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Mr Pemberton Goes Too Far
by Eric McFarlane

I think he’s gone too far this time. I mean you do have to be careful what you do, especially in public. You’ve got to keep up appearances. Just saying that makes me think of Mam, although she was the opposite. She never worried about appearances. Every Saturday night she’d be down the boozer arm-wrestling the men for pints. Sometimes she won and she got her pint. Thing was that even when she lost they usually bought her one anyway, or even two. So Saturday night she’d be steaming home up the high street. She had a lovely voice. It was kind of sopranoy only a bit bassy as well. I could have listened to her all night. Sometimes I did and all.

Uncle Bill used to go on about her and her singing. He didn’t like it. Thought she was making an exhibit of herself. ‘That mother of yours, Seline, she’ll be the death of this family.’ Then he went and dropped dead himself at the races a couple of days later. It was very sad.  A horse ran over him when he drank a little too much and wandered onto the course. There’s a horse-shoe engraved on his headstone, not because he got ran over by one, just ‘cos he liked the gee-gee’s so much. I’ve seen it. It’s quite touching and very tasteful.

Anyways that’s what I mean about appearances. You’ve got to keep them up even in graveyards, that’s what I was saying. Look I’ll tell you a story, it’s true mind. I can’t be bothered with all this fiction stuff you get in the library. What’s the point in reading about things that never happened when there’s stuff happening all around? You only have to look, and they get paid for it too. Thousands of pounds for writing down stuff that never happened. Lies, Mam would have called it if she were alive today bless her. And then they swan off and sit by swimming pools in Bolivia and maybe have women there who aren’t their wives and they do stuff what I’ve read about it in the papers and you probably have too - read about it I mean. My God, excuse me, it makes me so angry and there we are paying our taxes so that they can sit and proliferate with women who could be their daughters and should know better by swimming pools in Bolivia and probably women as well with young men cos women write lies too and... what was I saying? Oh yes, real stuff happening like what you see when you open your eyes.

Mam used to say what you don’t see won’t do you no harm. That’s why she married Dad, she said, but I don’t think that made a lot of sense. Senga, she’s my best friend, sometimes goes around with her eyes shut. I mean really shut. She’ll be outside and we’ll be walking along talking about this and that and boyfriends sometimes and she’ll just shut her eyes and try and keep going in a straight line, only usually she doesn’t, she pushes against me and I push back to straighten her up only I might push too hard and she goes wandering into the road to the conflagration of vehicle drivers who may be passing at times and may toot in an unfriendly fashion at her. She just toots back at them only I don’t suppose they hear her as she doesn’t have a very loud toot.

What she does have is a loud voice, a voice like a stegosaurus the librarian said when we were in the other day counting the books. Senga likes to count all the books one section at a time. Like this week it was thrillers, next week it’s Westerns and last week it was chicken-lit. She writes them all down in a little book with pink stripes on the cover. There were three hundred and fifteen thrillers if you want to know or even if you don’t that’s what it was. I asked her about it once and she said that one of these days the time would come and put her finger to the side of her nose. She’s deep Senga is, very deep. She has wheelies within her wheelies. Now I don’t ask her any more, I just help her count. I know there’s a reason behind it all, I’m just not clever enough to see it.

Anyway the librarian wasn’t very happy seeing as Senga was counting out loud and making a spectator of herself she said, so she asked her to be quiet. Senga stared at her and she stared back at Senga. I stared at them both. Senga’s mostly quiet like but when she gets annoyed with people she can get all steamy. It was what you call a tender situation. I needed to do something.

“Can I use your toilet?” I said to the Librarian.

“What?” she said.

“Your toilet, can I use it?” I spoke a little louder. I think she was deaf.

“I... no, sorry, it’s for staff only.”

“I’ll be very quick,” I said. “It’s a bit urgent.”

“I don’t think...”

“It’s my bladder see. I had an operation last year. I have problems doing it and then when I do...”

“Yes, yes, yes. OK it’s this way. I’ll need to get the key. Just follow me please.”

