And I felt a lurch in my stomach as I spoke. People always think they feel things in their hearts, but they don’t – it’s all in the stomach. On Valentine’s Day there should be big red stomachs hanging up in shops, and the cards should say – you are my sweet-stomach, my stomach is all yours, and stuff like that.
“I wonder if I should wash . . . Thelma, do you think I should have a wash?”
Thelma dithered beside the bed, moving from one wee foot to the other, waiting to heave Thomas to his feet. The top of his pyjamas hung open and his belly bulged over the bottoms. There was a line of sweat where the bulge began and another across the back of his neck when he bent to look at his feet.
“Whatever you like, dear. The water’s hot.”
“Well, I will then. I’ll have a nice wash and you can change the bed. I’m a bit sticky. One of the boys spilled beer . . . “
Thomas waved a hand near his pillow and then clutched Thelma’s arm. She braced herself and waited while he moved his heavy legs to the floor.
“Up we go,” she said. “Upsy daisy.”
Slowly, Thomas pushed his feet into his summer gutties and hauled himself up along Thelma’s, thin shoulder. She glanced at his jacket hung over the chair, pockets sagging a bit with change, good! Thomas’ hand was tight on her wrist and she fixed her eyes on the plump, pink fingers. She would prick him like a sausage . . . prick, prick, prick, all over, and his pink skin would burst open with wee pops and the yellow fat would ooze out, relieved and grateful.
“I’ll have a piss first,” Thomas said.
“Yes, and have a shower,” Thelma said. “You’ll feel the better of it.”
Thomas nodded and shut the bathroom door. Thelma could hear him coughing, and then he was pissing and spitting and farting and coughing all at once – the whole bloody orchestra, as he said himself.
Vera lifted high-lighted curls from her face and held them behind her ears.
“You didn’t invite him for my sake, did you? Because I’m used to male company? It wouldn’t do, Rosemary. What would people think if I started seeing some – “
“Vera! What are you saying? I didn’t ask him for you. For God’s sake! The notions you get. Wear anything, whatever’s comfortable.”
“That’s where you always went wrong, you never made an effort. You always wore whatever you wanted, that eternal white, every stitch white. You have to dress up a bit. It makes men feel important if they think you went to a bit of trouble. Why don’t you cut your hair? Hanging down like that at your age, all that grey. Put a colour in it. You could have been like me if you’d tried – you could have had a proper life.”
“Jesus Christ!” Rosemary dropped the knife. “What would you know about a proper life? You had no life – everything for horrible Tony. What did you want for yourself? You don’t even know!”
“What do you mean? What are you saying about my husband? He was a good man. I had what I wanted. I had a proper home, and children. Jealousy is a terrible thing, Rosemary.”
“Jealous! Oh my God, this is too ridiculous. I’m not going to argue with you.”
“It’s all right, Rosemary.”
Vera trailed a hand across her forehead.
“You’re not used to company, people get odd when they live alone, I know you don’t mean any harm.”
She squeezed Rosemary’s arm and smiled gently.
“I think I brought my blue, silk dress, it’ll need pressed. I’ll just go up and get it.” Rosemary looked up. Her eyes followed the footsteps across the room above . . .