BIG BLONDE

 

 

“I can still pull them,” the neighbour says over the fence as our young gardener hops into his truck and toots goodbye.  She turns her gaze on him into a little pout. His civil nod to her is taken as a sign he fancies her. We call her Big Blonde.

“Nobody believes I’m 62,” she says drawing herself up, tossing her long blonde hair and running her eyes critically over my hideous gardening clothes. She’s wearing tight white shorts and a black bandana, which I have to say I couldn’t get away with, though I’m twenty years younger.

“I’m going in for the national glamorous grandmother competition, what d’you think?”

She’s tall, well built, walks well, but the face is one she has brought on herself.

“Well, depends what are the others are like, doesn’t it?”

“Others?  They’ll be old bags who knit and do good deeds for animals or some crap like that.”

She’s angry that I haven’t said she’ll win the competition.  Handing me a pen and paper, she says,

“Can you sign this?”

I read out loud,

“This is to sponsor my wonderful neighbour, Kayleigh Jones, as a candidate for…”

“No, no, you don’t have to read it, just sign it!”

“No, it’s nothing to do with me.”

I thrust it back at her.

“Well, get Mike to sign it, he’ll happily do it, or your kid.”

My husband and son are 20 and 44 years younger than she is and hide behind cars, trees, anything to avoid her with her constant nagging to bring in the bin, fix her computer or look at her car.

Kayleigh’s eyes are saying awful things as I turn round and go inside.

 

The cat remark stung, though, she knows I work for the Cats’ Protection League. Her old cat, Binky, ended up living with our three for the last year of his life. She told me in a very loud voice after he’d voted with his feet,

“He’s turned against me, I can’t stand him,” and just stopped feeding him.

– – –

It’s a warm autumn day and Mrs Rogers from number 72 is walking past our gate, leaning on her stick.

“Good morning, dear,” she stands up a bit straighter.

“Hello, Mrs Rogers, if you’re off to the shops we can walk together.”

“…off to the shops, dear.’

We fall into step.

This lady is my fount of local wisdom and knowledge, though her frail and ladylike demeanor belies this.

“Do you need groceries?”

“….need groceries.”

“They’re going to chop down this tree, did you know? It has some sort of disease that can spread for  miles if other trees catch it.”

“…….trees catch it.”

We walk along and she inclines her head to number 186.

“That’s up for sale, poor dears, divorce. Affair. Him.”

For years she has uttered a meaningful sentence or two on the neighbourhood every time I’ve spoken to her, despite seeming to be an ancient and dotty lady.

Kayleigh Jones walks towards us, glaring at me.

“Well, I’ve been chosen as one of the twenty finalists in the glamorous grandmother competition!” she says triumphantly.

“……grandmother competition,” Mrs Rogers says.

Glamorous grandmother competition, I said!”

Kayleigh’s offended, glares at us both, flounces, then walks on.

“Not a nice person, nice person.”

Mrs Rogers’ tone is the same as if she’d been saying “I’d like a pound of potatoes please.”

– – –

The carpet’s being laid in time for winter. The men have been here for an hour, with frequent trips to the truck. I’ve warned them – as I do any man who’ll be in the vicinity for longer than three minutes-  to ignore Kayleigh if she asks for anything. I can see one of them, hands on hips, shaking his head, while she moves in so close it looks as though they’ll kiss.

“She wants me to take a table and chairs to the tip!”

He’s laughing as he comes in.

“Fat chance, I told her…..she’s wotchacallit……um, entitled. I thought you were exaggerating but she’s very…”

“Yes, she’s very…..” I laugh.

She’s been stopped this time.  Good.

An hour later her determination has escalated. The doorbell goes.

“I need those men laying your carpet to take some bags of soil into my back garden.”

“Good morning. No, they’re here to put carpet down.”

“Look, it will only take them three minutes, I’ve got the boot open. Otherwise who is there to help me?”

Who indeed?  She has alienated her family and most of the neighbourhood with her constant demands, to the extent that even catching her eye is dangerous.

Fifteen minutes later, steaming with indignation and bringing our wheelbarrow back, I leave her house having carried six 40 litre sacks through to the back of the house. I flop down at the kitchen table, but the doorbell goes immediately.

“You left my front door open on the way out!” she yells.

– – –

Spring arrives.  After a hard winter it’s lovely to see nature’s annual push begin. It’s rush hour on our busy road and the traffic is at a standstill in the late afternoon. Kayleigh walks down her path and, instead of using the crossing on the corner, pursues her spring-to-autumn habit of weaving her way in and out of the traffic. The generous breasts are unharnessed and set off in the black halter top . She trails her hand over the bonnet of a low slung sports car. The man behind the wheel yells “Hey, you, hands off!” but she ignores him, finishes her trail.

I walk towards her on the way home from the Cat League shop. Our branch may have to close as we’re not doing well. Donations are down, the quality too.  Money is tight, people are hard up these days. We’re having a quiz night to boost funds, and racking our brains about how to keep going. As Kayleigh reaches the footpath, a pink ticket flutters down into the gutter. My instinct is to tell her to pick it up as she walks on, but what’s the point when she’ll make a fight of it? I’m waiting for the lights to change, the traffic to stop again, when I see it’s a Euro Millions ticket. I pick it up. Lazy cow could have dumped it in her bin instead of dropping it.

Next day I fish around in my pocket while putting the jacket on, and the ticket falls out. It’s face up and on closer inspection there are three rows of numbers for next Friday.  I’ve never bought one myself, and wonder for a moment if I should give it back.  No, it won’t win, though I put it on the fridge with a cat magnet.

