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L i z To d d

PEARLS BEFORE SWINE

Copyright Liz Todd (2015)


The right of Liz Todd to be identified as author of this work has
been asserted by her in accordance with section 77 and 78 of the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the
publishers.
Any person who commits any unauthorized act in relation to this
publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims
for damages.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British
Library.
ISBN 978 1 78455 742 3 (paperback)
ISBN 978 1 78455 743 0 (hardback)
www.austinmacauley.com
First Published (2015)
Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd.
25 Canada Square
Canary Wharf
London
E14 5LB

Printed and bound in Great Britain

One

On the sixteenth of February, just after ten oclock, Greta


Stevenson decides to stop singing. As she mulls over the
word, she remoulds it to humming, for it can hardly qualify as
a song: the more she thinks about it the more she has to admit
the sound is pretty tuneless a succession of unrelated,
spontaneous notes that break free at will. They had been
ricocheting around the house for decades, which reserves her
husbands present question a place in history.
What exactly is that tune? he asks for the first time in
twenty-four years, causing Greta to pause on the stairs.
Sorry?
That tune youre humming. Whats it called?
A blip of irritation flashes an unfamiliar code across
Gretas mind, and instinctively, shes on the defensive,
although she knows shell choose the well-trodden path of
peace. She always does.
You mean, you want to join in? she hears someone say;
realises its her.
Franks face normally impassive reflects impatience.
No.
Then why ask? Theres that stranger talking again
Because it doesnt sound like a proper tune.
Greta readjusts her position on the step and looks down at
him, dreading to think what the stranger that used to be Greta
Stevenson will say next.
Does it matter?
Actually, it does. If you want to know, it drives me out
of my mind.

Short distance, Greta thinks uncharitably yet another


shocking departure from her normal placid nature. She makes
a huge effort to overcome the weird sensation in her brain and
smiles at her husband; even voices a promise never to
hum/sing again.
I didnt mean you should stop altogether, Frank says
more kindly, his weight on one foot and now the other. All I
meant was, couldnt you sing a real tune?
Of course, Greta agrees sweetly. Now, I really must get
on.
She watches her husband walk down the hallway and into
the living room, where as is his habit on a holiday Monday
he will sit down on the settee and read the headlines in his
preferred daily, quoting bits at her as they sit at lunch, whether
shes interested or not; usually not.
Once the door has closed behind him, she stands for a
while, coming to terms with his stop-go attitude to her
hum/sing, understanding full well his eagerness for her to
keep it up: if she stops completely, Frank will never know
where she is in the house, and shes almost sure its one of his
ways of locating her whereabouts for twenty-three hours in
the day.
Greta stifles a gasp: what on earth is she thinking, and
how can she stop it?
Trying to stop whats going on in her mind, however, is
light years away from not saying anything: even if she never
utters another word, shell have to take responsibility for this
sudden bout of contrary thoughts about Frank; have to deal
with them one way or the other.
Analyse or discard!
After a few minutes deliberation, she justifies her
decision; opts not to hum/sing for a whole week. Now she
resumes the vacuuming and almost forgets all about the
prospect of a silent week.
*

