once or twice in town - usually outside the pub or the betting shop - a big, once-handsome man now going to seed, like an ageing Marlon Brando. He comes into the cafe occasionally; I always know he's there because Cheryl gives him away with her eyes. Her movements are less free when she knows he is watching; she stabs at the keys of the till like a chicken pecking corn. On those days she does not come over to talk to me, but sometimes gives me a little apologetic smile.

She knows when to expect me - half past eleven on the dot - and she tries to take her break when I am there. We talk about films. Since we first met, Cheryl has learned


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more about them; last month she watched Brief Encounter and Casablanca. She knows most of my favourites by now: Funny Face, In the Heat of the Night, Roman Holiday, Wuthering Heights (the 1939 version, with Olivier), Rebecca, Orphee, and of course Tiffany's. She knows the difference between John Huston's Unforgiven and Clint Eastwood's. She watches them in the mornings before Jimmy gets up he likes action and war movies, and she prefers him to be out of the way - and we discuss them later. Although she is still wary of expressing opinions, I find her comments intelligent and interesting, in spite of her predilection for happy endings. I sometimes wonder what a girl like Cheryl is doing, working in the cafe at Tesco's.

She doesn't talk about herself very often. Her parents are dead, she says, and she was raised by her grandparents, but I gather they haven't been in touch for many years. She is older than the other waitresses - perhaps that's why she dresses as she does - and when she talks to them her accent broadens and her voice becomes rougher. I can sense that she makes more of an effort when she is with me.

'You even sound like her,' she sometimes tells me. 'You've got that way of talking they only have in old films. No-one sounds like that any more.' Then she pesters me to say the line again, in just that voice, and when I do she laughs delightedly. 'I'll never be able to do it right,' she says. 'I'm just not actressy enough.' Then, with a glance at the wall clock which marks the end of her break, she launches into a wonderful impression of Bette Davis from AH About Eve: 'Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night.'


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And it's perfect; she even looks a little like Davis with her eyes narrowed and her chin tilted at just that angle, holding her Biro like an elegant cigarette (courtesy of the nonsmoking policy at Tesco's). It occurs to me that she could almost be an actress; the brashness and the short skirts and the cheap jewellery just another device to hide the woman beneath. She likes Bette and Audrey, of course, but secretly she prefers the cool blondes, Grace Kelly and Catherine Deneuve; though, like me, she dislikes Marilyn Monroe.

'I used to think she was classy,' she admitted to me one day. 'Now she just looks like another victim to me.'

Today, however, Cheryl is less talkative. She is dressed differently; under her Tesco's overalls she wears simple black trousers and a rollneck sweater. The nose stud, too, is absent. Her hair is pulled back from her face, accentuating her cheekbones. I do not comment on this; our rules, though unspoken, are strict. We both hate snoops.

'I'll bring your toast in a minute, Miss Golightly.'

Thank you, Cheryl.'

The tea is just as I like it. There is something very safe about tea; very civilized. When Polly has her bad days, swearing and screaming and crying to be let out, I bring her tea on a flowered tray she remembers from home. It always calms her. Sometimes she clings to me and calls me Mum. I feed her dipped biscuits between my fingers. She looks like a baby bird.

I sometimes wonder about the other regulars here. There are about a dozen of them, though only one ever speaks to me. I don't know his name, but I think of him as


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Eleven-forty, because that's when he arrives. Like me, he has his table, close to the play area, and he often watches the children over his meal. Scrambled eggs, four slices of crispy bacon, two rounds of toast, marmalade and English Breakfast tea, milk, no sugar. I have no way of knowing whether he comes on other days, but I don't think he does. He always wears a hat - a Homburg in winter, a Panama in summer - and beneath it his hair is white, but still abundant. We greet each other in passing.

The toast is perfect; neither burnt nor anaemic, and she knows I like to butter it myself. The teacake is fresh, and still slightly warm. Looking down, I see that Cheryl is wearing new shoes; flat ballet pumps which make her teet look smaller and more elegant. The rings have gone from her fingers. Curiously, this makes her look younger.

