Well, it certainly wasn’t the easiest of burnt roast potatoes to clean off the china. The dishwasher was on the blink again and Maggie stood at the kitchen sink scrubbing the stubborn debris from yesterday’s Sunday roast, while going through the plans in her head over and over.
‘Have you seen my keys?’ came a voice behind her. She jumped. ‘Good God, Frank, can’t you see I’m planning? They’re on the mantelpiece in the lounge.’
Frank kissed her on the cheek. ‘Everything’s planned, love!’
‘You can’t over plan, darling,’ she argued. ‘There’s a matter of my outfit for a start, my hair needs sorting, the ribbon on the cake needs pinning, my nails need doing, your underwear needs pressing …’
‘My underwear needs pressing?’
‘I’ve ironed them for the last twenty five years, Frank.’ ‘Bloody hell!’
The radio in the background made an announcement.
‘And Barbara Davies, Chair of the Tredstow WI and owner of ‘Knit While You Natter,’ has died peacefully, mid-scarf at the age of ninety-three.’
Maggie sighed, putting the oven dish on the drainer. ‘Ah, she was a lovely woman, Barbara, bless her.’ Frank reappeared in the kitchen clutching his keys.
‘Well, she could have picked another day to have her funeral. Did she have to choose this week of all weeks to kick the bucket and then be buried on the same day as our Bernice’s wedding? As if I haven’t got enough to do! My blood pressure …’
With this, Maggie took a sharp intake of breath, put down the scourer and turned away from the window, from where she’d been lost imagining herself dancing in the street with Mick Jagger in a new outfit; hair fabulously coiffured by Mo down the road, nails manicured to the hilt and shining with a beautiful deep burgundy gel nail varnish (they were always bloody splitting in reality); feet twirling in those gorgeous shoes she’d spotted in town the other day and she would absolutely not be falling over in those with Mick at her side - and gave her husband a hard stare.
‘For Heavens’ sake, Frank!’ she uttered. She leaned on her hands and looked down at the draining board, a million thoughts running through her head. ‘Your bloody blood pressure!’ She span round to face him, gesticulating towards herself. ‘My blood pressure! Be grateful. People kicking the bucket is what keeps you in business, Mr We’re not Barmy, Just Balmy! and us in the luxury to which we’ve grown accustomed.’
She placed her hands on his ruddy cheeks and her brow softened. ‘Our Bernice is getting married, Frank. Married! And it’s time for a celebration with my Mick.’
‘Your Mick!’ he tutted.
With that, she pushed past him, out of the kitchen into the hallway beyond and opened the under stairs cupboard, before disappearing inside, closing the door behind her. Frank sighed and in seconds, he could hear the familiar sound of Start Me Up blasting through the crack in the magnolia hobbit-sized door, where his wife sat within her shrine to the lead singer of the Strolling Bones, as Frank preferred to call them, holding a small gin and tonic, sipping in the dim light, eyes closed, nodding her head in time with the beat.
Frank stood silent, rolled his eyes and headed out into the open air.
‘I’m off to band rehearsal, then,’ he yelled, before slamming the door shut behind him.
‘In the day? Again?’ Maggie called out in a high-pitched tone, knowing full well that her darling husband couldn’t hear her and neither she, nor her darling husband, would be that bothered about the lack of being able to hear each other, after all, they had been married for a century now and grown immune to each other’s voices on occasion; well, Maggie had to Frank’s anyway.
She sat with Mick’s tones full in her own ears and Frank, once in the car, was mostly oblivious to anything. It was only eleven, but she was celebrating her daughter’s nuptials and raising a glass to her Dad, who would have been over the moon to see Bernice fly the nest; not least because he felt Maggie had always molly-coddled her daughter and it would have been high time she was out in the big wide world fending for herself in her mid-twenties.
‘In my day …’ he would have started. She giggled and took another sip, as as Jumpin’ Jack Flash started and she turned up the volume.
Frank zoomed off the drive to the sound of Rod Stewart’s You’re In My Heart and immediately burst forth with song - or croak, at least.
Frank had attempted many jobs over the years: from bar-tender to bookie, from computer specialist to mortgage adviser. He was always trying to make a fast buck, but inevitably changed his mind whenever something didn’t prove to be immediately successful and another idea took his fancy.
Maggie, his rock, had been there from the beginning, rolling her eyes quietly behind him, as he slaved over a broken computer establishing some business or other, before informing her that it was no longer working; neither the computer or the idea. Or he wasn’t quite enjoying refurbishing old mobility scooters after all; or felt his journey as a local plumber had effectively gone down the sewer pipe.
Still, with every new venture or whim, he would inevitably do his level best to sell on the business opportunity to some unsuspecting individual. Or sometimes, Frank simply tried to better his salary by learning something new. As it turned out, sign language was not his forté, but it had come in handy when the annual charity football match permitted the older gents of the village to stump up some cash and make fools of themselves sprinting up and down a pitch chasing a ball. When I say sprinting, I mean limping, walking, staggering and laughing.
Frank was an eternal optimist and unwavering in his self-belief, a real-life Del-Boy, promising that he and Maggie would one day be millionaires. Maggie didn’t much care for money, she’d probably give it away to charity anyway, if it ever emerged. She loved Frank unconditionally for his love of life, even though his desire to try everything drove her to over-eating or under-eating, depending on their financial situation at the time. Frank could be overwhelmingly emotional, but he was there for Maggie and Bernice and there for the wider family, too, especially when they’d taken Donna under their wing, after her parents had been killed in a car accident.
Frank finally settled into work at a funeral home. After one rather memorable funeral, he realised he had a flare for humour at the most inopportune moment and that could actually brighten the day for the clients and maybe even leave the departed giggling up in the skies.
Maggie sat in the dimly-lit shrine to Mick Jagger, singing along to Paint It Black at the top of her voice and then emerged as the song finished, gin and tonic consumed, voice used and feeling fabulous. She headed to the kitchen and swept up Frank’s coffee mug on the side and popped it into the sink. Her mind was full of ideas for outfits and sheer panic at the fact that she hadn’t quite decided on what she was going to wear. She wasn’t going to worry. Not for one minute. Okay, maybe just one minute. A few minutes? Oh goodness, thank God for Donna!
At a million weeks pregnant, or so she felt anyway, Donna was not feeling quite as fabulous as Maggie as she staggered to her car, laden down with heavy catalogues in the bright August sunshine. She placed the catalogues on the bonnet of her Ford Fiesta and put the key in the door of the driver’s side.
‘Who uses bloody catalogues anymore anyway?’ she muttered under her breath, huffing and puffing and waddling slightly awkwardly to retrieve them as they slid merrily down the bonnet. She grabbed hold of a couple and left the rest to slide right off the car and onto the tarmac. She tutted, flicked her blonde, wavy hair over her shoulders and stooped to collect them.