At twenty-six minutes past twelve precisely, she hears


Franks step in the hallway, and is tempted to wait behind the
bedroom door, out of sight even if he pops his head in. As
soon as the idea has formed in her mind, Greta is horrified:
what on earth is happening to her, and why wont it stop? As
if to make amends, she springs to the bedroom door and
throws it open.
Im just finishing the vacuuming, she calls out. Down
in two minutes.
Two minutes is about as long as she has, because Franks
at the kitchen door already without responding to her call
and, on the stroke of twelve thirty, hell sit down at the
kitchen table and expect to see a plate of sandwiches in front
of him.
Despite this, Greta descends the stairs slowly, wondering
if shes at the start of the dreaded mid-life crisis; for there can
be no other explanation; or can there?
When she goes into the kitchen, Frank is standing at the
table, looking down at the two set places, as yet bereft of food.
Oh, there you are, Greta says cheerfully. The
sandwiches are made. I put them in the larder to stay fresh.
She breezes past her husband and into the larder. Its tuna and
mayonnaise for a change, she calls through.
What?
She almost jumps when his voice sounds right behind her.
Goodness, you gave me a scare!
I dont mind cheese and pickle, Frank frowns, his eyes
on the plate of sandwiches. There was no need to change it
for me.
Another flash of irritation criss-crosses Gretas mind,
illuminating, if only for a few seconds, her next reply.
Oh, but I didnt do it for you, Frank. I did it for me.
The little demon thats been urging her on for the past
hour wants her to push past him, but he remains in the
doorway, even when she picks up the plate of sandwiches and
takes a few steps towards him.

Couldnt you have changed the filling for you, but left it
the same for me?
I suppose I could have.
So, youll do that tomorrow?
The question mark is decorative. Yes, fine, Greta agrees
pleasantly, although, for the first time in twenty-four years, it
takes a huge effort and she has to give herself a mental slap.
She sits sipping hot tea and chewing morsels of her
sandwich, but her mind ricochets between one ludicrous idea
and the next.
Shes come in halfway through the film; will never catch
up with the plot
*
The library van reverses into the end of their street and
Greta gathers up her books and sets off, dodging the potholes
and muddy puddles which have deepened with the passing
years and frequently grab spitefully at her ankles. Idly, she
wonders why no-one ever calls the Council.
Morris is sorting books on the shelves; turns to greet her
like a long-lost friend.
Lovely day, isnt it? Have you put out your washing?
Er yes, I have.
Thought you might have, it being Monday.
It being Monday.
Automatically, Greta lays her three books on the counter,
trying not to dwell on the fact that her routine is so rigid.
I thought about waiting until tomorrow, she blurts out
on impulse.
Sorry?
To do the washing, she expands, cheeks beginning to
redden.
Well, smiles Morris, the weathers settled for the rest
of the week, so any day will do.
Greta nods and roams the shelves for a new selection.

Have you read the latest Anita Brookner? she hears


Morris ask.
Yes, I took it out from the main library.
She wants to bite her tongue off: not to use the services of
the van is tantamount to treason. When Morriss response is a
silent shrug, Greta resolves never to say main library again;
ever.
Have you anything planned for today? Morris asks as he
stamps the last book.
No, my husband has a day off, so were staying close to
home.
Quite right, says a dutiful Morris. Have a nice relaxing
day then.
*
As she wanders into the conservatory to begin one of the
new books, Greta pauses and listens: humorously wonders if
she should encourage Frank to hum/sing, so that she can
locate him in the house
Hearing nothing, she opens the door and goes in quietly,
although, with the hinges emitting a loud squeak, she has no
hope of hiding.
Gretas hand flies to her mouth: hiding! What is she
thinking about? Such ridiculous nonsense; all this mental
energy wasting on a rigid routine and hiding from her
husband. Honestly, she must be going mad!
After a few deep breaths and a readjustment of the
compass needle, Gretas mind settles down and she chooses a
comfy chair and opens the book at the top of her pile.
*
She must have dozed, because she wakes to the sound of
a telephone ringing somewhere in the house. When she jumps
up to answer it, she hears Franks voice in the hallway; muted,
indistinct; business probably.

