Wednesday, 20 May 2020

22b Limekiln Lane


Brenda watched the burgundy and custard-yellow No.14 bus sail past the café window and up Limekiln Lane. She should have been on it, after finishing her Agony Aunt slot at the local radio station. Instead, here she was, sitting in a café with chipped formica tables, a tea urn which had probably been shiny and new some time in the late-1950s, and Madge behind the counter, who’d been in her prime round about the same time.

A dowdy middle-aged woman half-smiled as she put a pale green mug of tea before Brenda, then scuttled back to the counter. The same harmless looking woman who’d been waiting outside the station after the morning show to shyly invite her for a chat over a cuppa.

Brenda had a pretty accurate antenna for evil. After so many years, she had evaded her fair share of those seeking revenge for encouraging their partners to walk away from lives where abuse was part of the daily routine.

But this sweet lady, Jayne (with a y, as she had been at pains to point out), sounded no such alarm bells. She had a pleasant face, a little tired and puffy, with a hesitant touch of mascara and a shy slick of lipstick. Ordinary, well-meaning, eager to please. Certainly not someone likely to cause trouble.

They almost had the place to themselves. Just an old fella by the open door sharing his bacon sandwich with a scruffy wolfhound and a hipster couple soaking up the ‘authentic vintage vibe’ of the establishment.

This will all be gone soon, mused Brenda. Might as well let them enjoy their mundane reality before it’s turned upside-down, inside-out and twisted beyond their wildest imaginings.

Jayne was back, with a cup of the muddy swill Madge was confident few of her clientele could distinguish from real coffee, and fewer still would dare complain about. She slid a plate with a flat, flaky, sugar-crusted pastry in front of Brenda.

“Eccles cake,” she chirped. “You said you love them when you were talking to that lass with the eating problem last week.”

“Goodness, what a memory you have. Thank you.”

“It’s the least I can do,” replied Jayne.

She meant it. Few people seemed to notice she existed these days, let alone bother to listen to what she had to say. But something about Brenda’s ‘I’m here for you, lovey’ when she’d called in with her mid-life woes told her she might be open to listening some more.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” Brenda asked, taking a bite from her pie.

She stifled a cough. It had obviously been sitting under the dome on Madge’s counter for over a week.

“Past my sell-by date,” mumbled Jayne. “That’s how I feel. My life is ordinary, expected. Stale.”

Brenda’s eyebrows arched as she struggled to swallow the dry pastry. Jayne took it as a question.

“The kids are at Uni. Harry’s got work and golf. I can’t help wondering ‘Is that it?’. I need an adventure – but I’m not sure bored housewives are supposed to have adventures.”

Brenda forced the cloying flakes down and cleared her throat.

“What kind of adventure, lovey?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Something to remind me of who I thought I was going to be when I was a young girl. I was fearless back then, you know. Ready to take on the world, change it too. But somehow that got lost along the way, meeting Harry, building our life, looking after the kids.”

She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye.

“I know, I know. I should count my blessings. Take joy from what I have. A life others can only dream of. Happy marriage, great kids, lovely home. Holidays in the Loire Valley every year…

“…but, somehow, it’s not enough.”

The far-off sound of a klaxon cut through the hum of the suburban street and distant wash of waves on the beach. The wolfhound at the door pricked up its ears, and his owner hurriedly stuffed what was left of his sandwich into his mouth.

“Great timing, Gabe,” muttered Madge, wiping down the countertop and switching off the tea urn. “Just before the lunch-hour rush.”

The 21st century teddy girl and her beardy friend remained oblivious as they Instragrammed their ironic egg and chips brunch.

Brenda’s sixth, seventh and eighth senses were all tingling like she had fallen into a bed of nettles. It was time to get out – now. She looked up at Jayne who was idly pushing the scum in her coffee cup around with a spoon.

“Do you really mean that?”

“What?”

“That you want an adventure.”

Jayne chewed on her bottom lip, looked down and thought for a moment before licking her spoon clean and looking Brenda in the eye. She nodded emphatically.

Beyond the sensible hair and comfortable shoes, Brenda saw what was lurking beneath the M&S hoody and mum jeans.

Yes, she would do.

“Come on, then.”

The two women rose. Madge waved her dishcloth, and the old fella growled “See you later” as they went through the door.

Taking Jayne by the arm, Brenda patted her hand.

“Like I said, I’m here for you. But you’ll have to trust me. And be there for me too. Can you do that?”

Jayne nodded.

They’d walked twenty yards down the familiar street when Brenda pulled her to a stop next to a gap between two red-brick houses. It was barely the width of a shipping trolley. Jayne knew the street like the back of her hand, but had never spotted this narrow alley before.

Inside was dark and smelly. Bulging bin bags of dubious shapes and sizes lined its sides, punctuated by occasional ominous rustles. Jayne shuddered inwardly but focused on what was ahead.

A dead end.

The alley went nowhere. It finished abruptly at a battered wooden shed. On its mossy green door was a polished brass number plate.

“Welcome to 22b Limekiln Lane,” said Brenda, opening the door and pushing her across the threshold.

An unexpected smell crept up Jayne’s nose, quite unlike the old shed scent of abandoned tools, potato sacks and rising damp she had been expecting.

Coffee. Real freshly brewed coffee. Deep, aromatic, sensual. 

As her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she realised this was no shed. Before her a street stretched out as far as she could see, which wasn’t far as it was a moonless night (despite barely being midday back in Bridlington) and no streetlights lit the scene. Next to her a wide pipe, like a chimney flue, was pumping out the hot aroma of roasting beans.

Brenda nudged her and pushed a thimble-sized cup into her hands “Here. Drink this. I think you’re going to need it.”

Jayne took the cup and downed it in one. Thick espresso rich enough to make a strong Italian cry slipped down her throat, snapping her back to reality… or whatever it was that she now found herself in.

“Er, what’s going on, Brenda?”

The agony aunt smiled beatifically as a dark shape like a giant moth rose up behind her.

“This is your adventure,” she said.

“And by the way, you can call me Haniel.”

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