Bumblethorpe was a busy little town nestled at the foot of the Bumblebridge Hill. On the outskirts was the large factory and retail outlet called Squishy which had sold soft furnishings for generations to a handful of customers who traipsed all the way across the hills instead of going to the nearest city. Its main street was alive with foot traffic often heard to bemoan the pedestrianisation that made them walk an extra ten yards from the car park.
Near the Fried Fancy takeaway, on the corner next to The Perfect Perm hairdressers and Pruned Petals landscaping services was Bumblethorpe Community Centre with its dodgy prefab style structure painted turquoise, steps which still featured crazy paving along with a handrail in white and a large banner announcing two for one on cream teas but only if you brought your own cup.
One battered little Fiat conked out and rolled to a stop outside the community centre and inside it, Paulette wondered why she had decided to crawl home as her mother Agnes turned to her.
‘See that chap there,’ Agnes said with all the glee of a matchmaker. ‘He could be something special… in the right light.’
‘Mum, that’s a bin bag.’ Paulette sighed and yanked her keys out of the ignition which flew into her backseat… somewhere.
‘Bin bags aren’t that tall,’ Agnes said and wiped her steamed up glasses. ‘Are they?’
‘It’s around half a lamp post.’ Paulette climbed out and tried to haul open her boot. It wouldn’t budge—none too surprisingly—and she was never buying a car from her cousin ever again.
‘Why did they do that, then?’ Agnes groaned her way out into the cold and adjusted her floor length red tartan skirt. She wasn’t Scottish but her name was and Bumblethorpe wasn’t known for its warmth.
‘Do what?’ Paulette tugged at the boot.
‘Dress up lamp posts as men,’ Agnes said and tootled around to her. ‘I think you need a key for that.’
‘I need…’ Paulette said through gritted teeth… she needed her foot not to have broken or not to be dumped or to be anywhere but Bumblethorpe reduced to teaching old dears how to dance. ‘I need to push the button in but it’s jammed.’
‘Because you need the keys,’ Agnes peered at the bumper. ‘See it has a slot for them.’
‘No, Mum, that’s a gouge.’ Paulette took off her shoe and wagged it at the boot because it had taken an hour to get it open to load it and she was not spending that much time with her mother in a close space. ‘I will beat you.’
‘Ooh, I saw this once on telly,’ Agnes stood back as if ready to pull out popcorn. ‘He used a tree though. Not sure how he carried a tree but he was tall.’
Paulette thwacked her boot with her plimsole and the boot stared back as if sniggering at her. ‘Just open.’
‘Please,’ Agnes corrected and rifled through her handbag for a mint.
Paulette stared at her.
Agnes popped in a mint and nodded through misted glasses. ‘Please.’
‘It’s not just cold, Hedges, it’s damp cold… cold that seeps into your bones and sucks the joy from them.’ Mary-Lou strode along, gym bag on shoulder, blonde hair bouncing with every step.
‘Do bones feel joy?’ Hedges scurried beside Mary-Lou, gym bag as big as her, blonde hair as bushy as her name. ‘I mean I have a funny bone an all that…’
Mary-Lou slid to a perfect stop and flicked her orange sunglasses from her face. ‘It’s Spring, Hedges, Spring… and we’re barely able to hit forty degrees.’
‘Forty?’ Hedges blew out a breath and stumbled to a stop next to her. ‘We don’t need people getting heatstroke… you know how hard it is to handle a trimmer with sweaty hands?’
‘Forty degrees Fahrenheit,’ Mary-Lou held up her hand then screwed up her face and hunched. ‘Which is…’
Hedges hunched up too and screwed up her face not sure why but she’d be companionable.
They stood there and Paulette glanced over wondering if they’d just conked out like her useless piece of—
‘Try a key,’ Agnes said for the umpteenth time and held it up. She was a proud mother of eight girls and she had been through some rough places for them but the back of Paulette’s car… if you could call it that… took the biscuit and the whole packet. She’d need a nice cup of tea for this.
Paulette folded her arms. ‘It won’t use a—’
Agnes sprung the lock with the illegal skill of a car key and the boot shot up and nearly took her false teeth out.
‘—key,’ Paulette mumbled as Agnes stilled her blue rinse and righted her spectacles. ‘Well… I guess please worked then.’ She grabbed her old CD player from when she was about ten. It was pink and sparkly with some boyband on it that she couldn’t even remember.
‘Let’s have a cuppa,’ Agnes said and tootled toward the steps then stopped next to Hedges and Mary-Lou still frozen in place. ‘Are you quite alright?’
Hedges placed a finger to her lip. ‘Not sure.’
