This is the first chapter of one of my NaNoWriMo novels which I unearthed this morning and was surprisingly fond of.
It was four o’clock on a quiet Friday afternoon when Maggie burst into the shop, a mass of untamed frizzy hair and multi-hued chunky knitwear propelled by her characteristic unbridled enthusiasm. She dumped the load of wicker baskets she was carrying onto the floor and turned back to close the door with a flourish.
Evie was so lost in the display she was working on – a beautiful amalgamation of lilies, chrysanthemums and peonies that had been ordered for a christening – she didn’t even register the tinkling of the cowbell on the front door. Biting her lip with concentration, she tucked the last peony into the moist block of oasis with the same careful softness of a woman tucking her child into bed. A snort alerted her to her eccentric friend’s presence, and she looked up.
“Jesus Evie,” said Maggie with a smirk, “that’s one hell of a scary face you make when you’re lost in the land of hearts and flowers. If you do that when you’re out on the pull it’s no wonder you’re still single.”
“Thanks a lot!” Evie grabbed a length of twine from the counter and leaned over to take a swipe at her friend.
“You’re welcome,” Maggie said, her plump red lips stretching across her freckled face into a deliberately grotesque grin. She surveyed the display in front of her and nodded. “Very nice indeed. You know, I really think you’ve got a knack for flower arranging. I might just have to hang onto you.”
“Grab that, will you?” Evie said, ignoring the compliment and gesturing to an empty box on the floor. Maggie brought it over to the counter and in amiable silence they together transferred the flower display into it.
As Evie busied herself with curling lengths of baby pink ribbon, Maggie rolled up the sleeves on what Evie affectionately referred to as her multi-coloured dream coat and pulled over a three-legged stool from the far corner of the shop. She sat down and leaned conspiratorially towards her friend.
“So,” she began, and Evie rolled her eyes. “What? I haven’t even said anything yet!”
“You don’t need to, Mags. I can tell by the look on your face I’m not going to like whatever it is you do have to say.”
“Well bollocks to you then!” Maggie leaned back and folded her arms across her chest in mock irritation.
“Okay, okay,” said Evie, holding up her hands in acquiescence. “Hit me with it.”
“We’re going out. Tonight. You and me. In town.”
“What about Dependable Danny?”
“Dependable Danny’s seeing his ex this weekend.”
Evie put down her ribbon “And we’re okay with this because..?”
Maggie laughed. “We don’t call him Dependable Danny for nothing, remember? There’s as much chance of that man fooling around with another woman as there is of the Pope renouncing Catholicism. And besides, it’s their kid’s birthday. They’re taking him to Thorpe Park.” She paused. “Evie, are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Evie said with a weary sigh. “It’s just – well, you know.”
Maggie slapped her hand to her forehead and groaned. “God, Evie, I’m sorry. That was such a flippant comment. You know, sometimes I really do think I should have my mouth stapled up. It might solve a lot of the world’s problems. Not poverty and war, granted, but it might just eradicate foot in mouth disease.”
Evie laughed. “Don’t worry Mags. It’s fine.”
Maggie took her friend’s hand and kissed it. “But are you?”
“Of course.” With her free hand she tugged at her hair elastic and her mass of curly dark hair cascaded Venus-like down her back. She ran her fingers through it, teasing out the knots that always seemed to form during a day in the shop, no matter how many products she treated it with.
“You haven’t…you know..?”
Evie looked at her blankly. “Haven’t what?”
“You know…heard from Rob?”
Now it was Evie’s turn to snort. “Why would I have heard from him?” She shrugged. “There’s nothing left to say.”
“I can certainly think of a few choice words I’d like to say to the lying little tosser,” Maggie said with conviction.
Evie pulled her hand free and stood up. “I know you can Mags, and so can I. But what’s the point? What’s done is done. There’s really no point in dwelling on it. The best way to get revenge is to show him I’ve moved on. There’s nothing big or clever about entering into slanging matches with an ex. It’s a waste of time and energy.” She stopped. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
The thoughtful expression on Maggie’s impish face gave way to a warm smile. “Because I’m proud of you. You’ve come so far since that shit-bag did the dirty on you.”
“Yeah, well, we’re six months down the line now.”
“That’s not the point. You could have fallen apart. Plenty of women do when that happens to them. But you didn’t. You stayed strong.”
“So you wouldn’t call quitting a high powered job in the city to work in your friend’s florist shop a falling apart of sorts?”
“Not at all, you’ve just reassessed your priorities. Taken some much needed time out from what was a ridiculously hectic lifestyle. Jesus, Evie, I barely even saw you for the best part of four years. Your family barely even saw you. Hell, much as I hate to bring him up, your husband barely even saw you.”
“Which might go some way towards explaining his more recent behaviour, some might say.”