‘Cripes!’ she yelped, as she felt another kick and the warmth of the sun on her skin, realising it was going to be another hot one.
‘Want some help?’ came a voice. ‘I can’t bloody get down that far anymore!’ she responded, looking up, flustered.
‘Charlie!’ The young man flushed almost instantly purple and swiftly gathered the catalogues for her, placing them on the passenger’s side seat. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be at work?’ she asked.
He stumbled over his words, as he casually leaned against the vehicle and burnt his hands on the paintwork.
‘Bloody hell! That’s hot!’ He moved away again swiftly, as Donna laughed.
‘Careful! The sun’s been heating that metalwork up for hours!’
‘I noticed! I’ve just been to my Nan’s to check on her, but yeah, I’m heading there now.’
‘Let me drive you, mate,’ she said, climbing awkwardly into the driver’s seat.
Charlie was trying so desperately to hide his crush on Donna, as usual, but she had been aware of it for about two years and especially since she’d split from Danny, Charlie had gone a brighter shade of crimson every time he set eyes on her and she found it quite endearing. He was a few years younger than her and her desire to playfully ensnare him had become a little source of amusement.
He smiled like a puppy dog as he climbed into the car. She fluttered her eyelashes, before heading off down the road. Charlie tried to speak casually and confidently, while Donna tried to appear nonchalant and in control. When she stalled the car at the traffic lights a few metres down the road and their eyes met, it was clear that neither of them had control of anything and they laughed instead.
Bride to be, Bernice was late for work and running around the cottage, up and down stairs, trying desperately to locate her shoes. She’d kicked them off in the kitchen the night before, but it looked like her fiancé might have moved them. He was definitely more OCD than she could ever be.
She caught sight of her pack of Angel cards on the windowsill and wondered if she could afford a couple of moments to sit and ask them to locate them for her? She quickly rejected that thought, as she remembered she’d put them ready by the suitcase for later in the week when she’d be spending a few days at her mum and dad’s place ahead of her special day. She tutted and rushed back upstairs to throw them on. She took a final look in the mirror and mouthed her married name her at herself, before squeaking and galloping back down stairs and out the door to work.
Next door to Maggie and Frank’s house, Audrey was peering out of her French doors into the green of the garden.
‘It’s no use Ken, for God’s sake. I can’t see the chiminea anymore. You’ve left the lawn for weeks now and it looks totally out of control. It’s no good; you’re going to have to get that done this morning, love. Maggie will be going spare if she keeps having to wash the dishes with that view over the fence!’ She leaned her slim frame onto the window gently, as she pinned her hair. Ken looked up.
‘All right. I’ll get to it today, Aud.’
She turned her head towards him, sitting on the sofa, staring at a row of celebratory 1977 Jubilee stamps.
‘I don’t think there’s time for the stamp collection today, Ken. You know where we’re going and the shed needs sorting at some point as well. Honestly, I do wonder where your focus is these days? You’ve been off work for six months now and that grass is so long, it’s going dark!’
‘I’m just trying to line up my seventh Coronation Coach above my Royal Bath and West Bicentenary of Prince Charles and it’s gone all lop-sided.’
‘Give me strength,’ muttered his wife, heaving a sigh. ‘I’ll mow the bloody lawn myself,’ she said and waited. She counted only two seconds before she heard the book slam shut and she smiled to herself. Ken hated the idea of his wife going anywhere near the shed, his shed; where he could create all sorts of nonsense and mischief in peace and quiet.
He began his reassuring speech about how it was something he would absolutely get done before they headed out and in fact, he knew the exact four-way he was going to use this morning and if she would like, he would get straight out into the shed at that very minute and give the lawn a haircut, without even stopping at the kitchen for a coffee. She smiled and went to put the kettle on.
Charlie wandered through Davis’ Funeral Home reception and greeted Shirley, who was dealing with a rather distressed woman in her sixties.
‘Morning, Charlie,’ she acknowledged briefly, while trying to console the woman. ‘I know. It’s very sad when we lose someone close. Can I get you a cup of tea?’ she asked, taking the signed death certificate from her, noting the details on her computer and scribbling them down in a notebook as a back up.
They’d been having countless problems with their system that morning, due to something new having been installed, following another of Frank’s whims, after he’d been to a conference to discuss some new and controversial software for funeral directors.
Coffin Connect was supposed to effectively note the detail and tie it in with a casket design, dependent on the personality of the deceased, which was a little macabre, but apparently, it was about to hit the market officially and would be the next best thing in relation to dying and organising the perfect funeral.
The woman sniffed.
‘I mean, she was fine one minute, completely engrossed in EastEnders and then there was the cliff-hanger and the needles just fell to the floor,’ she sobbed.
‘Oh, I am sorry, Mrs Stephens. She was a lovely lady,’ comforted Shirley. The woman sniffed loudly and blew her nose with gusto.
‘She was just asleep at that point, of course. She could always tell in the script when they’d changed writers and she’d just lost the plot, quite literally and dozed off.’
Shirley looked puzzled.
‘I’ll have that tea, please, now; milk and enough sugar, you can stand the spoon up in it.’
‘Yes, of course.’ Shirley got up, and left a large box of tissues.
Another lady was waiting and had heard the conversation. ‘She was great, your mum. My mum and her were in the WI for years. She made a mean cup of tea, with that tea pot and its rainbow knitted tea cosy.’
Mrs Stephens smiled and paused for breath, before carrying on. ‘Thank you,’ she managed. ‘I mean, I honestly thought she’d gone when Max had Stephen backed into a corner; it was a very tense moment. But, no. She was just snoring like a good‘un.’
The woman looked surprised. ‘Oh? So it wasn’t Whitney’s news, then?’
Mrs Stephens looked at the woman quizzically for a moment, before acknowledging her comment.
‘Oh, no. She actually died a couple of hours later during Dr Who. My mother drifted off gently when Josh switched to iPlayer - to the sound of the daleks yelling exterminate!’
Mrs Stephens drifted herself for a moment, before adding, ‘Came to, briefly, to remind our Ashley to take the dog out for a poo, but once he’d finally found the lead, well, she’d gone. In all the kerfuffle with the paramedics there, the poor thing had left a package on the carpet. The dog, that is, not my son, you understand.’
‘Oh, poor love.’
‘So who are you in for, as it were?’ asked Mrs Stephens.
The woman, who was also waiting to register a departure, pulled at her crucifix around her neck and smiled, her pale hazel eyes wrinkling up at the edges. ‘It’s our cat, Godfrey. Godfrey the fourth, Prince of Polperro Cottage.’
She paused as Mrs Stephens raised her eyebrows.
