tagNon-EroticTea-Shop Twinkle

Tea-Shop Twinkle


Arnold Harris started using the new tea shop in the High Street around the middle of last month. It had been open a couple of months before he eventually he decided to try it out. At the quiet, unfashionable end of the long drag, he found the place inexpensive and relaxing. It was unlike any of the usual chain coffee shops jostling for customers in the prime sites close to the big stores and main car park.

Most mums, loaded down with children and bulky pushchairs, eschewed its relative isolation, narrow gangways and awkward entrance steps. That suited Harry, the name he preferred; hardly anyone called him Arnie and never Arnold. With Harry Harris he was comfortable and names were like comfortable old shoes, except they never wore out or leaked in the rain.

The location, next to the post office and opposite the library, affected the tea shop's clientele. Nobody uses post offices any more. Even men out of work, like Harry, were doled out their due allowances directly into their bank account and didn't have to get off their butts at all. Only old people went to the post office, then the library and in between they needed the odd cup of tea and perhaps a toasted tea-cake or fruit scone to round off their intermittent excursions.

So this is where Harry sat most weekday mornings between 11 and 11.30. He preferred one of the window seats if he could manage, or in the shadows near the rear. Here he could observe the other patrons. They came, supped their brews and departed, making their weary way into the world, rested and refreshed, like reservists reluctantly heading back to the front, knowing it was their duty so to do.

Harry didn't really consider himself old. On the scrapheap, maybe, unemployable, unwanted, unloved, certainly, but if 55 had become the new 40 then he was only 39...

The woman in the twinkly top caught his attention at first. It was a black top with the front littered with myriads of tiny sequins woven into the weave. She dazzled across his path when he walked towards the counter to put in his usual order for a pot of breakfast tea for one and a toasted tea-cake with butter. She was blond, not the platinum kind but more like late-autumn corn. She was late-autumn herself, too, with fair brown eye brows and lashes. Laughter lines relaxed comfortably around her soft brown eyes, tiny freckles decorated her rose-blushed cheeks. Beneath her sharp nose, her full rosy-pink lips pulled themselves upwards at the corners into a smile, revealing even ivory-white teeth, the moment she and Harry came close to collision. That smile reached those lovely soft eyes and the frozen image of that instant will forever be close to the forefront of Harry's otherwise uncomplicated mind.

Her hands were occupied at the time with three plates of sliced gateaux, which she carried to a table to one side about halfway down the tea shop. Harry had never seen her there before at the times he frequented the establishment and he wanted to see more of her, perhaps even hear her voice. He didn't know or question why, he was just interested, nothing more, nothing less. He collected his tea, put in his food order and paid, before moving to a table near the centre of the tea-shop, well away from his two favourite spots, but close to where Twinkle Tee-shirt sat with two, no, three friends.

Harry surmised that one friend had secured their table of choice, well away from the draughty front door and the gloomy rear. The second had gathered forks, serviettes and sweeteners. Twinkle brought over most of the cakes and the fourth member of the team followed up with a tray full of mugs of coffee plus the final cake plate to complete their tea shop tableaux.

The girls, well what else could Harry call them? They were all about the same age, not that Harry was very good with women's ages. They could have been anything between 50 and 60, which made them about his own age, the "new" mid-30s to mid-40s. They all wore wedding rings and engagement rings; he had no reason to believe they were anything other than happily spoken for. Only Harry spoke for Harry.

They were all well-dressed, what they call 'smart-casual' nowadays. It was cold outside today so they had heavy coats slung over their chairs and had discarded hats, scarves and gloves to leave themselves unencumbered to enjoy their mid-morning refresher.

Harry enjoyed looking at people, he always had. Nowadays that was all he ever did. He had nothing to offer tat anybody wanted him to do anymore from nine to five, even the job centre had long given up on him. He watched people in the bus on the way to town, in the tea shop, the library, the shopping mall down town off the main street next to the multi-storey car-park, the Coronation Park if the weather was fine, and the bus station on the way home. He could fill up his life looking at people. He had a busy life doing nothing did Harry.

