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"Exactly how bad can a mid-life crisis get?" #3
CHAPTER 3
By Daily Florence Posted in Grace on May 22, 2022 0 Comments 19 min read
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Start this story from the beginning!

CHAPTER 3

I

stared at Agnes, Bessie and Hilda through the window of the “Ye Olde Person’s Pub” on Liverpool Street, just down from the station. ‘That’s them,’ said Gladys.

‘Where?’

‘There, see.’

‘No. There’s just purple hair everywhere. How can you tell them apart?’

‘Oh, stop that and come on.’

I trudged inside behind Gladys.

‘Grace, meet Agnes, Bessie and Hilda.’

The first old lady caught me unaware; she stood up and leapt in for a big bear hug before I’d even had a chance to dodge her. As she jiggled my fur coat up and down, she said, ‘Grace, it’s so lovely to meet you. Gladys has told us so much about you.’

‘Yeah, nice to meet you too, Bessie,’ I said.

She let go of me. ‘Agnes, I’m Agnes, my dear.’

‘Oh right, sorry.’

The next old lady did exactly the same as I was mid-dodge, aiming for behind Gladys.

‘Nice to meet you, Hilda,’ I said, trying to breathe for dear life.

‘I’m Bessie, my lovely,’ she said as she death-gripped me.

The very second she let go, I plonked my bum on a spare stool and held out my hand to the other old lady who immediately slapped it away and dived in for a hug. ‘Grace, I’m so happy to finally meet you, my dear.’

‘That’s nice, thanks, Agnes.’

‘I’m Hilda, my dear.’

‘Okay, give Grace some space. We don’t really have guests so we’re all really excited to have you, that’s all,’ said Gladys.

From there on in, I sat very quietly and supped my shandies as I listened to the intense chinwag that the old ladies were having between themselves. The chatter from everyone else in the pub seemed to fade into the background as they tuned their hearing aids in to one another and began conversing. 

In the space of two hours, I’d barely got a thought or opinion in, not that I had anything to say mind, because every time I answered one of their questions they corrected me and then predicted the future outcome of my said issue that I didn’t know I had yet. 

About midway through, I decided to pull my squirrel pad out and write this shit down because, despite it being a long, long way off, these ladies were practically a walking manual on getting old. My notes went like this:

List of Important Things to Remember About Being Old:

-It’s Tena Lady, not Tenner Lady. (Now I get it.

-Kegal exercises will stop me requiring either of the above. (Undertake immediately.)

-The neighbours really are out to get me. (Neighbour + Feather Duster = Agreed.)

-A day will inevitably come when I know more than my doctor. (Must grill present doctor.)

-People won’t expect me to do things, like: save a drowning dog, remember things, look both ways, stand for any period of time, hurry up, indicate, know things, like teenagers, carry things. (People expect this?)

-Also, people won’t expect me to do things, like: call them a ‘cheeky fucker’, steal stuff, seek revenge, lie or deliberately run them over. (Nice.)

-I will forget why I hate someone but never forget that I hate that someone. (Were these old ladies Britain’s answer to the Dalai Lama?)

-Hearing aids are not really required because, if you think about it, it’s everyone else’s problem. (Or Sir Isaac Newton?)

-I will forget where I put things. (Like what?)

-I will forget why I walked into a room. (Shit.)

-Teenagers will all look the same. (Dammit.)

-I will distrust overly happy people. (FFS)

-There is always one dunce in the tax office who I will hate with a passion. (WTF)

-Forms get harder. (But they’re already …)

-Advice from twenty-somethings make you want to punch them in the face. (I do that alre…)

-People will talk more slowly to me. (OMG)

-I will appreciate gardens. (My life is over.)

-There will be more stupid people in the world than there used to be. (Kill me now.)

-I will write a lot of lists. (Or should I just kill Gladys and her friends?)

-Everybody is …

I had to stop writing, I could feel a tremor forming in my fingertips, a build-up of sweat trickling down my face, my heart beating from underneath my tracksuit. Then Beryl, or maybe Sheryl, turned to me and said something which at that point I should have expected considering the line of conversation. ‘So Grace, I’m so sorry to hear about your mother, that must have been so hard for you.’

The other ladies all went ‘Aaah’ and then collectively stared at me in anticipation of a suitable answer. I’ve never owned any suitable answer in my life so they weren’t about to get one now.

