With a deep, contented sigh he lay back against the pillows. “God, that was awesome!” he gasped.
“God had nothing to do with it,” she murmured. “It was all my own work.”
“I helped a bit, didn’t I?” He turned onto his side and tucked his legs behind hers, his face nuzzling into the soft skin of her moist back. “Mmm. Like me to try again? Get it right this time?”
“You can make a cuppa. I’m dying of thirst.”
“There’s some cider left. Fancy a slurp of scrumpy, then a bit more rumpy-pumpy?”
“It would have lost its fizz by now. What time does your mother get in?”
“Around half-four. We’ve got an hour yet.” He pulled her round to face him and kissed her. “There’s lots of fizz left in me.” He touched her gently, his fingertips tracing a line from the base of her neck, round her nipples to the feathery fringe of her pubic hair. His body shuddered but she remained cool, easing him away from her.
“Gareth, I’d like a cup of tea, please. A cup, not a mug. then I’ll have to go. Got to shower and get ready for tonight. I’ve got another friend’s engagement party to smile and dance my way through.” Lisa said this accusingly and Gareth reacted as if he’d been slapped.
“I’ll make the tea,” he said, leaping out of bed.
He had smoothed down the ruffled bedding and showered off Lisa’s DNA by the time his mother arrived home from the surgery where she worked as Appointments’ Secretary. She preferred working Saturdays because the surgery was closed to patients and medical records did not complain about Welsh NHS hospital waiting lists, delayed appointment times, or the injustices of a ‘postcode lottery’ that enabled English NHS patients to get life-saving drugs denied to the Welsh. Gareth also liked his mother working Saturdays. It left the house free for him to indulge his passions.
“Did you pop in to see your Nan?” she asked.
“I didn’t get a chance. You said she’d joined some fitness class. I never know when she’ll be in.”
“Since her heart scare, she only goes out twice, on week-days. She would have been there today. You could have checked if she needed anything.”
Too busy checking Lisa’s needs, Gareth thought, besides Nan was getting awkward, hinting about some money he owed her that he’d hoped she’d forgotten about. He’d invested it in a second-hand car since Lisa demanded to be chauffeured everywhere, but it did nothing for his street-cred acknowledging that the battered old Skoda could be accurately described as ‘nano-technology’.
“I’ll give her a buzz and find out when she’ll be in next,” he said.
Lisa looked stunning as she snaked her way through the maze of small tables, pausing to chat to others as she passed, twirling around seductively when asked to display all aspects of her dress and laughing in response to everyone’s flattering comments. Gareth noted how popular she was and felt a glow of pride that this gorgeous specimen had been pinned under his sheets earlier, caressing his private parts and panting with uncontrolled ecstasy. She had admitted to him recently that he was her first serious boyfriend, the one she had saved herself for. Now, he watched, entranced, as Lisa approached Nicole, sitting at the top table, and saw her lift Nicole’s left hand to admire the solitaire diamond ring, the reason for this social gathering. He watched how his girl-friend opened her eyes in exaggerated awe and gushed her compliments, so that Nicole withdrew her hand, overwhelmed.
Back in her place alongside Gareth, Lisa whispered in his ear, “Not the rock size or platinum setting that I would have chosen personally, but I know now what I have to beat.” She nibbled his ear-lobe and added, “Hint. Hint. It’s my birthday next week.”
Gareth gulped down his beer, nervously.
His grandmother was dressed in a fuchsia-pink, velour track-suit when he called at her house. He noticed that since he had last seen her she had lost weight.
“Not over-doing the exercises, are you, Nan?” Gareth asked.
“No, we’re told only to tackle what we can manage comfortably. We only do two thirty-minute circuits each session, with a break in the middle. A few of them with pace-makers just sit on the rowing machines and chat for an hour. It’s more a case of social therapy than serious body maintenance.”
She brought two cups of coffee from the kitchen and waved a box of chocolates at him. “A present from Dan Richards for sewing on a few buttons,” she said. “Take a few.” Then she asked Gareth about his new job in the Caerphilly Council’s recycling plant and, getting little response, she quizzed him on his social life. Was he still seeing Lisa? Had his mother met her yet?
Yes and No. The mention of his mother reminded him to ask her if there was anything she needed him to do around the house. He had his tools in the car. She hesitated, remembering that the last time he had offered her practical assistance, he had left a trail of damage and shown her what a fiery temper he still had.
“No, thank you. Dan Richards replaced a light bulb and bled the radiators for me yesterday, after the class. It’s nice to have someone handy on the doorstep. He’s been living at No 7 for five years but I hadn’t seen him around before I joined The Crabs.”
Gareth wished he hadn’t come. What was Lisa doing now? Where? Who with?
“Crabs is short for ‘cardiac rehabs’. That’s a bit of a mouthful, so we call ourselves The Crabs. We’re all heart patients referred by our GPs. There’s some decent people in the group, amongst the dodos.” She suddenly remembered. “Oh! I made Dan Richards a few Welsh cakes to show my appreciation. Would you like one with your coffee?”