‘It’s our cottage, Polperro…’ She trailed off, before informing her they’d owned three Godfreys; each of them now buried under the cherry tree with a full ceremony up at the local chapel. ‘We’re very religious,’ she stated.
That’s not the only thing she was, either, thought Mrs Stephens, feeling grateful Polperro was at least a few miles away.
Maggie was on the phone, as she stood looking at a pile of hats on the sofa in the lounge. ‘Bright and sunny flowers, please, Sonja. You know, gerberas; big daisy types and that Lizzy what’s-its-name would be lovely, too, please. I do hope Doris has got her hat in time. Please, just no lilies, especially not those Calla lilies. We had them at her Grandad’s funeral last year and it’s an absolute no-no.’
There was a pause, while Sonja wrote down Maggie’s floral request. Maggie picked up an orange woven hat with material flowers attached and tried it on, looking in the lounge mirror. It lolloped across her eyes and looked most unflattering, she thought. She cursed her husband for suggesting she try ‘borrowing’ some hats to try on from Mollie Milliner’s new hat renting service. Who rents a bloody hat, Maggie? She frowned, as she removed it and tried on another pink hat, before Sonja repeated her order back to her and asked for some more details. ‘Oh yes,’ she continued, brightly. ‘Bernice Davis, D. a. v. i. s. Yes. 27 Beechcroft Grove, this Saturday 10th August, obviously.’
Suddenly, the hat slipped off the back of her head and she dropped the phone; and as she tried to catch the hat, she managed to stamp on the phone and immediately stepped backwards to avoid what she’d just done, squashing the hat out of shape by stamping on that, too.
‘Damn it!’ she whispered.
‘Hello? Maggie? Are you still there?’ came a voice from the receiver.
Maggie was a little flustered, as she continued. ‘Er, yes, yes, hat malfunction this end! Well and truly,’ she added, bending down to retrieve what was now a mangled material mess. ‘Thank you. I can’t believe it’s come round so quickly!’
The doorbell rang and Maggie almost leapt out of her skin with excitement.
‘Ooh, got to go, Son, that was the door. It’s like Piccadilly Circus here at the moment!’
She ended the call and waltzed out to the front door, where she could see the form of Audrey. She opened the door and Audrey immediately stepped inside, with the face of someone chewing a wasp.
‘Oh, save me, Maggie. I’m going to stuff that bloody stamp collection where the sun doesn’t shine!’ she said, marching into the house.
Maggie smiled. ‘Cake?’ she asked.
They headed into the kitchen and Maggie pressed the button for the kettle and it started to bubble swiftly. She found a knife in the drawer and sliced into the golden cream cheese icing.
‘This will sort you out.’ Audrey was sitting at the table with her eyes briefly closed in despair.
‘Honestly, I don’t think he has a clue half the time. Since he retired, he’s become a DIY expert and a stamp enthusiast. Bloody hell! Who’d have thought?’
Maggie placed a slab of carrot cake onto a plate and put it in front of Audrey.
‘Get your laughing gear round that, Aud. Well, at least your husband isn’t a rock star lookalike.’ Maggie giggled. ‘He was singing ‘Sailing’ to me yesterday evening; it nearly sent me demented.’
‘Blimey!’ laughed her friend. ‘That’s enough to remind you of that unfortunate boating incident a couple of years back, isn’t it? Bet he sang that on purpose!’
Maggie thought back to the time she’d tried kayaking at Frank’s suggestion on the river and capsized, freeing herself after an unceremonial wiggle out of the material round her waist and then standing up, bedraggled with duckweed draped stylishly over her sodden locks.
‘Do you know, I bet he bloody did – and this week, with all the madness going on as well. Honestly!’ she giggled.
‘What’s his team got set up for the Carnival, then?’ asked her neighbour, biting into the slab of gateau.
‘We were only discussing things this morning. I swear he’s forgotten! He’s concentrating on Barbara’s exit and our Bernice’s wedding speech. It’s quite difficult to get excited about departing this world, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not the easiest thing to promote.’ She paused for a moment, before laughing again. ‘You, too can pop your clogs and be buried in this stylish oak tree trunk, lined with satin. It’s not exactly inspirational, is it?’
Audrey had almost finished her cake. ‘I had heard something about some dancing Angels. I think your Bernice had suggested that to Frank a few weeks ago.’ Maggie had heard about the Angels, too and Shirley’s outfit had looked lovely on the hangar, but once draped over her shoulders, had left her looking like a cross between a ghost and the grim reaper and Frank had had to rethink.
‘Oh, gawd. That Grim Reaper outfit looked dreadful on poor Shirley. She’s only the same age as me and she must have put on thirty years!’
‘That wasn’t make up, Aud, I think she’d been up half the night before, after her Jerry slipped a disc cleaning the washing machine filter.’
Audrey looked confused. ‘How can you slip a disc changing the washing machine filter?’
‘He’d slip a disc opening a bloody envelope, that one!’
‘Well, I think during our last discussion, Frank had called Sally at the hall and she’s choreographed a bit of special number with the local dance troupe, ‘The Splitz’ and they’ll dance round a couple of coffins on a float, I think.’ Audrey pulled a face and they both laughed.
Frank was flicking through a notebook at the front desk of his business, Davis’ Funeral Directors of Tredstow – We’re Not Barmy, Just Balmy, as Charlie wandered over.
‘Ah, Charlie, my boy, how’s your Nan doing today?’ Charlie sat down at the computer.
‘Oooh, it looks like it might be up and running, again, Frank.’ He paused. ‘Yes, she’s good thanks. Still insists on wearing the eye patch.’
Frank looked over, frowning. ‘I thought you said her eyesight was fine?’ Charlie laughed, as he logged in.
‘Absolutely nothing wrong with it. Says she was inspired by the latest showing of Peter Pan.’
Frank looked puzzled. ‘What? The Panto last Christmas?’
Charlie shook his head. ‘No, it was a more recent version by the Age Concern Group up at the Day Centre, actually. Apparently it broke the record for the longest scene because Percy had to repeat his lines over twenty eight times, according to Agnes.’
‘Sounds like they really broke new ground, there.’
‘Oh, yes, well Eunice actually broke her leg tripping over her own walking stick in the final number.’
‘Blimey!’ Frank passed Charlie the notebook. ‘Do us a favour and put these back in, could you? Turns out Coffin Connect went offline for a bit last night and these fell off into the ether. Barbara Davies and Pete Jefferson, please.’
Charlie took the notebook and nodded. ‘Yep, no worries,’ he said and Frank thanked him, before disappearing singing Rod Stewart’s The First Cut Is The Deepest.
Genevieve Stephens put forward suggestions for the flowers to go in her mother’s hearse. It was something Barbara had discussed briefly one summer’s day several years before, at a WI picnic for the bored and newly retired.
