EARWIGGING • by Derek McMillan

I was sitting in the canteen minding my own business. I had a coffee and a crossword. I swear I wasn’t earwigging, it was just that what she said was arresting.

There were two women who were clearly pregnant — I estimated they were about six months into their pregnancy, give or take. One was ash-blonde and the other was what my mother would have called a suicide blonde — dyed by her own hand.

They were the only other customers in the canteen. The ash-blonde looked really worried.

“I think they are going to kill me,” she said.

Her companion considered this with commendable calm. On the other hand, I suppose it was not her they were going to kill, but her next remark did seem a little callous.

“Well, you could at least look on the bright side. I’m sure they’ll make a really good job of it. They might have a fire, perhaps. For instance, you might be drunk and leave a cigarette in an ashtray, then it falls on the settee that you’re passed out on and you go up in smoke. Spectacular!

“They might do something like that. Or of course, more than likely your ex Nigel might find out you’ve been sleeping with Carl and cut you up with a knife. He has a vicious streak to him, that Nigel. I’ve always said it.”

“But that’s not what I want!” she complained.

“Well, you did get preggers, darling. It was your own fault, you know.”

“Well, you can talk!” She looked very pointedly at her companion’s bulge.

“Surely you realise this is a prosthetic fake pregnancy bump?” She hit it with her fist. “It was after I had that affair with Sam while I was two-timing Alex. So of course neither Sam nor Alex knows whose baby it is. In fact, neither do I, of course. I expect to find out this afternoon.”

“Well, do you prefer Sam to Alex? I mean, Sam is an alcoholic who gave you a black eye and Alex is two-timing you with Maureen — or didn’t you know?”

“I expect to find out next week, now I come to think about it. Sam is just boring. I find alcoholics have very little about them. Alex on the other hand is a bit of a lad, and with his eye for the ladies there are all sorts of possibilities. I think Alex is my best bet. Still, it’s not up to me who I go to bed with, is it?” she said wistfully.

This extraordinary conversation was cut short when a man in a suit with a flamboyant purple scarf came into, or perhaps I should say he made an entrance into, the cafeteria.

“Molly, darling. You are looking well. Now I know you talked to me about Alex but I’m afraid you’re going to go to Sam. He’s due to rape Charlene in a couple of weeks’ time so things should get quite interesting for you.

“As for you, Cynthia, did you think we were going to kill you off?” He laughed gaily. “Well, we did definitely think about it but we decided that you can just go off to stay with your aunt — the one that nobody ever sees — in Cornwall. So when you’re ready to come back, when you’re rid of your bump, you can take up where you left off. That is good news, isn’t it?

“Anyway, damn this place, let’s go and get a drink somewhere. You can pay since I’ve been so nice to you. These damned script conferences are the devil.”

I sat and finished my crossword. That was a very useful bit of earwigging, I thought. I reckoned to leak a few paragraphs to Soap Weekly on the basis of that information. Molly is a very minor character but it would have been quite a thing if they had bumped off Cynthia. I thought that titbit and the fact she was pregnant in real life should keep me in beer and cigarettes for a bit.

How was I to know that Soap Weekly had been taken over by the TV company? I found out as soon as I sent the story in. Bang went my job in security. Still, at least they weren’t going to kill me off.

Derek McMillan lives in Durrington with his wife, Angela, who is also his editor. His book, The Miranda Revolution, is available from all good bookshops or from your library.

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