“Take milk in your tea Janine?” the old lady called, her purple hands gripping the milk jug tightly. She stood by the fridge, the yellow light illuminating her aged face. The small creature in the chair shook her head.
“Odd. Couldn’t have a tea without a nice bit of milk, me!” She said, and as if to prove the point; she slopped the milk in her own cup on the table, bringing the contents up to the brim. She returned the milk jug back to the fridge and sat down opposite the girl.
“Digestive?” She asked, nudging the plate full of biscuits towards the young creature.
She shook her head again, her coloured red hair falling down in front of her face.
“You kids these days, never eat anything. All skin and bone. When I was a child, my mother used to feed us dripping on bread. That would put meat on you!”
She pulled the plate of biscuits back towards her and stole one up off the china. She took a bite. The girl watched as the crumbs fell onto her flowery blouse carelessly, some falling on the dark wooden table beneath.
“Me’ husband used to love digestive biscuits, his favourite they were. Always dunking them in his tea. He used to get so mad if they fell in.” She laughed at the memory and took another bite from her own biscuit which had escaped the perilous dunk intact. The clock on the wall behind them ticked away merrily, filling the silence with its pendulous rhythm.
Her kitchen was small but clean. It was dated, like most kitchens of the elderly; but was cosy in an old cottage way. The two of them sat at the table while the afternoon sun shone through the windows. The girl shifted in her seat. The old lady looked up.
“Are you uncomfortable?” She asked sweetly.
The girl didn’t say anything but continued to stare at her across the table.
“Would you like me to call your parents to come and pick you up? It’s getting late.” She said. She drank some of her tea casually.
At this the girl raised her head slightly.
The old lady nodded. She put down her cup and slid her chair back. She walked around the table slowly, holding her side where her hip usually acted up this time of the day. She stood behind the girl and pulled the tape off her mouth. It was wet slightly as the girls’ tears had trickled down upon it.
“Please, let me go. I’m so sorry. Please, I just want to get out of here. I won’t tell anyone….” The girl sobbed. Her eyes were as red as her coloured hair. Her hands were tied to the back of the chair with a belt, which had belonged to the husband who had so enjoyed digestive biscuits.
“I’d be happy to. But what’s to stop you coming back, eh? Or breaking into Ethel’s house next door?” the old woman said. And with this she reached to the counter and picked up the large bread knife she had on her chopping board. She placed it down next to the girl, whose eyes flared at the sight of it.
“We won’t. We won’t I swear, please just let me and the others go.” The girl, no older than fifteen, wailed. The old lady chuckled.
“Oh, I’m afraid Jack has been having some fun with your friends down in the cellar. I doubt there’s much left of them now. He’s such a good dog. Very loyal.” The old woman said. She picked up the knife and slipped it through the belt buckle, freeing the girl’s hands.
The girl sat there, the weight of the situation falling upon her in that heavy moment. She glanced at the back door, not far really. If she pushed the old lady and made a run for it, she could probably make it. But what if it was locked? The old lady walked back around the table, the knife in her hand, the other holding her dodgy hip. She heaved heavily; years of smoking had finally caught up with her.
“Well. I’m not going to hurt you; not like you’d do to me I’d say. I think a fright is bad enough for a girl your age.”
“Then what do you want?” The girl asked, fresh confusion in her skull.
The old lady looked at her with her milky eyes, as if surprised by the question.
“Why, to have some tea of course.” She said, lifting her cup; indicating she should do the same. The girl stared for a moment longer before conceding and picked up the tea that sat on the table in front of her. Her hands shook and were sore from being bound to the chair. She was unsure of playing along, but now her hands were free, she sensed a bit more of a chance of escape.
Lifting it to her lips she sipped from the cup, the scorching water burning her mouth in her haste to drink it. She flashed her eyes to the old lady, as if to say ‘okay, now let me go’.
“There. That wasn’t too bad, was it?” She said, sipping her own mug which had a picture of Charles and Diana on the china. She closed her eyes, savouring the brewy goodness of a warm cup of tea, deeply satisfied.
It had been about a month ago that she’d had rats in her garden, and a nice chap from the council had brought some traps and some rat poison to do away with the horrid beasts.
Taken from Impermanence of things – out now