Good Friday morning and I am having a late breakfast and listening to Bach’s St Matthew Passion on the radio. As the final chords die away, the phone rings. It is the Finance Director.
“I’m sorry to bother you on your day off,” he says, “but a couple of things have come up. Do you think you could come in for a couple of hours? I would prefer not to leave them until Tuesday. They could probably have waited if it hadn’t been for the bank holiday on Monday.”
I don’t suppose he is sorry at all. Nor am I surprised. He is supposed to be providing cover: working today but not Monday, and I had agreed to cover Monday and take the Friday off, but he always gets twitchy when he is in the office and I am not.
Since I haven’t got anything planned and the weather is typical for a bank holiday — raining; in fact it is siling down — I agree to go in on the understanding I get paid for the whole day.
When I get to work, I go and see the FD in his office.
“Thanks for coming in,” he says. “I have had this email from the Sales Director about one of our major customers asking about sending in orders and us sending them invoices through EDI, whatever that is. I have asked Mike to come in and explain. I assume we can do it.”
Electronic Data Interchange? This has raised its ugly head before and I know our klunky old system will struggle to handle it. It is going to cost. Mike can tell him that, preferably with plenty head shaking and teeth sucking. Maybe I can ask a few awkward questions and between us we might persuade the FD it is time to get on with replacing the system.
“While we are waiting for Mike, there is something else we need to talk about.” He doesn’t sound very pleased with me. “Eadie tells me two of the girls have resigned by text this morning. Something to do with some Easter eggs you handed round yesterday. We cannot have you upsetting all the staff,” he says, putting on his HR hat. “We can’t risk having a claim for unfair or constructive dismissal.”
Eadie? Ah, I forgot he has a soft spot for Edith. They have both been with the company for ages, and I suspect she has dug him out of more than a few holes over the years.
I explain about the eggs and the mottos and how the packet was sealed when I gave it to Edith and all the girls chose their own eggs. I had no idea what the mottos would be and no input to who got what.
“If the cap fits,” I say, “wear it.”
“Humpf. That’s what Eadie said. We could still be vicariously liable for bullying. Apparently all the other girls laughed when these mottos were read out.”
“They were all laughing at all the mottos. Who are they that have resigned and what were the mottos?”
The FD names the two girls. The mottos were both mock job references: ‘This person has done their best work for us’ and ‘You will do well if you can get this person to work for you.’ I have to smile, both are pretty much on the mark. He goes on to say that neither got the joke until they got home and someone explained. They were not amused.
“Off the record,” l say, “no great loss, either of them. Edith and I have been wondering how to get rid of them.”
“Humpf. That’s also what Eadie said. One we could manage without at least until we could recruit a replacement, but two will make us short-handed as we head into the summer and people start to take their holidays. You had better see if you can find at least one temp until we can get some permanent staff.”
I nod my head in acknowledgment. A temp. That’s a first. I don’t think we have had a temp as long as I have been with the company.
“I’ll get on to it on Tuesday,” I say just as Mike comes marching into the room. He doesn’t look happy at being called in.
The FD tells us about the EDI request. Mike dutifully does the requisite head shaking and teeth sucking. He and I are at opposite ends of the FD’s desk so we can signal to each other and keep ourselves singing from the same hymn sheet.
Mike explains that, in principle, EDI is quite straightforward as long as your systems are designed for it. Ours isn’t and because it is that old it will cost serious money to get it modified to handle it. Mike mentions a guesstimated cost and it is the FD’s turn to suck his teeth. I want to hear some more of that sound.
“That will be just the software cost,” I say, “there will be training and implementation on top that will likely cost as much again. And we haven’t considered any new hardware that might be needed. We need to budget for a figure three times what Mike has suggested.
I look at Mike. “Quite probably,” he grunts. “I will see if I can get a better estimate next week, but we would be better holding things up and putting the money towards a new system that already has EDI enabled instead of trying to bolt it on to what we have.”
Well done Mike! Music to my ears.
