WRITE ACROSS SUSSEX: MABEL

Write Across Sussex
Write Across Sussex

by Edith Hall

Time for her weekly treat. Well at least she’d remembered all her shopping this time.

Even remembered to take the list. That cheeky milkman,

“Don’t you know what day it is, love?”

She did now. Tuesday, that’s what it was. Tuesday, the day she paid the milkman, the

day she had to go to the bank in town to pick up her pension. Pity they closed down

the local Post Office. People not writing letters anymore, they said. Everything done

on line whatever that might be. It used to be a nice little outing fetching her money

from just down the road, talking to the other old ducks, sharing the moans and

problems, finding out who else had passed on. She’d be the only one left soon of the

old neighbourhood crowd. Not that they’d all died, some just moved away if they

could when all those foreign strangers moved in with their funny way of dressing. Not

that that was anything out of the ordinary any more the way young people dressed

nowadays. Any old thing. Whatever happened to Sunday best? They did work hard

though, those newcomers, you had to give them that even though she hated the

peculiar smells of their cooking.

Actually, to be honest, she hadn’t remembered what day it was, not till the

milkman knocked. All the days are the same when you’re old and alone and afraid to

go out she’d wanted to tell him but Reg wouldn’t have liked that. He wasn’t afraid

even of them louts with their tattoos and their safety pins all over.” I expect they keep

them handy in case they fall apart” he used to joke. Just as well he wasn’t around any

more like when that Mr Walker down the road tried to stop them lads jumping all over

his car. Gave him a proper working over, they did. In hospital a whole week they said.

Never had that sort of nonsense in her young days. Never even bothered to lock

the door and folks used to come in and out as they pleased – loan of a cup of sugar,

love? Feeling poorly? Took in each other’s washing if it looked like rain. Now it was

all locks and chains and instructions never to open the door to people unless they

showed you identification. If in doubt, call the police. Not that anyone came now

except sometimes that young woman from the social services and what did she

understand? Probably wanted to put her away but she wasn’t going to, not likely. The

only way she’d leave her home was feet first.

Now where was she going? Oh yes, to that café for her weekly treat. She did

enjoy their teas with the home- made cakes. She never baked one at home anymore.

Well, with just herself, it wasn’t worth the trouble. Not many places in town had them

anymore either, real home made cakes. That’s what made this café so popular.

“Tea is it love?” said the lady behind the counter, not the regular one that Mabel

always liked, the one who knew her by name. She scarcely heard her. The place was

so full. Where could she sit? Flustered, she looked round in dismay. Oh, thank

goodness, that table with the nice grey haired lady over there, that would do nicely.

“Sorry love, its taken.” said the lady as Mabel placed her hand on the chair. And sure

enough, her companion suddenly appeared and sat down again. Must have been to the

ladies. Mabel had never known the place so packed.

The only other place free was opposite a young man half hidden behind the page

of a magazine he was reading but not hidden enough to miss the half- shaven head

and stand up hair do. Mabel started to panic.

“Now come on,” she told herself sharply, “He’s not likely to snatch your bag and

make off in the middle of a café.” Use a bit of common, Reg would have said.

Nevertheless, as soon as she’d sat down, she bent down and firmly wedged her

handbag and her shopping between her feet. It gave her a view of his legs encased in

khaki trousers and ending in very dirty, big boots sprawled under the table. Her panic

increased. She fussed over her purchases and took time to compose herself.

When she straightened up the waitress had been and the tea things were on the table –

pot of tea, scone and a dainty looking sponge butterfly cake. Just like the kind she

used to make for Reg. You cut the top off your cup cake, halved it, wedged both bits

on top to look like wings and stuck them on firmly with butter icing. Lovely. She

poured herself a cup. That’s better. The young man was still absorbed in his

magazine. Looked like something complicated to do with engines or the like. She

finished off the scone quickly, anticipating the cake. It looked delicious. She was just

reaching out to pick it up when a large, hairy brown hand emerged from beneath the

magazine, groped around and fastened on the cake. The nerve! Damn cheek! She’d

show them she wasn’t going to be intimidated. She snatched the cake away and

stuffed it in her mouth. The magazine dropped and an angry face with designer

stubble emerged. The startled eyes of the young man met hers. He looked at the

empty plate, at the determined old face with its moustache of butter cream and the

“Right on, Gran,” he said, shrugged and went back to reading his article.

A great feeling of triumph filled Mabel. Standing up to bullying. Reg would have

been proud of her. She swallowed the last of the cake and wiped her mouth daintily.

Never had anything tasted so good. Just time to get the bus.

“No love, you’ve given me too much,” said the cashier handing her back some of her

money when she went to pay her bill. “You only had the tea, not the cakes. You didn’t

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