Greta yawns and lifts up her book, but no sooner has she
read the first sentence of the chapter than Frank throws open
the door.
I thought you might have heard the phone.
I must have dropped off.
At half past two in the afternoon?
Greta opens her mouth to allow an apologetic remark to
slip out, but, inexplicably, the words that emerge are as much
a shock to her as to her husband.
Id no idea there was a law against it, Frank.
He stares at her for a long moment, perhaps waiting for
her to realise shes spoken out of turn and should apologise.
At last, when it becomes evident that his wife will remain
silent, he appears indecisive, hovering in the doorway.
Greta looks away from him, back at the book on her lap,
but her heart thuds in her chest and she feels sick. Surely,
shes in the initial throes of the menopause after all?
Im going into the garden, Frank says, a trifle sullenly.
If you want me, thats where Ill be.
You mean, thats where Ill be when youre ready to serve
me my afternoon tea.
Its hopeless: Greta swallows hard and gives herself a
severe talking-to, after which she makes up her mind to see
Doctor Harris first thing in the morning. Hell be sure to know
whats wrong with her.
*
As bad luck has it, first thing in the morning will turn out
to be too late.
Moments before Greta has started to prepare afternoon
tea, her husband appears in the kitchen, wondering aloud if the
clock has stopped.
Even for Frank Stevenson the implication is incredibly
rude, and Greta gapes at him.
What?

The kitchen clock, Frank indicates with a flick of his


head. I thought it had stopped, but I see now that its still
going.
If he expects her to acknowledge his meaning and execute
a grovelling pirouette, Greta knows hes doomed to be
disappointed. It takes her only a millisecond to strike back,
even knowing that, from now on, she will be continually
forced to strike back; twenty-four hours a day, seven days a
week for the first time in her married life, and until further
notice.
What made you think it had stopped, Frank?
The afternoon tea is late.
In light of Gretas mini-rebellion, its courageous, and she
has to smile, which is quite the wrong thing to do.
Something amusing you? her husband demands.
Nothing really.
Ill be in the greenhouse, Frank says now, turning on his
heel.
And Ill be popping out to post a letter, so your cup of
tea will be even later.
Heart thudding out of control, Greta hopes that, at fortyfour, her heart muscle is still fit and healthy; otherwise,
todays assault course will surely prove too much of a
challenge.
Perhaps her husband suspects subterfuge, for he makes no
reply; simply stalks from the kitchen and closes the door.
Greta stands at the sink, staring at her hands; at her
wedding ring in particular, at the tiny scratches etched onto
the soft gold; scratches that she has never noticed before. Is
there anything else shes never noticed before?
In the bathroom, the first thing she does is take a close
look at herself in the wall mirror, an unusual action for Greta
Stevenson, since a) she rarely has time for such indulgences
and b) she knew what she looks like, so whats the point?
Nevertheless, she gives serious consideration to what she
sees: a not unattractive forty-four-year-old with wide, green
eyes her best feature, she reckons a full, if hardly
voluptuous mouth; a smooth, healthy complexion with few

blemishes; and a neat little nose that shes always liked and
which is never red and blotchy, not even in winter. Oh, and
lovely hair, blonde and bouncy, that everyone admires.
Everyone, funnily enough, except Frank.
Greta stands for a few moments, altering her pose, turning
this way and that. Finally she concludes that, yes, she is
entirely presentable; more so, perhaps, but modesty restrains
her. All in all, Frank should think himself lucky to step out
with her, as they used to say in old-fashioned Hollywood
movies.
She glances from the window, shivering slightly, though
the room is warm, and watches the blue tits on the nut basket,
darting to and fro, sometimes bickering, and staking their
claim.
Staking their claim.
Inwardly, Greta repeats the words several times,
wondering why they should be so significant. Do they have
some bearing on her own situation? Is that what she should
have been doing all these years: staking a claim for herself?
What does it mean, anyway, and why is she thinking of it
now?
Oh, this is all nonsense!
She turns from the window, disgusted with herself. With
a final, brief glance at her reflection, she goes downstairs to
act like her normal self.
Half an hour later, she hovers by the sink, fussing over a
few smudges on the draining board. When she hears Frank
come in from the garden, she knows she should rush around
doing things; doing things for him, more precisely.
The rain is beginning to fall. She can hear it drumming on
the window, as loudly as the thoughts inside her head. Time is
passing, and she has things to do, except her feet arent
responding; boring into the hemp flooring as if theyve
become part of the weave.

