‘You know - the irony is, Evelyn was never meant to be here in the first place. We were all supposed to meet round at Clarice’s. But Clarice twisted her ankle in Sainsbury’s and stayed with me last night. So we had a bit of a last minute change around. Jane said she’d pick up Evelyn and the two of them would come down together, even though it’s a massive detour for her.’
‘I really wouldn’t have minded,’ says Jane, brightly.
‘You are good, dear. But then Jane’s car had something wrong with it...’
‘Or something, so she couldn’t manage it. So Evelyn said she’d pick Jane up and we’d all meet up here.’
‘Honestly, we’ve had such a run of it.’
Evelyn sits straight-backed and watchful in an armchair.
‘I’m sure these good people don’t need to know our every last movement, Vera,’ she says, plucking some invisible lint from her skirt and dropping it over the side.
‘But context is so important, isn’t it, officer? Or is that the police?’
Evelyn glitters dangerously.
‘Are you okay, Evelyn?’ I ask her.
‘Yes. Completely fine. Thank you,’ she says, then closes her eyes, giving a small, pale nod of the head, a queenly indication of the limitless depths of her embarrassment. ‘I came through it all quite unscathed, actually.’
Frank kneels down in the middle of the carpet and spreads out his obs kit like a salesman.
‘Well,’ he says, clapping his hands together and then selecting the BP cuff, ‘I must admit, when we turned into the close and saw those feet sticking out from under the car I thought – hello, this is going to be interesting.’
‘I bet it did give you a fright,’ says Jane, hugging her knees and almost bobbing up and down on the edge of the opposite sofa. ‘But Mr Jeffries was keen to see what the damage was down there.’
‘Yes. Well. Mr Jeffries should have thought of the impression he’d make when the emergency services pitched up.’
‘I called 999,’ says Clarice, her left ankle bandaged and up on a stool. ‘From my lonely vigil.’
‘So, Evelyn. Tell me again exactly what happened.’
She sighs, and kneads the back of one ancient hand with the desiccated fingers of the other.
‘I’ve driven automatics for years, so really I can’t think how this happened. I pulled up outside. I needed to park, so I put the car in reverse. I think I must have gone to look out of the window to see how much room I had left, when I banged my head.’
‘The window was still up,’ says Clarice.
‘It gave me such a shock. I put my hand up to my head like this, my foot slipped off the brake and onto the accelerator, and I shot backwards at a rate of knots.’
‘Into Mr Jeffries’ Rover.’
‘The blue one.’
‘With the dent in it.’
‘And then I think I must have been dazed or something, because I tried to drive forward again.’
‘The noise was unspeakable.’
‘Like a massacre.’
‘They all came running out.’
‘Especially Mr Jeffries.’
‘Until I came to a stop where you see me now.’
Suddenly a female police officer hallo’s in at the door and clumps into the lounge. A thrill runs through the four old women.
‘Everything all right, Ladies?’ she says, tucking her cap under her arm. She is such a towering figure of power, with her utility belt bristling with CS gas, baton, cuffs and flash light, her stab vest plumped up with notebooks, pens and a mobile phone, it’s like watching a storm trooper from some future law enforcement agency stepping through a time portal into an Edwardian luncheon party.
‘Shall I make some more tea?’ says Jane, jumping up and hurrying off into the kitchen.
‘I’d help..’ says Clarice, but leans forward and taps her bandaged foot solemnly.
Vera smiles up at the officer, and pats the cushion next to her for the officer to sit down on the sofa.
Evelyn says nothing at all.