Pikehouse

Mavis and Ethel

'Not there Ethel, dear.' Mavis and Ethel were on their annual bramble-collecting picnic. It was the middle of September and the day had dawned bright and fresh.

Ethel cooked up the picnic while Mavis scrabbled around under the stairs to find walking sticks, baskets and her ancient rucksack. The rucksack was canvas with leather straps and had faded to the colour of hay. That was for the food and the baskets were for the blackberries.

They now each had a wicker basket weighing them down and Mavis was exhorting Ethel not to stop by the stream. 'It will be damp, dear. We need to find somewhere in the sun.' Ethel uncomplainingly picked up her basket and moved on. The rich juice was seeping purple between the wickerwork and her hands were stained violet like a thunderstorm. 'Where to then?' 'Up that path there, past the horse chestnut.'

They walked on and came out into the sun and made their way towards an old ash tree, long since dead. 'Here we go,' Mavis said cheerily, 'we can perch on this.' 'Like a couple of birds, eh?' Ethel replied. She took the rucksack off Mavis's back and spread the red and white checked blanket next to the log. 'What have we got then, dear?' enquired Mavis, peering into the bag with delight. She could smell ham and was beginning to feel hungry.

'Ham sandwiches with mustard, cress sandwiches with the other kind of mustard, Victoria sponge with jam, some plums and a flask of tea.' 'Let's start then,' replied Mavis greedily.

'You brought anything for afters, then?' 'Of course,' said Ethel and fished in the bag for a gleaming bottle. 'Pear brandy, 1986. Well matured.' She took a swig and passed it to Mavis. 'Aaah! That's better. Reaches the cockles, dear.' They carried on passing the bottle staring contentedly about them at the turning leaves and the warming sunshine.

'They'll do,' said Mavis suddenly. She had been watching two lads, rather overdressed in suits, obviously going home from work. 'Dearie, can you help us?' she called flutily. 'My sister can't get up.' 'Of course I can,' muttered Ethel, but Mavis pushed her down again. 'Can you help, please?' The two men wandered over and looked enquiringly at the women.

'Please give her a hand up,' Mavis indicated her sister who put out her arms. The men grasped her and pulled her to her feet.

'Oh thank you, it's her back you know, it gets stuck. Oh thank you. Have a sip of this as a reward.' She passed over the bottle, and the lads, glancing at each other uncertainly, both took a swig. They spluttered and grinned sheepishly.

'Have another one, you've been so helpful,' Mavis pressed. They passed the bottle between them and took deep gulps. They weren't quite sure what was happening to them, but neither of them felt steady on their feet. 'Why don't you sit down? Rest your legs,' Mavis's voice sounded very soothing.

Sitting down leaning against the log, they suddenly felt at peace with the world. 'Well, you sit down too, Ethel dear,' Mavis instructed Ethel. 'And you two, why don't you just take off your jackets and loosen your ties. That's good boys - you'll be much more comfortable.' Mavis passed the bottle around again and squeezed up to one of the men. His look of bemusement increased rapidly as she put her hand on his knee, pressed hard and then took his hand in hers. Ethel was closing in on the other boy who couldn't work out whether he was dreaming or not.

'Don't worry, dears,' he heard Mavis say, 'you've not got anything we haven't had before.'

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