They chattered away like birds, Harry observed. Although he was sat quite close, there was sufficient background noise to prevent him from clearly hearing a single word they said between them, only a general hubbub of chatter which appeared to entertain and amuse them all through their brief stay. From where he sat he could see Twinkle in profile and she certainly took her fair share in the conversation. They all did. Only one was fractionally more vociferous, a taller, thinner woman with jet-blue-black hair and grey roots had more to say than the rest and she laughed the least.

Twinkle laughed the most and looked around the room more than the rest appeared to and a couple of times looked directly at Harry. Harry quickly looked away each time, he was a watcher, not a watched. When Harry looked back each time he noted that she wore a small smile on her face but he couldn't be sure if she smiled at him or at a current topic of the conversation. He decided the reasons for the smile mattered little in the scheme of things, he was certain though that it was the prettiest smile he had ever seen.

His tea-cake arrived, which he buttered and ate leisurely, observing the quartet's loquacious animations. He quite forgot the time and missed the library early closing day at noon. He rose and left shortly after they had dressed themselves for the transition between the still steamy comfort of the shop and the brisk cold breeze of outdoors November, maintaining their casual bonhomie until forced to hurry down the hill towards the beckoning sheltered pampering of the universal shopping mall.

Harry tried the door of the library before he realised the time had ebbed from the forenoon without his full appreciation. Rather than be deprived of fresh reading matter for the coming evening, he followed in the wake of the girls, but well after their passing, having left no sign of tracks. On the way, he observed that the second-hand bookshop, an oft-sought refuge where Harry harboured from time to time, were also strict adherents of the early closing Wednesday convention. So, he continued his journey into the abyss of the multi-stored shopping mall in search of a Waterstones or WH Smiths. He ended up with an expensive and, as it turned out, unentertaining murder mystery that turned out to be no mystery at all.

It was the following Monday that he saw them again, in the same tea-shop. He must have been late, or maybe they were early. They had already consumed whatever plated snacks that had been set before them, evidenced by the four crumb-covered tea plates stacked neatly with three knives and a cake fork on top.

Harry smiled in his speculation at what constituted their repast, perhaps one gateau and three tea-cakes, and was Twinkle a cake or a tea-cake? Half the fun of observation was the subsequent speculation, just as delicious as anything served up by Sharon, the bored redhead dispensing cakes and barking drinks orders to the other girls.

Today, Harry chose a cheese scone for a change, which drew a remark of surprise from the said Sharon. Harry replied that the variation in his accustomed order was only to keep her on her toes and the other girls chipped in a few remarks directed at her which were mildly derogatory. Sharon took these in good heart and all three girls and Harry chuckled at the exchange. When Harry turned with his tray, he noticed all four girls on the Twinkle table were looking at him with amused looks on their faces.

Harry's resolve to sit at an adjacent table withered. The window seats were all taken, so he proceeded to the rear wall where he could consume his libation and observe the object of his attention at some considerable distance. This time when they arose from the completion of their own partaking, he observed that Twinkle was not actually wearing anything remotely twinkly, but a warm chunky sweater. She was some way from being slim but nor could she be thought of as overweight. Cuddly came to mind. Not that there was any chance at all of a cuddle in the offing. Harry might have run a mile screaming if there had been, he was a watcher, not a toucher.

Tuesday meant another encounter, although their timing was off once more. Harry, mostly a creature of habit, was always there a handful of minutes either side of 11 o'clock, but Twinkle et al were all over the place in their visitations. Harry was just thinking of arising from his window table when they bustled in through the doorway, discussing what each were having today. They sounded like chattering magpies picking over the roadkill of the day. He heard Twinkle's tinkling soprano beg for a Black Forest gateau and a hot chocolate with marshmallows, while it was her turn to reconnoitre for their temporary residence for their late-morning refreshments.

Twinkle looked around and espied Harry at his sole occupancy of his table for two in the window, a vacant table for four next to him, which was lacking a full set of chairs. Placing her bag on one of the three chairs she approached Harry and asked with a warm smile,

"Is anyone using this chair?" referring to the empty one opposite.

"No," Harry smiled in return, as he put down his book, which he had only looked at perfunctorily since the ladies' arrival, "Take it, by all means."

"Thank you," she breathed. She grabbed the chair and spun it around, at the same time waving her heady scent in his direction, adding, "You are too kind."