‘I … I … I need the toilet.’ I grabbed my phone and bolted, bursting through the door of the men’s and shouting, ‘Put your penises away, I’ve made a terrible mistake’ and then nonchalantly strolling to the ladies’.

I gripped the sink in the ladies’ toilets and squeezed my fingers into the cold ceramic. Gladys must have bloody told them. I hated it when people said that to me: how did I feel? It’s such a stupid question to ask when you think about it. All they are really saying is ‘Please relive your misery for me so I can sit there and pity your sorry ass and feel better about everything that’s ever gone wrong in my life’. 

I was usually such a master at throwing a curveball too, especially when my parents came into it. 

I usually say, ‘Oh yes, my parents, well, my mother was a full-time whore and my father a banker and they both died during an Icelandic sport event, maybe you’ve heard of it, called Naked Sex Parachuting?’

After that, I find people are more bothered about the current price of flights to Iceland than they are about the fact that my parents are dead. That’s how much they care.

As I stood trying to calm down in the toilets, I remembered something that I knew would cheer me up. I’d found this guy on Squinder, the new dating app for squirrel lovers, last week and we’d got on famously when we had exchanged messages.

He was forty-six, loved squirrels, long walks, beach picnics, candlelit dinners, treating women nicely, buying women stuff, fine wine and had been brought up on the streets of France where he had been taken in and trained by a local gang of rouge pastry chefs from the tender age of ten. He sounded right up my street and he hadn’t, so far, even asked me for any money. Which was a good job because I didn’t have any. 

Luckily one of the old folks were using their hearing aid as a Wi-Fi hotspot, so I piggybacked their internet and logged on. I immediately spotted a message from him:

‘Hey, honey. How’s your day going? I’ve just been polishing the Audi and now I’m sat on my balcony enjoying a glass of Châteauneuf du Pape which reminds me of you—earthy, fleshy with a hint of oak—ay. lol. How about we meet tomorrow night? I don’t know, at The Smokin’ Haggis Caff say, for dinner at 8 pm? My shout.

Love Tony xxx’

I replied …

‘OMG The Smokin’ Haggis Caff! I so, so love that caff, they do the best all day breakfasts on this planet so I will pre-call them and make sure we can get that. Just been chillin’ and polishing my Jimmy Choos today. At my grandparents’ mansion now, they serve the worst crudities though so I can’t wait to leave. See you tomorrow.

Love Grace xxx’

I couldn’t believe it, he said he’d pay—get in! I hope I didn’t sound too desperate though; it had been a long time since I’d had a good fry-up. 

I rushed out of the toilet and headed straight for Gladys and her friends, eager to tell them all about my new date, when I noticed something very strange. 

I slowed my pace, taking in the faces of everyone in the pub who were on their feet and staring at me in total silence: the barman, the customers, even the ladies. Everyone followed my every move until finally I came to a stop in front of the ladies’ table.

I raised my arms and shouted as loud as I could so that everyone in the room could hear me. ‘I am so, so sorry for ruining your night out. I’m pretty sure BT has probably exploded again. You should all phone them because I didn’t use the internet at—’

‘Grace.’

‘Yes, Gladys.’

‘It’s not that, be quiet, I have something to tell you.’

‘What else have I done?’

‘Nothing. Listen, will you? Last week I won some money on a scratchcard.’

‘Oooh, how much?’

‘Don’t be nosy.’

‘Okay.’

‘Anyway, I’ve won this money and, well, I’m not getting any younger and there’s nothing else to spend it on so I thought I would treat you and me to a one in a lifetime trip to your most favourite place in the world that you’ve been dying to see and going on about since forever.’

As she spoke my lower jaw sunk down and my eyes sprang wide open. I could hear gasps ricocheting from around the room as the excitement built. 

The first thing I thought was how much hearing aids had evolved in the last few years, to the point where all of the old people in the room had better hearing than dogs, and how I was now going to need to get the word out on my return home. 

And the second thing I thought literally spewed out of my mouth in one continuous manic scream …

‘WALES. You’re taking me to WALES. ARRLLLGHH. AND I GOT A FREE FRY-UP.’

‘Grace, NO, for goodness sake, you’ve never said you want to go to Wales. California … we’re going to Hollywood, Grace.’

It was all too much; the excitement seemed to explode in the room and then grind into slow motion as I gripped my mouth and did a three-sixty. 

All around me there were old people punching the air, old people diving off tables, old people high fiving, old people downing pints, old people crowd surfing, old people body-bopping, old people chest bumping. 