Gareth had been hoping for more than a chocolate, or a Welsh cake. He needed another loan. Lisa had given him an ultimatum after Nicole’s party. In the engagement stakes, she was ‘next’, or he was ‘ex’. By refusing to commit himself publicly to her, he was wasting her time. She argued that voluptuous women, like ripe fruit, had a limited shelf-life and bruised with handling. If Gareth could not, or would not, buy her a ring to cordon her off, she was a filly back on the loose. Such was the degree of his infatuation with her that he accepted her mixed metaphors and saw nothing loveless in her cold logic.
“What’s worrying you?” asked Nan.
“Money problems,” Gareth answered.
“Oh, everyone’s got those,” replied Nan. “You’ve no mortgage, so what are you spending your wages on?”
He flicked on his iPhone and showed Nan a photograph of Lisa, taken at Nicole’s engagement party. She murmured an ambiguous response. “So there’s no point in asking you for some of my loan back?” she asked. “Only I’m expecting rather a large bill that will have to be paid soon.”
“You’ve already paid for having your roof tiles patched up, haven’t you?”
“Yes.” She took a deep breath. “Now I’m planning to have myself patched up.”
He stared at her and she looked coquettishly back at him, fluttering her eyelids grotesquely.
“Not plastic surgery?”
“Not quite, but you’re close. I’m investing in two dental implants, to restore my dazzling smile of confidence.”
“But you’re not going to get your worth out of them,” Gareth blurted out, tactlessly. “It’s too late for those.”
“It’s never too late. Seventy is the new fifty. Who’d believe that Joan Collins is eighty-one? And she’s found herself a much younger man.”
“Are you looking for a man?” The question posed to his seventy-five year old grandmother sounded ludicrous, almost equivalent to asking her when she wanted to take delivery of quarter of a pound of best quality weed.
“Oh, not to marry, or to live with, necessarily, but I’ve been a widow for a dozen years now and I sometimes get lonely. It would be nice to have a companion to travel around with and to see new places. Joining the fitness class has shown me what I’ve been missing. There are lots of intelligent, friendly men around.” She stared defiantly at him. “Men who don’t think I’m totally past it.”
Gareth’s gaze settled on the chocolates. “Men like Dan Richards?”
“Oh! Dan would be ideal, but I haven’t shown him yet that I’ve got my eye on him.” She giggled and fluffed up her hair as if she expected Dan to materialise on cue.
“Or that you’re dying to get your fangs into him. How do you know he can be trusted, Nan? He could have ulterior motives in being neighbourly. Using charm to get his foot in at the door. You hear of pensioners being conned into handing over their credit cards and changing their wills in favour of total strangers.” The thought made him sweat.
Nan switched on her state-of-the-art iPhone. God! She had the best of everything! “There’s a photo of Dan Richards. Does he look like a con-man to you?”
He studied the photograph, a head-and-shoulders ‘selfie’ of Nan and her beau, grey heads touching, both smiling broadly, Nan’s row of teeth revealing gaps.
“You don’t approve, do you, Gareth? Of either my arm-candy, or the dental implants?”
“I just don’t want you biting off more than you can chew,” Gareth answered, getting up to leave.
He didn’t realise he’d cracked a joke.
An hour later, Gareth sat in The Moody Cow Inn alone and fretting. Lisa was baby-sitting for her sister and he couldn’t stand an evening indoors, television blaring, with his mother pontificating over which nonentity deserved to be eliminated from The Voice. He couldn’t bear to watch the shattered hopes, the broken dreams, the tears of disappointment and the contestants’ desperate craving for viewers’ votes and stardom. Everybody wanted money for bigger houses, designer cars, luxury holidays, engagement rings, dental implants etc. His only hope of a loan had been Nan. She was a retired headmistress and the only person he knew who received two pensions. Her house was paid for and full of good quality furnishings. She had no immediate needs, or hadn’t had until she had met Dan Richards. Now she was thinking of frittering away thousands of pounds getting a few porcelain-capped titanium screws inserted into her shrunken gums, while Lisa, at the opposite end of the time-scale, had a diamond-encrusted platinum ring on her must-have list. What was a young man on the minimum wage meant to do? Gareth wandered up to the bar and asked for another pint and a double whisky-chaser.
Two hours later, he was standing near his grandmother’s house, outside number 7. He lurched onto the doorstep and rang the bell. The man he had viewed on Nan’s iPhone opened the door.
“I’d like a word with you about my grandmother, Kitty Evans, from The Crabs class. It won’t take a minute.” He indicated with a nod of his head that the matter was confidential and that he expected to be invited inside.
Once the front door had been closed, Gareth pushed Mr Richards against the passage wall, intending only to warn him off from having further contact with his grandmother, but he found himself being pushed back forcibly, lifted bodily and flung along the tiled passageway. On landing, Gareth’s head struck against the newel post at the bottom of the stairs and blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.