‘Look at the poor loves,’ she had reflected, as she sipped her tea in the sunshine and motored through her third scone, caked in strawberry jam and loaded with lashings of Cornish double cream.
‘Take Brian. He’s just wandering round aimlessly in circles. Has been for the last twenty minutes. Tilly’s already signed him up to seventeen clubs. She’s loved her retirement so far, but said having him at home over these last few weeks has tipped her over the edge already. Still, it’s retirement and then the big Knitting Party in the sky, eh? I know what I want for my send off.’
Genevieve smiled, as she heard the voice at the end of the phone.
‘Yes, that’s it; lilies. Calla lilies would be best if you can.’ She paused, as Sonja counted up everything she had available and then continued.
Yes, please. It’s to go to 27 Beechcroft Road on Saturday 10th August, please, love. Yes. Barbara. Knitted, please. Yes. If it could say Knit one, purl one, last stitch dropped and gone,’ she stated. ‘Yes, I suppose it does have a ring to it. Will it take you long to knit that? Oh, of course! You were the runner up in that one, weren’t you? It was a long scarf, wasn’t it? They didn’t call her Baaabera for nothing, did they? She was fierce with a pair of knitting needles and a ball of wool, God love her.’
Maggie and Audrey were laughing their heads off at the kitchen table with Donna, who had arrived with her multitude of catalogues, as they pictured a number of interesting outfits on Maggie. Maggie paraded up and down the kitchen, creating silly walks for each idea and modeled her hats.
Donna caught her breath for a moment, as she felt another strong kick in her abdomen. Audrey was enjoying her second piece of carrot cake, as Maggie stopped in her tracks and squeaked at Donna’s expression.
‘Good Heavens! Baby’s not coming yet, is it? Do I need to get towels ready or anything, Donna?’
‘No, thanks, Maggie, this little one’s just being a bit of a …’
At this point, Audrey drew breath and a piece of carrot went down the wrong way. She began choking. Maggie rushed to her side, as Audrey brought her hand up to her chest and began hitting herself. Maggie also then began hitting Audrey quite hard on the back.
Donna got up to try and help and Audrey shook her head, yelling out, ‘Bloody hell, you’ll kill me off, you two!’
Maggie continued with gusto, ‘I bet it’s a bit of rogue carrot, I’ve been struggling with that pesky little grater lately.’
Audrey coughed. Out flew the offending piece of carrot, which landed neatly beside the remainder of the cake, whereby Maggie responded with a ‘Freed the little bugger,’ in delight.
‘I’m ok, now, thanks,’ breathed Audrey, with her eyes streaming and trying to regain her composure. ‘I honestly thought we were going to be dashing round like lunatics then with kettles boiling and towels laid out on the terracotta tiling!’
‘I didn’t! I thought I was going to be carting you off to A&E!’
‘Maggie! It’s been a while since I had our Nick and Sam. I’m not sure I could cope again!’
Donna raised her eyebrows. ‘I’m the one who’s pregnant, ladies!’
‘A while?’ chimed in Maggie, laughing, ‘Audrey, it was thirty-two and thirty-four years ago! I should think your uterus has got over the excitement by now!’
‘Dry as …’ she retorted and they giggled.
Audrey’s mobile rang and she answered, as Maggie poured more tea in all of their cups. There was silence before she spoke.
‘Yes, I know I said the shed needs doing,’ she began after a few moments. ‘Since when did you mention the work bench? You didn’t say anything about the work bench, darling?’ She breathed in slowly and shook her head. ‘Well, what on earth can I do about it now? I’ll be home after my tea.’
There was a pause and Maggie frowned at her, waiting for a response.
‘Well you’ll just have to breathe in, darling.’ With those words, she ended the call and smiled a slightly despairing smile.
Donna giggled. ‘Go on, then, what’s happened?’
Maggie sat back down and sipped from her china cup.
‘It’s Ken,’ said Audrey.
‘Of course,’ said Maggie.
‘Of course,’ repeated Audrey. ‘He’s only gone and decided that today’s the day he’s finally clearing the shed out,’ she began. Maggie clapped.
‘You wanted that to happen, that’s good, isn’t it, Aud?’
Audrey shook her head. ‘Yes, it might seem good on the surface, but one; he’s decided he’s now going to set up the work bench … and two; he’s only gone and got himself wedged between the grass roller and the lawn mower!’
Maggie spat out her tea.
‘Hang on,’ she said, glancing at the clock. ‘He knew you were going to Cheryl’s.’
‘Oh dear,’ added Donna.
‘Yes, he knew we were going to Cheryl’s. Well, let’s face it; he never got over that Murder Mystery weekend in Bude two months ago and still can’t look her in the eye. Honestly, she’ll know exactly why he’s done this this morning when I ring to explain why we’re late … again!
And as for our Nick, it’s a wonder he’s talking to his Dad at all. Who turns up in the same bloody outfit as his son anyway? Jason swears he and Lisa only had one Detective Inspector when they sent out the invites. Anyway, that night has haunted poor Cheryl ever since. The interrogation they gave her. Double trouble.
‘Do you remember the time Ken tried to do up our old MG, Mags?’
Maggie laughed and Audrey continued.
‘Well, Donna, one new garage door later. We didn’t even need new spoilers on my beloved MG, but he insisted after seeing Nick’s new Toyota.’
‘Crikey, I remember seeing Nick’s car years ago, it was super cool!’ enthused Donna.
‘Yes, well, seventy five pounds that cost us!’
‘For the Toyota or the garage door?’ asked Donna.
‘No, dear. That was the price my darling Kenneth paid the scrap merchant to take the MG away!’
Maggie laughed. ‘Golden times, Aud, love.’
It was hot in the new, sparkly office and the phone was ringing. A tall, brown-haired man leapt eagerly to pick up.
‘Good morning, Toye’s Lets,’ he began. ‘Howard speaking. How may I help you?’ There was a pause as he looked up, puzzled at his colleague and mouthed, ‘What?’ ‘Yes, it is a new name. It does sound different. We’ve just been re-branded. Yes, it is the Lettings Company on West View Road. Does it sound like that? No, we don’t hire out Portaloos, madam. Yes. Thank you. You have a great day, too.’
He put the phone down. His colleague sat munching on a croissant from the local bakery. ‘It’ll get easier. They’ve just got to get used to the new name, that’s all.’ Howard raised his hands in the air.
‘Won’t he rethink it?’ Howard asked.
‘What?’ came the response.
Howard recoiled and put his head in his hands. ‘Clearly not, then.’
‘How’s the plans going for the weekend, then?’ asked his colleague. ‘Broken the bank with the wedding dress yet? Our Sheree went out with her mother and that was it, the three week honeymoon cruise to Barbados turned into a fortnight’s camping in Torquay. You’ve got to watch the pennies, mate. Women can be lethal in the wallet department, really gets you in the shorts.’