“Sales have promised we can do it,” says the FD. “The customer wants it implemented in six weeks.”
That does it. Now I am totally pissed off and I can see Mike is too. I am fed up with Sales fawning over this customer. I know they take significant volume, but their price is based on marginal cost. I doubt they make any real contribution to profits at all.
“I want you two to get together and see how this can be done.” We are being dismissed from the presence. Too bad. There is something I need to ask before we leave.
“How long does Sales expect this contract to last? I thought they said two years when we took it on and we have done twelve months already. Have they said anything different lately?”
“Not to me.” Helpful. At least I got a reply.
Mike and I repair to my office.
“What a load of bollocks,” Mike grumbles. “He is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. Why doesn’t he tell Sales to bugger off? We’ll do all this work and then the customer will find some excuse to back out of the contract after a month or two. I’ve come across them before.”
“I’ve heard that’s how they work,” I agree. “They’re also known for finding some reason not to pay outstanding invoices when they leave.”
Mike says he has some system work to do so he might as well stay as it is a quiet day. He says he will also see if he can get a better handle on what needs to be done for the EDI job. I agree to look at it from my end as well and we can meet up sometime. I was going to suggest Monday, then I get a better idea.
“What are you doing for lunch on Easter Day, Sunday,” I ask.
“Nothing special. Make myself a sandwich probably. Why?”
“Would you like to come with me? I am cooking lunch for mother and a couple of her cronies. They will be gossiping away and I will be bored stiff. If you came you could keep me company and we will have a chance to compare notes before the FD asks to see us on Tuesday.”
Like a lamb to the slaughter he agrees, so we arrange that I will give him a lift over to Mother’s.
Mike goes off to his IT den, and I start gathering some figures. I want to rework the costs for the customer. If we amortise the expected implementation cost of EDI over the remaining life of the contract there is no doubt we will be making a significant loss but I suspect we are doing so already following the recent changes to our input costs.
As well as making good progress, I find time for a chat with the couple of girls who are in the main office covering the holiday. Amongst other things, they tell me that they heard the Managing Director said he would call in on Monday. Good. I think he might be interested in what I have found.
None of the Sales team have been in today. Why am I not surprised?
The next day I have to go into town to do some shopping: I need to make sure I have everything for the lunch at Mother’s. I had better buy some Easter cards and a few spare Easter eggs to give to whichever of her cronies will be there.
My route takes me past Coles’. The rabbit is there. This time he is busy serving a couple of customers. I wait until he has finished.
“How do?” I say in greeting. “Business picked up since Thursday?”
“Yes, thanks,” he says, turning towards me. Then he smiles as he recognises me. “Hey, you’re the guy I sold the rainbow eggs to. You’ll be pleased to know that you broke the dam. They’ve been selling like hot cakes since then. I’ve only got what’s on the stand left to sell. I’ve got rid of all the stock that Mr Wen had in the store. He is very pleased with me.”
I was going to buy the spare eggs I want from him but his mention of the rainbow eggs reminds me of those mottos. It is probably not a good idea to risk those mottos on Mother and her friends.
“You shouldn’t have reminded me about those eggs. I have a complaint. I suppose I should take it up with Mr Wen. Is he in today?”
“I think so. What was the problem?” My rabbit looks worried. “It’s nothing I’ve done is it?”
“No.” I smile at him hoping to reassure him. “Nothing that is your fault. Just the mottos in those eggs have cost me two staff and a couple of possible unfair dismissal claims.”
“That’s terrible.” He tells me where to find Mr Wen. He also tells me his name is Doug when I ask so that I can assure Mr Wen that I don’t blame his sales-rabbit.
A queue has built up so I say ‘sithee’ and head into the store. This time the feeling we will meet again is even stronger.
I find Mr Wen. He is an avuncular figure with grey hair, a neatly trimmed full set: beard, moustache and side whiskers and is sporting his red waistcoat. I introduce myself.
“Please take a seat.” He waves towards a chair and then asks, “How may I help you?”
