Chapter 4: The Cost of Roofing These Days
You may be wondering of course, why these two sixty-something-year-old sisters decided… no had to return to Curmudgeon Avenue after the elephant incident? It was the cost of things, these days. So many decisions, all of them wrong, had left Edith a pauper. She had been married to Reg nearly all her adult life. Reg had been a traffic warden and Edith had, and up until recently, worked for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. When Edith met Reg, she felt like she had come home. It was a marriage made in Whitefield. On the day that Miss Edith Payne became Mrs Reginald Ricketts, the North Manchester sky had been the colour of bruises. The rain had soaked her wedding dress right through to her floral knickers. During their time together, to the outsider looking in, Reginald wore the trousers in their marriage. Giving Edith a long list of things to do every day, I told you she had felt like she was coming home when she met him. But Edith maintained a little unconscious control. Over the years, the trousers that Reginald so proudly wore had literally got bigger and bigger. Edith, it turned out, was a feeder. She, of course, with her long list of jobs to do, made the evening meal every single day. Seventeen courses overindulged with calories for Edith’s boys. Yes, boys plural. Edith and Reginald had one son, Ricky Ricketts. Anyway, back to Reg’s trousers. By the time he was in his fifties, he had become the only clinically obese traffic warden in the region. Until he died peacefully of a massive heart attack in his sleep on Christmas day. He had often been asked ‘how does he sleep at night?’ in his profession. The answer, of course, was ‘soundly and loudly’. That is how Reg had slept until his heart stopped beating. That’s when Edith’s downfall into financial difficulty started. Her GP had automatically written out a two-week sick note for Edith after Reg died. But when Ricky Ricketts, her son started with his emotional blackmail, Edith’s sickness stint had continued. Her personal problems were never going away, but in the end, she could not return to work because she was scared of the hard time that Pauline on the front desk was going to give her. Pauline had worked in Manchester City Council for years. She was curmudgeonly, shrewd and bossy. She had her own set of rules. Plugs must be unplugged. Telephones must be answered. Records must be administrated effectively. She did not suffer fools gladly. Pauline was a senior administrator. Senior by rank. Senior by nature. Senior in age. She was there for the sole purpose of herself, not to administrate for the staff she was supporting. On the day that Edith tried to return to work, Ricky Ricketts sent his mother a text message, demanding more cash. Edith started crying and Pauline made it worse. In the end, the authority that Pauline gained from working on the front desk sent Edith home on the sick. It was the moment that Pauline had been waiting for. Edith asked if she could use the loo first. Pauline said no, that Edith should go straight home. She let Edith walk through reception and out onto the street with black mascara running down her face. Not a good look for Edith. She cried enough to make her face blotchy and her eyes invisible. Edith was now officially on the sick, long-term and it was all Pauline’s fault.
The personnel department had protocols and procedures to follow when a member of staff is off sick. Once a week an occupational health officer would telephone Edith, and ask:
‘Are you feeling any different?’
‘No, I don’t feel any different’ Edith did not elaborate on how she was feeling, she did not know the person on the end of the phone.
‘When can I go back to work?’ The male occupational health officer had no information for Edith.
‘What happens next, Emma is that I will write a report and make some recommendations to your manager so that we can support you to return to work’ the officer had not even told Edith his name and had got hers wrong.
‘My name is Edith, not Emma… Emma was my mother’s name …’ Edith’s voice trailed off.
‘OK, Emma speak to you next week’
Edith thought about the telephone call. She thought about how no one had given her any information. No one would make a decision. She telephoned her work number.
‘Citizen’s Advice, Pauline speaking’
‘Hi Pauline, it’s me, is that manager, David in today?’
‘I’m sorry, I can hardly hear you, and could you speak up please’ Pauline barked down the phone.
‘Sorry Pauline, it’s me Edith I’m trying to find out if I can come back to work!’
‘And where are you phoning from please?’
‘Pauline! It’s me! Edith! ‘She looked around the house that she did not normally see during the day ‘I’m phoning from… err, my house!’
‘I’m sorry, you are going to have to speak up! With whom is it you would wish to speak with?’
Edith was getting frustrated. She wasn’t that quiet. There was something suspect about Pauline’s tone, she was putting on a false posh voice ‘with whom is it that you wish to speak with?’ Not you Pauline, Edith thought.
Things continued in this manner until Edith was eventually sacked. I say sacked, I mean had her position terminated, retired on ill health. With no wage coming in, and Ricky Ricketts making his mother’s life hell by draining her bank balance, Edith could no longer afford the family home she and Reg had doted over all those years. So when Edith’s parents died it was like all her Christmases had come at once.
As for Edna, when her relationship with her long-term partner, Mme Genevieve Dubois ended, Edna was left with Genevieve’s mounting legal debts from the court case involving her adopted son, Matteo. That, I must insist is a story for another day.
When the sisters returned to Curmudgeon Avenue, they had tried to sell the place, but after countless estate agent viewings, number one Curmudgeon Avenue remained unsold. The pair of them assumed that this was because of their fate ridden unspoken awareness that one day, they would be forced to live together again, rather than the truth that no-one wanted to buy the money pit that I had become. This day, the day of the leaking roof, Edith tramped upstairs for the twentieth time. The sky looked like an old bed sheet that had been caught up in the wash with a stray black sock, one too many times.
