Community Spirit – Episode 05

THE bell on the door jangled and she turned and smiled as Meredith, the vicar’s wife, came in.

Mrs Cooper glanced at Meredith and back at Jeannie and, with an understanding nod, checked her book and wrote the amount down on a slip of paper.

Jeannie counted from the bundle of notes in her handbag, wondering how Mrs Cooper could have let her run up so much credit.

At the door, a group of teenage girls she recognised from Tasha’s class at school were arguing over whether to buy magazines or chocolate with their pooled money.

As she waited for them to clear the door, Meredith came round the end of an aisle clutching a granary loaf.

“Jeannie, hi!” Meredith said. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Jeannie replied, smiling as broadly as she could.

“I haven’t seen you for ages,” Meredith said. “We missed you at the last meeting.” Both Meredith and Jeannie belonged to the Mucklebury WI.

“I know,” Jeannie replied, looking at her feet. “I couldn’t make it.”

Meredith didn’t respond and Jeannie felt her taking in her clothes, worn for comfort, not style, her blonde hair hanging loose and untrimmed, and the dark circles under her eyes.

“You look tired.” Meredith put a gentle hand on Jeannie’s arm. “Is everything OK?”

Jeannie glanced at the group of girls at the counter and back at Meredith before bursting into tears.

With years of practice behind her, Meredith placed her loaf on the nearest shelf, produced a handkerchief from nowhere and guided Jeannie from the shop.

They sat on a low wall as Jeannie cried herself out.

“I’m sorry,” Jeannie said. “It’s been a bad day.”

“You don’t have to tell me about it,” Meredith said, “but I’m here if you want to.”

“Thanks,” Jeannie replied. “I’ve had to give up the van.”

“Oh, Jeannie, no!” Meredith cried. “What happened?”

Jeannie shrugged.

“Nothing terrible,” she said, “which somehow makes it worse. I was doing well, word was spreading and I was getting referrals and repeat business. I was making enough to keep me and Tasha. Money was tight, but I was doing it.”

“So what was it?” Meredith asked gently.

“The van,” Jeannie replied. “I couldn’t keep up with the payments. I had to sell it to pay the debt.”

“I am sorry to hear that.” Meredith hugged her.

“So I have no van, a garage full of catering equipment and no business.”

Finally Jeannie gave Meredith a small smile.

“I have to go,” Jeannie said. “Tasha will be back from her dad’s soon.”

“Of course,” Meredith replied. “And I’m sure something will turn up.”

“Maybe it already has,” Jeannie said. “Fergus said he might have something at the Goose. I’m to go over tomorrow.”

Meredith squeezed Jeannie’s hand and the two women went their separate ways.

Alison Cook