the fantastic three

I’ve stopped outside to chat to Enid’s next door neighbour, Sam. He’s an extraordinary-looking man – craggy as an outcrop of granite, growl-voiced, huge hands. He reminds me of The Thing in The Fantastic Four, but retired now, packed into a rumpled suit and hat, given to walking with a stick.
‘It’s a terrible business,’ says Sam, ‘Terrible. Did you think it was cold in there?’
‘It was cold. I told her I thought she should turn the heating up, but she said she used to run a florist’s shop and she was used to it chilly. It kept the blooms fresh.’
‘Well it’s not keeping her fresh. If anything she’s gone downhill. You know she heats her water in a pan on the gas?’
‘I saw.’
‘How the house hasn’t burned down I don’t know…’
Whilst we’re talking, a brisk elderly woman dressed almost entirely in red heads straight towards us along the pavement.
‘Oh – watch out,’ says Sam. ‘Here’s Gladys.’
Before I can think much about that,  Gladys stops in front of us, points at me and says: ‘I know you.’
‘Do you?’
She stares at me.
‘Don’t tell me,’ she says.
‘I wish I could…’
She considers the problem, then points at me again.
‘Your wife’s name is Katherine and you have two girls, Martha and Jess.’
‘Wow! That’s amazing!’
‘You could go on the stage with that,’ says Sam.
‘…and your name…your name is something like Tim. No – Tom. No – John.’
‘Jim.’
‘Jim! That’s it! Jim! I knew I knew you.’
‘Well, well,’ says Sam. ‘Small world.’
‘I’m really sorry but I can’t seem to…’
‘Gladys,’ she says, holding out her hand. ‘I used to have lunch with your mother-in-law, Annette.’
‘Gladys!’ I say, shaking her hand even more warmly. ‘Curtain Gladys!’
‘Eh?’ says Sam. ‘That’s a new one.’
‘Gladys made Annette a pair of curtains once. Sorry, Gladys!  It’s been a while.’
‘And out of context!’ she says, brightly. ‘Now then – about poor Enid…’

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