Tony does what he does best
Most of the other cottages along this stretch of the coast were used by holiday makers, so were shut up at that time of year, with only a few being lived in year-round. One Monday in early November, I noticed that the cottage 2 down from where I was working, which until then had been locked shut, had lights on when I arrived in the morning. It was a bright clear day, and I was painting the windows at the back of the cottage. I could not help but notice when a lady left, got into a battered old Ford and headed off down the mud track behind the houses. She returned about an hour later laden down with grocery bags, so I sauntered over to see if she needed any assistance.
Maggie was pleased to accept my help, and after I’d carried her bags into the kitchen, she invited me to stop for some tea and cake. She was, I judged, around her mid-30’s, good looking with a figure that was tending to spread a bit, but still attractive. I also noticed that she wore an expensive looking wedding band.
I wasn’t about to admit to being a general handyman, so as I told her about redoing the cottage and the plans for letting it in the summer, I just forgot to mention that it wasn’t my property. She may have got the impression that I owned it, but I never actually said that in so many words.
I asked what she was doing here at this time of year, and she at first just said that she had come down for Christmas and had decided to come early to set it all up. Her eyes teared up a bit when she was talking, but I didn’t want to press her, so let it slide. We chatted for a bit more about the area, and I told her about some of the restaurants that I liked to go to, and then went back to work.
Tuesday was also a lovely day, and I was finishing the windows when Maggie called out to invite me over for tea again. She told me how cold and dark it had been the night before. She was a Londoner used to lit streets and paved walkways and had only every stayed here in summer before. Now it was dark before 4 pm, and no lights anywhere apart from the occasional ship going by on the water. For neighbors, she had the seagulls and the wind, and I could see how this would be scary for a visitor from the city.
I asked when her husband would be joining her, and suddenly the tears I’d seen hidden the day before came out in full force. Between sobs, she told me that “that bastard” had been carrying on with his secretary for years. She just found out when she accidently opened his bank statement and found he’d been booked into a hotel in Brighton when he was supposed to be at a business conference in Manchester.
“I have good memories of this place,” she said, “so I just left him to his floozy and came down to stay here. But now I don’t know what to do, it’s so isolated in the winter that I’m scared to stay here, but I’ve nowhere else to go.” She dissolved into tears again, and soon I found myself holding her against my chest while she sobbed out her misery.
Soon the tears were over, and she stood back from me, sniffling and wiping her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said, “you didn’t need to hear all that, it’s just that I don’t have anyone else to talk to.”
“Don’t worry,” I replied, trying to act a lot older and more mature than I was feeling. “I’m a good listener, and in any case, I understand a bit about how it hurts to be betrayed.”
I proceeded to tell her about the break up between Ruby and me, except in this version it was Ruby that had been caught in someone else’s bed, leaving me as the injured party. I also told her about Betty, that we were living together in “my” house in Hunstanton, but that she didn’t seem keen on settling down. We parted with a kiss on the cheek, and I worked with a new vigor on the cottage. I stopped in to see her before leaving for the day, and she seemed brighter than earlier in the day.
For the rest of the week, the clouds moved in and there was scattered rain, so I was mostly working inside. I made sure I went in to see Maggie a couple of times each day, and we had more tea and sympathy. On my Friday afternoon visit, I could sense that Maggie was wanting to say something but seemed to be having an internal struggle. I asked her what the matter was.
“It’s just that” she paused and took a deep breath. “I’ve gotten to look forward to talking to you every day, and tomorrow’s Saturday and I guess you won’t be working, so I won’t see you for two whole days.” A look of concern crossed her face “See anyone, I mean, not just you, you have your own life to lead, I mean…” She trailed off, looking down and blushing slightly.
I could never resist a woman in trouble. “Oh Maggie,” I said, “Why don’t we meet for lunch tomorrow?”
She looked up at me. “Oh, could we? But what about your plans? What about Betty?”
I reassured her that I had no plans and that it would be OK with Betty. Truth be told I had no idea what I was going to tell Betty, except for one thing; it would not be that I was going out to lunch with another woman.