‘Right… well… I’ll make tea.’ Agnes nodded and tootled on before she froze too.
‘… about ten degrees centigrade…’ Mary-Lou said and blew out an exhausted breath. ‘Freaking freezing.’
Hedges nodded although she couldn’t remember what they’d been talking about and followed Mary-Lou up the steps and into the warmth.
‘Oh, I’ll carry it then,’ Paulette muttered as she hauled a bag of mats from the boot. ‘Don’t worry about helping.’
‘You want help?’ Janis grunted from near the bushes.
Paulette jumped and spotted the blue overalls and a large brimmed hat. ‘Yes… um… please… I think.’
Janis bundled over, face hidden, and in flash of marigold yellow, trudged up the steps with the bags.
‘Thank you… my knight in shining kitchen gloves.’ Paulette rolled her eyes and slammed her boot shut… only for it to spring back up and give her an uppercut and send her in a heap to the floor. Clearly the car had taken offence at the beating a-la plimsole.
‘Ooh, she’s out for the count,’ Stan said, swooping in to hoist Paulette back to her feet. ‘Felled by her own vehicle.’
Gaynor pulled her hairspray from her handbag and sprayed it up Paulette’s nose to revive her. Strong sweet peach could bring around most and knock them out again. ‘You alright there, luv?’
Paulette flicked open her eyes then gagged as some sweet chemical stench coated her nose and her mouth.
‘She’s alright,’ Stan said with a chuckle and slammed down the boot which locked. ‘You here for classes?’
Paulette was too busy gagging to hear. Someone had knocked her out and tried to suffocate her with perfume or spray? Or maybe it was bug spray? Pepper spray? Had her car employed self-defence?
‘Think we should get her inside… Agnes will give her tea.’ Gaynor took one arm and Stan hauled Paulette up by the other as she gagged and spluttered.
‘Ooh, your Ricky sold that on, didn’t he?’ Tammy said as she waddled on the highest heels in Bumblethorpe. Her husband, Colin, said she was like candyfloss on a stick: plenty of floss up top and legs as flexible as a plank. He was a right one to talk, he could perch two beers on his belly.
‘Yeah, I don’t know who would have bought it though,’ Tracy said, yanked up her joggers and sucked on her e-cigarette. ‘I mean, it’s about three cars welded together.’
‘Never?’ Tammy shoved her boobs out of her way so she could examine the wheels. ‘Oh yeah, that’s a good job, innit?’
‘Unless you got to drive it,’ Tracy smirked, extinguished her cigarette and frowned at the boot. ‘That’s about right,’ she said, pointing to the keys dangling from the button. ‘You couldn’t beg someone to steal it.’
Tammy snorted, took the keys and dragged Tracy up the steps into the hall.
George tutted at them then tutted at the car which Tammy and Tracy had probably stolen while he waited for Andy to stop playing with his mobile. He’d had a mobile himself, once, one of those peapod things until it took a dive into the fryers and became a fried-pod instead.
‘You think we’ll do ballet?’ Andy asked, hope in his big blue eyes. ‘I quite fancy the tights.’
‘If we do anything close to it, I’m going back to the pub,’ George grunted at him and checked his new jogging bottoms were tidy. Andy had made him buy new trainers and a t-shirt too but that’s what you got for doing chasers with a roofer.
‘You can wear the tutu then,’ Andy said with a smirk and slid his mobile away and checked his hair in the window of the dumped car with ‘I love chinos’ stamped on the back. ‘Gaynor must have come through here.’
George raised an eyebrow and slunk up the steps to the hall. ‘Why, did she leave a claw print?’
Andy laughed. ‘Like you’d kick her out of your chip shop.’ He flicked his thumb at the car. ‘I detected the disgusting scent of flammable hair spray.’ He grinned and held open the door for George. ‘Maybe I’ll let you lead.’
‘I’m not dancing with you,’ George shot back then checked over his new t-shirt. He didn’t know why Andy had forced him to by such a tight t-shirt.
‘You wanted to dance with Ruby though,’ Andy said with a snort and batted his eyelashes. ‘You thought I was a bit of alright then.’
‘I was hammered and it was dark,’ George shuddered.
‘Diane, will you hurry up,’ Ceri wogged her way along, ponytail bouncing behind her as Diane huffed. ‘I don’t want to miss the warm up.’
‘This is my warm up… and my exercise… for a month,’ Diane wiped over her face and grabbed onto some hunk of metal in the car park to catch her breath. ‘Maybe I should just stick to sitting on the sofa…?’
‘Nonsense,’ Ceri said and grabbed her by the arm. ‘How are you ever going to meet a nice bloke if you sit around on your couch?’