"One is never too kind," he smiled, "Kind enough usually suffices."

"Then I will thank you just enough, kind sir!" she laughed.

Twinkle sat with her back to the window, once again presenting her profile to Harry. It was colder in the window seats on this side because of the doors continually being opened, so Harry noticed she kept her coat on.

He decided he needed an excuse to stay longer. It was about quarter to 12, normally too early for his lunch. The tea-shop didn't have much in the way of a luncheon menu but they did serve a soup of the day and a roll. Leaving his coat and book to reserve his comfortable place, he went to the counter to place and pay for his order. By the time he returned, the four girls were sitting down together and enjoying their cake and hot drinks. It was dry outside but a raw Northerly wind was blowing, one so lazy it wouldn't go round, just right through you, so Harry was pleased when the soup arrived, a spicy mulligatawny.

Twinkle caught the aroma of the soup as it was carried to Harry's table. She watched it being delivered and saw Harry break a piece off his hunk of bread, dunk it and observed Harry chew off the hot wet end. As he looked up their eyes met and Harry smiled.

"That smells delicious, does it taste as good as it smells?" Twinkle enquired.


"I might try that next time."

"If it's as cold out as it is today, you'll appreciate it."

"I probably will."

By now the conversation between the other three girls had stopped and they were now all looking at Harry.

"Ladies," he said, nodding, then focussed his attention to dunking and eating his bread and soup. It seemed a long while but was probably only a few seconds before their conversation started up again and Harry felt able to lift his eyes momentarily once in a while and take in snippets of conversation. By that means he discovered that his Twinkle was actually christened someone else's Valerie.

It was another week before Harry met Valerie again. It was a Wednesday morning and she was already there when he arrived at 11. She was not with friends, sitting by the window in the corner, nor was she alone. A little girl aged he guessed between 2 and 3 was with her, eating a fruit scone with jam.

Harry smiled at both as he came in. Twinkle smiled back. By the time he had collected his usual pot of breakfast tea and ordered his toasted tea-cake, he was struggling to find anywhere to sit. There had been a spare table in the window when he first came in but a group had sat there in the meantime. Twinkle waved to him and called out that he could sit at their table. He smiled thanks and sat opposite Twinkle and next to the little girl.

The little blond-haired girl grinned at him as he sat down, her cute plump face covered in raspberry jam.

"Who you?" the little girl asked.

"Harry," Harry replied.

"What ya doin'?" she asked.

"I'm sitting here waiting for my tea to brew," Harry answered.

"Wha's that?"

"My tea," he reiterated, adding "and ... I've got a toasted tea-cake coming."

"Wha's that?"

"It's just like your scone, only it will be be warm and I will just have butter with it, no jam."

"Oh," she said, stuffing another nubbin of sultana spotted scone in her mouth.

"Are you enjoying that?" Harry thought it was about time he started asking some questions.

"Mmmmm," came the muffled reply.

Harry looked up at Twinkle, she was smiling at the pair of them.

"Cute kid," he said.

"Yes, she's my granddaughter, Victoria," Valerie said, "Do you have any children of your own."

"No," Harry said sadly. "I married too young and it didn't last long enough to have any children. How many have you got?"

"Two," she smiled, "My son Alan, who is single and in the Navy, and my daughter Sophia who is Victoria's mother." Suddenly she looked sad and continued very quietly, "Sophia's husband was killed in Afghanistan last month and is taking it all rather badly."

"Sorry to hear that." Harry was sympathetic but wasn't sure what to say in this situation. Just then the waitress saved him by bringing his toasted tea-cake. "Thank you," he said to her.

"Wha's 'at?" enquired Victoria when his tea-cake arrived.

Harry saw that she had demolished her scone leaving mainly a residue of crumbs.

"It's my toasted tea-cake. Do you want to try a small piece?"

She nodded, "OK."

Harry spread some butter on one of his tea-cakes and cut off a slice. He put the slice on her plate, "Careful, it might be hot."

The girl picked it up and her grandmother said,

"Victoria, what do you say to the nice gentleman?"

"Than-kyou!" with a big grin, showing large gaps between her white baby teeth, and started chewing the morsel.

