When Lynne arrived at her bubble friend’s house for their morning coffee she was surprised to find Eleanor in a state of agitation.
‘Are you okay, the effects of the second jab?’
‘Yes, no… let me get the coffee and I’ll tell you my news.’
Lynne could not imagine what the news could be, not much happened in Covid times and certainly nothing to put her friend in such a state, but there was something different about the house. The usual vase of cut flowers on the hall stand had disappeared and so had the orchid on the window sill. As she followed Eleanor into the kitchen she was puzzled to see the cupboard door handles tied together with stout string.
‘Go and sit down Lynne, I’m just trying to remember where I put the coffee.’
‘Okay, I brought that jigsaw, I’ll put it on the dining room table.’
There was a strange crackling underfoot as Lynne walked into the dining room and she realised she was walking on plastic sheeting that covered the carpet. Eleanor hadn’t mentioned that she was going to have decorators in. The exquisite mahogany dining table, recently inherited from an aunt, was covered in a heavy duty plastic tablecloth, perhaps her friend was planning to do some messy crafts.
When Lynne moved into the usually elegant front room her confusion increased; it now seemed most likely her friend had been burgled. The fireplace looked bare, gone was the antique urn with its arrangement of dried flowers and the crystal vase Lynne had given her for Christmas was no longer on the windowsill. She glanced around the room and took in a bizarre scene. The glass cabinet had a heavy quilt secured round it and the occasional tables all had wodges of foam taped to their corners. The three piece suite was covered in throws that looked like they had come from Wilkos rather than John Lewis and there was no sign of the embroidered cushions.
Eleanor walked in with two scruffy looking mugs.
‘Sorry about the mugs, they’re the ones Anthony used to keep down at the allotment. I’ve packed all the bone china away. I’m afraid I didn’t have time to make a cake… well I have been baking, but not for us…’
Before any explanation was forthcoming there was the sound of frantic yapping and Eleanor went to open the back door for Covina, the little dog she had acquired from the dachshund rescue centre. The dog rushed into the room to greet Lynne.
‘You’re surely not moving house, Michael hasn’t persuaded you to go over there?’
‘Goodness no, I wouldn’t even go to that dreadful country on holiday; they’re coming back to England, out of the blue, arriving at Heathrow early afternoon. It seems they are allowed to quarantine with relatives, me.’
‘Oh that’s wonderful news, at last you’ll get to see the babies.’
‘Hardly babies, three and four now and if they are like Michael was at that age… my head spins just seeing them on Facetime. So I have taken a few precautions, I don’t want to be responsible for them ending up in A&E. Forty four years old and Michael still has that scar on his forehead from the fireplace at our first house. I was going to ask, you know you said you would love to have Covina to stay if I ever managed to go on holiday, do you think you could possibly have her now?’
‘Yes of course, though I’m sure the children would be gentle with her.’
‘I’m worried she might bite them; the charity did say she was best suited to a quiet home with an older person. I remember that time with my brother’s dog when Michael was three; it was his fault of course, shoving his hand in the dog’s mouth.’
‘Covina’s hardly a pit bull, but I suppose tiny fingers could be a worry. I shall enjoy having her.’
Eleanor kept looking nervously at the clock, she had the hands free house phone and her mobile by her side.
‘Relax you’re all organised, except… perhaps now the charity shops are open again you could get a few toys for them…’ she looked at the expression on Eleanor’s face ‘or maybe order on line.’
As if in answer to that suggestion they heard the door bell being rung frantically.
‘Ah that will be the Amazon parcels; Michael asked me to get some Lego sets for them.’
‘Aren’t they a bit young for Lego, choking hazards?’
‘Oh dear, I hadn’t thought of that.’
Ten minutes later Eleanor had located the scissors she had hidden away and they manged to get the boxes open to reveal several brightly coloured Lego sets.
Eleanor examined the writing and pictures on the boxes.
‘Strange people and vehicles, but it seems only under threes choke, so that’s a relief. But really Lynne I’m getting too old for all this; you wait years to get some grandchildren, then they go abroad and then there’s a world wide pandemic and nobody gets to see their grandchildren…’
Two days later Lynne turned into Eleanor’s road on her way to the post office and was alarmed to see an ambulance outside Eleanor’s house. After all the precautions she wondered what mishap had befallen the precious grandchildren. She wasn’t being nosy, she had to walk that way anyway. As she got closer there was a further shock when she saw Eleanor on a stretcher being wheeled down the front path.
‘Oh Lynne, isn’t this embarrassing, Michael will tell you what happened.’
As her friend was loaded into the ambulance a frazzled looking man emerged from the front door with a wriggling, screeching child in his arms.
‘Nee Nah, Nee Nah, I want to go in the hambliance.’
The man’s voice was muffled through the child’s hair. ‘Nice to meet you Lynne, I hear you have been a great support, but we’re here now; just as well now this has happened.’
‘What did happen?’
‘I’m not exactly sure; Mother was tidying up all the mess in the dining room after breakfast and she stood on some Lego and slipped on the plastic sheeting.’