EPISODE 42 - BLACK, OR WHITE?
by Michael Braccia and Jon Markes
Reverend John Peterson, a year away from planned retirement, used to dream of ending his mission ensconced in a nineteenth century vicarage in the centre of a leafy Cotswold village, or in the Sussex Downs, where he and Hilda used to spend their holidays before Zack was born. He would deliver Sunday sermons to an appreciative, if elderly congregation, before striding out to open the batting for the cricket team on the sunniest of afternoons. Hilda would arrive during the first innings with others from the WI, (of which she would be chair), and lay out sandwiches and a selection of local produce on trestle tables for the players and spectators. The evening would be spent over a pint or two of locally brewed real ale, named after a mythical dog that used to roam the village in days of yore, celebrating his century and debating the controversial LBW decision that ended his innings prematurely.
However, the diocese had a different plan for the Reverend and, today, he finds himself strolling around his rectory lawn, picking litter and tamping down divots created by the stalls erected there the day before. The fête had been a success. Monies had been raised for good causes and there was a feeling of bonhomie among the locals. That is, if he disregards Vera Cleeve stomping home, uttering a string of expletives following her disqualification from the cucumber competition; and Agnes Thornton’s not exactly veiled appeal to Jolene, aka Meredith Park, not to take her man; and Greg Withall’s unceremonious expulsion from the fête at the hands of several locals mimicking a lynch mob. Still, the evening had ended on a positive note with his Zack proposing to Clare, though he was relieved that Clare saw sense, once the initial shock of the proposal had worn off and suggested to Zack that they continue to enjoy their relationship as it is. She explained that she was not saying ‘yes’ to his proposal, but neither was she saying ‘no’. This had left the poor boy totally confused and he had stayed up late into the night discussing with his mother what this might mean. She pacified him by saying he should interpret Clare’s response as a ‘yes, but not now.’
Reverend Peterson picks up the last of the litter. He looks back at the vicarage. Not quite where he imagined he would be at the age of 59, but it’s not a bad place to live. And while seeing out the rest of days in a sleepy village still has its appeal, he feels it would not be as interesting as living in Leeford Village. He treads down a divot he had missed and walks back to the vicarage with a smile on his face.
‘Don’t speak to me!’
Agnes bustles past Cody, raising himself from the sofa on which he had spent the most uncomfortable night of his life, and not just physically.
‘Don’t speak to me. Don’t ever speak to me again!’
Agnes is in the kitchen slamming drawers and cupboard doors. She switches on the radio and turns up the volume. Cody tries to shake the humiliation of the previous day from his head, but he only succeeds in making himself dizzy. He hears footsteps coming down the stairs.
‘Morning, Adam,’ he says, weakly. His son makes a point of ignoring him and walks through to the kitchen.
‘This is unfair,’ says Cody to himself, his voice full of self-pity. ‘Come on, Cody Thornton. You can sort this out.’
He pulls on the clothes dumped on the floor and skulks into the kitchen. Adam is sitting at the table. His mother is frying bacon.
‘Smells good,’ offers Cody, but there is no response.
‘One egg, or two?’ shouts Agnes over the sound of the radio.
Adam raises two fingers in a Churchillian vee. Cody sits at the table.
‘I’d like some, too,’ he says, too quietly for Agnes to hear.
A few agonising minutes later, Agnes places a plate of bacon and eggs in front of Adam, followed by a steaming hot cup of tea. Adam tucks into his breakfast without looking up at his father. Agnes goes to speak, thinks twice about it and leaves the kitchen.
Cody gets up and switches off the radio.
‘Adam. I need to explain.’
Adam mops up a pool of bacon liquor with a slice of bread.
‘No need, Dad. It’s clear what’s been going on.’
Cody shakes his head.
‘It’s not what it looks like, son.’
Adam swallows a mouthful of bread.
‘Dad. I don’t care. You and Meredith do whatever sordid things you do.’
Cody rubs his hand across his brow.
‘We do nothing. There’s nothing going on with Meredith. It’s just me having a mid-life crisis.’
Adam laughs. ‘Mid-life crisis? That’s what every philanderer puts it down to. You’ll be buying a sports car next. That’ll impress Meredith.’
Cody bangs the table. Adam’s knife and fork bounce a little.
‘Enough! There is nothing going on between me and Meredith. I like Meredith and I have been very stupid, but you have to believe me when I say that Meredith has nothing to do with any of this.’