Howard pulled a face. ‘Bernice is all right there, actually. Probably the least high-maintenance girlfriend I’ve ever had. I saved like mad so she could get a decent dress.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Although, I’ve got absolutely no idea about the style or anything. She’s kept that totally quiet. God, I hope she hasn’t gone for a meringue.’
Not far from Toye’s Lets, Maggie sat with Donna in the local coffee spot, Sailor Way, laughing like a drain as she recalled a story about her husband, Frank.
‘Well, silly man, he should have paid attention!’
Donna sniggered. ‘Was he still in this trunks?’
Maggie continued laughing at the memory. ‘Yes! Those were the days. Seems so funny looking back at our life and then we’re here in the blink of an eye about to see our Bernice walk down the aisle.’
She picked up a serviette and dabbed at her eyes as they began to well up.
‘Ah, it’s going to be great, Mags. I hope you’ve got the tissues ready.’
Maggie smiled. ‘Oh, Donna, it’ll be Frank you’ve got to watch,’ she said. ‘He’s going to be in pieces!’
Frank had always been a softie and this time was no exception. He had a loud and confident exterior, almost inappropriate at times, but a heart of gold on the inside and a definite love and pride for his daughter, like the devoted father he was.
Donna thought about the car crash that had taken her parents and the love and support Maggie and Frank had provided her over the years.
‘I hope I get to look back on a great marriage like yours and Frank’s one day,’ she sighed.
Maggie grabbed her hands. ‘You will do, love. You will do.’
She beamed. ‘I really thought … you, know. It was so passionate, just madness, really …’ said Donna, sipping on her hot chocolate and gazing out the window at all the people walking by in flip flops, already heading down to the beach.
‘Well, that’s one way of putting it,’ remarked Maggie.
‘Danny was … well, I thought he was something really special.’
Maggie sighed. ‘Danny is one of the ‘Peter Pans’ of this life, love. He is never going to grow up. He’s always going to be a drifter. You need someone steady; someone who’s not going to sprint at the first hurdle.’
Donna hung her head. ‘Yeah. I know. I have just always quite liked Peter Pan …’
Maggie had a slight disregard for Daniel Boyd since the antics he’d got up to with Howard, her daughter’s fiancé. They had always ended up in some kind of drama or other over the years, which had resulted in anything from a few cross and frustrated words, to a visit to a police station a few years back when they were in their mid-twenties, for nicking an Estate Agent’s For Sale sign. It was a wonder Howard still had a job as a trainee negotiator, after that escapade!
‘You know I love Danny, but no disrespect, my darling. The boy’s a bit of a numpty, don’t you think? You know me, I don’t have opinions, but …’
‘You always have an opinion, Mags!’
‘Cheeky! Well, when I was expecting Bernice and …’
Maggie stopped, realising she’d almost said too much and tried to change the subject.
‘Oooh, would you look at the size of that surf board!’ Donna frowned and looked quizzically across the table.
‘Surf board? Bernice and who, Maggie?’ she asked. Maggie looked equally as confused for a moment and then covered her tracks.
‘Er … sorry … brain’s overloaded with all this wedding malarkey! What I meant was, Bernice and … you know, when I was getting bigger, well, Frank was there by my side. In fact … Frank stuck to my side like glue … throughout the whole thing.’
She had deviated successfully, if a little haphazardly. Only Audrey knew anything and that’s the way Maggie wanted to keep it. She fought off the immense feeling of guilt and thought back to the days and months of Frank fussing over her when she was expecting. First it was stroking the bump, then it was presenting a million awful foods that made her stomach churn, then a cuddle every two minutes, panicking in the street when he thought she was walking too close to the road. Goodness, she thought. Then, there was the time he insisted on shouting explanations of ‘it’s ok, my wife’s got morning sickness,’ as she crawled down the street after seeing the midwife and had to throw up into a drain on the way back to the car.
Later in the pregnancy, Frank had invested in a foot massager and tried desperately to follow gentle instructions from the midwife to ‘work Maggie’s undercarriage’ with aromatherapy oils. Well, that had been the last straw! She was desperate for space and alone time in the end and had insisted that he continue working, so she could have some piece and quiet. He was so excited, he simply couldn’t leave her alone. In the end, she’d told him to ‘sod off, Frank!’ and when it came to the birth, well, it was a long stream of blue language - and that was just Frank!
Donna listened to the way Maggie spoke about Frank. She laughed and looked fearful at the mention of the undercarriage being ‘worked’ and agreed that sort of thing was never going to be happening as part of her preparing for labour!
‘Not on your nelly!’ she exclaimed, almost snorting back the remains of her hot chocolate.
Maggie laughed. ‘It was the eighties, love. You’ve got all sorts of help these days. I’m not sure that would happen now, it was a new idea that helped get things, you know, stretched a bit and ready.’
She watched Donna’s face screw up and her eyes squint.
‘Ugh! No thanks. I’m sure it’s going to be stretched beyond all recognition without any ‘working’ being added to the proceedings! I need it to spring back, thanks!’
‘Look, what I’m trying to say is that Danny’s … well, just be careful, eh?’
Donna smiled at Maggie. ‘I know. He makes a mean Margarita, I have to say,’ she enthused, finishing the dregs of the chocolate sludge at the bottom of the cup and wishing she was able to drink alcohol. She looked at Maggie.
‘I am listening, Maggie and you know I look to you and Frank for … well, everything, I guess, since …’ she sighed.
Maggie grabbed her hands again. ‘They would be so, so proud of what you’re doing, my darling.’
Donna looked back out to the window, eyes beginning to well up a little. ‘Yeah.’
Cass and Jake had been great friends of both Maggie and Frank and they’d always spent many hours when the girls were young, picnicking and being out and about at the weekends. In Donna’s early teens, Cass and Jake had been off for a rare weekend jaunt to see a show and stay in a hotel, while Donna had been staying over at Bernice’s.
Sadly, they had been involved in an accident on the M4 on the Saturday afternoon and had never arrived. Maggie had been so glad when she and Frank had been named as guardians in the Will and after a brief time she’d spent with an Aunt, Donna came to live with them and she and Bernice had been inseparable ever since.
Over lunch, Howard left the estate agent for a little jaunt through the streets, where banners were being painted and hung out the front of shop windows and off canopies in celebration of Tredstow’s eighth upcoming Carnival. People bustled and chatted and laughed, as Howard headed to Marks and Spencer.
He was planning to buy his Bride to be a special little gift, but as he walked into the lingerie section with confidence, that feeling quickly turned to awkwardness, worry and confusion. There were so many different selections, party packs and light night wear, some very stringy items and others, covered in embroidered flowers and delicate patterns.