“Charlie!” called a weak voice from an inner room, “are you alright?”
“Yes, love. Don’t worry.”
Charlie? God! Had he picked on the wrong man?
Mr Richards pulled Gareth to his feet.
“I thought your name was Dan,” lisped Gareth, his mouth pounding. “Dan Richards, a member of the Rehab Class.”
“Dan’s a nick-name I acquired in the Army. I’m a Judo Black Belt, Third Dan, but my proper name is Charles. And I’m not a member of The Crabs. I’m the paid instructor. However, none of this is your business, or adequate reason why I’ve been attacked in my own home by a total stranger.” Charles was thinking fast, pondering his next move, aware that having invited someone into his house, though mistakenly, he had assumed legal responsibility for the safety and welfare of his ‘guest’, who was patently worse for drink, raving mad and dangerous. “If you don’t leave quietly, I’ll call the police,” he said. “I won’t mention this incident to your grandmother, since she’s got a heart problem.”
“Charlie!” came another faint call from an inside room.
“I’ve got to attend to my wife,” he said. “Get out of my house!”
“Your wife! My grandmother thinks you’re single and that she’s in with a chance with you,” Gareth lisped, his mouth tingling. “What do you think you are you playing at, leading her on, giving her the false impression that you’re interested in her?”
“My wife’s got MS and the only time I leave her is when a carer calls here twice a week, for me to take the Rehab Class.” Charles was getting heated. “I have no interest in any woman other than my wife and no time for you, or your grandmother’s fantasies. Go!”
Charles opened the door and Gareth scuttled down the street, his hand covering his mouth. Arriving at his mother’s house, he tip-toed in and went straight to bed.
The next morning, his mother went to investigate why her son had not left for work. She found him asleep, breathing noisily through cut and swollen lips, his pillow-case congealed with blood. Gareth explained that he had tripped on an uneven pavement outside the pub the night before. He was in no state himself to ring into work sick. Perhaps she would telephone his boss then post Lisa’s birthday card for him when she went out. He couldn’t face either work or pleasure with a split lip and a missing front tooth.
Two days later, Lisa sent Gareth a text thanking him for his birthday card and asking when she could call at the house to discuss the arrangements for her ‘birthday bash’ the following week. The word ‘bash’ gave him renewed tremors, so he ignored her message. Lisa persisted. She needed definite plans to organise her party wardrobe. His mother noticed Gareth becoming morose. He stopped going to the pub and spent whole days in his bedroom, lying on the bed, agonising how he was to get money to buy Lisa the ring she had set her heart on.
One afternoon he was disturbed by raised female voices coming from downstairs, so he crept onto the landing to listen.
“Are you going to tell Gareth, or shall I?” demanded his mother.
There followed a muffled sob, followed by a loud wail that Gareth recognised.
“Tell Gareth what, Mam?” shouted Gareth, rushing downstairs. He saw Lisa standing awkwardly in the sitting-room. “Hi, Gorgeous!” he said approaching her. He pointed to the gap in his teeth. “This is what I’ve been dreading you seeing,” he said. “Can you bear to keep going out with me looking like this?”
“Sorry, Gareth,” Lisa answered, close to tears. “I can’t stay.” Her dejected posture and deflated confidence startled him. He rushed towards her but she turned away and fled. His mother stopped him from following her.
“I wouldn’t have known who your girlfriend was if you hadn’t given me her birthday card to post,” she said, “but the unusual surname rang a bell and I checked the records at the surgery. I think you should know that Lisa’s being treated for a venereal disease.”
“She can’t be!” protested Gareth. “I’m her first serious boyfriend. She wouldn’t lie to me about that.”
Despite his protests, he experienced fleeting phantom pains in his groin.
“Well, how would you explain the biological fact that she has a young child, a daughter?”
“It’s her sister’s, Mam. It’s not hers.”
“Her sister is in the process of legally adopting the child, but at the moment she’s Lisa’s. I’ve seen her records, Gareth, and, although they’re confidential, I can’t pretend that I don’t know the truth. I’m your mother and it’s natural that I want to save you from making a mistake you might live to regret.”
Gareth sank down onto the settee, covered his faced with his hands and sobbed. His mother sat down next to him and put her arm around him.
“I’m sorry, love. I would have done anything to spare you from knowing all of this. I’m telling you the facts for your own good. It looks as if you’ve been spun a web of lies.”
That scene took place three months ago. Today, Gareth is driving his Nan to the dental surgery for impressions to be made for the porcelain crown that will fit onto the titanium post already inserted into the gap between her front teeth. Only one dental implant she can afford, because tomorrow Gareth will return to the same dental practice for a titanium post to be fitted into the gap between his front teeth. It’s Nan’s treat and, with a bit of luck, it could mean soon that they will both have something they can smile broadly about.
updated by @bel-roberts: 02/13/16 01:56:20AM