On the works bus home, Lynn & Kathy chat about Brian & Mike.
I was sitting with the girls at the long tables of the bakery factory canteen oblivious to the pleasant aroma that permanently filled the air and enjoying the last minutes of our mid-day break.
"Well, Lynn, I think you're flipping crazy chucking him," Pat said, after drawing the last puff from the tiny stub of her Players No 6 cigarette. "I know girls that would cut off their right arm for a date with him."
Pat was another good friend of mine. I have not known her as long as my best friend, Kathy, only first meeting her when I started working at the bakery.
"They're welcome to him," I said. "It took me nearly two months to find out that Mike was only interested in one thing."
"And what's that?" Pat asked, obviously hoping for a spicy reply.
"Himself," I said. "He's madly in love with himself."
"Well, I wouldn't finish with him because of that," Barbara said. She shuffled her huge bulk on the chair as if making room before eating the last piece of her fourth doughnut.
"I can picture him now," I said. "Gazing glassy-eyed into the mirror. Oh, Mike, you look really handsome tonight. Oh, Mike, what groovy clothes you're wearing."
"Oh, Mike, what large bulging muscles you have," my friend Kathy added.
"Oh, Mike, what a small little winkle you've got," Barbara said, surprised at the laughter that it caused. "Anyway," she continued. "If you don't want him anymore, I might have a go at him myself."
"And what chance do you think you'd have?" a young girl called across from the next table. She had been listening to the conversation, expecting her remark to raise a laugh. It didn't.
"What do you mean by that?" Barbara said menacingly. "Come on if you've something to say then let's hear it."
"No, no I didn't mean anything against you. What I meant was that Mike only goes out with dumb blondes."
"You cheeky bitch," I said.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean you, Lynn," the girl said.
Pat looked across at her. "I think you had better piss off before you end up in one of your flipping pies."
"And then I'll eat you," Barbara said, destroying the tension.
The bell on the canteen wall began ringing but the sound was almost smothered by the noise of our chairs scraping and banging as we all stood up to leave. My friends and I returned to the conveyor belts at the biscuit department where we worked. The music from the large speakers on the wall could just be heard above the noise from the machinery.
We all knew what to expect when Barbara started dancing as the young engineer's apprentice entered the work floor. He walked nervously, hoping she hadn't seen him, hoping to make it past her and out through the far door. She carried on with her dancing while keeping him in sight from the corner of her eye. He had almost made it past her when she left the belt and made a dash for him. "Take me, take me," she screamed. The terrified youngster bolted back through the door from which he had entered causing laughter from all the girls.
A popular record began playing on the radio. It had a sad theme and my friends began to sing along with it.
I looked up, saw all the girls singing to me and I laughed at the sight. "Bloody idiots," I muttered.
We all carried on working when the maintenance engineer walked into the factory with his apprentice. The whistle of a steam locomotive could be heard through an open window as the engineer stopped beside Barbara. He was not a happy man.
It was soon home time and our bakery work's bus travelled through town and up Warwick Hill towards the Meadowview estate. Kathy and I were looking out through the back window and we waved at a young lad wearing railway overalls as he struggled up the hill.
"It's him again, that railway lad on the old rusty bike."
"Yeah, he was just about to give up and walk. He's showing off now he's seen us but I bet he's well puffed."
Once he had gone from sight we sat back down. "You're all right there, Kathy," I said. "See the way he smiled at you. Why don't you get off the bus and grab him as he goes by? I know you fancy him."
"Do you now. Bit of a mind reader, are you? Are you sure it's not you that fancies him?"
I laughed and wondered if I had embarrassed my friend. "Joking aside, Kath, you haven't been out since your mother's funeral. We all have sympathy but life must go on and you can't sit at home all the time and let life pass you by."
"I've got enough on my plate, thanks. I have to look after my sister and my dad."
