By Christine Lawrence
There I am, one day, just walking back from dropping my car off at the workshop, feeling really good about myself and determined to enjoy the morning sun. I’m thinking about losing weight and wondering how long it’ll take to get home. The walk should take about an hour, I figure, when I come across this lollipop lady, standing by the roadside. She’s all trussed up in layers of knitted garments topped by a bright yellow waistcoat, looking out from under her grimy peaked cap and I’m thinking that there is something vaguely familiar in the way she is leaning on her lollipop.
Well, she’s just standing there, you know, waiting for the last kids to come along. I look at my watch and I’m thinking, well, most kids should be at school by now. The woman looks at me kinda strange and I try not to look her in the eye. So my eyes are wandering this way and that, anything other than in her direction.
Then I notice a slice of toast lying in the gutter. A plain, white slice, with no butter, and I get to thinking about it and wondering how it got there. Was it dropped by the woman, or by some kid in its hurry to cross the road? Maybe it was thrown from the open window of a passing truck, or maybe something else happened. Now, my natural curiosity has been known to be my downfall, but sometimes I just can’t help myself from getting involved in interesting situations.
I don’t know how long these thoughts are passing through my brain, maybe a split second, but I start to notice that the woman is looking at me like she knows more than she wants to let on. I decide to hang about a while to see what develops. It’s getting a bit uncomfortable here though, so I just stroll on down the street and turn the corner.
There’s this bench just around the corner and it’s tucked away, real convenient like, out of sight of the lollipop lady, and I sense that she’ll be passing the end of the street soon, so I decide to wait, and sure enough, there she goes, right on cue, back to her little home in some other side-street. I don’t want to let her out of my sight, so I scurry off after her, taking care of course to keep a discrete distance, just in case she twigs that she’s being followed, you understand.
Now, the road goes this way and that, and after some time, and many turnings, she dips out of sight for a while. One minute she’s there, and the next she’s not. I’m not too worried about this though because it’s one of those streets where the houses have front gardens with long paths that go right up to the front door, and there’s no way she could get inside one of these places without me seeing her, so I figure I’d have plenty of time to get a good view of whatever she’s up to.
So, there I am, hanging about on the street corner, wondering what to do next, and thinking that maybe it’s time to move on and forget all about the whole idea, when I realise that she’s standing right there behind me. I kinda sense her before I see her. I’m standing there, minding someone else’s business and then I get this creepy feeling down the back of my neck. Next thing I know, I turn around, and there she is, just standing there, staring down at me. I say staring down, being as she’s a lot taller than me. Not that I’m short, you understand. Just that she is much taller. She looks me in the eye and a slow smile creeps over her face, the eyes twinkling at me. Yes, you heard right, they were twinkling, you know, like when you’re really happy to see someone.
Well, she grabs my shoulders and then she’s got her arms right around me, and I’m in the vice-like grip of her embrace. I don’t know what to make of all this, but I get swept up in it and find myself being marched off down the street in mid-hug with this lady who’s gushing all over me to come in for a cup of coffee.
Now, I’m very particular about my coffee, and I just can’t drink that stuff that comes in granules out of screw-top jars, but I can’t get away without causing offence, so I decide to go along with it, and by the time we get to her house, I feel like we’re old pals. Not like pals you see every day, or even every week, you know. No, I mean like, say, an old school pal that you haven’t seen for years, someone you’ve been out of touch with for a reason you can’t quite remember.
Anyway, we reach the front door and it’s like stepping into the fifties, if you know what I mean. You may not remember that far back, of course, but then you may have seen it in the movies. Well, I tell you, as soon as I step onto that grey linoleum floor, there I am, back in my childhood, every memory intact, even down to the faint smell of yesterday’s boiled fish.
I soon snap out of it as she’s disappearing into the back of the house, turning once to beckon me on with a definite air of impatience. That was when I notice her long painted fingernails. Well, you don’t expect lollipop ladies to be going about with long painted fingernails do you?
So, I find myself meandering towards the kitchen door wondering at the same time exactly what I’m getting myself into. It’s as I pass the half-opened door under the stairs that I start to feel uneasy. I can’t quite put my finger on what’s going on but swear that I can smell something else behind the fish – something more appealing – chocolate perhaps. The kitchen’s a cosy little room and I’m sitting at the table waiting while she puts the coffee on. It’s a real coffee maker, no jar of instant in sight. I can tell you, I’m quite relieved at this. As I’ve said before, instant coffee does nothing for me.
The next thing I know is that she’s offering me breakfast with my coffee. Now, as I have previously indicated, I’m thinking seriously about losing weight and the thought of eating another breakfast is pretty unwelcome at that moment. I’m just about to decline the offer, when she turns around, and there she is, holding out to me a plate of toast.
I take one look at her, then another at the toast, and start putting two and two together in my mind and making five. I had seen that slice of toast somewhere before, or one very much like it. Now, you might say I have a vivid imagination, but I do not want to go down the same route as whoever the owner of the said slice may have been tempted.
That’s when I decide to humour her, hoping that I’ll be able to blag my way out of what could be a sticky situation. So I find myself smiling back at her as sweetly as I can, and ask her if she has any marmalade. Of course, she would have marmalade, and home-made at that, so I’m thinking that maybe I’m in for a treat.
It’s not long before the coffee pot is bubbling, the aroma disguising the stale smell of fish which stubbornly wraps itself around the curtains at the grimy kitchen window, and I’m thinking to myself thoughts of what else it might be disguising.
As she places the toast in front of me and hands me the jar or marmalade, this is when I decide that it’s time to make myself scarce. So I’m sitting there thinking about how I can slip away without her getting upset. She looks the type of woman that you just don’t get on the wrong side of, you know, but I just have the feeling that I have to get out of there. Something was just telling me it was time to split.
So, there I am, listening to my heart beating so loud that I am sure she can hear the blood pumping through my veins. Then I get my chance. There’s a tapping at the kitchen window, and as she goes over to look out, that’s when I make a break for it. Before I can re-assess what I am doing, well, I’m legging it down the garden path, out of the gate, and off down the street as fast as I can.
As I pass the spot where the lollipop lady stands to help the kids across the road, I toss away the slice of toast that somehow was still in my hand as I made my escape. It skims across the path and lands face-down in the gutter, right next to the very same slice I had seen less than an hour before.