WRITTEN BY GILLIAN HARVEY
Tom the builder finds himself in hot water as he prepares a quote for repairs…
“I’ve had a look.” Tom poked his head around the living room door where Mavis had just raised the cup of tea to her lips. “Not good news, I’m afraid.”
Sighing, she placed the cup back on its saucer and stood. Her leg was still giving her trouble after her fall last week. She followed him into the garden, feeling his impatience at her slow pace.
“So,” he said, pointing upwards. “That crack you mentioned. I’m afraid it’s structural. Affecting the roof tiles, too – that’ll be the reason for the leak.”
“Really?” She looked at him, trying to read his face. “Just like Betty’s.”
“Betty?” He looked at her quizzically.
“Yes, at number 42. You fixed her front porch and found that crack.”
“Nasty business that.”
“So, will it be an expensive repair?”
Tom inhaled sharply and looked up at the crack again, as if it could produce a figure for him. “I suppose we’re talking at least a grand.”
“A thousand pounds!” The amount was astounding. “For a little crack?”
“Ah, it looks little, doesn’t it?” he said, eyeing Mavis… seventy at least, living alone. She’d called him round to check a ceiling leak, and naturally he’d had a look at the roof and exterior walls. “But I’m afraid the work will be extensive.”
“And if I don’t get it done?”
He shook his head sadly. “I’d say you’d be looking at the possibility of this wall collapsing altogether.”
“Goodness!” her voice sounded shocked. “A thousand you say?”
He looked at the crack again
“I don’t want to worry you, but I reckon me and the boys ought to get on with it next week, just in case. But if you don’t have the money…”
“No, I’ve a little saved. If it’s important.”
“Right. Well, maybe if you sub us a few hundred now for materials?” He nodded towards the house. “Cash only, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, of course. Yes.” She hobbled back to her study, and opened the desk to get her money. Pulling back the top of the desk she caught it again – the smell of Arthur. The mixture of old papers, ink, maybe the slightest remnant of his cologne.
“Excuse me,” she said, sitting down heavily. “My husband – Arthur – he used to handle the paperwork.”
“I’m sorry,” Tom said, with an awkward cough. “Must be difficult.”
She nodded and opened her purse, feeling him lean forward hungrily as she began to count the notes. “Of course, it’s a worry, being a woman on my own,” she continued. “Always concerned that people will try to take advantage.”
“You’re right there,” came the response. “Lots of cowboys around.”
“Yes. And you’ve never been tempted, you know – to exaggerate? Like those people you see on TV?”
“God, no!” he grinned. “I just think of my old mum, you know. Helps me to stay honest.”
“Does it?” She let the question hang in the air for a second. “It’s just…”
This time, when she turned her chair to face him, she looked stronger somehow.
He stepped back instinctively, sensing a change
“My friend Betty, from number 42. You didn’t quite finish the job, did you?”
“She tried to call, but you didn’t answer.”
“Oh, well,” he paused. “Perhaps she’s got the wrong number?”
“Yes. After all, she is quite old.”
He laughed, a little nervously
She paused, holding the notes.
“I suppose I’m getting on a bit too. It’s hard to believe I was a structural engineer for 35 years. As a matter of fact, I still am, only part-time though.”
“And,” she continued, standing up. “I can tell you now, that crack in my wall is entirely superficial.”
“So was Betty’s,” Mavis added, glaring at Tom ’til he dropped his gaze.
“Oh, I see but…” He looked around like a prisoner searching for an escape.
“So perhaps it’s me who’s owed money. Or Betty, at least. Unless you’d rather the police…”
“No! No, erm… let me see…” He flicked through his wallet. “How much was it again…”
“Cash only, please.”
Mavis didn’t watch him hurry off, defeated. She was too busy getting out the ladder to replace the roof tile she’d carefully removed in last week’s rain so she’d have an excuse for calling in Betty’s builder.