'I'll be on my break in ten minutes,' she tells me. 'We can have a chat then.'

'I'd like that, Cheryl.'

I hope nothing has changed between us. I don't judge anyone, you know; nor do I think any the worse of her now. I hope she knows that.

Her walk, in the flat shoes, is not entirely graceful. Her back is very straight. There is a kind of fierceness in her today, something which is not quite anger. I hope she does not think I have been prying. Watching her, I realize that she reminds me of someone, though I am not sure who it is.

Eleven-forty. I could set my watch by him. He stands in line with the others - regulars, both of them; a young couple with a child - and orders his usual. He is wearing a


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red carnation in his buttonhole, and I wonder whether this is a special occasion for him. An anniversary, perhaps; a birthday. He moves to his usual seat, but it is already taken; a red-faced man is eating sausage, toast and fried eggs and reading the Mirror. Eleven-forty looks around briefly, and it occurs to me that there is a free place at my own table. On any other day I might have asked him to join me. The cafe is almost full. But there is Cheryl to think of. As I turn away, my face hot, I hear him ask a woman nearby whether the seat opposite hers is taken. She mumbles an indifferent reply through a mouthful of scone.

I don't know what's wrong with me this morning. Perhaps yesterday's late night, or the surprises that came with it. I feel dull and grey, like the sky. Something is different. Usually I feel better coming here; watching the people, listening to their conversations, smelling bacon and fresh coffee and scones. There's so much life here. Tomorrow I will visit Polly at the Meadowbank Home and breakfast time smells dead there, like sour milk and stale cereal; almost a baby smell, but an ancient, sick baby with a hand like a claw on the sleeve of my good red coat, and no hope of any future.

I couldn't sleep last night. That isn't unusual at my age, and when it happens I sometimes get up and make tea, or read, or go for a walk around the block. It doesn't often help, but it makes me feel that I'm using the time rather than wasting it; almost as if I'm getting those extra hours for free.

Polly dozes too much. Maybe she makes up for my


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inability to sleep; but I suspect they give her something to keep her quiet. I bring her lace nightdresses and quilted bed-jackets, but everything gets stolen at the Meadowbank Home, because no-one remembers what belongs to them. One woman always wears three sets of clothes at once, to make sure no-one takes them from her.

I try to find Polly's clothes when I visit. I go into every room and check under the beds. Mrs McAllister is the worst; she hides things, or wears them, which makes retrieval very awkward, but I won't let Polly get like the others. I make her get up and dress when I visit. I bring clothes for her to wear: proper shoes and stockings and suits. I have them dry-cleaned when they need it, and I sew name-tags into the linings.

It must have been thinking about Polly that did it. In any case, I woke up at two in the morning again, and couldn't go back to sleep. I didn't feel like watching a film or reading, and it was still too early for tea, so I got up, dressed, and went out. It's usually quiet by then; the pubs are closed and the streets are cool and deserted. It's only about a mile to Tesco's, and sometimes I like to walk there and see the lights above the car park and the people moving about inside. The cafe is shut at that time, of course. But the rest of the shop is open twenty-four hours a day. For some reason I like that; to know that there are still people working, stacking shelves and doing inventories and getting the baking ready for the morning rush. They can't see me looking in, but I can see them: floor managers and shopgirls and cashiers and stackers and cleaners. Sometimes I see a


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customer or two: a man buying milk and toilet paper; a girl with frozen pizzas and a tub of ice-cream; an elderly man with dogfood and bread. I wonder why they come here so late; perhaps, like me, they can't sleep. Perhaps they are night workers; or perhaps they enjoy looking out from those warm yellow windows and imagining someone standing outside.

So far, I have never actually gone into Tesco's at night as if the magic might be broken if I did. But I do like to watch. Sometimes I wonder what might happen if I met someone I recognized - Eleven-forty, for instance - doing the same thing. At two in the morning, anything seems possible.