“Well they’d be wrong, because there’s no excuse for doing to another human being what he did to you. None whatsoever. You have got to stop beating yourself up over this Evie. I mean-” She stopped mid-sentence to pick up the phone, which was trilling in its cradle. “Back to the Fuschia, good afternoon? Ah, Mrs Braithwaite, yes, I’m glad you called. We’ve had some problems sourcing the African violets-yes, yes, I am aware they’re an integral part of your daughter’s wedding but you see the particular genus you requested is actually very rare-endangered even-and whilst we could certainly get hold of a quantity of the regular variety-”
Maggie threw her hands in the air and pulled a face at Evie, who winced in sympathy and made a t-shape with her hand. Maggie nodded and continued, her voice sounding more strained with every second.
“Yes, I quite understand how important it is to get every detail right…yes, I appreciate you could take your business elsewhere, but I’m quite sure you’ll find that other florists will say the same thing. It’s simply not possible to source enough African violets to fill a ballroom Mrs Braithwaite, certainly not at this time of year, anyway. Right, yes, I understand. Goodbye, Mrs Braithwaite.”
“That sounded painful,” Evie said moments later as she emerged from the back room, tray in hand. She set it down and began pouring the tea.
“That bloody woman has been the bane of my life for the past two sodding months,” Maggie said, fumbling underneath the table and triumphantly pulling out a packet of half eaten chocolate digestives. She offered one to Evie, who shook her head, then shoved a whole one in her mouth and chewed it furiously. “Well,” she continued, crumbs spilling onto her top, “she can stick her daughter’s posh wedding up her trumped up arse for all I care. I hope it’s a total bloody disaster and no florist in the land is able to get her African bloody violets.”
“Who’d have thought the life of a florist could be so stressful?” Evie said with a smile. “Come on Mags, forget about it. Tell me what your grand master plan is for tonight instead.”
“We-ell,” said Mags, taking a big gulp of tea, “we’re going to a school disco.”
Evie stared at her for a moment. “A school disco?”
“And not just any school disco, either. The school disco. You know, the one they do in Hammersmith.”
“Still not sure I’m following you here Mags. You and me going to a school disco? I’m staring down the barrel of thirty and you’ve already climbed into the barrel and been shot out the other side. Why on earth would we want to surround ourselves with nubile young girls and pre-pubescent boys – most of whom are young enough to be our children, I might add, and all of whom are far more attractive than ourselves,”
“Hey, speak for yourself!” said Maggie, waving a tea-soaked digestive in the air in protest.
“And,” Evie continued, ignoring her friend’s objection, “whose sole intention it is to drink so much vodka and red bull they lose consciousness and end up spending the night with a stomach pump for company rather than someone of the opposite sex.”
“I had a feeling I’d face stiff opposition on this.”
“Well then I’m happy to confirm that your instincts, if not your mind, are still fully intact.”
“Which is why I took the liberty of not only booking tickets to aforementioned disco but also sourcing our outfits prior to inviting you. Oh – and I’ve also taken the liberty of enlisting a certain someone to help convince you.” The cowbell rang out from behind Evie and she jumped. “Ah, perfect timing Senor.”
“Darleengs,” said a high-pitched male voice.
Evie turned around and regarded Alfonso, the flamboyant gay owner of the unoriginally titled Alfonso’s Deli on Bromley High Street. He claimed to be in his thirties, but Evie had long suspected this to be about as true as his claim to have been a famous dancer in his native Spain during his twenties (some months previously Maggie had discovered in an internet search that he had, in fact, been part of a travelling circus troupe, which, whilst no less impressive, had cemented their appraisal of him as a fantasist). Today he was wearing shiny black trousers with a black ruffled shirt, and his (dyed) jet black hair was swept across his face, Marilyn Manson style. His stack-heeled shoes belied his diminutive size – without them he barely reached Evie’s shoulders, and she was only five foot six.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Evie said, greeting Alfonso with a hug.
“Of course not darleeng,” he said, “and to prove it look here, I have our outfeets.” He held up two dry cleaning bags and thrust them into Evie’s arms.
“So this is what my life’s come to,” she said, stifling a giggle. “Married, divorced, and now going to a school disco at the age of 29 with a mad old florist and a queer from the local delicatessen.”
“I take exception to the word ‘old’ in that sentence,” Maggie said, pulling the freshly laundered school uniforms out of their cellophane covers and holding a skirt up to her waist for size.
“And I take exception to the word ‘local’,” said Alfonso, pulling a pair of grey flannel shorts on over his trousers, “Alfonso’s Delicatessen is an eenternational operation.”
Evie laughed as Maggie and Alfonso strutted up and down the shop in their respective apparel. “You both look thoroughly ridiculous.”
“Come on,” Maggie said, throwing a second skirt to Evie, “live a little. You never know, you might like it.”
Evie walked to the door, flipped the sign to CLOSED and turned back to her friends. “Wine,” she said, “there must be plenty of wine. That is my only prerequisite.”
“I think we can do better than that darleeng,” Alfonso said, producing a bottle of champagne from his cavernous man-bag. “Tonight we will drink like Keengs!”
This is one of the many pictures I took at Singapore Zoo last year in their flower garden – doesn’t really need more explanation than that!