George, along with the rest of the cast, watched in awkward silence as Derek tried to capture the essence of Rod Stewart.
With an improvised tap dance, he limped and stuttered . . .
“Do ya think I’m sexy . . .”
George, tight-lipped, used all his energy to suppress a militant yell involving a fair amount of swearing.
George had spent years ordering men around in the army and had retired with a strong urge to control. When asked to direct the panto players, he jumped at the chance and ran them like a regiment.
George had “done” many pantos in his day; granted it was back in the army days when cars had four gears and seat belts were optional, but he knew his stuff and a lousy act when he saw it.
Derek stuttered, “Come on . . . su-su-sugar let me know . . .”
“Derek,” said George through clenched teeth, “I thought we agreed to give the tap-dancing a miss this year.”
Derek was about to say “the kids love it” when his plum round body overbalanced, taking the stage curtains with him on the way down.
* * *
Charlie fumbled into bed. Francis, his wife, didn’t move.
“You’ll never guess,” said Charlie.
Francis mumbled into her pillow.
Charlie looked at her back. Was she awake?
He took a gamble and began to tell her about Derek’s Rod Stewart.
Francis rolled over and pushed the blanket back, exposing Charlie’s leg to the cold. She rose from the bed and, with a grunt, swung her legs over the side.
Charlie watched his wife stumble into the wardrobe, mutter something medical, and then hobble to the bathroom.
Charlie pulled out his notebook and wrote: scrap Rod Stewart . . .
Francis came back from the bathroom with a glass of water.
A nipple peeked through one of the many holes in her “Frankie Says Relax” T-shirt. In the half-light of his lamp, Charlie stopped to admire.
He watched her bare legs move under the covers. He loved her legs. Over the years her lean figure had become almost androgynous, except for her legs. Watching her bare legs slip into sling-back sandals was one of the highlights of the summer.
Charlie slid his hand across to her thigh; Francis pushed his hand away and rolled over with a small snort. He looked back at his page; the inspiration had gone and so had his hard-on.
* * *
Charlie met Francis twenty years ago.
She had bought her first hairdressing salon and was celebrating with a few vodkas and “The Rivers of Babylon” on the jukebox. It was Charlie’s first day as a barman.
Charlie made eye contact with a slim woman with dark eyelashes. She smiled at him and his tray of vodka cocktails crashed to the floor. Her slender legs didn’t move an inch as he mopped up the spillage by her feet; instead her dress inched higher. He looked up, caught a flash of suspenders, and dropped the tray again. Francis picked up the glass with her toe and slid it effortlessly onto his tray.
Francis was a woman who knew what she wanted. She seduced Charlie and he didn’t know what hit him. Two sets of twins and four salons later, Francis had turned from a flexible-toed seductress to a volatile, single-minded pain in the arse with an ego the size of the Himalayas and a determination that crushed whatever lay in her path.
Francis, like George, was used to getting her own way.