I screamed out at the top of my lungs, ‘YOU LYING BUNCH OF BASTARDS’ to which every old person in the pub responded by slamming their bums back down on their seats and rubbing their backs.

Gladys and the ladies rushed towards me. ‘Are you excited? How do you feel?’

‘This is the best day of my life, ever, ever, ever,’ I said, wiping away tears. ‘I can pick up my Nobel Peace Prize now too. I’ve never been so happy. Oh, for goodness sake.’

* * *

I spent the whole of the next day getting ready for my big fry-up, I mean date, and Gladys said I looked sensational when, after my thirtieth tracksuit change, I finally leapt into the front room wearing my crushed pink velvet one with diamantes on the ass that read “Juicy Bootie”. It was my finest.

‘Should I bring Mr Nutty McNutnut?’

‘Probably not on your first—’

‘I mean, he loves squirrels, right?’

‘Right, but I don’t think you should—’

‘I can’t leave him here. Look at his little facey face.’

‘You know what, just bring him, Grace, that’s to—’

‘I should leave him. What am I thinking? That’s a stupid idea. Turning up with a squirrel, that’s not sexy, right?’

Gladys sighed.

‘Ohh, what do you reckon? I’ve been thinking of keeping it sophisticated with unicorn nails or do I do some early Halloween ones, cos I’m sure he said Halloween is his favourite party season and that he likes reading gravestones cos they make him cry.’

‘Definitely unicorn on—’

‘Halloween it is. I’ve got some cracking gun-stone grey for the mini headstones.’

‘Lovely.’

‘Oh, oh, what do you reckon? So do I go with the sparkly gold glitter eye shadow, or do I go for the alluring midnight black? He said that he’s seen a lot of dead people in his life and, because he’s a free thinker, he finds that even in death the dead look mysterious and seductive. Oh my, it’s like he’s a poet or something.’

‘The glitter, Grace, go with the bloody—’

‘You’re right …’

‘Phew.’

‘The midnight black looks so hot on me. I’ll go with that. Oh yeah, last one, he said he’s really good with his hands so, bearing that in mind, do I go with the sexy red bra that’s practically impossible to get off, and has so far caused the loss of a finger to at least two of my one-night stands, or do I go with the slip-off sports bra that’s so loose you literally just have to will it with your eyes and it listens.’

‘Em, em …’

‘If it helps, his favourite hobby is abattoiring and he once represented Liverpool in the Winter Abattoir Olympics.’

‘The loose one, go with the loose one.’

‘Are you sure? It’s just that I don’t want it falling off on the way—’

‘WEAR THE LOOSE ONE. WEAR THE BLOODY LOOSE ONE.’

‘Alright, stressy, the red sexy bra it is.’

‘Grace?’

‘Yes.’

‘Can I ask, who exactly are you going on a date with here? You know … what’s his name? Picture? Are you bringing your phone? When should I expect you back?’

‘Oh right, stay safe and all that, good thinking. Let me see … here is his profile on my phone. So, his name’s SquirrelDeamon666 and he’s local.’

‘Grace, his real name?’

‘Oh, it doesn’t say but here’s a picture. It’s a bit blurry. That’s him on the right, back five spaces and then go left sixteen. Right, him, there. Okay, that’s him.’

‘Let me see.’ Gladys placed her giant square glasses on and brought the phone closer to her nose. ‘The one in the red.’

‘Yes.’

‘Right then, so I hope you have a nice time. See you later.’

‘Okay, so a time I will be back, shall we say 2 am before you dial 999? And 3 am before they send out the dogs?’

‘Whenever is fine, just take your time.’

‘We should agree a time, right?’

‘No, don’t worry, I’ll wait up.’

‘Well, what about my phone number? You don’t write phone numbers down, do you remember mine?’

‘That’s fine, Grace. Have a nice evening now. Eastenders is on so please give me some peace.’

‘What’s my number?’

‘I remember it, Grace. Have fun tonight.’

‘A code word, should we at least agree that?’

‘Programme’s starting.’

‘You want a piece of clothing so you can find me?’

‘Can’t hear you, it’s started.’

‘Oh, right, well, I suppose I’ll just do my nails and eye shadow and be gone then.’

