by Jennifer Walmsley
‘May I have bacon, well done? Scrambled egg, not sloppy? Mushrooms and sauté potatoes, please?’
Clem looked up at the dishevelled young woman who, he considered, had the same hard-faced expression as her mother, Mrs. Bright, the woman who’d signed him into The Little Haven Guest House, yesterday evening. As he made those mental comparisons, he recalled the long verbal list of do’s and don’ts while he’d nodded in complete compliance to the rules of the land lady’s faded establishment.
Mrs Bright’s daughter, jotting down Clem’s breakfast order, sniffed and wiped her nose across a grimy sleeve that, he reckoned, had once been white. ‘Fried breakfast is as it comes. Not to any individual’s likes or dislikes.’ Now this person, around her mid thirties with a hint of a moustache, sounded just like her mother, Mrs Bright. Both could be twins, he mused, apart from the apparent age gap.
‘That’s fine,’ Clem said.
‘Has to be,’ the girl muttered and she moved off on stout legs towards the kitchen.
Clem looked around the dining-room, assessed it’s shabby eighties décor and the four couples seated at various tables. One table appeared to lean towards the door, its crockery and cutlery looking as if about to flee the dining-room and its permanent odour of fried onions. Clem sighed. If only they’d booked him into the bed and breakfast further down the promenade, he thought, as he watched grey heads lean across tables murmuring to one and other. Then he sighed once more with the realisation that this was an exercise to be endured and not a restful holiday.
The kitchen swing doors whooshed open and Mrs. Bright’s daughter, carrying a tray, stalked across to a table nearest to the window with its dusty grey nets obscuring a stormy sea beyond salt smeared panes. “Whispering Thighs,” Clem mentally called her as her stocking legs swished past him. ‘Oh, I didn’t ask for fried egg,’ he overheard an elderly lady say as her plate was plonked down in front of her.
‘And I didn’t ask for sausages,’ her younger female companion complained. ‘I’m vegetarian.’
‘You ordered what’s written in here,’ came the sour response and a wave of a greasy note pad. ‘Swap! Fried egg for the veggie. Sausage for the carnivore.’ The waitress laughed at her own witticism.
When Clem’s breakfast arrived, he viewed the contents of his plate in dismay. The bacon was indeed very well done, almost incinerated. His scrambled egg swam in anaemic liquid and the so-called sauté potatoes looked as if they were in dire need of a course of iron injections. ‘Thank you,’ he said. Then as the girl was about to leave, he mentioned in a quiet voice, ‘I asked for an extra blanket on my bed, yesterday evening.’
She stopped. Turned around. ‘You got one.’
‘Two blankets plus a darned sheet does not equal warmth and comfort?’ He smiled. ‘My dear, it’s autumn and the nights are quite chilly.’
‘There are radiators in every bedroom,’ the waitress told him.
‘But they don’t emit any heat despite making cranking noises all night.’ Clem pushed his breakfast away. ‘I really can’t eat this.’
‘No skin off my nose.’ She headed for the kitchen.
Ten minutes later, upstairs in the cramped bedroom under the eaves, Clem took out a lap top from his suitcase. Looking around at the walls and their hint of mildew trying to camouflage its presence on ivy leaf wall paper, he began to type out his report; a report due to be published in the prodigious Great Britain’s Worst B&B Guide For The Discerning Traveller.
Jennifer Walmsley was born and brought up in Wales, and has had short stories published in both women’s and Welsh literary magazines.