Out in the lounge, as if at the flick of a switch, the patients became animated, spines straightening and heads turning to the corridor beyond Janice’s view. She heard an orchestra of clinking crockery as a nursing assistant ferried an aluminium trolley into the centre of the room. “Is it okay for me to go and have a chat with her?”
“If you want, although it won’t be terribly illuminating. Our Matty’s no conversationalist.”
But a more congenial one than you! Janice humped her bag to a wipe-clean chair beside Matty. “Hello again.”
Matty didn’t speak until the nursing assistant brought her tea. “Thank you, dear, and one for my guest.”
“I don’t think our visitor would want this.”
The stumpy blue-green cups and saucers were the poor relation to Sister Henderson’s fine china. Janice felt outraged on the patients’ behalf. “I’d love a cuppa.”
The nursing assistant did some weird acrobatics with her eyebrows.
Matty drank. “Nothing beats a nice cup of tea.”
“I so agree.”
Stomping back to her trolley, the nursing assistant began to pour. Janice didn’t twig she hadn’t been asked how she liked it. At the first sip, she gagged.
The trolley was laden with cups and saucers and a gargantuan aluminium teapot, but no sugar bowl or milk jug. Not even a bottle. Had they set her up?
If so, Eyebrows seemed loath to participate. Janice refused to turn to check whether Sister Henderson watched from the window. She swallowed another sip, pretending it was Indian chai without the spices. If the patients stomached it, so would she.
Draining her cup, Matty broke the silence. Despite addressing the carpet, her enunciation was clear, her accent refined. “My mother takes Lapsang souchong with a slice of lemon.”
Under that unflattering outfit, beneath that crinkled-crepe skin, a young heart blazed. The hospital had stolen her home, her boyfriend, her baby. Her life. But fifty years’ segregation hadn’t erased everything. A spark of personality endured. It was down to Janice to blow on that spark and rekindle her fire.
Why shouldn’t Matty drink Lapsang souchong, orange pekoe or Earl Grey? Served with a sliver of lemon, a wedge of lime or a feast of seasonal fruit. Sweetened with honey, if she fancied it; coloured with Cornish clotted cream.
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