"Is that nice?" asked Twinkle.

"Mmmmm," came Victoria's muffled reply.

"I think she likes it," Harry said before taking a bite from his own, "Mmmm, yes this is nice!"

Then Harry and Victoria put their heads together and both said "Mmmm!" at the same time.

Twinkle laughed at the pair of them.

It wasn't long before Victoria begged a slice from Harry's second half of his tea-cake. Harry looked up at Valerie, who nodded her approval, so he cut off another buttery slice for her.

When she had eaten her portion, Valerie got out a wet wipe and a hand towel and started to clean off the jam and butter and crumbs from her face and hands. Harry watched them with an amused look on his face.

They came in the next two mornings about the same time, first Harry was sitting on his own at a four-seat table by the window, perhaps in hope of company, and after that Valerie and Victoria were already seated at that same table. They all had hot buttered toasted tea-cakes each time, at Victoria's insistence, and she was extremely messy each time.

Harry ventured to ask where the other three ladies were. Valerie answered that that all four were Army Medical Officers' wives and the unit they served with had come home from their last tour and the other three were all off to their homes scattered around the country.

"And yours?" Harry had to ask.

"He's on a course, expecting his promotion from major to lieutenant-colonel, then he is taking voluntary retirement. He is a consultant neurosurgeon and is starting his new job in Newcastle. We move next week, I'm mostly packed and living day-to-day out of boxes," she smiled at the thought.

"You looking forward to the move?" he enquired.

"Yes and no," she said as she looked at Harry, "Sylvia and Victoria live only twenty-three miles from here so it is going to be a wrench... Her in-laws live closer, so she is torn between following us to the North and staying here while they adjust to their loss... Difficult choices, impossible decisions. My Eric is nomadic by nature, after twenty-seven years in the job, never in any one place more than six months. Now we may be settled for a while."

Harry let her speak without interruption. He admitted to himself that he would actually miss not seeing her, but was at a loss to think why. His expression and mood matched Valerie's mention of the loss of Victoria's father and the effect it was still clearly having on Sylvia.

Meanwhile Victoria, oblivious of her grandmother's words, chattered away merrily about her tea-cake, then about a large dog that passed the window and did dogs eat tea-cakes and why was it raining again? And the mood on the table lifted with smiles on both adult faces.

No show from Twinkle on the Saturday, but then there never was and Harry never caught the bus into town on Sundays either. Come Monday morning Harry virtually sprinted up the hill from the bus station and arrived at the tea shop at five to eleven. It was bitterly cold today with a hoar frost decorating the trees, sparkling in the bright winter sunshine, and the council had scattered bright orange grit on the pedestrianised slopes up the hill, crunching underfoot.

He was already sitting at the table for four with his pot of tea, waiting for his tea-cake, when he saw Twinkle walking up the street to the tea shop. She was alone. She smiled at Harry as she entered and left her coat on the back of the chair opposite him while she collected her drink from the counter.

"No Victoria, today?"

"No, she's with her mother today. Sylvia appears to be more cheerful than she was last week, if you can call what she is, cheerful."

"The move all going to schedule?"

"Yes, all done, really. Removal van comes Friday morning."

Just then Harry's tea-cake arrived and he started to dig cold butter from the pannikin and spread it on his hot tea-cake.

"No work?" asked Valerie.

"No, not for two years now," he replied after finishing his first mouthful, "I can't find anything on my own and the authorities appear to have given up on me."

"What did you use to do?"

"Engineer, mostly on lathes and drills, producing cogs, linkages and other moving parts for transmissions. Company I worked for closed down two years ago, moved everything to eastern Europe."

Then Twinkle's toasted tea-cake arrived.

"Nothing else appeal to you?"

"Lots of different things. I just don't appeal to whoever shortlists candidates for interview."

"Shameful waste."

"It's the world we live in, everybody who is anybody is going green while the rest of us are going brown."

"Still a shame."

"Well, I've got my little house, the library and this little tea-shop."

"Well, what else would you want?"

"I guess I want for nothing. I just watch the world pass me by. It suffices. My days are pretty full, actually," he said, voicing his thoughts, "What about you?"

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