“I have a complaint,” I say as I sit down. ”On Thursday I bought a tray of Easter eggs from the young man you have outside, dressed in a rabbit costume. He gave me a special tray that he said you had instructed him to give to anyone that asked for a full tray. Unfortunately, it has resulted in two of my staff resigning and potential claims for unfair dismissal.”
“Ah. I see.” He pauses for a moment before continuing, “Were these eggs wrapped in rainbow coloured foil?”
“Yes. In a sealed tray and sold to me as per your instructions.”
“Quite, quite.” He pauses again. “And these two that have resigned, were you wanting them to leave?”
“Erm, yes,” I say. He has put me on the back foot. How would he know I wanted them to leave? “That doesn’t mean we won’t get taken to the Employment Tribunal.”
“I’m sure it won’t come to that.”
Interesting choice of words. Most would say ‘I don’t think it will come to that.’ How is Mr Wen so sure?
“Even if you’re right, I still have the problem of finding replacements for the two that are going, or at least a temp to cover until we can make permanent placements.”
“There I might be able to help you,” he says. “I know a personable young man who is looking for a job as his current post ends today. You have already met him. Young Douglas in the rabbit costume.”
Oddly enough when I was watching Doug serve the two customers, the thought crossed my mind that he would be looking for a job even if it meant going back to selling ‘Big Issue’.
“I would agree he is a pleasant lad,” I say. “However, I would need to know more about him and if he is capable of doing the work. What can you tell me? Off the record?”
I guess Coles’ will have done some sort of character assessment and background check. They are not the sort of company that takes just anyone off the street. Will Mr Wen divulge enough to confirm to me that Doug is worth considering?
“I am unable to tell you about his personal circumstances or background: that is for him to tell you. What I can tell you, off the record of course, is that we have found him bright, honest and reliable. That he was prepared to turn up and stand in the cold for the best part of a week without selling anything says something about his commitment. As for whether he is capable of the work you want him to do, what do you require?”
We discuss the work to be covered and what possibilities there might be for advancement if he should prove suitable. Mr Wen is very positive about Doug’s abilities to do the job. I make a decision and hand Mr Wen one of my business cards.
“When he finishes here would you please give this to Douglas and ask him to come to see me at nine thirty on Tuesday morning, ostensibly for an interview, but if my colleague and I decide he is suitable he can start there and then. It will give us a chance to train him while the two leavers are serving their notice.”
I rise to take my leave. Mr Wen also rises and we shake hands. As we do, he hands me his card. I read it. Along with the usual contact details, job title and company information is his name: Mr. Nick. Wenceslas.
“Wenceslas?” I say.
“Yes, a bit of a mouthful and has other disadvantages as I expect you can guess,” he replies. “That’s why everyone calls me Mr. Wen: so much easier.”
I collect Mike at the appointed time on Sunday. I am pleased to see he has made the effort to look tidy. He often looks scruffy in jeans and a sweater at work.
Something has been bothering me since I asked him to join us for lunch so, after the usual pleasantries and a quip about wearing his Sunday Best, I decide to clear it up.
“When I asked you to lunch you said you would have made yourself a sandwich. Are you on your own then? I was told you lived with someone and had a kid.”
“No,” Mike says. “She kicked me out last year. After we had been together nearly six years.”
“My own silly fault. She found I had been looking at soft porn on the internet.”
Ah! The sweet irony that an IT professional should fail to cover his tracks when using the internet. I break into a laugh. Mike looks hurt.
“Sorry, Mike,” I say by way of apology. “You have to admit, working in IT, you should have known better. What happened to the kid?”
“As far as I know he is still with her.” Mike sounds bitter. “I never get to see him. I still have to pay child support though.”
We have arrived at the complex where Mother has her flat.
“That’s harsh.” I say but maybe there is more to it than soft porn. I tell him to save the rest of the story. There is no point in saying everything twice: Mother and her cronies will be interrogating him over lunch. I do say that it is probably best of he does not mention the porn element.
We get everything I have brought for lunch out of the car and carry it up to Mother’s flat.
