Fishguard Fish and Chips

The Residents Association – Chapter 9

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ASSUMPTIONS CONFOUNDED….IN A GOOD WAY.

Ruby set off for home with a heavy heart. She avoided calling in on Dawn, even though she had some toys for the children. Instead she went home and absently began to prepare the evening meal.

It was in the kitchen that Monty found her; her shoulders stiff. Her eyes, when he pulled her head gently around to look at him, were wet with unshed tears.

“Not good news then?”

She shook her head, allowing herself to be led to the sofa. With her head in the hollow of Monty’s shoulder, his arm about her, she recounted the day’s events.

“So they can’t stay in the chalet?”

“Doesn’t look like it. What are they going to do Monty?”

Monty squeezed her tightly, “We’ll think of something.”

But even as he spoke, he knew that any whiff of the authorities and Dawn and her little family would almost certainly disappear.

That night they ate their meal with little appetite. They had agreed to say nothing to Dawn just yet.

“Let’s sleep on it,” Monty had suggested, “Maybe something will turn up.”

Morning broke clear and bright. A day full of promise, Monty told himself as he brought in the logs and riddled the stove. When Ruby got up and was showered and dressed, he set a bowl of steaming porridge before her. She toyed with it distractedly, her spoon hovering over the pool of honey Monty had poured into the centre.

“I promised I would take Carly swimming today at Fishguard Leisure Centre. Kids are free on a Saturday morning.” She raised her face to grimace at Monty, “Dawn is going to want to know what’s happening.”

Monty patted her hand. But there was little more he could offer in the way of consolation. He could only watch as Ruby reversed the old car and drove off, pausing only to reach out of the window to wave before disappearing from view where the cliff path curved up and away.

When Ruby reached the chalet, Carly was excitedly hopping up and down on the doorstep and before Dawn could stop her, she had bounded down the bank and was wriggling her way into the car. Seeing a chance to put off the inevitable conversation, Ruby shouted to her mother that they needed to get going and would chat later.

Dawn, the wriggling Pauly in her arms, nodded and went inside, closing the door behind her without complaint. Ruby noted that she looked some much better now than when they had first encountered her and a trill of fear ran up her spine at the thought that all this could vanish.

Carly filled every ounce of space with her chatter so that by the time they pulled into the car park of the Leisure Centre, Ruby had almost forgotten her heavy heart.

Fishguard leisure centre

The swimming pool was beginning to fill with excited children and their harassed parents. Taking Carly by the hand they made their way to the showers. Carly had giggled, showing Ruby when they queued to pay that she was already wearing her swimsuit under her dress. Ruby revealed with a wink that she was, too. Now as they began to make their way towards the big pool where some boys were already splashing up a storm, Ruby felt the child’s confidence begin to ebb and, looking down, she noted that Carly was chewing on her nails.

“Have you been in the big pool before?”

Carly refused to meet her eyes. “Loads of times,” she muttered, but her pale little body seemed to cringe away.

Ruby looked at the smaller pool where a more sedate small party of babies and toddlers reclined and gently splashed in their parents’ arms, or explored the shallow water with concentrated attention.

“Well, I would like to go into the little pool for a while, if that’s okay with you?” She looked down into the girl’s face, “It’s a bit warmer.”

Visibly relieved, Carly allowed herself to be led down the steps and once she realised she could stand, the light came back into her little face and the chatter began again.

They spent a happy hour in the water and Ruby was able to forget her worries. It wasn’t until they were on their way back home with a huge bag of chips from Ruby’s favourite chippie that the black mood began to engulf her again. She found herself rehearsing what she might say to Dawn.

Oblivious, Carly kept up a monologue of her own achievements of that morning. Ruby was brought back with a bump as the child posed a question.

Briefly turning to the child, Ruby noted the cross face.

“Sorry love,” Ruby apologised, “I was miles away.”

Carly shook her head, her arms folded, “It’s not very good when a person doesn’t listen to another person you know.”

She brushed a damp lock of hair from her face with an irritated hand.

“You are absolutely right, chicken. I was just thinking about something. Well, actually I suppose I was worrying about something.”

Carly shook her head, “Well, I was telling you about my swimming. I was telling you how good I am now. Can’t you worry about stuff later when I am not here?”

Ruby smiled, wondering, and not for the first time, at the child’s no-nonsense attitude. “That would be very sensible wouldn’t it? So… I’m all ears, tell me all about the swimming.”

Mollified, the child launched into her chatter. When she had finished with a confident assessment of her own improvements, she reached a small hand, hot and damp from the tight hold she had on the steaming packet of chips, and laid it on Ruby’s arm.

“I wouldn’t have been able to get so good so fast without you Ruby,” she said, brightly. “You are a very kind lady. My mummy says we are very, very lucky for Auntie Ruby. My Mummy is very right. My mummy says that when we move, we are going to grow flowers in our garden and we are going to give them to you. I told her you like flowers.”

Ruby’s heart lurched in her chest. She steadied her voice.

“When you move? Are you planning to move then?” she asked, in what she hoped was a light, easy, calm voice.

Carly snorted, “Well we can’t stay at the chalet.”

“Can’t you?”

Carly turned a surprised face upon her, “Of course we can’t.”

“Why is that then?”

The child shook her head as though Ruby was quite bonkers, “Oh, really Ruby,” she scoffed, “we can’t stay at the chalet, because the man said it isn’t soupable.”

“Soupable?”

“Yes. The man said it isn’t fit for the winter. Definitely not soupable. The man said that now he looked at it, he was surprised anyone wanted to stay there any time. I told him we like it but he said did we like the rain coming in and making the walls damp and he said he wouldn’t have a dog live in it.”

tripodRuby was amazed. Who was this man? Was it the owner’s nephew? Was it Branwhite the agent? Oh dear, was it someone from the council, or social services?