I gave a thumbs up to Senga as I followed the librarian round the corner. By the time I’d finished, Senga had gone which was my plan. I was just heading out the door when the librarian shouted at me in a very rude voice.

“Excuse me, the key?” she said.

“Yes, thank you,” I said.

“Well can I please have it back.”

I stopped in the doorway and thought really hard and you know, I couldn’t think where I’d left the key. “It’s in the door,” I said.

It was a little white lie. I mean I really couldn’t remember so it might have been in the door. I had a quick look through my pockets but the librarian was heading for the toilet so I thought I’d better run quick. You know I found that key two weeks later, it was in the drum of our washing machine. The repair man showed it me when he gave me the bill. I thought of taking it back to the library but decided not. Senga said I should take the bill to the library and ask them to pay as it was their key what broke the machine. I wondered if I would but then I’m never sure if Senga’s kidding. Sometimes she says things all serious and then says she was only kidding. You’re supposed to smile when you kid aren’t you? At least that’s what Mam always said. Keep smiling when you kid, Seline she said. Actually she didn’t say that at all. I was just kidding, see, but I didn’t smile, so you didn’t know. I mean it’s the sort of thing she might have said. She was always coming out with wise sayings and whatnot. Guff Dad called them which is what he called wise sayings.

Anyway, I was talking about appearances, keeping them up and so forth. Well I was just walking down the street see minding my own business and trying to look over Mr. Pemberton’s hedge which he’s let grow far too tall. I told him so last week. He said it helped keep pests out. I don’t really see how it makes any difference ‘cos they’ll just crawl under it or fly over it but he seemed happy. Anyway I couldn’t quite see so I dragged a milk crate over that was lying outside the paper shop. I left the bottles neatly at the side so no one would trip over them. and when I stood on the crate I could just see over the hedge. Well Mr. Pemberton was there and there was a woman with him only it wasn’t his wife. She was a little curvy young lady in a short skirt. They were both on their knees in the corner by the water feature and he was planting his seeds. She was holding his dibber and he was popping them in quite the thing.

Well it wasn’t right, she was young enough to be his daughter, mind maybe she was his daughter. But I know Mrs. Pemberton, she works down the post office and she’s never mentioned a daughter so maybe it was his fanciful piece which wasn’t right. That sort of thing just doesn’t go on in our neighbourhood in broad daylight where anyone standing on a milk crate could see everything.

“Hello, Mr. Pemberton. I can see you,” I said.

He looked up from his dibbling and did a kind off double take when he saw me. It must have been quite a surprise to know that his game was up.

“God, it’s you,” he said.

“Yes it is,” I said.

“You’ve grown since I last saw you.” I hadn’t expected him to say that, but then what can you say when you’re caught with your dibber in a comprising situation.

“No, I think you’re mistaken,” I said. “I am however standing on a milk crate.”

“Ah now that explains everything, especially the current economic situation,” he said.

I thought about that for a minute. I didn’t understand what he was on about. Then I noticed they were heading for the back door and I realised he was just trying to distract me.

“Excuse me,” I said. “We haven’t been introduced.”

“Oh dear haven’t we?” He stood there with his hands on his hips looking like a two handled teapot without the spout and with stripes because he had a stripy shirt. “Well I’m Mr. Pemberton and this is my niece Sally.”

He turned to her and said, “This is Miss Seline Allbright, Sally.”

She stared at me “Oh that’s her,” she said.

They didn’t say another word, just went back inside and slammed the door so hard that the little gnome on the step fell over and chipped his beard. I could see in the back window a bit but then Mr Pemberton appeared and swished the curtains shut. There was nothing else to do. If I’d had a hedge trimmer I could have done his hedge for him but I didn’t so I returned the milk crate to the shop.

It was all very confusing. I mean if she was his niece perhaps she really was just helping him, but nieces didn’t look like that in my day, but then I suppose I was the same age as him so perhaps my age was his age but I still don’t think she looked like a niece. I decided I would ask Senga what I should do. She’s good with these things or maybe I would go and see Mrs. Pemberton in the post office and ask her about strange young women in her garden. I would have to be subtle of course, but that would be easy, it’s second nature to me.