Mother introduces her friends: Brenda and Maggie, who I have met on many occasions before and I was expecting to see, and Diana, who is new to me.
Mother is taken aback when I introduce Mike and say he will be joining us for lunch. I suspect she thought he was only helping bring the stuff in from the car. It will never have occurred to her that I might actually bring someone when she suggested it as we parted on Thursday. Sad or not, I claim another petty victory. I explain that Mike is a colleague from work.
Diana chips in to ask where we work and what jobs we do. We tell her and I explain that it is a private company with the Managing Director holding most of the shares, the rest by his close family. In order to keep things simple, I don’t mention that Mike actually works for himself. Diana’s next question asks what line of business the company is in. Our response, which includes the names of some of our more well-known customers, is met with a slow nod of the head.
I have done all the preparatory work at home, so the meal is ready in the half an hour or so it takes to bake off the entrees and cook the vegetables. Just long enough for Mother and her friends to get halfway down the sherry bottle. Just long enough to be ready to interrogate Mike over the meal, relaxed enough by the drink to have no shame or embarrassment when asking personal questions. Under the onslaught, Mike soon reveals the existence of his son and that he never gets access.
After Thursday, I am not surprised when Mike’s story seems to make Mother go all broody, like a mother hen. She leads the collective indignation. Indignation that might not have been so collective if Mike had revealed the cause of the breakup.
“It’s not right, is it dear?” Mother says looking at me for agreement. “A child, especially a boy, needs a father figure.” I have to agree. I dread to think how I would have turned out if Dad hadn’t been there for me.
They all chime in with their comments and what they think should be done about it.
“There you are then, Flossie,” announces Diana. “We were only saying the other day you need something to occupy you. Your project can be finding out how to help Mike get access to his child.”
That won’t go down very well. Mother prefers being called by her full name: Florence, although she will put up with Florrie or even Flo, but never Flossie. I remember her saying to me once, “Flossie, that will never do. It’s the name of a brand of toilet paper.” It was too — in the forties!
Something else that will never do is Mother being the one to find out about Mike’s indiscretion. Doing the legwork isn’t the sort of thing she would want to do anyway. Support: Yes; Research: No. I think I need to steer the project elsewhere.
“I think it sounds more like Brenda’s cup of tea,” I turn towards Brenda to address her directly. “You like that sort of challenge, don’t you? Digging out information. Beating the system.” I wink at her hoping she will understand there might be more to Mike’s case than she has heard so far.
Of those here, Brenda is the friend of Mother’s I have known the longest — ever since Dad and Mother moved into the flat. Knowing Brenda the longest means she knows the most about me.
They have all finished eating so we clear the table. It is then we find out Diana is the new member of Mother’s bridge circle taking the place of Mavis who died just after Valentine’s Day. Mother gets out the playing cards and suggests they play a rubber of bridge. Mother has been bearable today; even Mike’s grilling was done with consideration, so I resist the mental substitution of the tarot cards for the normal pack.
Mike and I retire to the kitchen to clean up and have a post-mortem on his interrogation. I tell him I thought he did well to survive and not be reduced to a catatonic state. He smiles at my attempt at humour.
His smile is rather attractive. I can’t remember seeing it before. Maybe I should try making him laugh more often.
“It was quite cathartic,” he says. “Telling someone about it. And it was nice how they were all ready to go bat for me when I said I couldn’t get access to Sam, my son. Especially your mum.”
“I’m not sure they would have all been so keen if they had known the cause of your breakup. To Mother you would have instantly become a non-person to be air-brushed from her life.” I pause briefly before continuing, “Brenda would be all right with it, she’s pretty broad-minded. That’s why I suggested she should be the one to take on Diana’s project.”
Mike smiles again. It is nice to see.
“It amused me the way Diana delegated the job,” he says. “No intention of doing the work herself.”
I suspect that, like me, Mike thinks Diana will be quick to take the credit if the project does get him access to his son.