‘Honey, you exercise and fit into clothes I ain’t been able to wear on my foot since I was a kid…’ Diane yanked up her snug lycra bottoms. ‘And you haven’t found anybody decent. I’ll just dream away in the comfort of my own home.’
‘Or… learn to dance then offer to teach George,’ Ceri said with a wink and stretched off her calves. She checked her armband and smiled, yes, she was ahead on her steps for the day, beat that, Sally. Okay, Sally was eight but it didn’t matter, her daughters understood competition, they loved it as much as her.
‘I would teach him,’ Diane said with a smirk and wiggled her sizable hips. ‘But he looked more interested in Andy than me.’ She fussed with her hair. Oh, she loved the hunky cook George was. Even better, George with his special dish ‘scraps and cheese.’
‘Who wouldn’t be into Andy?’ Ceri chuckled, grabbed her hand and dragged her up the steps. ‘I don’t care if he’s in a dress or not.’
Diane tutted. ‘He’s not even thirty.’ She stopped then winked. ‘But he does look something sweet without a shirt on.’
‘Ladies… ladies?’ Glynnis tottered into the carpark waving her shrug. ‘Is the class on?’
Diane rolled her eyes and pulled open the door.
‘Oh, it’s you,’ Glynnis said as she hurried up the steps and saw Ceri. ‘Are you here to clean or something?’
‘Hi, Mrs Billington,’ Ceri whispered and lowered her head. ‘I’m—’
‘She’s here to dance,’ Diane said and bounced Glynnis to the side with a swish of her hip. ‘What are you here to do… gymnastics?’
Glynnis tutted at her then cleaned something off Ceri’s cheek with her shrug. ‘I am here to dance, thank you.’ She looked Diane up and down and lingered on the lycra. ‘I see you feel floral pattern is appropriate.’
‘Yes, I do,’ Diane swished her bum around. ‘It might be less offensive on people’s eyes than…’ She waved her hand at Glynnis’ very snug outfit. ‘…I could swear I had a carpet like that about thirty years ago.’
Ceri chuckled then stopped as Glynnis eyed her.
‘You look spritely,’ Glynnis eyed her, looked Diane up and down then stormed in.
Diane rolled her eyes and fixed on Ceri. ‘I’m gonna give you a short shave if you keep whispering around her.’
‘She’s my mother-in-law,’ Ceri whispered then shrugged. ‘Was.’
‘Yeah, but you’re not her Trevor, are you?’ Diane held open the door. ‘It weren’t you running off with a shop boy called Barry was it?’ She bellowed it into the hall then took Ceri’s hand and dragged her inside.
Paulette stood, slightly high from the hairspray, at the front of the class with a sore chin and a CD player stuck on nineties tunes. ‘Grab a mat from the side and kick off your shoes.’ She glanced at Tammy kicking Tracy. ‘Your own shoes, dear.’
Tammy poked out her pierced tongue and Tracy shoved her.
‘So, as this is a dance course, one of the important parts is strengthening and we’ll work on some Pilates as a warm up and then move into the dance section.’ Paulette tried to ignore the woman—Janis, was it?—in overalls pretending to move the picture frame. ‘And—’
‘Bah, buh, bah, buh, bah, dum,’ Tracy bellowed out and tapped her feet to the floor. ‘Bah.’
‘Bah, bum, bum, bah, bum, bah, bum,’ Ceri yelled a note or two higher and flicked her arms out. ‘Bah.’
‘Bah, bum, bah, bum, bah, bum….’ Andy threw out his arms and mimicked a top hat to his head. ‘Bah.’
Paulette stared at them. ‘Why?’
‘You need a bit of Liza,’ Andy said and ran through a basic tap routine. ‘Everyone needs a bit of Liza.’
‘Ay, that’s no way to talk about her,’ Stan said with a scowl. ‘She’s well into her eighties.’
‘What’s that got to do with it?’ Andy stuck his hands on his hips.
‘She worked hard driving them cabs. She should have more of your respect.’ Stan nodded and rubbed at his stubble. ‘Makes a good cuppa, she does.’
‘I dunno any Liza who drives a cab.’ Andy waved to Paulette. ‘I mean Liza… the Liza.’
Paulette nodded hoping it would stop him running through more tap routines.
‘Yeah,’ Tammy said with a grin and flicked her hand through her shock-wired ginger hair. ‘Taps, teeth…’ she shoved out her huge breasts. ‘and—’
‘Talent,’ Paulette muttered before they made her mother faint. She smiled a gritted teeth smile at Agnes who was brewing tea and pulling out biscuits. Yes, they would workout and hone their… well… amply fed… bodies and then plough more sugar into themselves. RADA would be so proud.
