The Tearoom was a great success, at first. The hustle and bustle at the weekend was unbelievable and the girls worked hard for their money and tips. We quickly built up a following of loyal supporters, mostly from outside the village - cyclists, (our favourite Merlin, a bearded, long white-haired retired English teacher, clad in outrageous pink lycra came all the way down from Croydon every weekend) walkers, elderly couples taking an afternoon drive, the boys from the Forge, builders and workmen, even a star from a long-running soap, all descended upon us. I say it was successful at first because it was - for about 6 years and then I became tired by it all - we had had no holiday in all that time and I needed a new challenge so I advertised for a manger, a few women showed a little interest but no-one really wanted to work the busy weekends, until a couple of old girls showed up - Marion and Judith.
How rude to describe them as old girls! Marion was a youthful 66 year old - she was a true cockney and had, what some would describe as, a cheeky charm. She flirted quite openly with all the male customers - and although I couldn't see at first I came to understand that she must have been quite a head-turner once, (I only spotted it when she introduced me to her stunning grand-daughters) when I knew her it would not be unfair to say that there were signs that she had had a hard life. She had married at 16, had her only child shortly afterwards, and then a couple of years later run off to Spain with a Spanish waiter - she lived in a small village in Spain for the best part of 20 years but when "Joe" dropped dead quite suddenly his family turfed her out and she returned to England. She had worked in kitchens and cafes the rest of her working life and could bake a mean fruit scone and apple turnover. At the time that I first met her she lived in a small flat in Maida Vale with a man she referred to as "Grandad." Grandad came down with her every weekend and tottered about with two small Yorkshire terriers, studied "the Form". "'E ain't really me Granddad," she explained to me "Really just a friend of the family, more like me older bruvvers mate."
Judith lived in the neighbouring village and had been a friend of Seans for years. It was clear to see, that she had never been a beauty. She was 55 years old, roughly 5ft 2in and weighed in at an impressive 200lbs. She was a moustached Romanian Jew and had worked at everything from cab driver to computer builder. I liked Judith, she was a sharp clever woman but clearly smoked and drank far too much. Judith had been married once, "A marriage of convenience, when they tried to deport me." Although she had lived in Britain for over 30 years her accent was still heavy and she spoke in gutteral sentances.
This unlikely pair took over the tearooms for us! They laughed a lot, took a huge number of ciggie and beer breaks, fought constantly - nearly every day one would reduce the other to tears and someone would need to step in and serve customers whilst they ranted and raved, swore to kill each other, then hugged, kissed and made up. Such was life with these two - because unbeknowst to me (and only me, everyone else assures me) Marion and Judith were lovers.
During the course of that summer they told me that it was more convenient for Marion to leave London "Grandad can cope on his own" and move in with Judith in her tiny caravan -"Saves the travel, don't it darlin?" Marion told me. (Everyone else winked and nudged each other). Towards the end of the summer Marion started to complain of a sore stomach, she would take an hour or so off every day to lie in her car, and I must admit I sometimes thought (very uncharitably) that she was taking advantage. One day I found her bent double clutching her stomach and insisted that she see a doctor ... I think she knew it was serious and that was why she had put off going. The worst possible diagnosis was made and sadly Marion died very quickly of pancreatic cancer.
But it was during those last wretched weeks of her illness that I came to understand her relationship with Judith, or at least Judiths relationship with her. Every day Judith would come into the shop with a swollen lips and eyelids - every day I would listen to the next installment of Marions strange life. Judith learnt that when she ran off with her Spanish waiter she had never bothered to divorce her husband ... it transpired that Grandad was in fact not only her older brothers mate ... Judith learned that she was the last in a long line of lesbian flings ... every day a new insult would lay Judith low, Marion would promise her a precious keepsake the next day the offer was withdrawn because another had laid claim to it ... Marion had been the love of Judiths life and now Judith was finding out a lot of things she really didn't want to know.
Finally Judith came in with the news that Marion had called for the Last Rites, she died shortly afterwards. I accompanied Judith to the funeral, it was a sad small affair - her daughter, a spiteful, vain woman pointedly ignored Judith, Grandad stood looking lost and bewildered, the grand-daughters bored, the handful of people in attendance were looking at their watches - wondering how quickly they could slip away. When I took Judiths arm and led her away, she was sobbing uncontrollably - the final insult was hitting home and I was the one who innocently delivered the blow.
"Tell me," sniffed Judith "I am not a Christian so I don't understand your faith. Tell me what sort of service was that?"
I shrugged, the image of the Priest in his robes, wafting incense around and muttering popped into my head. The Church had been called St. Joseph's and times of the Mass were published on the Notice Board outside, clearly stating what times the Polish services were. "Well it was Catholic of course." I said.
"So," said Judith sadly "She even lied about that."