On the day of the funeral, Elsa vowed that the end of Albert’s life wouldn’t presage the withering of hers. It wasn’t that she didn’t miss him, didn’t feel the ache of his loss with the dawn of each new day, but she’d learnt, long ago, that life was not to be squandered. She had a duty to carry on.
She decided to seek out some voluntary work; something to take her out of the house and out of herself. She imagined perching on a low stool reading stories to tousle-haired children or in the office of a charity putting the filing system to rights. But those kind of jobs required typed applications, security checks and references, even for volunteers, and Elsa hadn’t the patience to track down the employers who’d praised her work twenty years before.
Eventually, she found a few hours a week at the old folks’ luncheon club in the church hall round the corner from where she got her hair done: Tuesdays and Fridays, ten till half past two. The work provided colleagues, a sense of purpose, and a greater appreciation of the intervening days when she was responsible to no-one but herself.
The luncheon club was managed, in the loosest sense of the word, by a young man in his mid-thirties who might have been handsome had he not succumbed to the unfortunate fashion of ridding himself of his hair before nature did it for him, and adorning his arms with tattoos. Gavin seemed tickled to recruit someone who was older than half the punters, and he didn’t object when Elsa said she’d happily wait on tables and chop onions until her eyes streamed, but she wasn’t prepared to roll up her sleeves and plunge her hands into a bowl of greasy dishwater. He’d teased her for it mercilessly however, bringing her gifts of rubber gloves in unlikely colours when he wasn’t goading her to admire a new piece of artwork on his arm. “You could’ve bought us a dishwasher with all the money you’ve frittered away,” she told him. Gavin only laughed.
Not everyone found it amusing. Ferrying stacks of dirty plates to the kitchen, Elsa had overheard Joan mutter to Margaret that some people considered themselves far too lah-di-dah to assist with the washing up. Elsa didn’t care what they thought of her, although she’d have loved to see their jaws drop had she revealed that, as a child in Berlin, they’d had servants to deal with that kind of thing. But she had no desire to spark their curiosity about her background. Elsa was of a generation that preferred to keep the personal to themselves.
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