‘I was going to say tassels,’ Tammy said with a wink and turned to Mary-Lou. ‘She said take your trainers off, luv.’
Mary-Lou eyed her. ‘It’s like English but…’
‘Sneakers,’ Hedges yelled up at her slowly. ‘They said take your sneakers off.’
‘Snickers?’ Tammy raised her eyebrows. ‘I could go for a snickers.’
‘I thought she said knickers,’ Andy whispered to George who stifled his laugh.
‘What are knickers?’ Mary-Lou flicked off her sneakers and pop socks.
‘Pants,’ Tracy yelled.
‘Why would I take off my pants? Yoga pants are perfect for everything.’ Mary-Lou slapped her thigh.
‘Your pants do yoga?’ Gaynor looked Mary-Lou up and down. ‘I can just about manage my pelvic floor.’
Paulette glanced over at Agnes but the kettle was boiling thankfully. ‘Pelvic floor is exactly the right muscle we’ll be using for this…’
‘Pants mean trousers,’ Hedges mumbled behind her hand and leaned up to Mary-Lou. ‘Knickers mean panties.’
Mary-Lou raised her eyebrows. ‘Why would I want to take those off for Pilates?’
‘Exactly,’ Diane mumbled. ‘It’d be chilly for a start.’
‘Pelvic floor—’ Paulette muttered and glared at Janis who was polishing the balance bar. ‘—Is an essential part of Pilates, you breathe in and focus on lifting your pelvic floor then breathe out and try to lift your belly button to your spine.’ She lifted her top and showed how the muscles should move.
George’s throat flexed and he blushed.
‘Do I have a pelvic floor?’ Stan stared down at himself.
‘I dunno, mate,’ Andy stared at him too.
‘It’s the muscle you use when you don’t want to pee,’ Ceri said with a nod and straightened out her ponytail. ‘I work on mine all the time.’
‘Why wouldn’t you want to pee?’ George asked yanking down his too-tight t-shirt and also looking at Stan. ‘I heard you get infertile if you hold it in.’
‘You do?’ Stan pulled his lips to the side with his hairy hand and furrowed his brow.
‘Your lower abdomen,’ Paulette pointed to herself. ‘Just pull it inwards.’
George grabbed his belly and shoved it backward. ‘Like that?’
Paulette sighed. ‘No…’
‘Hi,’ Miriam mumbled from the doorway. ‘Am I late?’ She scurried in, dumped her bag, flicked off her shoes and moved into the correct Pilates starting posture. ‘Didn’t realise we were using this for warm up.’
Paulette smiled, glad to see someone didn’t need a diagram to find their pelvic floor.
‘You must try to stop peeing sometimes?’ Gaynor turned to Stan and flexed her eyebrows behind her dark glasses.
‘Why?’ Stan smiled at her wanting to recite poetry. He’d taken a whole class on it just to show her how wonderful she was.
‘Well… I know it’s important…’ She looked at Diane hoping she could shed some light on it and avoid being bored to tears with rhyme. Diane could give advice on lots of medical problems while providing a cut and blow dry. Neither of them could figure out why Stan was into poetry though but it had to be a condition.
‘No idea, but when you give birth, there ain’t no stopping pee.’ Diane nodded then shrugged when George raised his eyebrows. ‘My boys were ten pounds… ten.’
Tracy winced and prodded her joggers. ‘Mine was seven and I swear I’ve still got stitches.’
Glynnis ignored the riff-raff and tried to suck in her stomach as Miriam had. It was harder when she’d had two beautiful daughters… and Trevor…
‘I used to do Pilates in nothing but a snapback.’ Mary-Lou shivered her way over, cropped turtle-neck not doing much in the breezy hall. She moved into the starting pose, tummy flexing at will.
‘A what?’ Hedges bounced over and breathed in.
‘A snapback,’ Mary-Lou said in a slow, clear tone. ‘I had one on earlier.’ She motioned to her head. Actually, it was her daughter’s snapback but she was home in the sunshine studying hard. You could study hard in the warm.
‘Baseball hat?’ Hedges asked and screwed up her face.
‘You could call them that, yeah,’ Mary-Lou said and smiled a gentle smile. You had to be gentle with Hedges, she tried real hard.
‘Isn’t baseball an American thing anyway?’ Tammy asked and held up her flab because she didn’t have any idea where her pelvic floor was but she was sure it had fallen out after three kids.
