The rehearsal drew to a close. Scripts were gathered and coats slipped across shoulders. The chatter and laughter which filled the corridors of the old church building as members of Cawley Green Church Drama group made their way out on to the street was much like any other week. Brown leaves scratched the pavement in small circles around their feet and Hebe was pleased she had remembered her scarf, which she tucked down the front of her coat preventing the November breeze finding its way to exposed skin. Someone’s hand pushed its way through the crook of her elbow and she turned to see Jackie smiling at her.
‘So, how did it go last Thursday then? Was he the Adonis you’d been hoping for?!’
‘No. He was more like Fred from the chip shop on the Green!’ then their giggles started and simply wouldn’t stop. Mascara smarted her eyes as they reached the pub, a victorian corner building on the junction of two roads. Inside, warm air welcomed and swaddled them as sounds of appreciation rumbled through group members. Jackie and Hebe slid their way into the high backed buttoned seating and amused themselves stalking through Facebook profile photos of Hebe’s recent acquaintance.
‘Did you say you had some old planks Keith?’ Bob unfurled his own scarf and placed it over the barber coat now on the back of a chair.
‘I do yes .. and some blue cuprinol left over from the summerhouse.’ Bob and Keith usually managed to produce the scenery needed for each play between them. Keith had been a boat-builder most of his adult life and when he’d moved back to his childhood home to help care for his elderly parents, there had been plenty of room at the Rectory for his leftover timber to come with him. The group had helped to recycle most of it during the past few years, making an assortment of doorways, pillars and furniture for scenes of the plays they staged annually. The Cawley Green Drama Group had become well known throughout the region and audience members travelled far to watch their performances for ten days in January.
Bob was responsible for the lighting on performance nights but enjoyed getting involved with saws, hammers and drillbits whenever he could. He worked in the city but was only two years off retirement, after which he planned to help Keith with renovations at the Rectory. They had become great friends since meeting at the group and and more so since Keith’s wife had left him for an estate agent, ten years her junior, who had promised her the earth. Keith had waited for the earth to not materialise and her subsequent return, but to date was still waiting and had remained devastated by his three losses. After his parents had died (within three months of each other) at 69, Keith lacked the energy needed to update the property but Bob had explained they would be helping each other if he could assist in bringing the house into the 21st Century. The group members had become his lifeline and Bob a good friend. The weekly rehearsal dates from early September were in his diary the moment they were issued and anything else would have to slot in.
A fire crackled in the inglenook, and Hebe stared for a moment at the mesmerising flames. So rare in London these days to find an inglenook not turned into a wine rack or extra spacing for seats she mused as she listened to the plans for the planks to be painted pale blue and how the men would achieve the scuffed-up look of an old fishing boat.
The group had congregated in their usual corner. The locals were used to accommodating them on Tuesday nights and Mike the director, queued to buy the first round as always. His son Jason stood next to him. Taller than his father, with messy blonde hair he did not resemble Mike’s darker features. Jason had been away travelling for a year and had returned a few days earlier. Now taking a few days out to ‘re-acclimatise’ as he called it, before settling down to search for a proper job.
Hebe had noticed him earlier sat in the front row of the church rooms. He’d been making Vera giggle and she’d missed a line prompt when Harry, playing the fisherman, stared out from the stage with a vacant expression. Mike had not been amused.
‘Vera?’ he’d shouted from the back of the hall.
‘Oh Lord! Sorry, um ….. hang on!’ Vera’s finger followed the lines from the last section she was confident they’d covered and fed Harry his next line which he gratefully then delivered to Hebe, perched at that moment on a box which would eventually resemble a rock rising from the sea. Harry’s white beard and smiley face etched with deep lines of life was so right for the part of Eustace the fisherman. Vera had blushed and Jason had looked nonchalantly around as if his presence had nothing to do with the slight feather-ruffling going on throughout the cast.
‘So, Hebe.’ Mike placed vodka and cokes down in front of the girls, ‘We have dress rehearsals in two weeks; how is the tail coming along?’ he grinned and Jason dragged a surprisingly heavy stool over to join them.
‘Good! I found some sequinned material and cut leaf-shape sheets of rubber to fill the tail fins, so they keep their shape, are heavy yet still flexible. I love it … look.’ Hebe searched her camera roll for the photo she’d taken the day before after successfully machining through the thin rubber now covered with the almost luminescent green/blue material, creating parallel lines of silver thread down each fin, just as a mermaid’s tail might be.
‘That’s great Hebe, can’t wait to see it on you. And Jackie, what did you decide for you and Harry?’ Jackie was playing the part of Harry’s long-suffering wife back in the harbour Inn, trying to make ends meet through the winter months while her husband insisted on futile fishing trips daily out of the bay into the bleak cold waters of the winter seas.
‘Well, I thought Esme would look best dressed in dull colours, they wouldn’t have the funds to treat themselves to anything plush, would they?’
Mike winked his approval simultaneously sipping the top from his pint, a line of froth on his top lip momentarily giving him the look of a 1920s Italian filmstar. He licked it away.
“I agree, maybe floor length brown dress with a white, but grubby, apron over the top? I’m sure you can make one and wear it to do some gardening during which time it will accrue a suitable patina?’ Mike snorted at his own joke knowing full well that Hebe’s parents’ garden was totally overgrown since they had moved to Cornwall and that Hebe went nowhere near a gardening tool. The top floor was rented out, leaving the ground floor for Hebe while she continued her life in London having decided she was not ready to leave city life for a windswept one. She threw a wotsit across the table and orange dust stuck to Mike’s knuckle.
’Anyway, if you hear of any jobs going, this one here needs to start earning some wages!’ Mike glanced at Jason who rotated his amber shot rhymically in its tumbler, chinking ice cubes disturbing an otherwise silent moment.
‘It’s true, I do.’ Jason finally admitted. ‘I’ll do anything but driving. I can’t stand London traffic.’ He winked at Vera who sipped her Riesling and blushed immediately. ‘What do you do Vera when you’re not keeping this lot on their toes?’ Her eyes widened with embarrassment that she’d been put in the spotlight. Mike knew she suffered from nerves and would never have asked her to take a part in a play and perform on stage. Being prompt was a perfect way for her to feel involved yet remain under the radar from strangers.
‘Oh, nothing. You know, look after the grandchildren twice a week and keep the house nice.’ She tilted her head to one side and adopted an apologetic look.
‘That’s great! Most women nowadays don’t bother with housework do they?’ Jason’s cheeky comment caught the other women off guard but Vera seemed to warm towards it.
‘Well, I suspect they are so busy. I do go to pilates once a week, to try and keep fit, well, you know how it is ..’ She grabbed her small wineglass a little too hastily and took a large mouthful desperately hoping her time in the limelight was over. Jason patted the back of Vera’s hand which made her wish she’d rubbed in some of the Nivea hand cream which lived untouched on the kitchen windowsill.