The kitchen door opens abruptly, and her husbands voice


reaches her ears.
Everything all right?
Yes, apart from the fact I dont seem to be able to move.
Must have something to do with not being allowed to sing.
She smiles inanely she really must stop doing that and
says cheerfully:
Im just listening to the rain. Wont be a moment.
Later, when she has time to think it over, she might pin it
down to this exact instant when Frank looks at her as if
shes the village idiot; and she might laugh when she recalls
how she took over twenty years to reach a split-second
decision
When she hears the rustle of a newspaper, Greta whirls
round: Frank never reads a paper in the kitchen the reason,
like so many others, escapes her and yet hes doing it now!
She waits for him to acknowledge her presence as she
moves past him to take out crockery and cutlery for later. But,
even after she clunks and clatters the crockery; even when she
drops the odd knife and fork she invariably does that
Franks eyes are glued to the newspaper.
Greta toys with the idea of striking up a friendly
conversation, along the lines of how much shes looking
forward to their trip to Barbados; has even rehearsed the
opening sentence, when, all at once, she stops herself.
You know, Frank, Im really looking forward to
What on earth had she been about to say? Has the little
demon made its mind up yet? From her position at the sink,
she studies the tiny bald spot on the top of her husbands head,
the bald spot he denies is there and, until now, she has agreed
to ignore for the sake of peace.
Frank?
Mm?
Ive been thinking.

Oh?
Do you really want to go to Barbados?
Gretas heart sinks: shes at it again! Every time she
opens her mouth, a strangers words hurtle out.
The bald spot quickly disappears, the head shoots up, and
the eyes are locked on hers.
What kind of question is that?
The kind that expects an answer.
Stop this, you idiot!
Frank lays the newspaper aside surely a first, or is her
cynicism getting out of hand?
Of course I want to go. Its all booked.
Is that the only reason you want to go, because its
booked?
Whats behind all this nonsense, Greta? her husband
asks, failing to conceal his frustration.
Im not sure I want to go either. She wonders why shed
said such a thing; now realises its because its true. Whatever
made her think that truth telling was difficult?
Franks face turns red with anger. What do you mean
either? The whole thing was your bloody idea in the first
place.
Hes right, of course, and it cant be shrugged off,
although Greta has no intention of shrugging it off. Her brain
soon sorts things out for her: when it had been her idea, she
was a different person; now she is into truth telling.
Yes, she agrees, pulling off her rubber gloves. I know it
was my idea, but that was months ago, and Ive changed my
mind. Im She pauses, about to say shes sorry she was
always doing that. In fact, she does feel a bit sorry, but only
for herself, and its best not to complicate things that are
already causing enough upheaval.
Honestly! Frank explodes, leaping to his feet and almost
hurling the newspaper to the floor. This has gone far enough,
Greta. I have no idea whats got into you lately, but Im

warning you, just dont try my patience any further. Weve


booked the bloody holiday and were going, and thats that!
He has been striding towards the kitchen door, and now
he opens it and is gone.
With a sigh of relief, Greta turns back to the rubber
gloves and begins prising each slimy finger inside out. She
hates these damned gloves, but Frank is opposed to a
dishwasher in his house, thank you very much, and so she has
to suffer the sweaty indignity of these disgusting things,
which turn her skin to pulp and occasionally causes it to break
out in some horrible fungal infection.
And all because Frank thinks dishwashers make the
cutlery taste like bleach. At least, that was his firm opinion
years ago, despite having no experience of them; so how
could he know?
As she stands there fighting a losing battle with the pinkie
finger of the left glove, Greta begins to recall other things,
which Frank hasnt wanted in his house, thank you very much.
The list is endless:
No tumbler dryer (too heavy on electricity)
No food processor (a harbour of dirt well, it would be
without a dishwasher, wouldnt it?)
No halogen hob (kids could burn their fingers on it
except the kids are twenty-two and twenty now and long gone)
No microwave (rogue waves hurtling around the place,
scrambling your brain)
No bread-maker no coffee-maker no fan-assisted
oven
No LIFE!
They were all simply gadgets, according to Frank, and
had no bearing on day-to-day chores, although what he would
know about chores stumped Greta: Franks world consists of
fishing, football, golf and Friday nights out with the lads, not
to mention reading the Sunday Times for five hours on a
Sunday and spending Saturday mornings in the garden shed
doing Heaven-knew-what.