‘Yeah, it’s rounders with a bigger bat.’ Tracy said and sucked in her stomach then spluttered when she swallowed the wrong way. ‘My Ricky has a baseball bat.’
Paulette scowled. ‘Did you say Ricky?’ Oh, that explained a lot. Ricky, her cousin, à la the car salesperson she was going to beat with both a rounders and baseball bat.
‘Sorry I’m late,’ Lanie said as she strode through the door, threw off her rucksack, her trainers, jacket and grinned at Paulette. ‘Oh, Pilates… I didn’t bring my mat.’
Miriam stilled, turned then beamed at her. ‘You can share mine.’
Tammy and Tracy exchanged a snigger.
‘Hey,’ Lanie grinned at Miriam. Wow, she hadn’t seen her since… well… years…She hurried over and hugged her. ‘How are you home?’
‘Well, it didn’t work out,’ Miriam whispered and squished her into a hug. ‘I thought you’d moved away to be a singer?’
‘Didn’t work out,’ Lanie squished her back. ‘I work in Squishy.’
‘Me too,’ Miriam said with a beaming smile. ‘I work in sales.’
‘I own it,’ Mary-Lou said then shrugged. ‘My husband decided he liked the area.’ She shivered again. Her father told her to support him through it, that he wasn’t buying flash cars or leaving her for twenty year olds, and that all men went through the madness but she didn’t get why buying him a soft furnishings firm in Bumblethorpe would make him feel less old.
‘I used to own it,’ Glynnis mumbled then sighed. Her father still wasn’t talking to her because she sold it either but she hated soft furnishings and she didn’t care if her husband felt old as long as he stayed out of her hair and didn’t mention Trevor—ugh.
‘I used to work there,’ Ceri whispered then shrugged and Diane hugged her.
‘So, what we’re saying is that I get discount?’ Andy asked and nodded to Janis who hid behind her hat and nodded back.
‘Discount would be nice, my mum loves the place,’ Janis said and then went back to checking the windowsill for… um… paint. You never knew when paint could just splash on windowsills but she wasn’t there to dance, nope.
‘Does she?’ Lanie beamed at Janis and nodded to Miriam. ‘There you go, no cold calling for you.’
Paulette stamped her good foot. ‘Pelvic floor!’
And yes, that was when the kettle stopped boiling and her mother turned and peered over her glasses.
Pilates hadn’t quite worked out the way Paulette had hoped for and the closest most of the class were ever getting to ‘a bench’ was sitting on one. After twenty minutes of trying to find Stan’s pelvic floor, Paulette let them have a tea break and tried to find a pop-tune that might be somewhere near useful to tango to. She glanced over at the huddle chomping their way through biscuits and decided that, to be honest, they weren’t really going to be ballroom champions so who cared what they danced to.
‘I can’t believe it didn’t work out with Neal,’ Lanie said to Miriam as she leaned against three tables stacked against the wall.
Miriam shrugged. Her mother had demanded she go through marriage counselling but there was little point when Neal was re-marrying anyway and she’d left him in the first place.
‘Thought you’d have a load of kids and be rich or something,’ Lanie said then munched on a biscuit. She didn’t really keep in touch with them when they’d left. Didn’t really want to either.
‘Nah,’ Miriam dunked her biscuit. ‘He dropped out of college… a few colleges… he had good ideas just…’ She glanced over at Tammy and Tracy listening in. ‘They are the same as they were in school then.’
Lanie rolled her eyes. ‘Worse… You remember Ricky, right?’ She thumbed to Paulette and Agnes. ‘He’s related to them some shape… he was that kid who tried nicking all the lead from the school roof?’
Miriam chuckled. ‘I remember that… didn’t he mix it up and strip all the guttering off instead?’ Yes, Ricky was a legendary… well… idiot. ‘Suits her.’
‘Wouldn’t it help if you wore something over your stomach?’ Glynnis said to Mary-Lou as she shivered. ‘As trim as you are.’
‘You need more meat on you,’ Tammy said and huffed up her breasts. ‘You wouldn’t get so cold then.’
‘Or I could go home to Florida and be trim and warm.’ Mary-Lou sighed and tried to ignore the fact that she loved her husband. Her mother found it hilarious that she did but he wasn’t annoying even after two kids and years of marriage.
‘Barney wouldn’t like that,’ Hedges said on her third cup.
‘He wouldn’t and he sucks.’ Mary-Lou placed the tea down and examined the cookies packet. British people tended to call cookies different names but they were cookies no matter how you dressed them up.
‘You’ll need your pelvic floor if you keep drinking so much,’ Andy said and ducked around Hedges for a biscuit. He did like a nice digestive. His dad could inhale ten in one go on a tea break.
