Chapter 5 The boiler man – Part 3

“Coffee and poetry.” Brenda said rather pointlessly. “That’s nice”. Awkward and feeling ashamed at the confusion of her own thoughts and emotions she retreated to the armchair that had been her refuge when she first arrived at Audrey’s house. “Is the boiler fixed?” Mimis smiled over the machine, and opening the cupboard above it took out a jar of gleaming coffee beans and filled the hopper. “This is a nice machine” he said admiringly.” “Yes. It’s fixed” he added and Brenda feeling that she really ought to ask said “what was wrong” before realising that she really shouldn’t have asked this since she was supposed to be Audrey who would know why she had called in a boiler repair man. “There was a blockage,” he said and then continued “the scrimble cocks and whisnoskles were …” At least that is what Brenda started hearing before she glazed over. The coffee machine was working its magic and Brenda in fascination handed Mimis a mug and the sugar bowl. “I’ve made enough for two.” Brenda has never been very fond of coffee but having only ever had the instant sort, that’s probably unsurprising. Mimis handed her a halfful mug, she sipped and coughed a little and “just wait until you get the taste” he said and Brenda blushed.

Out on the terrace they stood side by side watching birds barrelling their ways to roost. Mimis quiet and Brenda suddenly awash with shame and guilt, aware that she couldn’t keep on lying. Had to stop the lying and tell someone. Tell him. “I’m not really Audrey Saxton you know. I’ve never even met her. I am a burglar I suppose. Not a proper burglar you understand. I’m still here you see, and burglars go off don’t they, with the stuff, I mean, they take what they’re stealing away and I haven’t gone away you see. But I shouldn’t really be here at all. But Audrey is away. She’s in hospital but I’ve never met her. I had nowhere else.” This sudden uncontrolled outpouring came from a very deep down somewhere, welling up from the depths of Brenda’s stressed brain, and she started to cry. “I’m so sorry, I am really so sorry. Please don’t tell anyone.”

Mimis, reeling slightly and understanding that he would be at this job a little longer, stayed speechless sipping on his coffee for comfort, hearing the blackbird’s shrill and frantic goodnight cries. Brenda found herself doing the same, snot oozing its way into the cup before she could swipe it away with her hand. She turned to him, snot and coffee neatly smeared to one side of her nose and said “I know I’ve done wrong, but I really didn’t mean to.” The wide open eyes, the brown coffee moustache plus snot, the imploring gaze held Mimis quite still. He was somewhere between fear and confusion and concern and tenderness. This mad woman might really be a burglar who tried to murder Audrey, for all he knew. She might be even Audrey deranged and off her head on pills. What should Mimis do with this curious tale? “What’s your name then” he said, “if it isn’t Audrey?”

Brenda looked at the floor and mumbled her name. “… and I haven’t any money and Audrey will come back next week. I’m sorry. I didn’t know how to tell you not to come to fix the boiler.” This was sounding slightly more normal, and although he couldn’t quite work out what pattern to put the various details into, he said  “Right. Well that’s ok because I can just leave a bill. You don’t need to worry about it. Audrey will be back, the boiler’s fixed and you’re staying here, looking after the place for her”. Put like this, it sounded almost rational and Brenda managed a tiny smile and a sniff “is that really alright? I am telling the truth, really I am”. Mimis put his arm on hers retracting it almost immediately as she recoiled. “Shall we go indoors and if you like we can talk.” Then he added, “I’m really a poet, not a boiler man. This is just a job.” And as he said it Mimis remembered that the poet thing was his own private secret. No one except his Papou knew about Mimis’s poems and Papou was dead.

But he didn’t tell Brenda this.

After Mimis left, Brenda went down to her basement room and watched television for six hours, wide awake and not in the least bit hungry. She tried but failed to marshall the facts of her situation, finally falling asleep instead. Brenda woke with a panic to the sound of her own snores and once again tried to marshall facts. They were these:

She hadn’t really stolen a car because the car was parked outside the house of its rightful owner. She wasn’t a criminal because she hadn’t stolen anything, well not much, and hadn’t broken into someone’s house, not really because she’d used a key.

And if she wasn’t a criminal, who would arrest her and why? This was a serious worry because without police company Brenda did not dare to return home to Great Leigh.

When she eventually dozed off again, it was to the sound of Mimis’s voice and an image of blue feet. In the morning she switched on her phone and waded through the torrent of messages. The last few were from the woman at social services who coordinated Luke’s appointments. Brenda deleted them. They looked like the same messages as yesterday she pondered. Her thoughts went back briefly to Luke who was at that moment having an awkward conversation with the nice ladies from social services.

And anyway, she was living another life, someone else’s life: the Ocado delivery, the telephone calls and the word gym in the Filofax for Friday. All of these little reference points brought back hinted memories of her own other life, the life before Luke, the life working at the local council after school as a cleaner, the life that promised a career when she left school. And she remembers the life of the woman who’s been faking it for years, all to benefit a bully. The morning light filtered down hitting the mirror and casting long shadows on the primrose yellow carpet. With a deep sigh Brenda got up and stared at herself in the mirror. And looking in the mirror what does she see? How should she grasp this wonderful chance to be someone else for a little while? And where is Audrey?