Having typed up the Parish Council minutes, Mrs Stephanie Allgood slipped the nine little bundles of hot air interspersed with minor decisions into nine envelopes (A4, self-sealing), and affixed an address label to each. She was very careful that each label was in the exact centre of its envelope and absolutely straight.
Wonky would not do. Mrs Stephanie Allgood did not do wonky. Neither did she do late, grubby or shoddy. Old age was no excuse for letting standards slip.
She stood up slowly (she did not do rushing either), piled the nine envelopes into her wicker shopping basket and, once she had checked that her hair and make up were correct, went to put on her outdoor shoes (slip-on, brown leather, polished).
Moments later she was walking in what some called ‘a stately fashion’, towards the village.
‘Not a bad day,’ Mr Cooke said from behind the Post Office counter as he weighed the first envelope.
‘No, indeed.’ Mrs Allgood bestowed a smile upon him that she reserved for people in shops and those who drove public transport.
Mr Cooke squinted at the scales before rummaging under the counter. ‘Just check it’s small enough,’ he said bringing out a plastic contraption and Mrs Allgood waited patiently while he posted one of her envelopes through one of the slots. She wondered if they used the same device to train new postmen how to use letterboxes, but did not utter that witticism, thinking it frivolously at odds with her role as Clerk to the Parish Council, Secretary to the Neighbourhood Watch committee and school governor.
‘No. S’fine,’ Mr Cooke said at last, and Mrs Allgood winced at his appalling use of English as she paid with the exact money and obtained a receipt. Once she had stowed it away in that part of her beige zip-up purse that she reserved for receipts, she took herself and her wicker basket homewards. Now and again she would nod at acquaintances she passed, oblivious to the fact that most of them felt she was a frosty old piece of work; the kind of woman who probably ironed her knickers.
Once home and changed from her outdoor shoes into her slippers, she stood silently for a while enjoying the sense of calm and the smell of lavender polish. The clock ticked away under the stairs. All was as it should be and the rest of the day lay before her in neat and ordered segments: tea with coffee and walnut cake; the crossword; a chapter of her book; supper and a glass of wine; Agatha Christie on TV; milky drink, bed.
She smiled affectionately across at the photograph of her husband and he smiled back. Dear Gerald. He had so blurred the edge of things; created mess, let things drift. Now he was neatly tucked away in the cemetery. Everything was in its rightful place.
Each day followed another: planned, ordered, routine.
So it was a little confusing to see that on a Friday, instead of making her customary walk into the village, Mrs Allgood caught a bus going in the opposite direction. And that, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, she got off that bus and fairly cantered towards a low, sleek car that was waiting, engine thrumming with life a few yards down the road.
Inside the car, a smell of musk and man greeted her as her bottom met the leather of the passenger seat. A face half shadowed in stubble turned to smile at her; dark eyes matching dark curls and contrasting starkly with a crisp, white shirt.
‘Stephanie,’ the young man said, teasing at least four syllables out of the name, ‘you have brought your shoes?’
She dimpled, positively dimpled in reply, and lifted a pair of glossy black shoes with a square heel from her wicker basket.
‘Perfect,’ he said, ‘so let us go.’
Soon they were driving through the lanes, the rich, dangerous rhythms of a tango filling the car and tempting Stephanie to put on her new shoes right there and start dancing in her seat.
No. She must be patient. Soon enough she would be in Georgio’s arms, twisting and dipping and gliding, her body infused with grace again; her mind free to leap and soar.
On that floor she was nobody’s trusted clerk; not even a respectable widow.
She had a new routine.
Just on a Friday. Just till the music stopped.