"Your sister's at the art school. She's not a baby, she can look after herself. And your dad, why you worry about him I don't know. All he cares about is drink." I knew right away that I had spoken out of place and I felt instant remorse as I saw the look from Kathy. "Look, Kathy, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that. What I'm trying to say is, I really miss you coming out with me. We're best mates right, but I only ever see you now when we're out shopping or at work. You can look after your family, but you should come out sometimes, anytime, just let me know and I'll put my best gear on and we'll hit the town again."
The bus began to slow down for the first stop on the estate. "Do you fancy a brew, Lynn, or have you got to get home?"
"I'd love a brew. My mum's probably down at my grandma's and the boys won't be in yet."
I felt closed in as I sat in Kathy's kitchen. At my house, my mother's gingham patterned table sat in the middle of the kitchen with plenty of room to walk around. It seemed so cramped in Kathy's even with the table against the wall.
"Do you want a biscuit?" Kathy asked. We both laughed as I declined the offer. "For two years I've been watching those biscuits go by. Sometimes I think about going on shift work. At least you get to work in different departments and the money's a lot better."
"Yeah, but you have to work weekends," I said.
"I hate that damn place. I don't know why you packed in that typing job that you had in town. You could wait for ages for a job in the offices."
"That Mister Andrews said that there would be a vacancy before Christmas and he was impressed when I said I'd work in the factory until the job came up. Anyway, I was just the tea girl in the insurance office. At least when Mister Andrews calls me into the office to cover for people, they give me some proper typing work to do."
"You were right, Lynn. I do fancy that lad."
"What lad?" I said, surprised at the sudden change in the conversation.
"You know, the one with the overalls on, riding that rusty old bike. I saw him on the bus one day, he looked dead smart. It gave me butterflies in my stomach when I saw him looking at me. I thought he was going to come over and talk to me so I smiled at him but he went all red and looked away."
"Didn't he say anything when you got off the bus?"
"I really liked the look of him but he ignored me on the bus so I ignored him when I got off. Anyway, he was with a woman. I think it must have been his mother. I suppose it would have been different if he'd have been on his own."
"If we see him on his bike again we'll get off the bus and talk to him. I don't mind getting off with you."
"What if he doesn't want to stop?" Kathy said.
"If you shake a leg at him and he doesn't stop, then he's not worth worrying about."
Kathy gave a laugh at the thought. "You've got a date tonight, haven't you?"
"Yeah, Pat talked me into making up a foursome with a friend of her boyfriend but I'm not keen on blind dates. You can go in my place if you like."
"No thanks, I've seen some of the weirdo's he knocks about with."
"Oh thanks a lot, you've really cheered me up," I said jokingly.
"You could always phone Mike."
"I'm not running after him, it's up to him to come and see me. I'm not sure that I'd go back with him, Kathy. He's got a funny attitude. Sometimes he's really loving towards me and then other times he's so arrogant; he drives me mad."
"Well, he's twenty-three. I thought he was far too old for you anyway."
"Yeah, and he bites his fingernails."
"And he tried to chat me up."
My jaw dropped and I raised my eyebrows as I looked at Kathy. "The slimy git." I gave a laugh. "Oh well, he's got smelly feet anyway."
"I don't know what you ever saw in him."
I spotted Kathy's father passing the kitchen window. "Your dad's home early."
Kathy walked across to open the back door. Her father walked in, looked over at me and without saying a word walked back out again and wheeled his bicycle over to the shed. He kept glancing through the window at me while sorting some tools in the shed. I couldn't understand why he had taken such a dislike to me after the tragedy of losing his wife.
"I'd better go," I said. We said our goodbyes and I left for the short walk up to my house. I was pleased that Kathy seemed to have an interest in the lad on the bicycle. If I could find him, I might be able to arrange a date between him and Kathy. I needed to try to do something to get my friend out at night again.
My mother had arrived home just before me and was in the kitchen preparing dinner. I washed my hands and began to help her.
"I saw Mike in town today. He said that you two have had a bit of a falling out."
"Did he?" I said, unconcerned.
"Why didn't you tell me?" She stopped peeling the potatoes and looked at me. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not really, Mum, it's not that important." I looked at my mother and poked my tongue out causing a burst of fond laughter between the two of us.