Last night was chilly and damp. I wore my red coat, my gloves and a hat. I'm a good walker - I keep in practice and in any case distance seems to follow different rules at night, because it didn't seem long before I neared the car park. The big red Tesco's sign looked like a sunrise above it. Occasional cars passed slowly along the dual carriageway, their headlamps sweeping the wet tarmac with diamonds. I saw a young couple crossing the road at the lights opposite me: a large man in jeans and a leather jacket, and a girl in a short skirt, a cropped top in spite of the cold, and built-up trainers. They seemed to be arguing. I was in shadow; as they passed under the arc of the big lights I saw the girl's face, dark with make-up, like a negative of herself beneath the neon-lit hair. It was Cheryl.

Neither she nor Jimmy noticed me. They were talking rapidly, their raised voices slapping against the deserted


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tarmac in such a way that'I could not make out the words. I saw Cheryl pull away as Jimmy grabbed her arm - I caught the words No, not again, I'm not - but the sound of an oncoming car made the rest inaudible. The car was slowing down. Cheryl shook her head at Jimmy. I could see his angry yellow face in the light of the street-lamp, and his mouth working. Cheryl shook her head again, gesturing at the road. Jimmy slapped her, once, hard. The sound reached me a fraction of a second later - clap - like ironic applause. I saw the man in the car, who had slowed right down to the kerb. Cheryl put a hand to her face. The car stopped.

I don't suppose I should have interfered. As I said, I hate snoops. But it was her face -- her young, familiar face, so brave and unexpected in the light of the Tesco's sign - it was the way she does Bette Davis with a Biro instead of a cigarette; it was her dirty laugh. Most of all it was the realization that she had regulars other than myself; that maybe that was the reason she valued my company so much, minded her manners for me, and always called me Miss Golightly.

'No, Cheryl!' I had started forward before I even knew it. For an instant I saw her clearly - the O of her mouth, the wideness of her eyes. Jimmy turned to see who had called out, and when he did Cheryl pulled free and got into the car. I heard the tyres squeal against the wet road. A last glimpse of her, turning away, a hand pressed against the window. Then she was gone, and I was left alone with Jimmy.


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^K(

For a second I knew a moment of panic. Then rage surged through me. Jimmy stared. He looked dazed and angry, his head thrust forward like that of a big animal. I wanted to say something that would cut him, but could think of nothing.

All my words had been blunted. I felt suddenly close to


9 tears. jg

We watched each other for a few seconds, he and I. '*&'<

Then he laughed. 'What're you doing here?' His voice was '

unsteady, and I realized he was very drunk. Seen close up, he looked less frightening somehow, like an overgrown but overtired boy. I thought I could see confusion in his reddened eyes as he struggled to focus. I thought of the car and the way it had slowed down, crawling to the kerb. I thought of poor Cheryl, who had liked Pretty Woman before she discovered Belle dujour, and who still believed in happy endings. Some happy ending, I thought bitterly. Some prince.

The prince leered at me drunkenly. 'So what do they call you then, dearie?'

I think it must have been that dearie that did it for me. My contempt for him made me feel suddenly light again, once more certain of who I was. Tesco's, in the rosy false dawn of its neon sign, looked like the biggest, brightest cinema in the world. I looked Jimmy straight in the eye and wondered how Cheryl - or anyone else - could be afraid of him.

They call me Miss Golightly,' I said.


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'Good morning, Miss Golightly.'

The voice takes me by surprise. Eleven-forty has finished his breakfast and moves to sit opposite me, bringing his cup of tea with him. It is the first time he has addressed me by name. I must look startled, because he smiles apologetically.

'I hope I'm not disturbing you.'

'Disturbing me?' My voice sounds odd, wooden. 'I--' My eyes move to where Cheryl is wiping down a table. She does not seem to notice us, but her back looks unnaturally squared against us, her eyes resolutely lowered. Of course she has no way of telling whether I recognized Eleven-forty in the car last night; no way of knowing what I have already guessed.

