Except for a man reading a newspaper and two women, the café was almost empty. The two women, Clara and Florence, sat opposite each other at a table in the corner. Tall, raw-boned Clara wore a beige raincoat, and a faded fur hat that perched on her over processed hair like a lost rabbit. She leaned back in her chair, her eyes on the lips of Florence who read aloud from a Mills and Boon novelette.
“I just had to read you that bit. Wasn’t it romantic?” Florence closed the book and placed it beside her coffee cup. Her round, child-like face alight with enthusiasm.
“Heaving bosoms and throbbing manhoods? Get a grip, woman.” Clara popped the last of her bacon roll into her mouth and wiped greasy fingers on the edge of the tablecloth. “When’s the last time your bosom heaved — or you even saw a throb from anyone’s manhood?” She reached into a cracked plastic handbag and withdrew a packet of cigarettes.
“You can’t smoke in here.” Florence patted a wisp of grey hair back into place and continued, “All I’m saying is it’s not old fashioned. Love can come out of the blue. That sort of thing still happens.”
“Not when you’re over seventy, it doesn’t.” Clara leaned forward and burped. The sound echoed across the café and Florence looked towards the man at the other table. He gave a slight cough, shuffled his newspaper, but didn’t look up.
“For goodness sake, Clara — must you do that in public?”
A grin emphasized the creases around Clara’s lips. “It’s one of the privileges of old age, my dear. Along with not having to hold in your farts, not searching for stray whiskers, and being able to say just what you like.”
Florence snapped her lips closed, knowing that arguing with Clara when she was in this mood would be pointless.
“Now you take my Charlie, for instance,” Clara continued. “Time was, I’d make the effort, and you know — a dab of talcum around the crotch, a satin nightie instead of the wincey. But he’d get this look in his eyes like a startled horse, and complain about his arthritis, or tell me his piles were giving him jip. Don’t know about throbbing, a tremor would have been nice.”
Florence suppressed a smile and tried to arrange a disapproving look. “For goodness sake, Clara, I know you’re a friend, but that’s too much information.”
“You don’t like the truth, do you? Even when we were schoolgirls you had all those romantic ideas — I put it down to too much reading. There isn’t any knight about to rush forth and rescue you. Your widow’s weeds are permanent — get used to it and rejoice — as they’d say in those books you read.”
“You can be very hard sometimes. I won’t stop believing you can bump into someone out of the blue and fall in love.”
“You’re a fool, then. We became invisible years ago.”
Florence’s face flushed to a delicate pink. “That’s because you’ve got so crotchety — you used to be such fun.”
“That was before I married Charlie.”
“I thought Charlie was nice — a gentleman.”
“Okay — he opened doors for women, but that didn’t make him a gentleman.”
Florence gathered her things, pushed back her chair and pulled on her gloves. “I don’t want to argue with you, Clara. You believe what you like, but I still believe in love. I have to go now.”
Clara frowned and looked at her wristwatch. “You’ve only been here half an hour. Why’re you going so soon?”
“I have to meet someone.”
Florence’s mouth curved slowly into a Mona Lisa smile.
Maureen Wilkinson is a British writer, who starts with the idea of writing a moving literary piece and always seems to end up with a dead body. Ah well, maybe some day!