“If Brenda does offer to do it, don’t refuse. She has form with challenging the system. It was before you moved here to join the company. She brought down a whole group of councillors when she discovered they all had their hands in the till. The District Auditor also had to resign for failing to spot it himself.”
Our clean up finished, we perch on the kitchen stools and move on to discussing our work problems.
Mike tells me that he has dug out the quote we had from the provider of our ancient software to write the necessary code for EDI the last time the subject was raised.
“Looking at it and all the work we would have to do here, we were pretty close when we were talking to the FD yesterday. You will probably want to gross it up to the next round number.”
“Good,” I say. “That will strengthen my case. I am trying to prove that we are making a loss on this customer, and if we do this it will be worse. Can you think of anything else?”
“There will be the ten percent annual licence fee for the additional software and there is the ongoing cost of the mailbox service through which the data exchange takes place.
“What’s that?” I ask. “I don’t remember talking about that last time.”
“I don’t think we got as far as looking at it.” Mike goes on to explain how the interchange of data takes place and that the cost of the service will be based on volume and a standing charge. More ammunition for my case.
We discuss the possible arguments that Sales could put up to sideline or dismiss my case. I also ask Mike if he has an idea of how much it will cost to replace our systems: hardware, software and training, and how long it might take to implement.
“How long is a piece of string?” he says. “It depends, amongst other things on what you want it to do and how much bespoke work you need to add on.”
Mention of ‘bespoke’ rings my cost alarm bells.
“I don’t think the company is big enough to be able to afford anything more than an off-the-shelf package,” I say. I mention a budget figure I think sounds reasonable and stands a chance of being agreed by the MD. “Would we be able to get something that would work for us for that sort of figure?”
“I will have a look at it,” Mike replies. “But I would think so. You might need to modify some of your procedures, which should probably be reviewed anyway.”
We finish our discussion and I go to the kitchen door in time to hear the bidding finish on the next hand of bridge. The first card is played and Brenda lays out her cards. Her partner won the bidding and she sits out the hand as dummy.
Instead of watching the play, she comes over to talk to me. Mike, meanwhile, has gone to the bathroom.
“Is he your boyfriend?” Brenda whispers to me so as not to disturb the players.
“No. I don’t even know if he is gay,” I hiss back, surprised that she must think Mike is gay. Me? She has known about me for years.
“Patrick, can’t you see it? I’ll bet you a fiver that is why his partner chucked him out and why she denies him access.”
I am not going to accept the bet. Not only has she has caught me too often in the past but she is reinforcing my own suspicions about Mike.
“No takers?” Brenda pauses before continuing, “If he is not your boyfriend yet, he could be boyfriend material. He is not much younger than you and he seems a nice guy. Quite dishy when he smiles too. I would fancy him myself if I was younger.”
We are both looking across at the bridge table where Mike has stopped to watch the play for a while on his way back from the bathroom. She is right: he is quite attractive when he scrubs up!
“He comes with one big advantage in dealing with your mother: his son. She has been whittling on about grandchildren. Mike comes with one fully formed. The right age too — past the piss, puke and poop stage. You give her a grandson and she will ignore you being two men sleeping together. You know what she will say — ‘Oh no dear. They’re not queers, they live together to share the expenses. It can be so expensive to live on one’s own.’ ” Brenda’s impression of Mother is spot on.
We see the last trick of the hand being played and the cards shuffled for the next hand.
“Think about it,” Brenda says to me as she goes back to the table. Mike comes over to join me.
We watch the bidding and are soon joined by Maggie, who is dummy for the hand.
“I don’t know how your mother does it,” she says looking at me. “We’ve been playing all afternoon and she’s never once been dummy. I’ve come to talk to you. There is a limit to how many games you want to watch from the dummy’s chair.”
“How are you getting on?” I ask, wondering how much longer they will carry on playing and whether Mike and I should make our excuses and leave.
“Only a couple more hands, I think. The scores are fairly even so they will want to play the complete rubber.”
I nod sagely. Mother will want to play it out for completeness sake — especially if she is winning.