– – –

The quiz night was a great success, but financially hardly worth it.  Walking home, Mike says,

“Be realistic, Jen, it looks as though you’ll close.  Just over three hundred profit…..it seems hopeless.”

We arrive home, he opens the fridge to get a beer and the magnet falls off. The ticket’s on the floor.

“I need a sandwich, starving,” Mike says.

He’s digging in the bread bin, so I pick the ticket up and stick the magnet back. Five minutes later on the computer upstairs, I check the result.  It says four numbers and 2 extra’s (whatever they are) are correct.  It can’t be – the ticket’s worth 10,171.07 pounds!  Surely not.

I check it five more times, then lie awake the whole night sweating, debating whether it’s honest to collect it.  There’s nothing written on the back about who it belongs to.  I’m not telling Mike. Look at him lying there, snoring gently on his back while I could wave a wand and thrill him. He needs a new navigation system, and Jack’s computer’s broken, God, I could even have a makeover……get a hold, stay focused!  If I mention it, the money will disappear, unfairly.  It will have to be my secret.  I’m shaking as I phone Camelot next morning but it’s straightforward. Within five days 10,171.07 pounds is deposited into my almost empty account, not our joint one.

I phone the bank, feeling like a crook, and ask for it to be paid out in fifty pound notes.  Preferably used.  When I collect it I’m shown into an office, feted with coffee, biscuits and the bank manager.

“It’s quite a windfall, do you have plans for it?” he oils.

“Yes, it will help those in need.”

He has a needy look himself suddenly, as though he wants to tell me something tragic.

By the time I get home I’m shaking. It’s compact enough to fit into a shoe box, which is shoved under all the rest in my cupboard.

– – –

At the shop next day, we’re about to start on opening the latest donations. First, coffee. Leonie, Margaret and me.  Something we’ve done four days a week for the last ten years.

I open a black rubbish sack, the bag with the shoe box in it. I remove the lid.

“What? Look at this………money! Is it real?”

“There are thousands of pounds….”

“Wait, there’s some kind of note here,” I say.

“Read it, read it!”

They’re flicking through the notes, counting, sniffing. The money is real.

We’re all wobbling.

‘Dear Ladies of the Cat Protection League.  As a lifetime cat lover I admire your dedication to these wonderful animals.  I donate this money to your shop alone, on the condition that no efforts are made to identify me.  I have people close to me who will insist their need is greater, but I am old and my wish is that you have the money now to carry on with your wonderful work for felines.

Mr Cat.’

We’re all crying now, me with nerves and guilt, the others with emotion.

“I’ll bet its Stanley James, he’s just the type to do something like this,” Margaret weeps.

“I was thinking it was that tall, silent chap who comes in every week and always gives us a pound more than the bill,” Leonie says.

“That vegetarian hippy is my guess, he looks just the type,”  I say.

“How can we keep it secret?” Margaret sobs.

“We have to,” Leonie says.

“Well, we can tell the truth. Someone donated it, and wants to remain anonymous,” I tell them in a boss-like voice.

“Is that legal?” Leonie’s worried.

“Absolutely.”

I’ve spent hours checking many websites.

We drink more coffee, calm down, cry a bit more, calm down again and at midday close the shop and take the box to the shop’s bank a few streets away, where it is deposited into the account. No questions asked about deposits, though we’ve felt very small lately submitting our meagre offerings.  We can stay open!

On the way back I steer the girls into the wine shop and buy three bottles of chilled Bollinger (and yes, of course I did, I took a hundred quid out of the box before we went to the bank).

– – –

 Nicely oiled and in brilliant form, we glide through the rest of the busy afternoon on wings.

Half an hour before closing time, Kayleigh Jones comes in.

No! …. of all days…..

“Back in a minute.”

I rush out the back and lean against the door, hot with embarrassment and shame.

I’m sweating, shaking.  What if she knows? Don’t be ridiculous, how could she? It’s HER money and I stole it!  She dropped the ticket, you didn’t steal it. I should have given it back. The cats need it more………

Deep breaths, deep breaths, stay cool. She’ll have gone by now.

She’s still in the shop though, and comes up to me saying,

“I’m looking for a birthday present,” in her usual manner of expecting something spectacular.

“Have a look around, there’ll be something here,” I say, tidying the bookshelves maniacally.

Anything not to look at her.

Her eye falls on a Troika vase.  We priced it after looking at the antique guide a month ago. It’s worth well over two hundred pounds but, so far, nobody has been willing to fork out that much.

“I’ll give you twenty, after all it was a donation,” she says walking up to Margaret.

“There’s another nought on the end, I’m afraid,” comes the regretful answer.

“I just made you an offer, nobody else wants it. Boring. Grey and blue are so last century.”

She’s turning it, disdainfully, lays it down on the counter.

“It’s a collectable, well worth the price.”

Margaret is charming, the champagne adding molto sincerity to her answer.

She picks the vase up to put it back, but is stayed by Kayleigh’s hand.

“Wait, I’ll give you 160.”

I can feel the silent air-punching from Margaret and Leonie. We’d already decided to let it go for around a hundred if it hung around, as we all detest it.

“Jen, can we accept 160 on the Troika?” Margaret asks theatrically.

I turn.

“Well, we’ve had a good day today, let’s make someone happy.”

Kayleigh stares at me with an odd expression.

“160 it is then.”

Cats 2, Big Blonde O.

– – –

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