‘I’m trying to fill myself up… on the two, two, three diet.’ Hedges checked her hair then her calories on her watch then her hair again and turned to Mary-Lou. ‘I’ve lost fifty pounds.’
‘Really?’ Mary-Lou clapped her hands. ‘Go, girl.’
‘She probably means signing up to the class,’ George chipped in and dunked three biscuits. ‘I paid like a hundred quid for one class on losing weight… My wallet was definitely lighter.’
Andy snorted. ‘How are you going to use a diet, you spend all day cooking greasy junk food… and—’ he nodded with every sincerity he could muster. ‘—it’s an important role.’
George nodded. It was. Feeding a town food that warmed them from the tummy out was complex, demanding but a passion. ‘It took a lot out of me creating the cheese and chips special,’ he said and rubbed over his receding hair. ‘It needed the right cheese… cheddar… but I went through loads.’
‘Even cream cheese,’ Diane said and patted George’s shoulder. She’d tried to support him through his creative madness as best she could. They’d chat and she’d eat and provide feedback then he’d fly into some genius-like frenzy and go at the fryer with the kind of skill she doubted most had ever seen. ‘I did like blue cheese but it went a bit funny in the fat.’
George turned to her, his dearest customer, his beloved hairdresser who cut so kindly around the fading hair and took her hand. ‘You’re always so wonderful to me.’
Diane blushed, she was going to swoon, she could feel it. ‘It’s lovely that you turn to me.’
Andy rolled his eyes. ‘Want to borrow Ruby’s wig? He’ll really turn to you then.’
George scowled at him. ‘You promised me you wouldn’t mention Ruby.’
Andy laughed then winked at Ceri who was tittering around her biscuits then she sighed and waved at Janis now pretending to fix the wall.
‘Janis, come have some tea… you must need fluids.’ Ceri took the cup to her hoping that she would take the hat off because doing Pilates in overalls took some doing.
‘Ta,’ Janis took the cup and scuttled over to the corner.
Ceri headed over after her. ‘Your mum doesn’t want you coming to class?’
Janis dipped the cup behind her hat and gulping sounds glugged through the air. ‘She don’t know.’
‘Then why are you covering your face?’ Ceri dipped her head under the hat.
Janis tried to yank it down further.
Ceri smiled up at her. ‘There you are… you must be baking.’
‘Is that meant to be funny?’ Mary-Lou muttered and huddled against the radiator. ‘Why is there gum down the back?’
‘Holding it on probably,’ Tammy said with a snort.
Ceri pulled up Janis’ hat.
She yanked it back down. ‘I’m ugly… I look like a bloke.’
Ceri glared at Tammy and Tracy who raised their eyebrows.
‘What?’ Tammy flicked her cup around. ‘I don’t think she does. She doesn’t have the sweat patches Colin does to be called anywhere near a bloke.’
‘I waltzed with you on field and hill amongst the lush green grass,’ Stan said and took Gaynor’s hand in a fit of inspiration. ‘Now, I’m hoping to waltz with you in this community class.’
Gaynor nodded and tugged her hand away. ‘Very nice, dear.’ She looked to Diane and fired a ‘help me,’ look.
‘My Ricky has terrible sweat patches,’ Tracy said and pursed her lips. ‘And he insists on wearing them white t-shirts which de-grain… don’t matter what they say on them detergents, they still look white with sweat patches.’
‘Why do you think you look ugly?’ Ceri asked and tipped up Janis’ hat again.
‘I’m growing a beard,’ Janis mumbled. ‘A real one… I don’t want a beard.’
Andy bounced over. ‘Are you?’
Diane held up her finger. ‘Polycystic ovaries then.’
Janis frowned but lifted up her hat.
‘It’s a bit of stubble,’ Ceri said with a smile. ‘I get stubble.’
‘You?’ Andy checked her over.
‘I’d have a full beard if I didn’t do anything about it,’ Hedges muttered and checked it hadn’t grown back with her hand. ‘A full one… I just don’t get it.’
‘I use one of them waxing things, I do,’ Tracy said then sighed. ‘Stings.’
Janis lifted up her hat further. ‘You do?’
‘Yeah,’ Tracy smiled at her.
‘See, not ugly,’ Ceri said and kissed Janis on the cheek. ‘Maybe we can get you in some joggers too… so you don’t overheat.’
Janis shook her head.
‘So, now we’re going to try getting into hold. Traditional tango is said to be much like a married couple arguing,’ Paulette said hoping to stop the class becoming a therapy session… but she still checked her own chin for hair… she had to use removal cream. ‘Argentine Tango is a man and his mistress.’