***

When I sat down in The Smokin’ Haggis Caff later that night, I realised that they had pulled out all the stops for me. I sank into my window seat in my crushed velvet tracksuit and slowly ran my fingers over the tartan paper tablecloth that adorned the table in front of me just as a flicker of heat from a tea-light in the middle of the table tickled my face. 

I gasped at the pre-laid cutlery and then fluttered my eyelids as I looked over yonder; the staff had thoughtfully dimmed the lights in the whole room, ensuring to blur an outpouring of love from all of the other customers in the establishment. 

Suddenly, my nose twitched; a delicious hint of burning sausages had allowed itself to drift over the loved-up patrons and personally kiss my nostrils. 

A local Scottish Mariachi band named “Los Mariachi Flor De Yer Bum’s Oot The Windae” shuffled sideways around the room, gently caressing our ears with songs like Yesterday and Ferry Cross the Mersey; and finally I knew the cafe had done a really good job when I spotted a small child sitting next to the plug socket letting off a smoke machine at regular intervals. 

I could hardly believe it; I sat back and shook my head in disbelief. It was if the stars had aligned just for me, waving their magic wand and rendering me Cinderella for the night. 

What next? Would Benedict Cumberbatch float in on a bed of prosecco and chocolate and ask me to marry him?

Then something happened that I really didn’t expect.

‘Em, em, em. So, like, are you SexySquirrel69?’ a familiar voice said to me.

I looked up only to see my weird next door neighbor standing there, holding onto an unfortunate looking squirrel teddy. ‘Oh, my motherfucking balls. Are you SquirrelDeamon666?’ I replied.

We both stayed perfectly still and stared at each other for a moment. My eyes kept darting between the squirrel teddy he was holding and his face. I could feel my left eye twitching as the working side of my brain whirred through all my available options. I’d already got there early and eaten poached eggs on toast, four sausages and five hash browns. I owed them at least £3.50 and I had no money to pay.

There was nothing I could do—I was going to have to date weird guy from next door.

***

I arrived back at Gladys’ flat at exactly 8:31 pm, soaking wet through and in a foul, foul mood. 

Gladys, as it turned out, was practically wetting herself laughing before I’d so much as told her what had happened. She just took one look at my face as I flung the sitting room door open, and then she screamed, ‘Stay there, it’s killing me! I have to go to the toilet!’ and then tore out of the room with tears streaming down her face. 

At least one of us was amused, because I felt it the second worst things that had ever happened to me. My disastrous date and I spent the first ten minutes in between staring out the window and randomly shouting questions to each other. It went like this:

*Both stare out of window*

*He looks at me* ‘So, your grandparents are millionaires?’

*I stare at him* ‘Of course.’

*Both stare out of window*

*I look at him* ‘So, you drive an Audi?’

*He stares at me* ‘Of course.’

*Both stare out of window*

*He looks at me* ‘So, you used to be a model?’

*I stare at him* ‘Of course.’

*Both stare out of window*

*I look at him* ‘So, you’re French?’

*He stares at me* ‘Oui.’

*Both stare out of window*

*He looks at me* ‘So, you’re forty?’

*I stare at him* ‘Want me to punch you?’

*He stares at me* ‘At least I am French.’

*I stare at him* ‘Yeah well, your squirrel looks like a loser.’

*He stares at me* ‘Well at least my squirrel’s eyes don’t meet in the middle, unlike yours.’

*We both stare at each other* ‘Let’s order. Okay.’

*We both click our fingers* ‘Waiter, we will have two of your finest breakfasts.’

*He stares at me* ‘How is Mr Nutty McNutnut?’

*I stare at him* ‘I just need the loo. Order me a bottle of Dog’s Breath, I’ll be back in a minute.’

After that, it felt like I had got struck down with instant karma, after squeezing my ass out the tiny toilet window and falling straight into a puddle the size of China in the back lane. All the way home in the pouring rain, all I could think about was how that tool was enjoying two fry-ups and me not even having one. And I’d ordered him a bottle of Dog’s Breath before I’d left. That was actually really stupid. 

I’d gone from floating on prosecco and chocolate with Benedict Cumberbatch to walking like John Wayne and clinging onto my waterlogged velvet tracksuit as I traipsed half a mile home. At least I had my good bra on.

GRACE – CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1 | CHAPTER 2 | CHAPTER 3 | CHAPTER 4 | CHAPTER 5 | CHAPTER 6 | CHAPTER 7 | CHAPTER 8 | CHAPTER 9 | CHAPTER 10 | CHAPTER 11



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