As for Eleven-forty, he is unperturbed. He cannot have seen me standing by the roadside, for his manner is as polite and unassuming as ever. An occasional plucking of his fingers against the red carnation in his lapel is the only possible indication of nerves.

I butter my teacake. I don't know what to say. His hypocrisy disgusts me.

'I'm waiting for a friend,' I say, too late.

'So am I,' replies Eleven-forty.

His eyes are blue, striking against the white hair. His hands are square and well shaped. He wears a wedding ring on his left hand. Behind me, Cheryl is a little too busy with a tray of sauce bottles. I wonder how long it has been since I last had breakfast with a man.

At the Meadowbank Home there are only half a dozen


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men. Most of them are quiet, though Mr Bannerman can be abusive. The nurses can handle him; they pay no attention to his lewd remarks. I'm glad his room is a long way from Polly's, though; when she sees him she sometimes gets confused and calls him Louis. I try to explain to her that Louis died years ago, but she shakes her head and won't believe me. I suppose that's a mercy, really.

I know I shouldn't feel guilty. All that happened so long ago, when we were still young. Louis was only twenty-six when he died; almost a boy. I'm not certain now that I even liked him. I hope I did, that it wasn't simply the jealousy of an older sister that made me do it. He died the same summer; in a stupid sky-diving accident near AixlesBains. An accident, that's all it was; so many young men threaten suicide when a girl walks out on them, and whatever people thought, it wasn't that serious between us. But Polly was never the same afterwards.

She still talks about him, on her good days; makes up stories about their life. How they married; had children; grew old together. She tells the nurses that the dress I bought her last Christmas is an anniversary present from him.

'Louis never forgets our anniversary,' she declares, with an echo of the old vivacious Polly in her voice. 'He'd be here today if his business wasn't always sending him abroad.'

My toast has gone cold. Condensation sticks it to the plate. I refresh my tea with hot water and pour in the milk


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m

tfrom my little jug, trying not to look at Eleven-forty, pretending he isn't even there.

H But now Eleven-forty takes out his wallet and pulls out a

9, small black-and-white photograph. He pushes it across the

44^*

  • table towards me.

|f In the picture Cheryl looks about fourteen; a thin, sullen

"*9f\ looking girl with long brown hair. The woman standing

  • ' next to her is old, small, dumpy; she could be anyone. The
  • man, smiling straight at the camera, is Eleven-forty. On the
  • photograph, I can finally see the resemblance.

V> 'You're Cheryl's grandfather?' My voice hiccups stupidly,

"«| and a couple at the next table turn and stare at me.

He nods. 'She ran away from home when she was eighteen. I spent years trying to trace her. Since then I've been coming here every Saturday just to see her. Hoping I can get through.'

So that's why he comes here, I tell myself. Dressed in his Sunday clothes, with a flower in his buttonhole, like a suitor.

'We said some stupid things, both of us. Things we were sorry for later. Things we couldn't mend.'

'Anything can be mended,' I tell him; then, remembering Louis, I wonder.

'I hope so.' He finishes his tea. In the background the tannoy is playing the muzak version of a Henry Mancini theme. 'She's changed since she met you, Miss Golightly. I think you've done her good. Connected with her, somehow, in a way I couldn't.'

'We just talk about films.'

'She told me all about it. Last night.' His face is a


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sorrowful map of lines. 'So much time wasted. So much time.' He sighs. 'She's still with him, you know. The lad she left us for. Jimmy.'

That surprises me. Cheryl's man never struck me as the *

faithful type. v

^PP

'They've split up any number of times,' explains Eleven- ~T

forty. 'She told me so. But they keep getting back together. "P* This time, though, I really think I've got through to her. Last night--'

He often drives around at night when he can't sleep. *

Absurdly, I want to tell him that I do much the same. Ј_

Cheryl is watching us from behind the counter. She has "^

taken off her Tesco's overall. I lift my hand, hoping she will _,

come over. But just as she seems to make a decision she *j

iy~.\

halts, and her eyes move towards the far corner of the room. :l

Her expression becomes twisted with love and sadness. I turn my head to see.