‘Edna, I’ve got three roofers coming around, one after the other to get quotes about fixing this leak’
‘Carry on Edith!’ Edna waved her sister away from her space and started drawing on even more eyebrow. As soon as Edna had started associating with Mme Genevieve Dubois all those years ago, things started to change for Edna. Her looks, her conceitedness. Although to be honest, she had always bullied Edith. ‘Oh! There’s the doorbell!’ Edith ran down the stairs, her cheap flip-flops conspiring to trip her up. The jeans moulded around the bottom portion of her hips had not fit her since the late nineteen-nineties, and due to her small stature, the hem was now pulling her back onto the step she had just alighted. Well, she went arse over tit, didn’t she? ‘Ding dong’ sounded the doorbell.
‘Wait! Wait!’ Edith tried to get up and rush to the front door. It was no good, she was winded like a broken Weeble, fighting to stand, unable to gain purchase on the threadbare carpet. ‘Edna!’ She shouted. ‘Edna, please answer the door!’ but Edna was oblivious, pretending to read, but in reality watching YouTube clips of cats. After two more doorbells and a letterbox rattle, the roofer was gone. ‘Oh no!’ Edith sighed. One down, two to go. Edith was not going to get caught out this time. She carried one of the small leatherette pouffes from the front room and squashed it into the hall. There she sat staring at the door, reminding her of a time she had done the very same thing when she was a girl. But then, she was not waiting for a roofer, she was waiting for a Romeo to come and sweep her off her feet. She had received a handwritten note the previous day, which had read:
‘Roses are red, violets are blue. Please look at me and say ‘He’ll do’. How about it, love? From Harold’
As a girl, this inappropriate note had fired Edith’s imagination. She had waited on that doorstep for the best part of a week until her father had chastised her, ‘Prince Charming isn’t going to just knock on the door, Edith!’ He had said. The note turned out to be for her older sister, Edna. My! She had not thought of those days until just now. She would not know Harold if she fell over him! Edith sat on that pouffe wondering whatever happened to Harold. And if her sister ever thought of him? Edith hardly dare ask! Hmmm …
‘Edith!’ Edna shouted from upstairs, her voice muffled by Edith’s imagination. ‘Edith! Edith! Edith!’ and so it went on until she was forced to take a break from her own self-importance to make her way downstairs to make herself a drink. Edith was not being fooled this time.
‘I’m waiting here on the pouffe until the roofer comes’ Edith asserted in an uncharacteristic fashion.
‘And I am going to the kitchen to make myself a black coffee’ Edna bossed with her everyday voice, the one she uses for everyday occasions.
There was an angry banging on the glass pane at the top of the front door. Edith jumped out of her skin ‘Oh!’ The palm of her left hand automatically landed on her décolletage, a gesture she usually reserved for everyday anxiety.
‘Is that the roofer, Edith? ‘Edna shouted over the sound of the kettle.
‘Yes,’ Edith said, whilst hitching herself forwards on the pouffe, closer to the door.
‘Well tell him to use the door knocker! I get very annoyed by people who are incapable of using the correct utilities!’
‘Yes,’ Edith said, almost at the front door… Why she did not just stand up and open the door is anyone’s guess, especially as the delay made the roofer repeat the erroneous greeting. Edith reached up to open the latched door, just a crack mind, the pouffe was now wedged in the vestibule, with Edith sat on top of it. Her little face, as round as a dinner plate, looked up towards the roofer.
‘Hello!’ He said ‘Is your mum in?’ He shouted through the crack in the door. She looked even smaller, squashed up in the vestibule.
‘Yes. She got squashed by an elephant’
The roofer stood back and looked at the number on the sign at the side of the door to check he had the correct address.
‘Did you phone me about having your roof looked at?’ The roofer was getting confused now. Just then, Edna appeared in the scene. She pushed Edith out of the way, which was not easy with her being wedged in the vestibule, she fell backwards, horizontal for the second time in as many hours, with her feet still on the pouffe.
‘We want a quote. A quote to have the roof replaced!’ Edna declared, with nostrils flared, flab bulging in and out of her black outfit, costume jewellery jangling like tinnitus. The roofer took in the image before him, he had been in the business for decades. He could tell a job that he did not wish to take on just by looking, usually at the roof itself, not usually the customers. And therefore employed a trick he reserves for everyday business management. The roofer stood back, looking up from the street in the direction of the roof of number one Curmudgeon Avenue. He shook his head and sucked in a sharp breath before whistling and tutting. He then proceeded to verbally offer to replace the sisters’ roof for three times the going rate.
‘HOW MUCH!?’ Edith shouted from her position on the floor.
‘He said…’ Edna thought that Edith had simply not heard, she turned to the roofer ‘Is that the going rate?’
‘Yes, I’ll let you and your…’ He looked at Edith again ‘Daughter? Think it over… give me a call back if you need me’
‘He seemed nice’ Edith said, as Edna shut the door.
‘We are going to wait for the next quote, Edith. And he did not seem nice!’
Serialised from my book The Terraced House Diaries (Curmudgeon Avenue Book #1) available to download in full here (UK) or here (US) join me same time next week for chapter 5. Happy reading, Samantha xx