“Did I hear you boys correctly when you were talking to Diana before lunch?” Maggie asks before going on to name the customer wanting EDI and asking if we trade with them.
“Yes. We do.” I am on guard not to reveal anything that might be considered commercially sensitive, but I cannot keep a note of resigned frustration from my voice.
“I was telling Diana earlier, when we were dealing, that you need to be very careful with them,” she says. “They bankrupted my brother’s company. I lost the money I had put in.”
“What happened?” Mike and I ask in unison.
“Screwed the price right down to the point where they were losing money, then took their business elsewhere without notice when my brother’s company asked for a price increase. They never paid their outstanding account either, leaving a big bad debt. Messed up the cash flow and balance sheet enough that the bank foreclosed, bringing the company down.”
Mike and I look at each other. We both have raised eyebrows. Maggie tells me the names of her brother and his company when I ask. We hear the cards being gathered up and Maggie goes back to the table.
It is not long before Brenda is back. She is dummy again.
“Patrick,” she says, “put the kettle on. This is the last hand and they will all want tea.”
I do as instructed and set up a tray with cups and saucers and get everything else ready while Brenda engages Mike in conversation. She had obviously decided to take on the project as she is quizzing him about his breakup with his partner when I rejoin them.
“So you’re saying it was gay porn she found?” Brenda asks and I realise I was right not to take on her bet.
“It seems a bit precipitous,” she continues, “chucking you out for looking at a bit of soft porn. It wasn’t kiddies or anything was it?”
Mike looks hurt at the suggestion. “No. There were a few who were probably in the eighteen to twenty bracket but most were older than that. Up to about thirty. I never found any my age.”
“I’ve never heard of a forty year old Page 3 girl either,” she says, referring to the long running series showing topless girls that used to be in one of the tabloid newspapers.
In fact what Mike had been looking at was pretty innocuous stuff. Topless guys with socks in their underpants and a few shots of guys skinny dipping, their cleavages out of focus underwater. There must have been more to it than that.
Brenda makes it seem quite painless as she extracts the rest of the story.
Mike’s partner had fallen pregnant soon after they met. Before they met Mike had not had much success in attracting a partner and was beginning to feel lonely and ready to settle down at the first opportunity.
After their son was born, she wanted sex again but increasingly he felt something was missing in their relationship. That started to affect both his desire and ability to perform. At some point he remembered how he had enjoyed the mutual fumblings he had had with other boys as they learnt both how their equipment worked and about the principle of reciprocity — considering the needs of your sexual partner — all without the same emotional entanglement and potential risks, e.g. pregnancy, of doing it with girls.
He found that thinking such thoughts helped his performance and a little focused curiosity led first to internet research and then to his collection of pictures. He thought he was just managing to keep up with his partner’s demands and then a few months before the split, she started being less demanding. At first Mike was relieved the pressure was off, but then he thought that she might be seeing someone else. Although he told himself he wasn’t bothered, it bothered him enough for him to start dropping into one of the pubs he passed on his way home. Being somewhat naive in these matters, it was a week or so before he realised it was a gay friendly pub.
By this time the bridge players have finished, so I deliver the tea — and cakes — to the table as soon as possible. I don’t want Mother or the others coming into the kitchen and interrupting Mike’s confessional. Trying not to appear rude, I say I will get some more hot water for the tea and nip back into the kitchen, pushing the door closed behind me.
Mike is explaining that his partner had decided he must be having an affair — coming home late with a look of smug contentment on his face — and arranged for someone to snoop around on his computer, and for him to be followed home.
“It was bad enough that I should be spotted going into the gay pub, but that was the night I did something I wouldn’t normally do.
“I had seen this kid, about sixteen, hanging around before, sometimes inside the pub with someone but mostly outside. As he looked a bit dishevelled and was always asking for money, I thought he was probably homeless. That night I took pity on him and asked him if he was hungry and would he like something to eat. I wouldn’t give him money in case he was the sort to spend it on drugs.