It was only M&S, Howard kept telling himself, as his hands began to sweat and his mouth became dry. A few women raised eyebrows in his direction, which did nothing for his embarrassment. Howard saw a few men looking equally as petrified and lost in the aisles of silks and cottons, frills and lace.
His heart was pounding and he felt again like a spotty teenager, giggling and blushing. Picking up some tiny lacy number, he tried to act casual, as he noticed a smiling shop assistant making a beeline for him. He promptly let the lacy number he was holding go and wiped his brow.
‘It’s very hard, isn’t it, to make a decision?’ she smirked. Howard made a high-pitched noise that can only be described as some sort of animal in pain and then tried to regain his composure.
‘Listen, love,’ she spoke in lower tones, ‘If it’s tarty and tasteless, I think we’re in the wrong shop! You could try Ann Summers in Exeter.’
She looked at him expectantly. Howard froze for a moment at her forward approach. He stumbled a little over his words, but managed a brief explanation of getting married at the weekend and wanting to find something classy, rather than tarty. Bernice was fun and very open-minded about life and sex, but wasn’t really tarty in the way this woman was suggesting.
‘Oooh,’ she chortled. ‘Just you wait until you’re married, young sir. Tarty does wonders for a marriage, let me tell you! I’m on my third husband and he loves me in a basque.’
She shimmied along at a pace, lifting various suggestive pieces and Howard felt faint. Just as he was about to pass out at a black basque with red ribbon ties and black sheer suspenders, another assistant was zooming towards them. He didn’t know whether to breathe a sigh of relief or run away.
‘Georgia,’ she almost screamed, ‘Are you wandering off-piste again?’ Howard looked pitiful by this point and felt very uncomfortable.
This new woman looked like she knew what she was talking about. He went to speak, but the woman spoke first.
‘I’ll take over from here,’ she stated and Georgia pursed her lips, before uttering, ‘I was only trying to help, Mary, as she scuttled off.’
Howard smiled and Mary smiled back.
‘Apologies sir, that young lady used to work for Ann Summers – and between you and me, she got the sack for frolicking with the manager, whilst wearing some of their lace and leatherette line.’
Howard looked horrified and more uncomfortable than ever.
‘I just need something nice, really, for my wife to be. Can you help?’ Mary nodded and led him over to another aisle.
Maggie sat with Frank later that afternoon, flicking through a catalogue. Frank was doing his very best to put on his ‘interested’ face, but he was desperately bored.
‘Darling, they all look lovely,’ he said encouragingly.
‘Oh, don’t be so dismissive, love. I need some clarity here.’
She and Donna had wandered round many shops that morning via various cafés and toilet stops for Donna.
Frank’s eyes glazed over at the fourteenth suggestion on the millionth page of the umpteenth catalogue and he was losing the will to live.
‘This is the sort of thing I need,’ she said, admiring a purple ensemble. Frank agreed, while looking away.
‘What on earth is that?’ she suddenly squeaked, at which point, Frank became fully engaged again.
‘Probably something your mother would wear,’ he commented, rather absentmindedly.
‘Frankie! My mother does not wear all the colours of the rainbow like that! She’d need some sort of sunglasses for that affair! I mean; colour is one thing, but flashing lights is taking things a bit too far, don’t you think? She may as well have a glitter ball on her head!’
Frank was fidgeting. ‘May I ask, my dear love, why you haven’t bought anything for the wedding of your daughter before now?’
Maggie looked as if her husband had said something very out of character.
‘What? Of course I have! There are three outfits upstairs, love, but I just don’t feel like ‘Mother of the Bride’ in any of them!’
Frank looked horrified and stood up from the sofa, beginning to pace, with his hands running through his straw-like hair.
‘Bloody hell, Maggie, no wonder the budget’s gone sky high! Three outfits?’ he exclaimed.
Maggie retorted that his myriad of self-styled Rod Stewart outfits and memorabilia was clogging up the loft.
‘Well, of course my princess needs to feel amazing on the day, so three outfits will be absolutely fine. It’s not like we can’t sell on the ones you don’t use.’
Maggie laughed. ‘I am perfectly within my rights to keep them all, Frank Davis and I shall be collecting another number from Debenhams tomorrow morning.’
Frank swallowed the news and leapt as his phone rang. ‘Oooh! Important call, love. Sorry, got to take this one, it’s er … er …’ Maggie tutted and shooed him out of the lounge.
‘Saved by the phone ringing again, eh? I might call mum and see if she wants to come over for dinner.’
Frank nodded in reluctant agreement as he left the room. ‘As long as she’s not insistent on wearing that jacket that looks like someone’s thrown up on it again!’ he added, spotting a pasty looking Howard outside the back door of the kitchen with the mobile attached to his ear.
Maggie called out from the lounge.
‘That delightful ensemble was inspired by a This Morning combo and she picked it up from the charity shop – it was a bargain, you know! Looked great on Fern Britton!’
‘In 1998 maybe!’ replied Frank, as he dashed outside, slamming the door.
‘Frank, don’t slam the door!’ could be heard in the background and then silence.
Frank gave Howard a light pat on the back and looked thrilled to see him. ‘Thank God, Howie,’ he said, ‘I needed an exit strategy! Her indoors is driving me round the proverbial bend. Where are we off to?’
‘The pub,’ responded Howard, lifting an M&S bag and pulling a face.
‘Nice! Pop that in the glove box of the car, son and let’s get to the Golden Balls.’
Inside the house, Maggie was thoughtful. She sat on the sofa, surrounded by magazines and catalogues and stared out of the French doors to the garden.
Getting up, she walked over to the shelf, where she picked up a small-framed photo of herself grinning while pregnant. She loved those special days, nurturing life within her belly. Despite the many arduous moments of Frank’s relentless desire to please, she’d absolutely loved every moment.
She sighed and the tears welled up in her eyes, as she thought about the incredible sadness and emptiness that had befallen them both, following the birth of their beautiful daughter, Bernice. She knew she would one day have to find the words to explain.
‘Ah, this is more like it,’ breathed Frank into his pint. ‘A cheeky afternoon beverage and much needed, I might add. Can’t be doing with all the outfit changes when it comes to the women in my life! Maggie’s got so many bloody outfits now, she’s going to end up looking like an over-worked traffic light.’
Howard shook his head. ‘Honestly, Frank, talking of outfit changes, I’ve just experienced what can only be described as Groom Hell on earth.’
He proceeded to tell Frank about the second assistant, who had left nothing to the imagination, after modelling several rather risqué underwear selections in the middle of Marks and Spencer.
‘I mean, everyone saw her gallivanting around and … well, everyone saw me! I didn’t know where to look, where to put myself. It was … frightening, Frank. I mean. She told me she was fifty-five!’
