EPISODE 74 - MEETINGS
by Michael Braccia and Jon Markes
It’s down to Pippa to relay what she has heard about Edward Palmer. She draws herself up to her full five-feet-four.
‘Well, Ethel, it’s like this. Mandy’s friend in Bristol was watching the telly and on comes your Edward. Well, when I say “your” Edward, I mean the Edward you used to have before he…left you.’
There is a collective groan from those in the queue.
‘Go on,’ says Ethel.
‘Well, it turns out that your…sorry, Edward is a doctor and has written a book called Motability in Victoria’s Britain. It must be about the early days of electric wheelchairs.’
Ethel shrugs. ‘And? Edward’s always been interested in history, though I didn’t know he had written a book.’
‘Well, there we go, then!’ says Pippa, rubbing her hands.
‘There we go…where? says Ethel looking perplexed.
‘That’s it,’ says Pippa, looking pleased with herself for delivering the speech, but at a complete loss as to what to say next.
Ethel shakes her head. She looks at Mandy.
‘Have you any idea what she’s on about?’
Mandy looks at the floor and shakes her head. The rest of the clientele look towards Mandy, instinctively knowing that there is something not being said.
‘Mandy? Is there more to this? says Vera, hoping there is.
Mandy sighs. ‘My friend said that the interviewer asked about the illustrations in Edward’s book. He thought how “wonderfully Hogarthian” they were.’
‘Isn’t he a wrestler?’ asks Pippa, receiving a volley of hard stares as soon as she has uttered the words.
Vera gestures to Mandy to continue.
‘Edward said there was a Hogarth influence, but the illustrator is very much alive and is…’ There’s a long pause, during which Mandy’s face turns the colour of the post office sign.
Vera leans in towards her.
Mandy shakes her head.
The Parish Councillors, except for Frank Watson, have arrived in the snug at the Cross. Ted Coleman has furnished them with a round of beer and numerous packets of out-of-date crisps, which he can no longer sell.
‘Who’s chairing the meeting then?’ he asks, placing a glass in front of each of the men. The men look towards David Ward.
‘Me?’ he says, trying to look modest, but failing miserably.
Cody Thornton slaps him on the back.
‘You’re the only intelligent one here,’ he says. The others express their objection to Cody’s statement.
‘Alright, alright,’ smiles Cody. ‘But I do think David’s the man for the job. Eh? Lads?’
The rest of the men drum their approval on the table.
‘Well, in the absence of any other volunteers, I suppose I will,’ says David, slurping the foam from the top of his glass.
‘And, as I am the chair, I call this meeting to order.’
Frank Watson is selecting a tie appropriate for his current mission – to reinstate his authority over those who have dared to discuss the strategy for mounting the protest without his involvement, namely David and Ted.
A red tie is the obvious choice, though it does clash with his blue and yellow striped blazer. He is halfway through tying a perfect Windsor knot when his phone rings.
‘Hello, Watson speaking.’
‘John, I’ve already told you…’
‘Wait. Before you go off at the deep end, hear me out.’
‘Well, be quick. I have important business to attend to.’
‘Okay, I’ll be brief. I’ve had a word with my fellow councillors, who I have to say expressed disappointment over your decision not to go for election.’
‘The thing is, Frank, there is an unelected post available at the Council, which I think might suit you.’
‘Are you trying to bribe me again, John?’
‘Of course not. It’s just that this position has become available and it’s yours for the taking, if you know what I mean.’
‘What’s the position?’ Frank tries to sound nonchalant, but in doing so sounds overkeen.
There’s a silence while Frank immediately places himself in Banfield Town Hall, in a plush office, surrounded by acolytes carrying out his every whim. Frank Watson, Town Clerk, the sign on his thick oak door would say. Perhaps they would let him choose the carpet. Blue, it would have to be, the colour of his House at school, maybe with a thin gold stripe running through it. His reverie is broken by the sound of John Sotherby on the other end of the phone.
‘What do you think, Frank?’
