Thursday’s Tickler is an excerpt from the murder mystery spoof, The Doyenne of Didsbrook.

© 2020 Tessa Barrie

George Fowler opens the front door. A broad smile ripples across his face under his Chevron moustache, revealing a perfect set of glistening incisors. Surprising for a man of his age with a passion for Cuban cigars.

‘Lucy! Good evening, how lovely to see you,’ and I know he is sincere because, if it hadn’t been for me, he might have ended his days very differently.

‘Hello, George,’ I respond warmly. ‘It’s good to see you too.’  I make sure all traces of grime on the soles of my shoes are left on the substantial coir matting doormat in the porch, before stepping over the threshold onto the New Zealand wool carpet. The memory of Tom tramping dog poo onto its Axminster predecessor is still fresh in everybody’s minds.

The grandfather clock chimes. I have arrived at precisely 7.00 p.m. George’s wife, Edna, likes us to come at 6.50 p.m. She is always there to open the door, so we can start promptly at 7.00 p.m. Time governs our lives. It is continually driving us forward. We can’t go back and change things, however much we would like to.

‘I’m a little bit late, I’m afraid. All trains were delayed in and out of Waterloo, there’s maintenance on the line somewhere around East Croydon. I’ve come straight from the station.’ George chuckles as he helps me take off my coat, and a whiff of cigars disappears up my nose.

‘There’s no need to apologise, Lucy dear. It’s par for the course when one works in the city. The others have only just sat down.’  George is always so upbeat on a Thursday. I imagine it is because he can enjoy a few hours of alone time, drinking a glass, or two, of his favourite scotch while puffing on a Cohiba cigar.  Even more so, these days. I can see a decanter, a cut-glass tumbler, and a giant ashtray, perched on a pedestal table next to his red leather chair in the snug. I wonder what goes through his mind during his periods of alone time? Does he dwell, or has he moved on? It’s not easy to read what goes on beneath the constant bonhomie.

‘Go on through.’ He extends his arm in the direction of the dining room, and I walk in and shut the door behind me.  Edna, at the head of the table, is leaning forward. She lifts her ample bosom with her right forearm before resting the pendulous orbs on the edge of the rosewood dining room table as she pulls in her chair.

‘I’m so sorry I’m late, Edna. Good evening, everybody.’

‘Ah, Lucy, dear, there you are. Don’t worry. My spies told me there had been a few disruptions on the Waterloo line today.’ The others look up mouthing words of welcome as I look around the table, smiling.

Using both hands, Edna rubs out a few ripples in the Cleethorpes check waterproof tablecloth. It has been used for our weekly meetings since Barbara spilt her Himalayan Monkey tea across the table’s shimmering surface. The spillage would have been much worse had Beryl not come straight from the Lido.  Saving the day and the ill-fated Axminster by whipping out her swimming towel to mop it up.  Barbara felt so badly about it she bought Edna the easy-care, wipe-clean vinyl Cleethorpes check tablecloth as a present.  Edna graciously accepted the gift and agreed to carry on hosting our weekly get-togethers.

We are like family now. Bound together by an invisible thread, our stories intricately woven together, ad infinitum.  I know everything there is to know about each of them. I found out secrets from their past I know they would have wanted to let lie. It doesn’t make them bad people. The sins of their past only make them human. We all make mistakes, and, I believe, the truth has set them free.