Carly chattered on. Apparently, the man was nice. He had a notebook and he wrote down lots of things but he didn’t write down everything.

“I said we weren’t going to have a dog, so it didn’t matter about one living there. I said we wanted a dog but we could see Tripod anytime we wanted and mummy said that would have to be enough for now.”

“When did you see the man?”

Carly shrugged, “Can I have a chip?”

Ruby stalled her, promising that chips would be better kept wrapped up until they were home and they were so close, just minutes away.

“But I am really hungry.”

Ruby nodded, “Me too, but if we open them they will be cold for everyone else.”

She suggested Carly think of something that made her laugh.

Carly launched into a litany of joyous experiences that made her laugh and was giggling when they pulled up outside the chalet.

Once inside, the chips were divided and the whole company settled around the roaring log fire.

Ruby turned to Dawn, “Carly said someone came to the chalet to see you?”

Dawn nodded, curling her long legs around herself with the ease of her youth. Ruby sat stiffly in the arm chair, wondering when she had last sat on the floor with such obvious comfort.

Blowing on a chip for Pauly, Dawn nodded, “I was going to tell you this morning,” she said, “but you were in such a hurry to be off.”

Ruby waited impatiently but when no more information was forthcoming she attempted a casual, “Who came to see you?” and then added, “Do you mind me asking?”

Dawn laughed. It was good to hear her laugh but right now Ruby wanted to know what was happening to this little family.

Dawn noted the older woman’s apprehension, “It’s okay,” she said, “It was the landlord. Well, the landlord’s nephew or son or something. Apparently the owner is in a nursing home.”

“Yes, I know. I saw him yesterday. He didn’t think you would be able to stay here. I was afraid to tell you.”
“Well we knew we couldn’t stay, Ruby. Look around; It was a place to run away to, not a place to set up home.”

Dawn held out another chip for Pauly and took one for her, twirling it extravagantly in the tomato sauce on the edge of his plate before popping it into her mouth. When she had finished chewing she shrugged.

“I knew we wouldn’t be able to stay and I am really grateful for all you have done for us, but really, we can’t stay here in a falling down old wreck on the edge of the world. I don’t have a car and Carly has to go to school. We need to be able to get to a doctor, dentist, and the shops. We can’t be relying on you for everything.”

Ruby bit her lip. “I see. So where are you going to go?”

She imagined the little family disappearing as they had arrived and setting themselves down somewhere miles away like Swansea or even Cardiff. Her heart sank.

“That man, the landlords thingy… what’s his name….?”

“Landlady’s nephew, Hugh Thomas?” Ruby offered, in a small voice.

He must have come straight over after their meeting. How long had he given them to get out? Was it days? If it were weeks….even if it were months, it would be too soon. This was terrible. She had to fight back tears.

Dawn got up to get Pauly and Carly a drink. A small scuffle ensued over who should have which cup and when that had subsided and the children had gone off to play with the new toys Ruby had found yesterday in the Shalom charity shop, she dared to ask the question.

“So where are you planning to go and when?” Ruby hoped her voice sounded steady.

“Well, I was going to ask a favour,” Dawn was tidying up the plates.

“Of course. What can I do?”

‘Don’t go!’ was ringing in her head. Until this moment she had not fully grasped how much of her heart had been stolen by this young woman and her bumptious children. She envisioned the whole community turning out to renovate the chalet, but she instantly recalled the uncharitable reticence of the Residents Association members when the idea had been suggested before. She saw the little family squishing in with her and Monty. She shook those thoughts away. She couldn’t pretend to herself that there would be room. No! They were going, to God knows where, and there was nothing she could do but offer one last gift of a favour.

“Whatever it is, you only have to ask.”

“I have a couple of rentals to look at, one in Goodwick and one in Haverfordwest,” said Dawn, “the first one is owned by Mr Thingy and the other one is owned by a friend of his. Can we have a look at them on Monday?”

Dawn HardcastleDawn was standing now, talking animatedly about the possibilities; of housing benefit, of work, of the life they could have. As she talked excitedly, she looked down into Ruby’s face and Ruby had a sudden startling awareness that Dawn Hardcastle wasn’t the helpless downtrodden little girl she had assumed her to be. She saw instantly where the children had inherited their courage and she felt a mixture of foolishness and joy at her own assumptions being so confounded.

Dawn handed Ruby a cup of tea and beamed at her. Then Carly was holding out a homemade card, aflame with glitter and tacky glue and Pauly was bestowing hot wet kisses on her nose.

“We made this for you,” Carly announced proudly, “we made it last night before we went to bed but some of the glue is still a bit wet cos we added more glitter so you will have to be very careful with it.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Yes you do,” said Carly, “you say thank you.”

“Thank you’, said Ruby, taking the proffered card.

“You have been our fairy Godmother,” said Dawn, “so thank you Ruby, thank you so very much.”

As Ruby parked and let herself into the warmth of ‘Dun Nuffin’, Monty looked up from his jigsaw. Lately, he had decided that jigsaws were good for people. Unfortunately, Ruby had yet to find a way to persuade him that they weren’t necessarily good for everyone and if there was anyone more temperamentally unsuited to searching for hours in a box, for a piece of sky, it was himself.

Relieved to be free of the task he had set himself, at least for the moment, he sat back and watched her take her seat at the table. She was smiling.

“Hey!” he said laughing, “you have some glitter on you.”

He reached to brush her hair from her eyes and his hands came away shimmering with little lights. Leaning forward, she kissed him lightly.

“Now,” she said laughing, “so do you, Monty Pier, SO do you.”

And she told him the good news.

Pembrokeshire writer Snorkelfish

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