Greta shivers. Maybe shes going too far. Maybe she


should seek him out, apologise, blame it all on the M-word.
Yes, it would be easy enough to rectify things: all she has to
do is stop this truth-telling nonsense.
She becomes aware of the growing darkness in the room;
moves over to the lamp on the fridge (at least hes allowed her
that), and switches it on, grimacing at the layer of dust that
dulls the alabaster base. Oh, yes, thats another thing she cant
have: a daily help (too extravagant and, besides, isnt the
exercise good for her?)
A quick glance at the clock urges her on. Tea is at four
thirty and shed better get a move on; only, she doesnt feel
like moving, so she just stands here, wondering where this is
all going to end.
Suddenly, the front door slams.
Greta gasps; takes a deep breath; mutters Goodness me,
to herself. He seems to have gone out.
This is unheard of Frank leaving the house late in the
afternoon. What can it mean?
*
Exactly one hour later the front door slams again. In all its
unexciting life, the door has never been ill-treated, and yet
here it is, rocked off its hinges twice in one day; and by Frank,
no less.
Greta waits, hearing his footsteps on the tiled vestibule
floor, speculating as to his mood; and hers, come to think of it.
She hears the kitchen door open and close, then the pause
while her husband tries to figure out where she might be. This
is new territory for them both: neither of them is where they
should be, considering this is a holiday, when Greta is always
in the kitchen making tea, and Frank is always in the lounge
snoozing in front of the telly. How utterly unnerving to be
living without a script!
The lounge door swings open and Franks voice reaches
her ears.

Oh, here you are, he begins accusingly, and Greta turns


to look at him.
Have you eaten? she feels obliged to ask.
Of course I havent eaten. Have you?
Yes, I was pretty hungry.
Its as if shes told him she was planning to blow up the
local shopping mall: an expression of pure horror suffuses her
husbands face, and he sits down heavily on the nearest chair.
Did youdid you leave anything for me?
As its the very first time that Frank has stuttered. Greta
doesnt know what to make of it, but her primary school
teacher always said she was a quick learner, and now she
spots a tiny chink in her husbands armour. Time to
consolidate
Well, theres pizza. Frank hates all things Italian; all
things foreign actually. Or theres Welsh rarebit, both in the
oven.
Keeping warm, you mean?
Greta can hardly believe the hesitancy in his voice. Is that
all she has to do when she wants her own way tell the truth?
Yes, Frank, keeping warm. Do you need me to serve it
out? she asks kindly, unable to fathom out why she hasnt
jumped up immediately to scurry off to the kitchen. She was
always doing that: first for Frank, then for the kids, then for
the Franks cronies, and the WRI, and the Rotary Club; not to
mention the odd passing vagrant.
And tonight she decides that she is never going to do it
again; ever. Will it be possible? Is it even desirable? No, it
would just be for tonight, to teach Frank a lesson.
Ill go and eat then, Frank informs her, but nicely, and
she holds her breath as he leaves the room.
Its hard to imagine a side of Frank that has nothing to do
with SELF. Greta wonders if she should pop through, check
that hes not ill?
After five minutes she becomes restless, but restrains
herself not for the first time that day because, somehow,
and she hasnt had time to analyse it, her entire future depends