Frank is about to respond when he feels a strange sensation in the pit of his stomach, different to the feeling of emerging flatulence that has caused him to beg leave of absence for a few minutes at Parish Council Meetings on several occasions, much to the merriment of others, though not expressed in his presence. No, this is a very different feeling altogether. This is the feeling of terror. This is the feeling of entering unknown territory, of jumping from the plane, of tumbling down the waterfall in a barrel. Town Clerk. The reality of the offer fills him with dread.
‘Give me a minute, John,’ is all Frank can say. The picture of him sitting behind a huge desk in a huge office in a huge Town Hall becomes distorted and is eventually replaced by a vision of him locked in a small room, while a queue of people outside bombards him with questions, proposals, complaints. He can feel the prick of knives in his back and sees a long line of people waiting to take his position, to clear his desk of his personal belongings, to replace the blue carpet with a thin stripe running through it. The fact of the matter, the fact he has to admit to himself is that he is not up to the job. Of course, he can’t admit that to John Sotherby. Suddenly, his thinking becomes clearer, the fog which has clouded his thoughts clears a little and he says, with a firm voice:
‘I see what you are doing, John. This is no different to the, quite frankly, corrupt way in which you wanted me to end, or rather, not begin the protest against the ring road, previously.’
John Sotherby’s voice is annoyingly calm.
‘Nothing of the kind. I don’t want you to stop the protest. Of course, as Town Clerk you would not be able to take part in the protest, or to express your opinion. But, surely, that’s a small price to pay for what I’m offering, isn’t it?’
The feeling of fear in Frank’s stomach changes to one of rage.
‘Frank Watson will never be bought! You can stick your offer where the sun never shines. I shall be reporting this matter to your superiors. Good day!’
Frank ends the call and completes the tying of the red tie.
‘Right,’ he says to himself, ‘now for David and Ted.’
Agnes Thornton shuffles along the concourse of Leeds station. Her legs feel heavy, as if they belong to someone else and it is difficult to put one foot in front of the other. As she arrives at the top of the escalator that will convey her to the ticket barrier, she looks at the sea of faces in the entrance below. One of those faces is that of the child she has not seen since birth. The escalator ride is long and slow, and Agnes scans the crowd. Would Jasmine be doing the same, she wonders? Is she standing down there looking up at the travellers making their way to the exit, wondering which one is the mother that abandoned her? Agnes’ throat tightens as she approaches the barrier. She scans her ticket and steps into the crowd beyond. She stands a while, the crowds passing by her. It’s a red coat she is looking for, a red coat and a purple scarf. She takes a deep breath and moves forward, towards a less crowded area. No red coat. She needs some air and walks, more quickly now, to the entrance. The doors slide open and on the other side of the door is Jasmine, tall and blonde, wearing a red coat and purple scarf. And next to her, a smaller version that looks up at Agnes and smiles.
‘Hello, Mom,’ says Jasmine. ‘This is…’, but Agnes doesn’t hear the name as she falls to the floor.
Frank Watson strides towards the bar.
‘My usual Sally,’ he says, his voice echoing around the empty room.
Sally greets him with a nervous smile and takes his tankard down from the shelf.
‘Where is everyone tonight?’ Frank asks.
Sally places the foaming pint on the bar.
‘They’re in the snug.’
‘The snug?’ Franks takes his first sip and smacks his lips together. ‘Oh, well, if that’s where they are, then that’s where I’ll be.’
Frank marches, pint in hand, to the snug, situated behind a door at the other end of the bar. He opens the door to the sight of the whole of the Parish Council sitting around two tables pulled together. David Ward is at the head with his back to Frank as he enters the room. The gathering falls silent. David turns to face Frank.
‘What’s this?’ asks Frank, addressing everyone in the room simultaneously. There is a shuffling of feet and the exchange of knowing looks between those seated. It’s Cody who breaks the awkward silence.
‘It’s an extraordinary meeting, Frank.’
‘Oh, I must not have received the communiqué. In which case, I’m sorry for being late.’
‘You’re not late, Frank. You’re not invited,’ says Cody, with a coldness that surprises everyone, including himself.