The sycamore trees along the southern edge of the rugby ground had been shedding their leaves all that gusty week of October. Rust orange, some still tinged with green, they crunched under the little feet of Mrs Delaney. She had exited her house on Comely Bank Avenue and crossed at the lights on the junction of her street with Raeburn Place. She was thankful to be spared a long conversation with a Mrs Young who happened to be exiting the church on the corner just as she reached the opposite pavement. Young had said something about busy and coffee and grand daughter and cancer and Royal Infirmary and hurried away in the direction of Waitrose. Young could talk for hours about nothing, but real events had abbreviated her.
They had nearly finished the renovation of the Raeburn Hotel. Mrs Delaney had to stop and wait for a lorry reversing off the main road and down Portgower Place. It was a furniture lorry. They had reached the stage of decorating the new rooms. There was a sign out in the front courtyard inviting passersby to join the management and staff to launch day in the new year. Mrs Delaney was unlikely to attend but she looked forward to having a hotel so close to home. It would save her the walk to the B&Bs off Dundas Street every time she had to work. A hotel with twenty rooms would also offer a greater degree of anonymity, a little less intimacy.
The post office was busy. There was a queue of ten people bearing parcels and bubble wrap envelopes waiting to be served. Mrs Delaney still had thirty minutes to spare, though she would prefer more. Her left foot was still causing her problems despite the best efforts of the boy physiotherapist at the Western. She picked up a gossip magazine to pass the waiting time. It had a story of woman widowed by a murderous son headlined on the front page between the inevitable incest/abuse article and a feature on holiday tragedies. She turned to the widow’s story. The picture of the murdered husband showed an ill-shaven man in a football jersey smiling through his sunburn on a holiday in Majorca. The son looked malnourished.
To the question ‘What does it contain?’ she answered as she always did, ‘Knitwear.’ She could have been more truthful and told the ‘Lucy’ badged girl behind the counter ‘Cotton’ but it seemed unnecessarily revealing. Knitwear was more innocent. It might have been knitwear. She had five grand daughters spread about the place, from Devon to Aberdeen – ten little feet needing winter socks and ten little hands needing mittens – and she had the knitter look about her.
She didn’t care that the postage was £5.60. She always made sure all orders included £10 for postage, and no one had complained yet. Coming back out on to the street she walked straight into the path of Gina and Mags. Their faces lit up when she appeared. They had just been for coffee at ‘Costa’s’ and had just been talking about her. ‘How’s your foot?’ Gina wanted to know.
She liked Gina well enough. Gina still spent money getting her hair styled and dyed blond, and she was always stylishly dressed. Mags on the other hand had for a long time elected to go with the sea green overcoat so common among fellow octogenarians. Mags had also been persuaded in old age that indulging in little phobias – fear of cats, fear of children on scooters etc – made her interesting. If Gina could get rid of Mags Mrs Delaney would have liked to invite her at least a couple of times a week for coffee at Starbucks or the expensive Scandinavian place or even home. She could even invite her occasionally on her trips to her place in Tuscany.
‘Well ladies,’ she told the two of them, ‘I’d love to chat but I have a prior engagement..’ she found it amusing to go into Miss Jean Brodie mode even if she was just a Galway girl ( at heart) ‘ …across town.’
She agreed that they must make time the next Tuesday for tea at the local centre and continued on her way. Passing the co-op she consolidated the mental note made first in her kitchen twenty minutes earlier that she must buy another two bottles of South African chardonnay and a half bottle of Brandy on her way back. She would do it before dropping in to the computer shop.
Twenty five minutes later she arrived at the B&B. Lunch time was just fifteen minutes distant and soon the sandwich and coffee shops at the bottom of Dundas Street and around the corner on Brandon Street would be flooded with office workers. Mr Fulton would be among their number. Not his real name. And Mr didn’t seem quite what he at twenty five years was owed either. He was half the age of her David. In fact, at her age no man was owed the respect of a Mr.
She let herself in to room five. She knew they way up the first flight of stairs and along the corridor and hadn’t been led their again since the first three times. She paused in the carpeted hallway outside four and listened for any activity behind its door. Either Fulton was sitting quietly on the bed waiting for the creak of door five or he had chosen not to come early.
She found the window of room five open. She pushed it shut, drew the blinds and dropped her bag by the bed. The tea set was neatly arranged on the dresser. She opened the little packet of shortbread and ate one of the sugary fingers. Turning on the television she went straight to channel two and the auction room denouement of that days ‘Flog it’ episode. She lowered the volume so that she might hear the light chap of Fulton’s knuckles on the door when it came.