on not going into the kitchen. If she ever said it aloud, theyd
cart her off to an institution.
Refraining from jumping up and rushing to serve Frank
causes her so much distress that Greta is shocked: is this really
the first time in her married life that Frank has to fend for
himself? It doesnt seem possible but it is.
Ten minutes pass; now twenty, but at the precise moment
she decides to go and see what hes doing, the door opens and
Frank appears, complete with the Sunday Times and Gretas
credulity is stretched to its limit a mug of coffee!
How on earth her husband had known where to find
coffee and sugar would have to remain a mystery, for she can
hardly ask him, but it is, as they say in magazines, a defining
moment. Greta could have staked her life on Franks inability
nay, unwillingness to make his own mug of coffee, and
yet, here he is, sitting opposite her, taking a sip of something
shed had no hand in making.
Euphoria sets in; shes tempted to phone the kids,
especially Phoebe, who has always advocated the whole
Womens Lib thing.
Look, Greta, she hears Frank say humbly, which causes
her no end of guilt. Lets say no more about this, eh, get back
to where we were.
It isnt exactly a question, so, perversely, Greta feels
under no obligation to answer it, at which Frank shoots her a
look that almost prompts her into saying something; for
instance:
Remind me where were we before we reached a place
we had to get back to?
When she remains silent, Frank tries again.
Im sorry you took things the wrong way. I never meant
to stop you singing.
It was more like humming really, contradicts Greta
obligingly. And youre quite right. It must be annoying for
you.

Its not. I dont know why I said it. I like to hear you sing
humming around the house.
Ill bet, thinks Greta grimly, getting the hang of it now.
So you can pinpoint where I am; check that Im getting
through my chores.
Well, Ive been thinking, she muses aloud. If I were
you, Frank, my humming would annoy me. You did me a
favour by telling me. You may consider my humming days to
be over.
Greta, honestly. Frank forces a laugh. Your little
snatches of song are part of you. I cant imagine you without
them. Or the house, for that matter. No, I insist demand
that you sing all day long, and theres an end to it.
Greta smiles at him, which he takes as acquiescence, and
for the time being, she lets it go. But something has happened
to Greta Stevenson today, the sixteenth of February, although
shes not quite sure what. The one thing she does suspect is
that life more specifically her life might never be the same
again.
How extremely odd.

Two

On Tuesday morning, whilst Frank is at work, Greta hums and


sings her way through the chores: dusting and polishing;
hanging out the washing; ironing and bed making. At ten
thirty, which is her usual time for coffee, she sits in the
conservatory warmed by a generous winter sun and,
instead of reading her current library book, decides to start a
list of grievances; hers, of course.
At the outset she feels a trifle guilty: if it has taken her
this long to get round to her husbands shortcomings, then
they cant have caused her that much chagrin. After all, she
has two lovely girls, a beautiful home, no hectic career to
juggle with home life, and a husband who doesnt beat her up
or sniff glue or whatever they call it nowadays. So, what
exactly is her grouse?
Immediately, she endures the memory of the look Frank
had given her the village idiot look thats still too fresh to
ignore.
She could have sworn that he had never given her such a
look before; yet, youd have to have rehearsed such an
expression; it isnt one you can just pull out at the last minute.
No, its definitely one that you have to practise, and over a
considerable period of time. Greta isnt a complete fool: just
because shes chosen not to delve too deeply into the whys
and wherefores of her marriage doesnt mean that shes
incapable of doing so now.
So, its head down and back to the list, black pen poised.

1) He never wants to go to places she suggests.