Andy stuck up his finger. ‘This is all very binary, Paulette.’
Stan nodded. ‘I have no idea what he’s saying but I object to the mistress part, some of us love our wives, thank you.’
Gaynor beamed up at him then bumped his arm with hers. ‘Softie.’
Mary-Lou put her hand up. ‘What if you don’t argue with your husband?’
The class stared at her.
‘We don’t.’ She shrugged. ‘What?’
‘How?’ Tammy wagged her finger. ‘Do you keep him drunk or something?’
‘No, he usually asks what I want to do… we discuss it as a family… and most of the time I veto.’ She smirked then sighed and shivered. ‘Sometimes I don’t.’
Paulette cleared her throat hoping it would make the class move away from the biscuits. ‘It’s a theme… you don’t actually have to be married or not or arguing.’
Andy pursed his lips.
‘And it applies to anyone you’re dancing with, okay?’ Paulette sighed and waved at the hall. ‘So, pick someone to dance with, decide if you’re following or leading and then we’ll start.’
Ceri grabbed Janis’ hand and dragged her to the middle. ‘I’ve got mine.’
Janis blushed then smiled.
Miriam smiled up at Lanie who grabbed her hand and grinned.
Tammy and Tracy sniggered then Tracy went on one knee. ‘How ‘bout a steamy affair?’
Tammy snorted and tottered into the middle. ‘Only if you buy me a snickers… I could do with a snickers…’
Andy looked at George who grabbed Diane before Andy got any ideas. Diane beamed and pecked George on the cheek.
‘Oh, you ditch Ruby now, don’t you,’ Andy poked his tongue out and grabbed Glynnis who gave a shocked ‘Ooh,’ and he swung her over his arm with a flourish. ‘Let’s dance, you saucy thing.’
Glynnis fanned herself.
Mary-Lou shook her head at them and Hedges smiled up at her. ‘What?’
Hedges held out her hand. ‘You want to lead?’
‘Honey, we’re not those kind of friends.’ Mary-Lou looked around but Stan was the only male left and she didn’t want poetry thrown at her.
‘I can be macho when I want to be,’ Hedges glared up at her, hands on hips. ‘I use power tools for a start.’
Andy chuckled. ‘She does… big power tools.’
Paulette looked at Agnes who, once again, was busy with brewing tea. How much tea did they need? She needed more than tea… stronger than tea.
‘I’m glad you’re embracing your masculine side,’ Mary-Lou said, hoping it was gentle and that someone didn’t sue her for discrimination. ‘We have an LGBT+ network at Squishy.’ She nodded to Andy and Hedges. ‘My daughter dyed her hair pink once?’
Hedges wrinkled up her brow. ‘I want to dance with you not move in.’ She rolled her eyes and whispered to Lanie who was sniggering behind her hand. ‘Bit intense.’
Lanie managed a smile at Mary-Lou half wanting to film this to play at the next Squishy board meeting, Barney—or Mr Mary-Lou as she’d dubbed him—would howl with laughter.
‘Don’t smirk,’ Mary-Lou grabbed Hedges’ hand. ‘Do not take pictures.’
Paulette stepped into the male position. ‘When you are the man—’ she held up her hand. ‘—the person leading of indeterminate gender that has no reflection on their gender or sexuality or anything—’ she took a breath, equality was exhausting.
‘Or colour,’ Diane prompted and winked.
Paulette smiled. ‘Or colour or racial ethnicity or age or ability or physical attributes or beliefs—’
‘Or professional or social status,’ Ceri added and glared at Glynnis until she looked and then hid behind Janis.
‘Ooh, good one,’ Andy said with a nod.
‘Or family status,’ Stan said like it was an equality class.
‘Basically just whoever wants to flipping lead.’ Paulette closed her eyes and took a few breaths. ‘When you lead, you place your hand to the small of your partner’s back like this…’ She grabbed George and placed his hand to her back. ‘Then you take her—their—hand in yours, like this.’
George blushed then cleared his throat.
‘Partner makes me think we’ve gone into business or that we need cowboy hats,’ Tracy said then flicked an imaginary lasso around.
‘Or, in your case, partner in crime,’ George muttered.
Tammy snorted. ‘We’ve so gone there.’ She pulled up Tracy’s joggers to show off her tag.
Mary-Lou raised her eyebrows then held up her hand to Hedges. ‘Doesn’t need a translation.’ She placed Hedges’ hand higher. ‘That’s not the small of my back.’
‘I can’t help it, you’re tall,’ Hedges grunted up at her. ‘Besides, you have nothing on the small of your back, I thought it was more appropriate as you are offended by my manliness.’
