High Tea, a short story by Esme Lee Wilmot at Spillwords.com
Sebastian Coman Photography

High Tea

written by: Esme Lee Wilmot



‘Pornography. That’s what I wanna watch. Not the crap they dish up on the history channel,’ muttered Alfred as he ambled down the path with his Zimmer frame. ‘I don’t give a rat’s what some toff did a hundred years ago. I want to remember Gertrude in the back seat of my car.’

Neville chuckled. He looked over at the grannies getting off the second Averley Care 14-seater bus. ‘I fancy that Mavis, but she’s as deaf as a lamp post. Asked if I could visit her room. She screeched: “Did you just ask where’s my broom?” then whacked me with her cane.’

‘Oh really?’ Alfred flashed a toothy grin and wiggled his eyebrows. ‘I was wondering why you’re wearing that mothballed suit. Hate to say it, but the brown, chequered look went out last century.’ He started laughing, but it ended in a coughing fit.

Neville frowned. ‘Well, at least I bothered to shave.’

Alfred sniffed. ‘My arthritis is playing up.’ He rubbed his knuckles and looked around. ‘So, what’s the Mayor raising funds for today?’

‘His own campaign.’ They looked at each other and sniggered. Neville leaned in closer, ‘He’s been Mayor of this town for the last ten years and never once held a fundraiser. Ever since that young lass put her hand up for the job, he’s been pulling out all the stops for the election.’ He nudged Alfred in the side, and they grinned at each other.

Mavis and Ethyl walked past, giving the two men the eyeball over the rim of their tortoise shell spectacles.

‘Dirty old buggers,’ Ethyl said. She ran a gloved hand over her wave-set hair and led Mavis through the council gardens towards a banner that read Spring Charity High Tea.

The Mayor opened his arms as they approached. ‘Welcome, ladies. I’m so glad you accepted my invitation.’

Ethyl beamed. ‘I wouldn’t miss it for the world, Mayor McCombe. Raising funds for the local hospital is such a noble cause. And I’ll never knock back a good cucumber sandwich.’ Her silvery laugh drew the attention of several people close by, and she placed a strategic hand on the pearls around her neck. Mavis rolled her eyes.

‘Maybe you’d like to sit here?’ He gestured towards one of several large rectangular tables spread out across the lawn. They were covered with fine china teapots, crockery and 3-tier platters, and decorated with soft pink roses. Mavis moved closer and smiled with approval at the scones, cucumber sandwiches, curried eggs, gourmet canapes, macarons and petit fours.

‘How very kind,’ said Ethyl. She sat down but looked up in dismay as Alfred and Neville joined them.

‘Morning,’ said Neville.

‘What was that? Speak up!’ Mavis shouted. The entire table jumped, and the colour rose in Neville’s cheeks.

‘Here, Mrs Thorpe,’ the Mayor said in a very loud voice, ‘try one of these caramel slices. They’re heavenly.’ Mavis’s face lit up, and she loaded one onto a plate.

Alfred leaned towards Neville. ‘Where’s the frickin’ grog?’

‘Did someone mention grog?’ shouted Mavis. ‘If so, fill me up!’ She raised a champagne glass and looked around for a waiter. Ethyl took the glass from her and placed it back on the table.

The Mayor looked startled. He cleared his throat, ‘The French sparkling wine will be served shortly.’ He began fidgeting with the chain of office draped around his shoulders.

‘Sparkling wine?’ Alfred screwed up his face. ‘That’s not going to win any votes,’ he muttered.

‘Shh!’ hissed Ethyl. She looked at the Mayor, ‘That sounds divine.’

He managed a weak smile and hurried off to pull out chairs for the other guests. Neville waited until he was gone before pulling out a hip flask. He poured a shot of whiskey into two teacups and passed one to Alfred under the table. He let out a nervous cough when he caught Mavis watching him with narrowed eyes and quickly repocketed the flask. ‘How’s the slice?’ he asked, talking louder this time.

Mavis screwed up her nose. ‘I beg your pardon, but I do not have lice!’ She pulled out a silver compact and began checking her purple hair.

‘No, I said, how’s the slice?’ He pointed at her plate.

‘Oh. Delicious.’ She dabbed her mouth and reapplied her red lipstick.

‘Would you like a macaron?’

Mavis stiffened and snapped the compact shut. ‘How dare you! I would not like to get a room.’ She snatched up a scone covered with jam and cream and squashed it into his nose. Some of the cream flicked off and caught Alfred in the eye.

‘Ow! You crazy witch!’ He picked up a handful of curried eggs and hurled them at Mavis. He missed, and thick globules of yellow mayonnaise splattered onto Ethyl’s dress.

Ethyl’s face darkened. ‘My dress! Why you, you stupid old git!’ A cucumber sandwich went flying towards his head.

He peeled a cucumber slice off his forehead and flicked it away. ‘What, that floral tablecloth? The curried egg is an improvement!’

‘That’s it!’ Ethyl pulled off her gloves and started pinging petit fours at Alfred with machine gun rapidity. ‘I’m not reigning champion at lawn bowls for nothing!’ Mavis joined in and began throwing macaroons across the table like mini frisbees.

‘Ouch!’ cried Alfred. He stood and reached for his Zimmer frame, but his knees were stiff. He fell backwards, pulling the tablecloth and food with him. There was the sound of china and glass breaking and metal cutlery clattering onto the ground.

Several gasps came from around the table. Neville scrambled to help Alfred to his feet, dusting food off the other man’s crumpled jacket. The two men looked up and froze.

The gardens had gone deadly silent. Every head was turned in their direction. People stared at them with wide eyes and open mouths, their half-chewed cucumber sandwiches still inside.

‘What are you looking at?’ snapped Mavis. ‘Didn’t your mother tell you it’s rude to eat with your mouth open?’ She took a scone in each hand, dipped them in cream and threw them at the nearest table. There were screams as they took out a champagne glass and flicked cream over one man’s face. The table retaliated, and food was flung back at Mavis, who ducked and stuck out her tongue.

People at the other tables stopped staring and looked at each other. Then someone yelled, ‘Food fight!’

There was a flurry of movement as chairs were pushed back and hands grabbed at the gourmet delights. The air was suddenly filled with flying canapes and macaron frisbees; curried eggs and cream rained down onto the guests; sparkling wine was sloshed onto suits and dresses; another pot of china was smashed onto the ground, and faces were soiled with the flavours of the day.

The Mayor’s jaw dropped open, and the champagne glass fell from his hand. He ran over, waving his hands, ‘Stop! Stop at once! This is a disgrace!’ A chocolate mousse caught him in the mouth, and he spat it out. ‘Stop this! Please! This is a fundraiser for the children’s ward. Think of the children! Oh, won’t someone think of the children!?’

Alfred snorted, ‘Pfft, more like think of the election.’ He raised Neville’s hip flask towards the Mayor, then took a deep swig.

Neville threw a petit four at Mavis, who caught it in her mouth. She chewed it and grinned. ‘Well, Lord Mayor,’ she shouted. She wiped a blob of jam from her face and licked it off her finger. ‘You’ve definitely got my vote. This is the best fun I’ve had in ages.’

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