Jimmy is standing at the far end of the cafe. He looks better than he did last night, in clean jeans and a white T-shirt. His head is slightly lowered. There is a little boy with him, seven or eight at the most, in shorts and a Pokemon sweater. The boy is holding the big man's hand, like a trainer leading a bear. I expect Jimmy to move, but he does not.

I see Cheryl hesitate. She looks at Jimmy and the boy. She looks at me. She takes a step forward. Eleven-forty, who has been watching too, makes as if to stand up. His face is tensed.

'Cheryl!' Jimmy's voice sounds raw across the cafe chatter, like someone stropping a razor. I am certain now


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that he will walk over to'ue, but he stays where he is, his eyes following Cheryl as she moves to our table without a backward glance.

As she reaches us I see that her eyes are wet. She kisses Eleven-forty on the cheek. She looks different in her black clothes, with no make-up and her hair tied back; almost a stranger.

'I thought I could make a new start,' she says to me. 'I've got a friend in London who says she can get me a cleaning job at the Palladium, to tide me over for a while. I might even be able to get onto one of those cinema courses in the evening. Get a qualification. Make something of myself.' She grins, and I see a little of the old brash Cheryl again in her expression. 'I'd like to get into acting, you know; even if it's only sweeping floors or selling popcorn.'

In the corner, Jimmy does not move. I sense rather than see him; a big, hunched man with a defeated face. In a piping voice, the small boy asks for a Coke.

'I would have told you, Grandad,' says Cheryl to Eleven forty. 'I really would. But it's been so long since - I didn't know how to start.'

'What's the lad's name?' asks Eleven-forty.

'Paul.'

He nods. 'Good name.'

She smiles a little. 'He's named after you.'

So, I tell myself, his name is Paul. I wonder what his surname is. In all this time I haven't asked Cheryl. I hope it is not too late now.


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'He's a good kid,' continues Cheryl with determined brightness. 'Not all screwed up like his Mum and Dad. He'll „,

like it in London. Lots of things for a kid to see. It'll work & \

out. I know it will.' »>

Eleven-forty - Paul - looks at her. His hand closes over " j

hers with a tightness I can almost feel. 'You're not coming back with me, then?'

'Oh, Grandad.' Her eyes are wet again. 'You know I can't do that.'

'Why not? I'd help you with the boy. You don't need--' fiercely he struggles with Jimmy's name, but is unable to speak it aloud. 'You don't need that man any more. He's feckless. He's violent.'

Cheryl smiles. 'I know. I've known for a long time.'

'Then why stay with him? Why bother with him?' His eyes are blazing. I feel I ought to say something to comfort him, but Cheryl's eyes stop me.

'He needs me,' she says gently. 'They need me. Last night I did a lot of thinking. I was all ready to leave then, to run away and begin again on my own. It was possible. I was ready to do it. And then I realized something I'd never thought of before.' She takes my hand and Eleven-forty's, and presses them both. 'I realized that life isn't a movie. I could spend a lifetime waiting for a Mr Right who never turns up. Or I could use what I've got to make things better.' Her voice, though soft, has an edge. 'Isn't that why you made me watch all those films, Miss Golightly? To warn me? To teach me that if I want a happy ending, I'm going to have to write my own?'


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I want to tell her te" nail me Molly, but somehow I know that it is already too late. I want to tell her that wasn't the lesson I'd meant her to learn, but she seems so sure of herself, while I have never felt less so. Suddenly I see myself as she does: a lonely, sad old woman, hiding myself in movies, clinging to routine, looking in from the dark. Surely anything must be better than that; even Jimmy and his rages. At least Jimmy is real. And he belongs to her.

