Penny smoothed down the perceived creases in her neatly pleated skirt. She was certain that nobody had noticed, but it was new and just a very few centimetres shorter in length than those she habitually wore. She felt somehow empowered by it. She had caught a sideways glimpse of herself in the mirror in the Ladies and she thought that her legs were actually nothing like as ‘stringy’ as her mother always told her. She had seen worse, much worse, and although the skirt gave her a little difficulty in keeping her knees covered when she sat down, she was happy with the way she looked. She felt suddenly hot and thought about opening the top button on her blouse. Just briefly. Steady now Penny, just one step at a time…
Shyly she looked around the Circle (all of whom had noted the new skirt) and almost sat straight down, but she caught sight of Deidre who was clearly ready to speak, and decided to press on. “I drew,” she said, “Family Saga, and I would be lying if I said that I really knew what that meant. First I thought ‘Gone with the Wind’ and then I thought of ‘The Waltons’, but I knew that I was only going to write a few hundred words, and ‘Saga’ didn’t really seem to apply. So, I hope that nobody minds, but I intend to take a bit of a liberty and take myself even further out of my comfort zone…”
“Oh God,” muttered Deidre, “What is it, a poem about cats?”
“…by writing this. I think you will all agree that it is not what I’m used to doing, but I listened to Frankie and he said that I needed to ‘lighten up’.” She looked to Frankie for support and he smiled warmly and nodded his approval. “I know what everybody thinks of me and, frankly, you’re not really wrong, so I tried to remember how I used to be; what I used to like and, somehow, for some reason, I came up with this and… well, Phil has agreed to help me ‘act’ it. I hope nobody minds…” She smiled at Phil who took his cue to stand, grasping a sheaf of papers in his hand. “We grabbed a few minutes ‘rehearsal’ before you all got here. I don’t know about Phil, but I have never acted before – not even in the school nativity – so please be patient. I will have to set the scene. It is an old-fashioned bookshop. Phil is the owner and I am the customer. I hope you will bear with me; I’m no actor and this is… well, I hope you will bear with me.” She and Phil moved into position, each grasping their script and a book in a bag.
PHIL Ah good morning madam. May I be of service?
PENNY Yes, it’s about this vegetarian cook book you sold me yesterday.
PHIL Yes madam.
PENNY REMOVES A VERY DOG-EARED COOK BOOK FROM THE BAG. PHIL LOOKS AT THE BOOK AND THEN ENQUIRINGLY PENNY.
PENNY It’s an ordinary cookbook with all the meat recipes torn out.
PHIL Your point being…?
PENNY Well, it’s not the same as a vegetarian cook book, is it?
PHIL I’m afraid you’ll have to help me there.
PENNY Well, a vegetarian cook book is a carefully selected and varied collection of non-meat recipes, whilst this…
PHIL Yes madam?
PENNY … this is a carnivorous jamboree with everything but the lentils ripped out of it.
PHIL (Under his breath) Not unlike the average vegetarian fruitcake’s diet, I’d say. Perhaps, madam, you could tell me exactly what it is you were expecting.
PENNY Well, I wanted a book of recipe ideas, especially designed for vegetarian consumption, which I could cook for my son’s non-meat eating girlfriend when she comes to stay at the weekend…
PHIL LOOKS POINTEDLY AT THE BOOK.
PENNY (cont) … that doesn’t say ‘100 favourite meat recipes’ on the cover. I don’t think I’m going to get very far with a recipe for Steak & Kidney Pie with ‘Steak & Kidney’ Tipp-Exed out and the words ‘Some Vegetarian Rubbish’ written over it in biro. Nor, I think, will she find (SHE TURNS THE PAGE) and I quote ‘Beef Stroganoff with all the good bits picked out’ particularly to her taste.
PHIL Right, well, I’ll just throw this one away then shall I?
MELODRAMATICALLY, HE THROWS THE BOOK INTO THE BIN.
PHIL (cont) Another week’s profit down the drain.
PENNY Oh come on. It’s not the first time you’ve tried it on with me, is it?
PHIL What do you mean?
PENNY The whodunnit you sold me last week…
PENNY 2019’s ‘Wisden’ with the last page torn out… And what about the ‘Da Vinci Code’? Did you really think that I wouldn’t realise that it was just a remaindered travel book about Venice with half the words cut out and stuck back in at random?
PHIL Alright, what do you want?
PENNY Have you got the latest Jeffrey Archer?
PHIL REACHES INTO HIS BAG AND PULLS OUT A PRISTINE PAPERBACK.
PENNY Can you cut all the crap out for me?
WITH A WEARY SIGH PHIL TEARS OFF THE FRONT COVER AND PUTS JUST THAT IN THE BAG, WHICH HE HANDS TO PENNY. HE THROWS THE REST INTO THE BIN.
In the ensuing silence, both Phil and Penny retook their chairs. Penny looked down at her exposed knees and Phil cast his eyes slowly around the Circle. Frankie clapped. “Bravo,” he said, and he stood. Phil joined him, clapping loudly. One by one the rest of the Circle stood and joined in the applause with even the reluctant Deidre belatedly joining in. Penny, with half a smile, took a deep inward breath and slowly pulled down the hem on her skirt…
N.B. I’m sure that Crispin Underfelt has mentioned before the difficulty of getting sketches to format for WordPress. This is the best that I can muster. I hope that it is, at least, understandable.