Chloe phoned just after nine this morning to apologise that she wouldn’t be able to make our session – her car had broken down again. I was a little disappointed, though not totally surprised, given how we met. Since the sun was shining, despite the cold, I thought I’d go for a walk anyway.
I was partway round the circuit that I did last week with Chloe when a car pulled up alongside me – Verity, with her mum looking a little pale in the passenger seat.
“Thanks so much for sorting out Hedonism for me,” she bellowed over the not-so-dulcet sounds of Radio 2 at full volume. “Say hello, Mum,” she added, nudging her mother.
Ronnie peered across at me. “Hello, dear. Are you coming round later? I’m not sure I can cope with everything this madam has planned for me – I’m supposed to be convalescing!”
Verity caught my eye and gave the slightest of shakes with her head.
“Sorry, Ronnie, another time, maybe. I’ve already something organised for this afternoon.”
Ronnie slumped back into her seat, doubtless en route to a spa session or an aromatherapy massage. Verity likes to treat her mum but doesn’t always ask what her mum would like. Poor Ronnie.
“I’ll call you,” Verity yelled, and winding the window up again, pulled away, oblivious to the traffic building up behind her.
After my walk, I tried phoning Deirdre again. I wasn’t really expecting her to answer but was a little surprised to get the ‘number unobtainable’ tone. Flicking through the pages of the newsletter, I found another phone number, this time for the editor, Annie. This time I had more success.
“I wasn’t really sure what to do, and I can’t seem to get hold of Deirdre,” I told Annie when she answered.
“Haven’t you heard? No, don’t do that, Pippa. No, put it down. Down. I said, down. Sorry, can you call back in about five minutes,” Annie said, and abruptly hung up.
I looked at the receiver startled, wondering if she really had just hung up on me, made myself a cup of coffee, and after about ten minutes, tried Annie’s number again.
“Sorry about that,” Annie said, a little breathlessly when she finally answered. “Pippa’s only started with me today and she had decided that putting the guinea pig in the washing machine was a good idea.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Pippa, one of the children I child-mind. She’s quite sweet but not awfully bright and has no idea about animals. The poor thing was being held upside-down anyway, so the washing machine was probably an improvement.”
I decided not to ask whether the washing machine had been full of hot water at the time and headed straight for the information she had been about to tell me on my previous phone call.
“I’m surprised you haven’t heard,” Annie said, when I repeated my concerns about the absence of information regarding the cheques I’d received. “It’s been all around the playground in gruesome detail.”
I pointed out that my children were rather too old to necessitate my hanging around the playground in the hope of some juicy gossip, and begged to be informed.
“Her Kevin’s been beating her for years, I mean, we all knew that. And finally she snapped. Took herself down to A&E and told the police about it too. Kevin did a runner initially but my Andy, who works down at the emergency exchange, says that the police went through all his things and tracked down some old mates of his in Newcastle who handed him over. Deirdre was in hospital at first and then in police protection or whatever they call it.”
“Oh.” That would explain the police car I’d seen outside the house.
“So Deirdre needs to stay with some relative or other that Kevin’s never heard of until his case is heard and he gets sentenced. One of the nurses up on the ward is the mother of one of the kids I child-mind, and she says that the photos they’ve got will convict him, easy.”
I wondered briefly about the old war adage of ‘loose lips sink ships’ but Annie was in full flow so there was little point criticising her – it was all I could do to bring her back to the subject of the newsletter.
“Just bring the cheques over here and I can give you the bank details,” she told me. “Then you can pay them in.”
She made it all sound terribly simple so I decided not to mention the chaos that had taken over my dining room table for nearly a week and headed over to her house, armed with some cookies and the cheques.
Pippa, it turned out, had a nut allergy, but the three other children she was attempting to entertain were more than happy to demolish the container of biscuits. “These are really good, Miss,” five-year-old Ellie told me. “You should sell them in a shop.”
“I hope to,” I told her, my best serious face on.
Annie rummaged through a pile of papers on a heavily overburdened desk and found a slop of paper with some bank account details on it. “This should be it,” she said. “Though there might be an extra nought at the beginning. I can’t remember if we added it on or not. Pippa, no, you can’t.”
Pippa sadly took her hand away from the biscuit container.
“Maybe next time I’ll bring some that you can eat,” I said. Her grubby face lit up.
“Better make it dairy-free too,” Annie warned me. “She’s a bit lactose intolerant. Goes straight through her. If you wouldn’t mind.”
When I got back, there was a message on 1571 from Celeste. “Hi mum, hope you’re adjusting to your haircut! Just wanted to let you know that I’m fine, everything’s going well and you’re not to worry. Bye! Oh, and if you could join the 21st century and get on Facebook, that would be really good. Bye!”
As if I would have time for Facebook! By the time I’d finished the cleaning, washing and ironing, it was time to cook some dinner for the OH and then collapse in front of the TV – him upstairs, watching the football, obviously – with a large glass of red wine. I’m not sure how Annie copes with four small children all day. But now at least I know why Deirdre wasn’t answering her phone.