2) They always visit his parents on Thursday nights.
3) He absolutely refuses to help her around the house,
even with heavy lifting.
4) She isnt allowed flowers in the house.
5) Meals simply have to be on the table at set times.
The pen halts. Shes happy shes made a start. The next
step is to examine and analyse.
Number one: going to places where they served any kind
of weird food was never considered; he wouldnt even
discuss it now.
But, darling, Greta had once cajoled probably twentythree years ago they serve English food too steak roast
potatoes things like that.
No, Frank had countered, they had no idea how to cook
English food, so there was no more to be said, and if she did
dare to say more, it brought on one of his migraine headaches
(oh, yes, that was number six).
As for the Thursday night parents visit, it didnt matter
what had cropped up being heavily pregnant with Phoebe,
for example, and being rushed to the matty ward right after his
mothers stodgy rice pudding Thursday evenings were
sacrosanct and there was nothing more to be said on that
either.
Greta skips the one about not helping around the house.
After all, he does spend eight hours a day at work, not to
mention two hours on the road, and weekend business
meetings somewhere in the north of England.
Fairs fair, she decides charitably, moving on to the more
contentious issue of no flowers indoors. This is serious: if
there is anything more important to Gretas inner happiness it
has to be flowers. People come from miles around to admire
her tubs and hanging baskets; in fact, she has countless firsts
and highly recommendeds from the local gardening club.
Frank is the only person in the Universe who seems oblivious
to her prowess in the flower department, and now post that
look Greta is beginning to suspect subterfuge.

With a growing sense of dissatisfaction, she gazes at the


fifth grievance; knows shes not the only wife in the area
whose spouse demands that his stomach be filled at precise
times: Molly along the road keeps rushing off from friendly
chats at the crossroads with exclamations such as:
Oh, no, is that the time? Must dash! and Cant linger,
dear, Donalds due back any minute!
But, Molly is sixty-one and that was the kind of marriage
you seemed to end up with if you were that age. Greta is only
just into her forties, a modern woman, independent,
resourceful, a free thinker. Isnt she?
Her mood fast turning into resentment, she drinks the last
of her coffee. Time to start sewing the new swags and tails for
the lounge, which she hates calling the lounge, she reminds
herself. Shed wanted to call it the sitting room, but Frank
had corrected her early on in their marriage (his reason
escapes her now) and it had been his damned lounge ever
since.
Right, she declares to an empty conservatory (no plants,
even in here, Frank had warned, because of the likelihood of
sloshed water all over the floor). Im off to survey the sitting
room.
*
At half past six precisely, Frank walks into the kitchen
and discovers that his meal is not on the table; in fact, there
are no signs of preparation; or of his wife.
Oh, she can see him from her position in the shrubbery as
he wanders past the lit windows and then stands perfectly still
in the middle of the room, for at least five minutes. Greta
wonders what he can be thinking, since it must be the first
time in their life together apart from the two spells in the
maternity ward that hes come home to an empty kitchen.

Greta sneaks out of the back gate and down to the phone
box, where she extracts the coin from her pocket and dials
Lottie next door.
Hi, Lottie, its me. Are you busy?
Nothing that cant keep, why?
Dyou mind popping out for ten minutes?
Theres a pause, presumably while Lottie checks her
watch, and now she replies slowly:
Is everything OK?
Yes, fine.
What about Franks dinner?
Needlessly, Greta blushes and bites back a hasty retort.
Lotties question is perfectly understandable: for as long as
theyve known each other and thats over twelve years
Gretas habit is to be in her kitchen at this time, to the
exclusion of all else, including the odd phone call from her
neighbour. So, no point in point-scoring
Let me worry about Franks dinner. Im in the phone
box, by the way.
Is anything wrong?
Im having a mid-life crisis.
Dont move. Im coming to get you.
By the time Greta has extricated herself from the
incredibly possessive door of the phone box, Lottie is at her
side, Thinsulate hat at the usual rakish angle and eyes wide
with curiosity.
So, what can I do? is her first reaction, and Greta feels
like hugging her friend.
You can come in with me and say your kitchen blew up
and Ive to help you save one of your cats.
No, seriously.
What about your hair then? You were washing it and the
shower attachment broke and sprayed water all over the place
and Ive to help dry things off?
By the light of the street lamp Greta can see the shake of
Lotties head.
Dont think hed buy either of them. Try again.