by Celia Jenkins
cold tea with biscuits
“Honestly Joyce, where’s your stamina?” Winifred called back as she reached the summit. Every year the cliff paths around Guernsey seemed to get steeper and steeper. The two friends had been walking this way since they were girls.
“I’m no spring chicken, you know,” Joyce puffed as she joined her friend.
“More like an old hen,” Winifred laughed. It was a clear day and the view was breath-taking.
Joyce took off her sunhat and used it to fan herself. “We’ll have less of that, thank you.” Joyce feigned a mood before tapping her friend on the arm, “What a pair we must look.”
Winifred smiled, tucking escaped wisps of damp hair into her headscarf. The pale blue Japanese silk brought out her eyes, grey like the sea after a storm. Joyce brushed herself down and examined her hands carefully.
“I don’t believe it; I’ve broken a nail.”
“Oh woe is you.” Winifred laughed, shouldering her rucksack once more. “Come on, let’s get a move on.”
“Can’t we sit down yet? I’m dying for a rest,” Joyce complained, sounding more like a moaning teenager than a woman in her late sixties. Once more Winifred was chuckling.
“And where, pray tell, do you plan on doing that? I don’t see any benches, do you?” She shielded her eyes to the sun, “I’ve spotted one just along the path. It’s not far.”
She set off with Joyce dawdling behind. In Winifred’s bag a flask of tea clinked as it jostled back and forth. The air was thick with the smell of sea air, and the paths were lined with yellow. The gorse was always beautiful at this time of year.
“Do you remember when the three of us would walk these paths, all in a line like a crocodile?” Joyce had caught up and was reminiscing about their childhood days.
“We were all so fit and healthy then,” Winifred said, nodding.
“What about that time when we all brought our beaus?” Joyce slapped her knee and gave a big-bellied laugh.
“Remember it? Do I ever; I’ve never heard a man complain so much in all my days; it’s no wonder we never brought them walking again.” Joyce smiled at the memory as they finally reached a bench. Sitting down, Winifred recalled those young summer days.
“Let me see, there was you and your John, I brought dear Arthur, and then Dorothy...” Winifred said.
“Who was it that time? There was always someone new with Dotty,” Joyce shook her head, remembering all the young men their friend had dated.
“Was it James? You know; the sweet one who was always bringing her flowers?” Winifred tried to remember.
“No not him, it was...oh, what’s his name? The one with the funny hairstyle, fancied himself as the fifth Beatle," Joyce said.
“Oh, Rick. I’d forgotten all about him." Winifred opened her rucksack to pour the tea, “Oh goodness, I’ve sprung a leak.”
The tea flask had snapped open and Winifred’s bag was dripping. Pouring out the little that was left, Joyce opened the packet of digestive biscuits, which had been crushed to crumbs.
“What a disaster,” Winifred grumbled.
“Never mind, more for the birds.” Joyce shook out the rucksack as a robin peeked hungrily near their feet. Out near Saints Bay a little fishing boat bobbed back and forth, seagulls swooping overhead.
“Dotty would have loved today,” Joyce said, sighing quietly into her tea.
“She would; always such a summer girl. Up and down the beach in her swimsuit. Do you remember that time we went swimming and she nearly drowned?” Winifred asked.
“I do, but I still say she was just trying to get a date with the lifeguard. I think she did, too. ”
Joyce and Winifred sat in thought about their old friend. Dotty was always so bright and bubbly, always so full of life. How sad it was that she had to be the first to go.
“How long is it now?” Joyce asked.
“Two and a half years. ” Winifred shook her head. “I can’t believe it’s been that long. Sometimes it seems much longer, but other times it’s like she just popped in for tea the other day.”
“I know what you mean. Arthur hasn’t been gone the year, yet I still feel I’ve spoken to Dotty more recently. Poor Dot, do you think she’s watching us now?” Winifred asked.
“For sure; she and Arthur will be having a right old laugh at us two puffing and panting our way up these cliffs. I don’t know why we do it to ourselves, Winifred.” Joyce put down her empty cup and salvaged half a biscuit from the crumpled packet.
“Well, just look at the view. How many old girls like us manage to see this fantastic landscape?” Winifred gestured to the horizon beyond.
“Do you see France? It is France, isn’t it? My geography is so awful,” said Joyce.
“You ask me this every year Joyce and every year I tell you; yes, it’s France. It won’t ever change; next year you’ll ask again and it’ll still be France on the horizon.” She peered intently out to sea. “Though my eyesight is getting worse and worse, I can only just make it out.”
“Now who’s the old hen?” Joyce dug for another biscuit, “It doesn’t seem right, does it? Being here without Dotty. We didn’t make it last summer, that was just after your Arthur went. Before then it was the three of us.”
“You’re right, it is odd only being us two. Like tripod with a leg missing.” Winifred packed up the flask in her bag which was drying nicely in the afternoon sun. “The brains, the brawn and the beauty, that’s us.”
“Oh yes? Well Dotty is the beauty, most certainly, and I suppose you fancy yourself the brains, so does that make me the brawns?” Joyce laughed to the sky, glasses going askew as she tipped her head back.
“Well, I suppose if you don’t want to be the brawn you could be the… the bothersome one,” Winifred smiled, jumping energetically from the bench and heading down the path, “That’s quite enough of a rest I think, or are you going to be bothersome and trail behind?”
Begrudgingly, Joyce followed along the path.
“Ok, if you say so Winifred,” Joyce tried to keep her friends pace, perking up suddenly, “When we get back to Icart point, can we have an ice cream please? Pretty please?”
Joyce felt like her knees had turned to jelly as she reached the end of the path. A little over clouded, the sky was dark with the promise of rain, yet on she walked. After the mistakes of her last hike, Joyce had donned a pair of good walking boots and shorts instead of her skirt.
“I bet you’re having a right old laugh at my knobbly knees, aren’t you Dotty?” It was three years to the day that her friend had died, and Joyce was walking alone along the cliffs. Had it really been so long ago when all three friends had run along these paths, all short skirts and ice creams melting down their wrists? Some days Joyce half expected to see Dotty jogging towards her down the path, chattering about her latest romance. This fanciful image not quite out of her head, Joyce looked up to see a familiar face.
“Winifred? What are you doing here?”
“Oh, you know, just having some time with Dotty.” Winifred smiled, patting the empty seat next to her on a brand new bench. Joyce sat down and admired the view.
“This is new,” she said, motioning to the bench.
“I commissioned it, for Dotty.” Winifred smiled from ear to ear, turning to reveal the little plague set into the seat. It read To Dotty, who so loved these cliffs. One day we’ll be together again; the Brains, the Brawn and the Beauty.
“Oh Winifred, it’s lovely.” Joyce touched the gold lettering before gazing out to the horizon once more. The clouds seemed to be dispersing, a blue sky bursting forth to illuminate their day. From the tumbling cliffs right down to where they grey sea rocked and swayed, birds swooped through the air and bumblebees moved lazily between flowers. The hazy scent of heather crept up from the rocks, and in a field nearby, three inquisitive rabbits basked drowsily in the sun.
About the author
Celia Jenkins is a freelance writer, specialising in writing for children, light-hearted romance and travel writing. She also moonlights as a café girl, senior caregiver, and language teacher. In her free time (ha!) she likes reading, knitting, cooking and hitting the gym. @CeliaJWriter www.celiajenkins.com