Frank looked shocked. ‘I’m fifty-five! There’s plenty of action in the old sod yet, you know.’
Howard looked slightly uncomfortable. ‘Well, yeah, well, she was fierce. Really fierce!’ He gulped and loosened his shirt collar.
‘Oh dear, sounds like you met one of the Macmillan sisters. Used to do burlesque when Seth ran the club back in the day. She was a right mischief! Nothing like my Maggie, though!’ He laughed and left Howard looking slightly awkward.
Frank realised what he’d said. ‘Oh, no, mate, literally nothing like my Maggie. That came out wrong!’
Howard breathed a small sigh of relief, as the scary image that had landed in his brain of Maggie, faded back into the distance again. He laughed nervously, ‘Thank goodness! I thought you were going to say … well, I thought, oh, never mind!’
Frank raised his eyebrows. ’You thought I was going to say that Maggie worked there! Blimey! No. When I met Maggie, she was the belle of the ball, well, the belle of her twenty first anyway. If I hadn’t tripped over those bloody cables and fallen off stage, breaking her ankle and whisked her to A&E, we’d not be here now.’
Howard’s phone rang. He picked it up and a very slurring voice came on the other end. Howard, unable to make any sense of what Danny was saying, made his apologies and left, feeling somewhat grateful that he hadn’t suddenly unearthed news that his mother-in-law had had a past he wasn’t sure he wanted to think about.
Frank continued to drink late into the afternoon while he could, with whoever would sit with him.
Danny, meanwhile, was pacing and Howard was trying desperately to talk some sense into him, as he stumbled backwards and forwards around the living room of his one-bedroom flat.
‘I mean … when she told me; it was just such a shock. I didn’t think that a bit of how’s your father would turn into an actual person!’
Howard watched his friend working it all out, listened and remained calm.
‘How much have you had to drink, mate?’ he observed. Danny had called in sick that morning and was hell bent on spending most of the day drunk.
‘Too much. I saw her the other day and thought ...’ He shook his head and closed his eyes. ‘I tried to, you know, talk to her. Well,’ he sighed, ‘She wasn’t interested.’ He hung his head and started to well up.
‘Are you crying, mate?’ asked Howard, as Danny wiped his hand across his nose and blinked a few times to gain some composure.
‘Piss off! I just feel like, you know, that’s my kid.’
Howard smiled. ‘Yep. And Donna’s going to want you to contribute, so taking time off isn’t an option right now, is it, you bloody idiot?’
Danny nodded, lost his balance and Howard steered him towards the sofa.
‘Right. Sleep on it, sober up and fight for her, for God’s sake.’
The evening came around fairly swiftly and Bernice sat at the kitchen table with Nan, talking over the guest list for the fiftieth time, as her mum got the plates out ready for the roast.
‘Did we invite Tony and Diane?’ she asked. ‘I remember Tony before he went off to work on ‘Changing Rooms,’ recalled Nan. ‘Old man Elliot’s son. He swore Tony would make good money, after he knocked down their barn with a digger – in the first instance, to rebuild the thing. Well, he kept his promise. Bless him.’
‘You and your memories, Mum. You know everyone!’
‘Well, I’ve lived here all my life, Maggie.’ Maggie nodded.
‘Still, it’s hard living on your own. Away from family,’ she went on. Bernice looked over at her nan and then at Maggie.
‘It’s been lovely seeing you today, Bernice. It’s a wonder I get to see anyone these days.’
Maggie stopped in her tracks and brought her fists down onto the marble worktop. She stared ahead and drew breath.
‘What on earth are you talking about, Mum? I came round just the other day!’
Nan looked at her daughter with a note of disdain.
‘Only to drop off that dying geranium. You stayed all of five minutes! You hadn’t even put the kettle on! Honestly, it’s a wonder I haven’t expired in all this heat! It’s a good job your Frank’s in the funeral business. There’ll be another one along shortly, I hear!’
Bernice sighed and placed a loving hand onto her nan’s arm.
‘Nan! Don’t talk rubbish! It’s my wedding at the weekend and I’m not having you expiring on us any time soon, whether Dad’s in the funeral business or not. Crikey, Mum – have a word!’
She tutted and then smiled. Bernice loved her nan dearly, though she knew she wound her mother up a treat!
‘She probably will have a word one day,’ retorted Nan. Maggie was wrestling with the oven door at this point and managed to fling it open, just in time to see black smoke plumes gushing out into the kitchen.
‘And the word will be …’ continued Nan …
‘Bollocks!’ shouted Maggie.
‘Mum!’ screeched Bernice.
‘Not you, you stupid apoth! The chicken’s overdone. Never mind, we’ll use the steak knives.’
Nan sat in a childish silence for a moment and then continued as the smoke cleared, with Maggie’s masterful wave of a tea towel and a swift opening of the windows.
‘Well. To you all,’ she continued above the sound of the smoke alarm, with Maggie now standing on a chair, swatting at it like a fly.
‘I just want to say that I don’t want any of that light and feathery angel nonsense you talk about, Bernice, when I go.’
‘Good God, I thought we’d left that conversation,’ Maggie muttered under her breath, twisting the unit on the ceiling and removing one of the batteries.
‘It’s not nonsense, Nan,’ Bernice protested, bringing her voice back down. ‘I love my angel cards and you loved that reading I did for you a few months back when you’d asked about whether or not you were going to meet anyone again after Grandad?’
‘What?’ said Maggie, moving the chair back under the table and rescuing the carbonated chicken.
‘Mr Samuels commented the other day on how well I looked, after my hair cut, actually,’ she replied.
‘Mr Samuels cut your bloody hair, mother! He’s bound to comment favourably!’
‘I don’t know whether you noticed, but I had my hair coloured ahead of this weekend!’
Maggie began to feel slightly agitated, but tried to quash her desire to start ranting about the lack of time she had to get her own hair done as mother of the bride.
‘Well, anyway,’ Nan carried on. ‘I’m thinking trumpets, a big band and proper music like they made in the forties … a proper send off when I go.’
Frank opened the back door. His trip for a couple of pints had, as he’d hoped, turned into a rather long session with the bartender, Wayne. He realised he’d just stepped into the standard and rather predictable conversation Nan enjoyed having about her own funeral and rolled his eyes in a rather animated way.
‘Bloody Hail Mary, are you discussing your exit plan again, Phyllis? How many times? We should just play Always Look on the Bright Side of Life for you as you wend your way! Right up your street, eh, with all your positivity bursting out of your veins?’
‘Frank!’ Maggie scolded.
‘Love the blue rinse, by the way, very ELO.’
Maggie spluttered out some of her G&T, before catching the overwhelming stench of alcohol.
‘Blimey, love! Where have you been this afternoon?’
