‘She’s got a face like a bashed crab.’
‘Well that’s not a legitimate reason to dislike her.’
‘But it doesn’t help though, does it?’
‘But it’s not the kind of thing we can use against her, is it? “Get rid of the Chairwoman, she’s got a face like a bashed a crab!” People won’t go along with that.’
‘They should. Anyone with a face like that can’t be trusted.’
‘She can’t help the way her face is. What does it even mean, like a bashed crab?’
‘It’s an expression.’
‘Is it, Brenda?’
‘Course it is. A bashed crab, for a start, isn’t all too pretty. Plus the crab wouldn’t be very happy about being bashed. So it looks pissed off and grumpy all the time. Just like her.’
‘I didn’t think crabs had facial expressions.’
‘Course they do.’
‘They don’t even have faces. They’ve just got eyes stuck to their shell.’
‘Well the look in their eyes shows everything.’
‘How would you know? I bet crabs don’t even have feelings.’
‘Of course they do. And I would know. I’m a vegetarian. I can read animals well because I appreciate them as living, feeling beings. Not just something to kill and throw down on the table for my family to devour. Of course crabs have feelings.’
‘I really don’t think they’re conscious enough to think, “Oh, shit. I’ve been bashed. I feel angry, upset and scared and I’m going to show those emotions in my tiny black eyes.’
‘Look, Jim. Stop picking hairs. It’s an expression I have chosen to describe that bitch of a chairwoman and her sanctimonious face.’
‘So now the crab looks sanctimonious?’
The woman in question, with a countenance like injured shellfish, was Pauline Hardy, chairwoman of the Village Hall Society. She was not the most popular woman for the job. She hadn’t even been voted in via the usual democratic methods, but simply insisted that she would take on the role after the tragic downfall of the previous chair. Brenda, having fancied herself as a rather promising chairwoman, resented her for walking into the role without any word from the other committee members. Simply because she’s a little bit posh, Brenda would grumble, folk were too scared to stand up to her. But she wasn’t, and she had done at the latest meeting.
Brenda glared at Jim across the dining table. She was psyched for a full blown argument and denouncement of the entire village; her eyes wide, nostrils flared and teeth gnashing. But Jim was beginning to tire of the subject.
‘Look,’ he said wearily, ‘why are we wasting so much time and air on Pauline Hardy? Is she really worth talking about?’
‘I just don’t like her having control over our village. She doesn’t even live in the village, she lives half a mile out in her posh house on her hill lording it over us all.’
Jim looked at his wife. He couldn’t grasp why she got so hot and bothered about petty village matters.
‘So she wants new flowerbeds, does she?’ Brenda continued her tirade.
‘When we’ve got better things to pay for. The roof of that village hall is leaking all over the place. There are cracks across every single wall. The floorboards are rotting. It’s dangerous. And she thinks it can all be covered up with some flower beds? No wonder the ballroom dancing class don’t want their rehearsals there anymore. I wouldn’t want to dance there. Without a nice village hall it makes the whole place look like a shithole. Am I right, Jim? Am I right?’
‘Yes, Brenda. You are.’
Brenda folded her arms across her chest and wiggled her shoulders back into the chair. Jim thought how she reminded him of a duck wiggling its tail feathers in disdain after a fright from a preying cat.
‘You’re like a duck, woman,’ he told her.
‘You’ve got the wiggle of a duck.’ He said it with a smile, but might have known she wouldn’t take it kindly.
‘Are you saying I waddle?’ Brenda stood up and began to clear the plates from the table. ‘Look, Jim, I know I’m carrying a little extra weight but it’s difficult for me to shift it when I’ve got this business with her on my mind. I eat when I’m stressed.’ She grabbed a leftover roast potato and pushed it into her mouth, glaring at Jim to prove her point.
‘But why are you stressed?’ he asked.
‘Have you not been listening to anything I’ve been saying? It’s that woman!’ Brenda mumbled through a mouth full of potato.
‘Just don’t let her bother you. There’s more important things in life.’
‘Really, Jim?’ Brenda swallowed, mouth free to start another irate rant.
‘What else have we got to bother with? We’re both retired. Our son has moved out and started his own life. The dog died 6 months ago, now. We have very little left in our lives. This is what old people do- ’
‘Old? Speak for yourself.’
‘ –they join village societies. They get excited about things like this. I am angry about this bloody woman and I’d appreciate it if you’d indulge me and allow me to be angry.’
A ring at the doorbell made them both start. The couple looked at each other, puzzled.
‘Well who’s this, knocking at this time? What time is it, Jim?’
‘It’s eight-thirty. We weren’t expecting anybody, were we?’
‘Well I wasn’t, no.’
They remained frowning at each other for half a minute more. The doorbell rang again.
‘Well I suppose you should…’ Jim gestured towards the hallway.
‘If it’s gypsies, or Jehovahs, I’ll tell them where to bloody well go,’ Brenda muttered as she marched to the front door.
She pulled the door open with a jolt and was faced with a bashed crab.
‘Hello, Brenda. Can I come in?’ Pauline pushed her way past Brenda and stood in the hallway, a mountain of woman wrapped in fur coat and silk trousers. ‘I think we should talk about your little display at the meeting this evening.’
‘Display? That wasn’t a display, Pauline. That was simply my disagreeing with you on the matter of spending three hundred pounds on flowerbeds. It’s simply ridiculous.’
‘I think it was a display, Brenda. In case you hadn’t realised, I am the chair of the society and I will make the decisions. And I certainly won’t have the likes of you talking to me like that in front of my committee.’
‘Your committee? This is a democracy! You cannot dictate to us whether we will have flowerbeds. That village hall is in ruin, and you know it. That money could be put to better use.’
‘I was not dictating, I was simply – ’
‘You were dictating! You’re like… Mugabe. Or Stalin. Hitler, even. You’ve got the moustache to match.’
Judy’s eyes widened, and her hand raised to her face, shielding her top lip. Jim rushed through the doorway, hoping to calm to the situation.
‘Now, Brenda. No need to make things personal, is there?’
‘So you’re on her side, are you?’ Brenda accused.
‘No I’m not. I’m just trying- ’
‘No wonder he’s on my side. I may have slight facial hair, Brenda, but it’s something that can be fixed. The size of your arse is not easily hidden.’
‘How dare you, you snotty cow. I was just saying to Jim earlier, wasn’t I Jim, how you’ve got the face of- ’
Brenda was silenced by the shrill call of the telephone. All three were quiet for a moment, glancing at one another.
‘I’ll get it, shall I?’ Jim murmured. He disappeared into the lounge.
The battle began again. Brenda and Pauline’s insults tangled together until the house was filled with screeched obscenities interspersed with yells of flowerbeds and ballroom dancing.
‘Brenda!’ Jim suddenly snapped the women from their debate. He stood, swaying slightly, in the doorway. ‘That was… it was…’ his words were caught in his through. A cough released them. ‘The hospital. Mark’s had some sort of accident. He’s… they say he’s in a bad way. We need to go there, as soon as possible. We need to go now.’
Brenda stared at her husband, mouth ajar. Jim disappeared back into the lounge and began to gather car keys and nerves. Brenda turned her gaze upon Pauline. She finally found some words.
‘Do what the bloody hell you want with your flowerbeds, Pauline.’
Pauline took a step towards Brenda and enveloped her in a furry hug.
Brenda clung to her.