'I think he really wants to change this time. Really make an effort. For Paul's sake.' She smiles too brightly. 'He's not so bad, not once you get to know him. I mean, he's no Gary Grant, but--'

At least he's real. And she must love him, in her way. Mustn't she?

'Can I bring you some more tea? Yours has gone cold.'

The simple kindness in her voice makes my eyes sting. 'No thanks. Maybe I'm due for a change too, don't you think?'

She hides her surprise well. 'I'll get one of the girls.'

'Later.' That's the problem with wearing eyeliner, I remind myself. It runs. 'I'm going to miss you, Cheryl.'

The too.'

We look at each other for a moment without speaking. Then she gives an unexpected grin. 'Go on, Miss Golightly. Say it for me. Say the line. One more time.' She turns to Eleven-forty - to Paul - and hugs him. 'You'll see what I mean, Grandad. She sounds just like her. I mean, she could be her.'


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I know which line she means. It's the one from Tiffany's, where Audrey Hepburn is talking about the Mean Reds: that terrible feeling of being scared, but not knowing why. I have it now, a frightened, lost feeling, and I wonder if that's what Polly feels all the time, alone in her little room in the Meadowbank Home, with the bored nurse standing at the door and all her dreams melted away like chalk in the rain. Oh, I know that feeling. When 1 get it the only thing is to jump into a cab and go to Tiffany's. Calms me down right away.

'Some other time, perhaps.'

She is about to protest; but now little Paul is getting impatient; he is bouncing up and down, waving a grubby hand. Next to him Jimmy looks strangely humble, standing there, waiting.

'OK.' She straightens up, pats her hair into place. 'Right.'

Eleven-forty - Paul - retains her hand a little longer. 'Are you sure, love?' he asks. 'You'll stay in touch? You'll be all right?'

She nods. 'Sure. I'm not saying it'll be easy--' Suddenly she is Bette Davis again, waving an imaginary cigarette holder. 'He may be a rat,' she says airily, with the ghost of her dirty laugh, 'but, sweetheart, he's my rat.'

Then she turns to where her men are waiting for her - a straight, comically dignified figure in black ballet pumps and capri trousers - and now I remember who it is she reminds me of: Charlie Chaplin, the indomitable little tramp; often bruised but never broken, eternally optimistic


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in the face of the bleak, indifferent world. Laughter surprises me; then tears.

Eleven-forty waits in silence until I have stopped. As I look up I see that he has brought a fresh pot of tea; Earl Grey, with milk in the little jug and two wrapped lumps of sugar in the saucer. I wipe my eyes carefully with my handkerchief. It comes away black with eyeliner. I am suddenly sure that neither of us will see Cheryl or her child again.

The tea is just as I like it. It tastes of childhood and home, dipped biscuits and forgiveness. Anything can be mended, I think to myself, and then I am crying again, with a passion I had no idea was in me. Eleven-forty waits patiently, as if he has all the time in the world.

I wipe my eyes again. The lids feel swollen, grotesque. I remind myself that I am old; that my vanity is not only misplaced, but ridiculous. But Eleven-forty is smiling, and he takes the carnation from the vase in front of us and pushes it over the tabletop towards me.

'Better?' he asks. His smile is a little like Cheryl's, I notice; wide, open and just a little brash. I feel a sudden admiration for that brave smile. I take a deep breath, close my eyes briefly, and when I open them again the Mean Reds have receded a little. It isn't Tiffany's, of course, but there is something very safe about Tesco's all the same: the sunlight shining through the windows, the warmth of baking bread and the noise of the people working. Surely nothing very bad could happen here.

I pull off my gloves to straighten my hair; fortunately I


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have a compact in my handbag, and with a couple of deft strokes I manage to repair some of the damage. I'm no Audrey Hepburn, of course; but then again, he's no George Peppard, and I can tell from his eyes that he approves.

'So,' I say, smiling straight at him, 'how do I look?'