Mary-Lou chuckled. ‘My garden looks awesome so we’re good.’ Power tools, she had to remember to tell her daughter that… and maybe her therapist.
‘That’s great, Lanie and Miriam,’ Paulette said and let George wobble his way back to a scowling Diane. ‘Nice hold.’
Tammy grabbed Tracy and planted Tracy’s hands on her bum. ‘Better hold.’
‘On your back not your…’ Paulette glanced at Agnes slaving over her teapot. ‘Bottom.’
‘Oi, my Colin says it isn’t dancing if you don’t get to grips with a woman,’ Tammy said and wiggled her eyebrows.
‘Too right.’ Tracy flung her over one arm then toppled and they collapsed onto the floor in a giggling heap.
Stan shook his head, forlorn, as he tried to figure out how to hold Gaynor who was muttering up at him.
‘Your hand is in the… er… person who follows… position,’ Paulette rubbed at her aching forehead and strolled over. ‘The er… pink position.’
Andy grinned at Stanley while twirling Glynnis through a range of moves. ‘I have a wig spare.’
‘You need to be in the blue position,’ Paulette tried to turn his hand the right way but Stan couldn’t do it.
‘Blue?’ Ceri said. ‘Aren’t we back to binary?’
‘Well spotted,’ Andy chimed then winked at Ceri who winked back. ‘Need a different colour.’
Diane nodded and gazed at George as he slid his hand to her back. ‘I think we should have purple… matches the colour on your apron.’
George gazed back. ‘You always wash them so well.’
‘Purple,’ Paulette muttered and tried placing Stan’s hand again. ‘Put it in purple’s position.’
‘It don’t feel right,’ Stan grunted. ‘I want to stick my hand around her shoulder like I always do.’
Gaynor gave an exasperated nod. ‘He does… I can’t reach his shoulders… it feels weird.’
‘Well… then you go purple and he can be pink,’ Paulette glowered at Andy but he nodded approval. ‘And Andy can lend him a wig.’
‘You’re on.’ Andy slid Glynnis around who giggled. ‘What do you say, Saucy?’
‘I say I don’t care as long as I don’t have to be purple,’ she sighed then frowned. ‘Trevor’s flipping purple enough for the whole family.’
Ceri sniffed. ‘I still can’t believe he left me for someone called Barry.’
‘Forget the name, dear… he’s a shop boy… I sent Trevor to all the best schools just like his sisters,’ Glynnis muttered to Andy and then to Ceri with each twirl. ‘He married properly because you had the right pedigree… the right class… Barry didn’t even pass his O-Levels.’
Mary-Lou looked down at Hedges.
‘Highschool… he didn’t pass Highschool.’ Hedges cleared her throat. ‘What Glynnis is saying is that she sent him to private schools and universities so he should be playing NFL and he’s gone downtown to… er… well… it’s called Sunday League football here.’
Mary-Lou snorted with laughter. ‘I get the idea.’ She placed Hedges hand up a bit. ‘We’re still not those kind of friends.’
‘Whatever, you want my extendable strimmer and you know it.’ Hedges poked her tongue out and swished her around.
‘I think he’s stupid,’ Jan grunted and hauled Ceri around in hold. ‘You’re very pretty.’
‘Thank you,’ Ceri smiled up at her. ‘So are you.’
‘So, the issue isn’t that Barry is a bloke?’ Andy said as Paulette tried and failed to teach Stan how to hold Gaynor. ‘But that he’s with an uneducated bloke?’ Andy furrowed his brow. ‘I’m sure that’s not right either.’
‘The issue is that he had an affair and ditched his kids and wife,’ Diane said and wiggled as George swung her about. ‘I think.’
‘And for someone who makes Tammy look respectable,’ Glynnis muttered then sighed as Tammy scowled. ‘He’s covered in tattoos.’
‘What’s wrong with that?’ Tracy asked and threw in some tap dancing.
‘Let me translate,’ Lanie said hoping it would stop Paulette going purple faced because she was quite sure that wasn’t good for her. ‘It’s like your son, Gareth, you want him to shack up with some girl and move out and he’s passed his exams and wants to be a policeman.’
Tracy narrowed her eyes. ‘Don’t even talk about it, Ricky is heartbroken.’
Paulette gritted her teeth. ‘Gaynor, just take charge, will you?’
Gaynor nodded then moved Stan into position. ‘That’s better.’
‘So,’ Paulette surveyed her rabble as the kettle boiled again. ‘We definitely put the queer in tango that much I’ll say.’
And yes, her mother looked up and peered over her glasses again. At least someone in class had good timing.