* * *
Come early Sunday evening Semple was tired but happy. The hours he had invested in arranging things for Miss H-V made him break from his usual schedule, and he worked both weekend days. By dinnertime he had amassed a goodly number of new pages. He momentarily reviewed the kitchen freezer’s contents before caving in and setting off to the pub.
The Red Lion’s décor dated from the ‘60s. Tobacco smoke permeated the furnishings and even, it seemed, the staff. Smoking in the establishment was strictly verboten now but that didn’t keep some of the Red Lion’s loyal clientele from trying to breath in the past as they lingered over their backgammon and pints of bitter.
Semple ordered his food at the bar and carried his ale to the corner booth that he and Emma called their “royal box.” The cracked red vinyl upholstery sighed as he settled onto it. When was the last time Emma and I visited the pub before her death? How can I not remember? Did the tapestry of their years together already have holes in it?
“You’re for bangers and mash?”
Semple glanced at the woman standing beside the booth. She repeated the query. “I said, bangers and mash?”
“Sorry, Miss. I’m afraid I was, uh, gathering wool.”
The waitress, whose nametag read “Tacy,” set down the plate. She had a pleasant smile and didn’t smell of ancient tobacco smoke.
“No worries. I am Gerald’s daughter. I started here last week. Newly back in town, you see.”
Semple vaguely recalled having heard that Gerald and Maxine Bronwell had a daughter. Tacy appeared to be in her mid-thirties, buxom, with green eyes and curly black hair. They shook hands and Semple gave his name. “Enjoy your supper, Mr. Semple. Another of the same?”
Tacy swept away with his empty mug. He rubbed his forehead. Why did it feel as though an electric spark passed between them? With an impatient “tut-tut” Semple picked up his knife and fork.
Nothing else out of the ordinary occurred during the balance of his meal. It was a darts night, and the pub was becoming crowded as he spooned up the last of his sticky toffee pudding. Tacy was so busy that she only had time to drop off Semple’s bill. She thanked him and hoped to serve him again soon.
Semple paused in the act of locking the front door, remembering with a start that tomorrow was Miss H-V’s inaugural day. He gave the bedroom and lavatory the once-over, even though he knew everything was in readiness.
In the lav he brushed teeth and flossed. The face in the cabinet mirror was that of a man in the early stages of developing a double chin. Semple’s medium brown hair was still luxuriant, with a smattering of grey. Not bad, all things considered. He was taken aback when a vivid mental picture of Tacy Bronwell replaced the thought. The last thing I need right now is an emotional entanglement.
Even after a year of being a widower Semple kept to what had always been his side of the bed. He set the alarm for six o’clock and got under the sheet.
Tomorrow I must make up for lost time. I hope to heaven that Miss H-V can settle in without my help . . .
* * *
Eyes shut, Semple felt around on the nightstand for the clock radio. Once the offending device was silenced he noticed a wonderful smell. Emma must have decided to try out a delicious new recipe, to get his busy day off to a good start. How thoughtful of her. “Darling, I cannot wait to taste that dish. What is it called?”
A field of stars hovered above Semple’s face. Dressed in the same long skirt and blouse she’d worn when first he met her, Miss H-V stood beside the bed, a tray in her hands.
“How long have you been here? How did you get into the house?”
“I used this, of course.” Miss H-V held up a key taken from her apron pocket. “I was in the kitchen at five-thirty, as I like making an early start.”
Unlike many of their neighbors, the Semples didn’t conceal a spare door key beneath a flowerpot on the porch. Semple chuckled at his wife’s suggestion of hiding one inside a “fairy door” but that didn’t keep Emma from purchasing one online that was modeled after Dr. Who’s Tardis. Before long the Time Lord’s vehicle was installed in a leafy niche in the front garden, a shiny new key inside it.
“Eat. They are getting cold.” The housekeeper unfolded the tray legs and set it down. Semple made short work of the plateful of savoury crêpes, topped with apricot jam, sugar and crushed walnuts. He started to thank Miss H-V for a superb breakfast but he was alone.
Hm. I must have been looking away when she left the room.
[© 2018 Robert Edwin Stone, II]