A cold and windy March is ahead. Another Monday in the countryside unfolds a busy week for many and a homely, plain one for one lady looking for a little of what life can delight us with. There she was, in her usual coat and hat, grinning at the daffodils which always bring the suave uncertainty of hope as a new season reveals its face.
Mrs Woods walks into her local shop and browses the shelves like a child in a fun fair.
A bag of sweets drops from the shelf…’oops, and right into my bag! I didn’t ask for them but they will be nice with tea this afternoon,’ the lady says.
‘Good morning, Mrs Woods!’ Tim, the manager, smiles at her. ‘Chilly in Salisbury today, uh?’
‘Good morning, Tim!’ she replies as she squeezes her hips in between two empty trolleys while reaching for the milk.
‘I’m getting fatter by the minute, Tim, but I don’t think these trolleys should be here. Anyway, my guys like a bit of blubber,’ she giggles.
‘Mrs Woods, behave! By the way, I was told by one of our delivery guys your bungalow was freezing the other day. No heating again?’
‘Oh, Tim, stop! I need a man to warm my bed, that’s all!’
Mrs Woods occasionally mutters through her teeth, yet not because she wishes to remain unheard. She is certainly very proud of her escapades- as she describes her enamoured interactions- but a semi loose set of upper dentures mars her perky smile and theatrical pitch. She waltzes down the aisles as though in a ballroom, with that kind of mindfulness people lack these days. Indeed, she embellishes her gentle and slow walk with the elegance of swaying trees on a breezy day. An old flowery dress shows under a bright red bobble-filled overcoat, and her now thin, wavy grey hair is brushed to a failed attempt to look like Marylyn Monroe’s.
‘Shall we have a party tonight, girl?’ she thinks, as she refers to herself. ‘More cans of this and that, then.’
Mrs Woods reckons the teapots and cups will be ecstatic as she reads Beauty and the Beast to Mr Mistoffelees, her precious feline- a sweet homage paid to the character in the musical Cats which once thrilled her.
‘Midnight, not a sound from the pavement…’ she sings Memory in a low yet vibrant tone, not caring to be heard and secretly wishing to be. As a fan of both tales, she recollects her times as a stage performer. Her weak yet firm voice is no hindrance to her whims. She is a defiant believer life’s pitfalls are just time-enhanced acts one may take as either challenging gifts or pitiful losses.
As a shelf displays a gap, a young blonde lady pops up from its opposite side. ‘So, Ma’am, you look happy! What are you hiding today? ’ the chirpy lass says, running to Mrs Woods.
‘Oh, more marshmallows, paper-clips and crayons!’ she remarks and intrusively unbuttons the senior’s coat. ‘Are you paying for them? Poor Tim, he’s so good to you!’ she tuts.
‘Oh, shut up, young lady! They are for my grandchildren!’
‘The ones you only see once a year at Christmas?’ the blonde girl sneers and laughs. As she tilts her head backwards, her big hazel eyes spot the wine department. ‘Ooh, you don’t touch those anymore, do ya?’
‘I have my meeting tonight! Shush! Why don’t you do something about your size instead? Your hips are huge and this lean waistline will soon go. Just look at me! Remember when you didn’t pass that audition because of your weight?’
‘No need to remind me of that. Hey, I was only sixteen and had survived heart surgery!’ finalises the lady with a tearful voice.
Mrs Woods just walks away. The lassie’s voice echoes in the stalls.
‘Jugs of joy, gallons of gloom… father was always so thrilled about life but would go off like milk, just prior to my morning cuppa. There was no warning, no telling us, no pleasing him…he just would! And I turned sixteen...already bearing that kind of void and a double scar. I found comfort in what he did. But not anymore and here I am! Ok, always a switch will be, they say, but here to oh-so glorious me, hehe…’ Mrs Woods reminisces with a smile and a teardrop escaping.
For a second, the blond lassie’s voice echoes again but her image is now a dream.
Predictably, she regains her customary bliss and proceeds with her browsing delight. As she turns, the shadows of two men appear in front of her.
‘This lady is a thief!’ a man declares. ‘I saw her sticking a few bits and bobs under her coat!’
The young policeman kindly asks her to undo her garment, which Mrs Woods obeys, winking at him. Her inside pockets show the evidence while her basket has the usual- bread, milk, a chicken sandwich, a few cans of soup and cat food.
‘See, I’m not fat, it’s just my coat, hehe.’
A confused Tim comes along where curious customers gather around. He signals the officer to his bureau who explains the reason for his visit to his establishment. In the meantime, he leaves Mrs Woods with a summoned to the scene colleague.
‘…but Mr Campbell, she’s a shoplifter!’ says the policeman in Tim’s office.
‘She’s lonely!’ replies Tim. ‘A seventy-eight-year-old widow’
‘You must hold her accountable or you will be in trouble yourself, Mr Campbell. No CCTV?’
‘I always see her on the till paying for her purchases. I’m quite happy to pay for her discriminative selection of stock.’ Tim smirks as he foolishly jokes. His thoughts elusively ramble through the time his family left an infirm grandma in a care home …and a sad little boy in tears.
As they speak, Mrs Woods barges into his office unannounced. The policewoman left in charge follows her.
‘Arrest her!!’ Mrs Woods yells.
‘Her?? Excuse me, Ma’am?’ asks the policeman.
‘She steals from this supermarket nearly every day. The script will surely be pointless if she is not arrested. It’s not easy to play a kleptomaniac, sir’ says the old lady in a posh accent. ‘I’m not getting any younger… as much as being on TV ads and an extra on EastEnders was fun, this could be my breakthrough,’ she says with a reflective tone. ‘Arrest her, please!’
‘Ma’am, this is serious,’ the policeman looks at Tim and they smile.
‘Of course it is, silly young man! It’s not easy to be jolly when your joints hurt and your heart longs for what you can’t even remember. Arrest her!’ she utters as a final command. Following procedure, the tall officer asks her for an id to which she produces an actor’s card stating Florence Woods. He tries not to laugh.
‘Ok, Mrs Woods. I will let you go. But next time I hear of any of Florence’s thieving I’ll have no worries arresting her… or maybe she’ll pay a fine?’
‘But, but…oooh you’re so brawny!! I would love to be taken by your strong arms!’
‘Mrs Woods, I wish you all the success but I think you should retire your klepto…well, you know. You deserve better, Mrs Woods.’
‘I know, darling! See this?’ she pulls her neckline down and shows a tattoo. ‘This used to be my heart surgery scar. I’ve been to a tattoo fixers’ television show last year. It’s now a beautiful rose. That’s how I get by, sweetheart- in style!’ The officers leave, feeling as if they have been cast for a film role.
After Florence returns the unpaid items, Tim sees her out. She stops and gives a beggar a pint of milk and a chicken sandwich on her way home. She has paid for them after all.
By Rosane Yates