“He says yes, so I tell him to come into the pub with me. They do food there. As we go through the door I must have put my hand on his back to usher him in — like one does — and whoever was watching me must have seen it and thought that I had picked up a young kid for sex. He must have waited until I left, then spoken to the boy and reported back that the kid had told him I wanted to sleep with him.”
Not surprisingly Mike looks downcast as he tells us this.
“Ungrateful little bugger,” he says. “Saying that after I had told him that wasn’t why I had fed him.”
“Sorry, I don’t understand.” says Brenda.
I tell Mike to hold his reply until I get back, and I nip out with the hot water and another round of cakes.
“After the kid had finished the meal,” Mike resumes after I return to the kitchen, “he says ‘I suppose you want to sleep with me now’. Not wanting to seem offended and wanting to let him down gently, I looked him up and down and said: ‘A very attractive offer but I’m afraid I have to get home.’ Not a very good joke, I know. As I left I did say to him that I thought he looked hungry and hadn’t bought him the meal expecting to get anything in return.”
“If the kid repeated what you had said verbatim,” Brenda says, “then I suppose it could be taken out of context to mean that you did want to sleep with him but that circumstances meant you couldn’t that night.”
“Have you ever seen the boy again to ask him his side of the story?” I ask.
“No. I’ve not even been back to the pub,” Mike says. “I can’t afford to with the rent for my flat, the child support. And I’m still paying the mortgage on the house.”
“Is she still in the house?” I ask.
“As far as I know,” Mike replies.
“We need to check.” Brenda always was one for practicalities. “Whose name is it in? Both of you or only one?”
“Good,” says Brenda. I can see she is already thinking on how Mike’s mess can be resolved.
Mother comes in with some of the tea things.
“This is where you are all hiding,” she says, then turns to me. “It’s very rude of you, dear, to ignore our guests like you have done this afternoon.”
I am not going to let that ride.
“Mother, you and your guests have been playing bridge all afternoon. You have been ignoring my guest, and I have kept him company.” I don’t say that the arrangement has suited us just fine.
“Talking shop no doubt,” she replies. “You had better come through and say goodbye. The others are about to go, and you will be wanting to get away.”
The others are indeed getting ready to leave. Maggie reminds us of what she told us about her brother’s business. Brenda exchanges phone numbers with Mike and says she will contact him later. Diana surprises me somewhat by repeating what Maggie had told her about Maggie’s brother’s business. It is almost as though she is telling me if I ignore Maggie’s warning it’s at my peril.
When the others have gone Mike and I gather up my stuff from the kitchen and get ready to leave.
Mother proffers her cheek for me to peck.
“Are you going to meet me for lunch sometime this week?” she asks.
“No!” I know one way or another I shall be busy with the EDI thing.
“That’s me told,” she says as she turns to Mike. “Don’t forget to bring that young man of yours to see me when you get custody. I shall want to see him regularly.”
So like Mother. The way she thinks something should be, that is the way it is going to be. Any other possibility brooks no consideration.
Mike thanks Mother for inviting him. I’ll give him full marks for that bit of flannel. We pick up my stuff and go down to the car.
“I’m sorry if it was a bit of an ordeal,” I say as I drive back to his place.
“Oddly enough, I’ve enjoyed it. Being with people who are enjoying themselves and not stuck on my own. Brenda and your mother have reminded me my kid is worth fighting for and given me some hope. I think your mum wants to play godmother to me and my lad.”
I think I would agree with that assessment.
I look across at him and can see he is looking happier than I think I have ever seen him. Even when I mention that I will see him tomorrow at work, his smile doesn’t totally disappear.
I can’t resist a little fun. Before he gets out of the car I reach over, put my hand on his thigh and give it a gentle squeeze.
“Welcome to my team,” l say.
“Yeah. Well…” is his grudging reply.
When I get home, the house feels strangely empty. It doesn’t usually feel like this after I have been to Mother’s — more like a haven of tranquillity. Maybe it is because there were so many at Mother’s today.