‘Can I have some butter on this toast, Keith?’
Lil picked up a slice of toast and bit into it. The butter melted over the perfectly crusty edges.
‘It’s already dripping with butter, Lil.’
Keith, the owner of Keith’s Kaff across the road from Clover Hill Retirement Home winked in Lil’s direction and raised his voice cheerily, making sure that everyone else in the café, a young mum with a toddler, two men in work-clothes eating sausages, could hear every word.
‘It’s bone dry.’ Lil retorted theatrically. ‘This toast could be classified as a murder weapon, it’s so hard.’
Keith wiped a table with strong arms, inked with tattoos. He was around forty, certainly no more than half Lil’s age. He called back, ‘I’m watching your figure for you, darling.’
‘No one’s watched my figure in years,’ Lil retorted.
It was part of Lil’s daily routine to cross the road at nine-thirty every day, have breakfast in the cosy café set back from the main road and pretend to give Keith a hard time. He would flirt with her in return. It was what they always did. She’d tell him that there wasn’t enough butter on the toast and he’d retort with a laconic remark about watching her figure or old people being better off without the high cholesterol, and she would reply with the same comment every time.
‘I’m nearly in my grave already, Keith, so I may as well go with a smile on my face and my toast dripping with butter. Didn’t you know, that’s the meaning of life, butter?’
And today, as ever, Keith, his hair slicked back, his arms festooned with tattoos, murmured, ‘You know you love me, Lil,’ to which she replied ‘Always and forever, Keith,’ before he wandered back into the kitchen whistling.
‘What about some peanut butter, darling?’ Lil called after him. Then, in mock-desperation, she yelled ‘Marmalade?’
Lil chewed toast and pulled her book from her huge, round cat-faced handbag. She’d read for a while, finish her breakfast then wander back to Clover Hill and see what Maggie, her neighbour, was doing. There wasn’t much happening today in the recreation room, no yoga for seniors, and the hairdresser didn’t come until Monday. Today was Friday. She tugged out the old photo that she had always kept in a frame but, since Cassie had it laminated, she’d used it as a bookmark so that she could keep it with her, inside the novel she was reading. The black and white image beneath the laminate was cracked, despite her efforts to care for it over the years. It was the only photo she had of Frankie. They were relaxing together on a rug on the grass, probably sharing a picnic – she couldn’t remember. He had his arm wrapped around her, pulling her closer to him, a smile on his face. It was as if he thought she belonged to him. He was handsome and carefree, with dark curly hair, a happy face. He was in his soldier’s uniform – of course he would have been: he had been in the US Army, stationed in the UK back in the fifties, after the war. And Lil was sitting upright next to him, her dark hair pinned up at the sides, her expression too serious, shy, not sure if she was allowed to smile although she’d felt deliriously happy. She had truly loved him, even though they’d only shared a few months together.
Lil closed her eyes and thought about the man in the photograph, her Frankie. He’d been four years older than her; he was twenty then. He’d be 86 now. Lil wondered if he was still alive.