As Ada applied her Rose Petal Pink lipstick which was all gnarled and stubby and a quick spray of her favourite Yardley’s Lily of the Valley, she looked over at Tinker all curled up on the sofa. She had been through so much since Cyril died a few months earlier and with Jerry, her son living in Australia she sometimes felt that Tinker was the only friend she had.
She wrapped a silk scarf around her neck and fetched her beige mac and her large zipped shopping bag from the hallway; she kept going over and over the phone bill which had arrived that morning. So many entries with international alongside them, but surely she had only called Jerry a few times. She hoped there had been some mistake, how on earth was she going to find the money? As she folded the letter and placed it on the mantelpiece with her mind reeling, she checked her reflection in the mirror one last time before walking over to Tinker. Stroking the jet black cat “You are a good boy Tinker I’ll be back soon with your favourite dinner”.
Tinkers response was to open his green eyes briefly and with a disinterested flick of his tail went back to sleep.
Walking along the high street, Ada reflected on these past few months; she did a lot of that lately….thinking. When her husband died, she thought her heart would break and was convinced she would soon follow but it hadn’t been that way. Instead, she had been left behind to sort out his funeral. There had been no life insurance. She grimaced, how could Cyril have been so remiss? He had always paid everything on time but for some reason, he missed payments and their policy lapsed. No matter, she had managed like she always did. With what was left in her post office savings account, she gave him a modest but respectable send off. Her only regret was that Jerry couldn’t have stayed longer after the funeral.
Before she knew it, Ada was at the door of her local store. As she was about to push the door open, Mrs Briggs beat her to it and opened the door from the inside, the little bell tinkling as it had done for years. It always made Ada smile but not today.
“Well hello Ada, how are you this lovely morning?”
“Can’t complain Mrs Briggs, you know how it is”. Ada wasn’t really in the mood to chat today, so much to think about.
She collected her little wire basket and headed off to the aisle where she knew she would find Tinkers favourite tins of Whiskas. He was a fussy thing and only the best was good enough for him. It had meant some sacrifices but she had tried him with the cheaper brands but they didn’t suit and she wasn’t about to let him go hungry.
Once she had put the four tins of cat food into her basket, she made her way to the bakery section and located a small white loaf which she popped in alongside the tins, next tea. Ada always liked the leaf tea; PG Tips being her preference but lately she had made do with the own label.
“Right then Ada, just your usual I see. I tell you what we have just had the bread delivery, let me go get you a nice, fresh loaf”.
As Mrs Briggs headed off, Ada noticed the poppies on the counter, she looked in her purse, yes she had a few coins and reached up to put them in the collection box, gosh it was heavy.
Ada glanced around and without even thinking, put the full red box into her bag before zipping it up quickly – what was she doing? How could she? It was a charity box and a remembrance one at that. She had to put it back, she wasn’t a thief. Too late now, some teenage boys had come into the shop and were standing alongside her.
Mrs Briggs came back and immediately noticed the missing box, suspiciously she eyed the boys before screaming at them. “How dare you, put it back now before I call the police, you thieving little toads”.
The boys all giggled and smirked “Your off your head lady, what you talking about, we ain’t took nothing”.
“The Poppy box, the Poppy box” shrieked Mrs Briggs “Put it back now! This is your last chance”.
Ada watched in dismay as Mrs Briggs picked up the telephone and dialled 999. The boys realising that they were going to be in trouble for something they hadn’t done, ran past the old lady and headed for the door. Mrs Briggs tried to stop them, but they were too fast. She shouted from the shop entrance “I know who you are and I will be sending the police”.
Ada couldn’t speak. She gripped the bag, her arthritic knuckles almost white, police sirens filled the air.
Soon, the shop seemed to be full of policemen but the reality was there were just two; their presence was so overwhelming for Ada. Her head started to swim and her heart felt as though it would break free from her chest. How could she?
As Mrs Briggs started to give descriptions to the officer, realisation hit Ada; she was the thief, not the boys…..but her. What would Cyril think of her and him an old solider too?
Slowly, she unzipped her bag and removed the collection box, placing it back on the counter.
In a barely audible voice, she announced “I am so sorry Mrs Briggs, I feel so ashamed, I was desperate, my phone bill you see”. Her voiced tailed off “it wasn’t the boys”.
As the policeman gently led Ada to the car, she turned and looked up at him with tears in her eyes.
“Officer, can somebody please go to my house and feed Tinker, he will be waiting for me and looking for his dinner”.
©Tracey Louise Marinelli