Nan was still going on, regardless. ‘I mean, no-one notices, do they?’
‘Hello? ELO? Have you gone deaf as well?’ hissed Frank, before Maggie swiftly stamped on his foot.
‘For instance, the battery on my super duper scooter still needs charging. Who’s going to do that for me? I can’t do it at my age!’
‘Perish the thought,’ shot back Frank.
Nan ignored Frank and Frank ignored Nan and decided to speak over her to Maggie.
‘Well, for Heaven’s sake, love. Coming round here bringing the joys of bloody Spring when it’s our daughter’s wedding in the next few days,’ he tutted.
Bernice was mildly unimpressed by the raised voices. ‘Dad,’ she said.
He took a breath. ‘Sorry, Bernie, love.’
Nan apologised and Maggie cut sharply into the chicken with a steak knife, as she glared at both Nan and Frank across the table with a look of thunder.
‘Nan just needs a bit of TLC, don’t you, Nan? Shall we head out for lunch on Wednesday afternoon? I’m free between one and two and could be back a bit late if you like?’
‘What about my battery?’ asked Nan, still feeling hard done by.
‘Nothing wrong with your battery, Phyl; you may as well run on bloody Duracell,’ muttered Frank.
Maggie shot him a look; a look that said, ‘don’t mess with me, Davis’ and he sighed.
‘Dad can pop round later and put it on charge for you, can’t you, Dad?’ began Bernice, getting stuck into her dinner.
Maggie disagreed. ‘You’d be better off letting Howard go round, Mum. Where did you end up, anyway, Frank? You smell like a brewery!’
Frank gathered his thoughts and began to slur.
‘I have been out on an errand of epic proportions this afternoon, none of which I am at liberty to divulge to any of you delightful ladies.’
Maggie tutted. ‘You’ve been down the pub, then. That’s why I heard Mac’s Harley revving just now. It’ll have to be tomorrow, Mum. He’s not getting in the car with that level of alcohol on his breath!’
‘Oh for God’s sake, Frank,’ uttered Nan. Frank took in a deep breath to attempt to stem the alcohol fumes as he spoke, but it was no good.
‘It’s my daughter’s wedding this week! I am allowed to spend an afternoon in the house of the Golden Balls!’ he protested.
Bernice sniggered. ‘You haven’t been down the pub all afternoon, have you Dad? You don’t smell that bad …’ and as she leaned towards him for a hug, she breathed in the torrent of fumes.
‘Crikey! Actually you might want to get some fresh air before you sit down, you really do smell like a brewery!’
Maggie gently, but firmly, ushered her boozy husband back out of the back door into the evening air, before giggling with Bernice at the state of him. By the end of the meal, everyone was laughing quietly, as Frank face-planted into his lemon torte.
It was later that evening and Maggie was sitting in bed, flicking through an old photo album. There were many thoughts going round her head; wishes for her daughter and son-in-law to be happy, wishes for their future, thoughts about the weekend and how the wedding was going to go, wondering whether she’d got enough gin in for the Hen do; wondering if Howard would have time to sort out Nan’s battery for her mobility scooter and wondering if Frank had made the final arrangements for the Bride and Groom’s special day.
She sighed. She was still undecided about her outfit and Frank was still dithering on his.
‘Blue or grey stripes?’ he’d asked her for the umpteenth time and ‘1960s or 1980s wig?’
It hardly seemed worth bothering about, an old Rod Stewart hair-piece, but to Frank, it was the most important decision of the proceedings. It would be the pinnacle of his night, the pièce de resistance.
She flicked through the photo album and all the memories played back. Where had all the time gone? She could remember so many stories, so many moments. How could they possibly fit in to just a few photo albums? Almost three decades of fun, happiness, sadness and humour. All her emotions about Bernice getting married had brought so many vulnerabilities to her as a mother; she knew she wasn’t losing her daughter, in fact, she’d gained another daughter in Donna over the years, but yet she felt such intense loss and regret.
Frank wandered into the bedroom, after knocking back a couple of paracetamol downstairs and she quickly wiped a rogue tear from her eye.
‘Our old wedding photos, love? Where’d you find them?’ he asked, completely oblivious.
Maggie looked up, lifted the duvet and Frank got into bed beside her and she composed herself.
‘Awww, there’s all sorts here, Frankie. I was hunting around in the loft today for something old for our girl.’
Frank leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. ‘Don’t speak too loud, you’ll wake her.’
‘I think you were still in the lemon torte when she left for Donna’s; she’ll not be coming back here until tomorrow.’
Frank paused for a moment and raised his eyebrows. ‘Oh, staying away, eh?’
Maggie dismissed his amorous comment and turned over another page.
‘Crikey! Look at Mum and Dad in all their eighties get up! Dad still had hair then and looks so well, doesn’t he?’ Frank laughed.
‘Yeah. My dad doesn’t look too bad either. Your dad did so well, right up to the end. Hard to let go, though, eh?’
He gave her a squeeze and another kiss. ‘Yeah. Bloody Alzheimers,’ she sighed.
She leaned into his shoulder and they laid back together onto the puffy pillows to continue looking.
‘He was always so on the money. I think that’s why Mum’s got so precious about her friends in recent years. She knew she was losing him and needed the support.’
‘Oh my goodness! Look at this one, Frank; Bernice on her trike at the age of three. Just before she got stuck on that manhole cover. She got into such a rage, didn’t she? Do you remember?’
‘Yes, stamping like a good’n until I ran over to her and moved her off it,’ laughed Frank.
‘Awww. Here’s one of her blowing out the candle on her first birthday. Look at that face!’ Maggie smiled fondly. For a moment, she almost forgot herself. She traced her fingers over some of the other loose photos lying in between the sleeves of the book and then thought better of it. She closed it and placed it carefully on the bedside table next to her cold cup of tea.
Frank rolled over to turn out his bedside light. ‘Night, love,’ he said, snuggling under the floral cotton duvet cover. Maggie slid up close. Frank opened his eyes again.
‘Fancy a quickie, Frankie?’ she giggled.
‘Are you kidding me?’ he said, turning round to embrace her. ‘Maggie, you little minx!’
They giggled in the darkness, like two teenagers and spent the next seven minutes in pure ecstasy.
Suddenly there was an almighty twang and crash and they were both sucked unexpectedly into the middle of the bed.
‘Jesus, Frank! I thought you’d fixed that bloody loose panel!’ screeched Maggie, as she lay pinned to the top of her husband. Frank lay holding Maggie close and began to shake with laughter.
‘I promise I’ll get it sorted first thing tomorrow.’ Maggie tried to wriggle out of the spot where they were and they realised they were well and truly stuck.
After much giggling, they gave up and snuggled up together for a cosy, rather uncomfortable night.