It was market day in a mid-sized market town in Yorkshire.
Every week Audrey and Bob drove into town, in their carefully selected car (it was the same as their friends Jim and Eva’s so they knew they were safe!).
They had both retired a few years ago now, although Audrey had only ever worked part time ( Bob like his dinner ready when he came in ). Since then she had got more involved in the WI and him the Rotary Club and their lives had become even more ritualised than ever.
And today was market day. They always park in the same space (if possible) and he goes for the parking ticket while she takes her tasteful shopping basket out of the car boot. She went through her mental checklist : “Umbrella, gloves, handbag” and scanned Bob’s appearance as he returned to the car. Next Winter she must replace his coat as it’s starting to look a bit not-quite-new .
First stop (as always) is the coffee shop in the only department store in town. Very smart with tasteful things and the place to see and be seen on market day. Usually they arrive first, but as they walked in to the pastry fragranced café they spotted Eva and Jim at their table by the window. They greeted each other in their friendly way as Audrey put her basket down on one of the spare chairs and went to buy the coffee.
Bob removed his smart but boring coat and scarf, making sure his new (a Christmas present from Audrey every few years) leather gloves are secured in his left hand pocket. Predictably, Jim asked him his opinion on the important sports events which had recently taken place, while Eva busily arranged cups, teapot, individual milk jugs and plates (2 plates, one shared scone) on their side of the table.
Audrey returned with a tray of identical contents.
And arranged them in the same way.
They both sliced their scones (fruit for Eva and Jim, cherry for Audrey and Bob) , buttered them and put one half on two plates. Poured the milk into the cups, then the tea, then stirred.
Audrey straightened her soft, silky scarf (the one she had received from Bob for Christmas, after she had made sure he knew exactly which one she wanted while on one of their Friday visits to Marks and Spencer) , making sure it is still looped in the way Eva showed her a few years ago. She then gentle teased her hair with her finger tips, suddenly noticing herself doing it in the mirror opposite….oops…no…it’s Eva doing the same. .. the mirrors were moved last month when they decorated.
Bob and Jim were talking passionately about the new road markings at the junction of Talbot Street and Station Lane, after exhausting their opinion of the vivid colour Brian Cooper has painted his front door.
” Don’t look now but Graham is heading our way” whispered Eva . And indeed there was Graham. Graham who Jim and Bob went to school with, worked with for over 30 years and went to extreme lengths to avoid the rest of the time.
He announced his arrival in his usual unacceptable way, placed his hands on the end of their table and leaned in to tell them of someone they all know who had “an assignation” last week ! They all smiled, made the right noises and sipped their tea while Graham continued his story, getting more enthusiastic and animated by the second. He then bid them a hearty farewell and paced back to his table of friends. The table of friends whose unselfconscious laughter could be heard by all the other tables.
The following moment was awkward, but Eva (as usual) light-heartedly reminded them that he was devoted to his mother, until she died a few years ago. The mood had lightened, but Audrey couldn’t help a careful glance around the room, hoping that no one had noticed what had just happened.
Teapots emptied, nothing but crumbs from the half scones left on their plate, and serviettes scrumpled next to the plates, they began the job of leaving. Like synchronised swimmers, Jim and Bob tied their scarves, slide into their coats (both M and S two-tone winter jackets) and waited patiently while their wives straightened their lambswool jumpers, adjusted their scarves, slipped their knee length , beautifully lined coats on , pulled their gloves on and picked up their baskets.
As they left the café they nodded to, or quietly greeted, other regulars who they recognised. The two couples bid each other a cheerful goodbye, with promises to see each other at the WI and Rotary before leaving in opposite directions. Jim and Eva needed to be back for lunch so had to rush, whereas Bob and Audrey needed the usual bread buns, stamps, a newspaper and pork chops .
Walking along the high street , glancing at the market stalls, Audrey and Bob became just one couple amongst the crowds of other couples who were all meeting friends for a cup of tea, considering new coats for their husbands, knowing that today is pork chop day and hoping that they can avoid Graham.