Adam picks up his plate and takes it to the sink.
‘I don’t care. Even if there is nothing going on, I have been totally humiliated. In front of the whole village!’
Cody puts his head in his hands.
‘I know, son. And I’m really sorry. I promise I’ll sort it out. I’ll go and see Meredith this morning and explain.’
‘You’ll do nothing of the sort, Cody Thornton.’ The voice is Agnes’s, who is standing in the doorway between the lounge and the kitchen, Cody’s overnight bag in her hand.
‘What are you doing?’ Cody looks at the bag, then Agnes, then Adam.
‘I’m doing nothing,’ says Agnes. ‘But you’re leaving. You can come for the rest of your stuff when you’ve found somewhere.’
Agnes drops the bag and goes back up the stairs.
‘Forget it, Dad. Just go.’
Ethel Lucas pours two cups of coffee and take them over to the couple sitting in the corner of the café.
‘Thanks, Ethel,’ says Linda Cross, sipping the froth off the top.
‘Can you do a heart, Ethel?’ asks Allen Gomez.
Ethel frowns. ‘A heart? What do you mean?’
‘In the froth. They do it in the artisan coffee shops. A heart. Or, a lotus flower.’
‘I don’t know anything about that. It’s just a cup of coffee.’ Ethel folds her arms, as if defending herself from modernity.
‘But, it’s not just coffee, Ethel. Not these days. How many different coffees do you do?’
Ethel looks up to the ceiling and taps her finger against her chin.
‘Now let me, see.’ She thinks for a moment. ‘Two. Black coffee, or white coffee.’
Allen and Linda laugh.
‘Four, if you count “with sugar, or without sugar”,’ adds Ethel, laughing too.
‘People don’t say “black coffee” these days, Ethel. It’s Americano,’ says Linda.
‘Then there’s latte, flat white, cappuccino, cortado…’
‘Piccolo,’ adds Allen, ‘and don’t forget all the syrups you can add.’
‘Well, I’m very black and white,’ says Ethel, ‘and that’s the way I do my coffee.’
She walks back to the counter, wondering whether she has been slightly ridiculed. She looks up at her menu. Tea, coffee, soft drinks, a very limited selection of sandwiches and some pies which she microwaves. Maybe she should offer more. Tastes change and she has noticed the drop in younger customers over the past couple of years. She has often walked past Tricia Ward’s sandwich shop and noticed the board outside advertising a whole selection of items that you would never think of putting between two slices of bread.
Allen and Linda are sharing a joke. Allen reaches for Linda’s hand. An unlikely couple, thinks Ethel, if indeed they are a couple, but they seem happy enough. Like her and Billy used to be, right until the end. How she wishes he were here now. What would he have to say about putting hearts on top of coffee froth? He wouldn’t even know what a lotus flower was. She smiles to herself as she remembers the day they first opened the café. Billy’s. He was so proud to have his name on a sign for the whole village to see. And, for many years, the café was at the heart of Leeford life. Now, there is just enough business for Ethel to get by, and she has to use her pension for extras. She sighs, heavily.
Allen and Linda finish their drinks and bring the empty cups over to Ethel.
‘Thanks,’ she says, wearily.
Linda looks at Allen.
‘We’re sorry, Ethel. We were only having a laugh. You know we love you,’ she says, patting Ethel’s arm across the counter.
‘I know you do, Linda,’ says Ethel. ‘And it’s lovely to see you and Allen so happy. You are a couple aren’t you, or do I have to deny I’ve seen you together?’
Allen laughs. ‘Could you really do that, Ethel?’
‘Hey, enough of your cheek, young man!’ says Ethel, winking at Linda.
‘Well, the coffee was lovely, Ethel, heart or no heart,’ says Allen.
‘That’ll be four pounds, then. I bet they charge an extra pound for the designer froth in those coffee shops you go to, eh?’ Ethel takes the money off Allen.
‘True, Ethel. Very true,’ says Linda.
Later that day, Allen and Linda are sitting in the kitchen.
‘You’ve been quiet this afternoon,’ says Linda. ‘What’s up?’
‘I’ve been thinking.’
‘About Ethel. There’s word on the street that she wants to sell the café.’
‘Well, what do you think of Allen’s Coffee Emporium?’
‘Never heard of it,’ says Linda.
Allen smiles. ‘Okay, what about Linda’s Espresso Bar?’
‘Hmm. Never heard of that either, but I like the sound of it!’