Salmon for Breakfast

Salmon for Breakfast

January; crisp frost on the lawns and hedges; a cold, clear, blue sky.  Leila looked out of her bedroom window. Everything  looked clean and sharp like a picture postcard; no one about, no insanitary dogs, no sign of the spandex jogger, no nosey tourists.  The village was getting back to its proper, ordered, peaceful self. After breakfast she would do her rounds.

She went downstairs and checked her pantry. No bread; no milk in the fridge either. Leila frowned breakfast was becoming a problem. There was no more liberating from next door since her appalling neighbor had moved into town to live with her daughter; no breakfast prayer group or coffee mornings either since the minister had moved away, and with her, it was rumored, that interfering social worker.  May be there was a swig of sherry left, that would be enough to start her rounds and if the village shop was open on the way back, Gladys might give a her a free coffee. She usually made one for the bus driver, but often he hadn’t popped in so she gave it to Leila, “Shame to waste it,” she always said.

There was just an inch in the sherry bottle, Leila swallowed it down and swilled the bottle out with water for a second taste.  She pulled on her boots and her old sheepskin coat and, taking her plaid shopping bag, set out. Her neighbor’s cottage had a ‘For Sale’ sign propped against the hedge. Leila had pulled it down twice already, now she wrenched it down again and carried it round to the back where she shoved it into the untidy forsythia hedge that separated the properties. She was hoping her friend Monica would be able to move in.  Monica, always generous with sherry and meat pie suppers, had often spoken of moving to the village. The rest of the gnomes had gone from the front garden, thank goodness; perhaps Helena, from the village committee, had got someone to remove them.  She made her way across to Helena’s lovely house standing back from the end of the green. There was a big blue car parked on the gravel drive. Her husband must be home again.  Leila checked the basket hanging on the gate post where Helena left money for the paper boy. No money, but yesterday’s paper, good, something to read anyway.  Leila tucked it into her shopping bag and moved on. She crossed the stream and went up the lane. According to Gladys, people had just moved in to one of the two new houses at the top. The place had a haphazard air – no curtains, boxes stacked on the porch.  A jumble of bikes sprawled between the house and the garage. Leila was alarmed. Bikes usually meant youths and youths meant trouble – she would have to keep an eye on the situation.  A cardboard box lay by the gate post full of potatoes and onions. Leila helped herself to several potatoes and an onion; lunch taken care of. She stowed them away in her bag and headed back down the lane turning left on to the graveled path that ran in front of the cottages on this side of the stream.

These cottages had been the original village street, together with the pub, the church, the vicarage and the old smithy which was now the village shop. Leila never had to worry about these cottages, they were always well kept, gardens ablaze in the summer with flowers and ancient twisted fruit trees. Leila respected them and had only ever helped herself to an apple or two, nothing else. She passed old Margaret’s blue front door remembering how Margaret had made such a fuss last summer saying someone had broken in and been in her bed too!  Poor old thing.  She turned up the track to the older buildings at the back. They had been small stone barns at one time and were now let out some times to holiday makers, but Leila was not in favor of that. That nosey social worker had rented one. Leila wondered if she had left anything behind. She went round the back and looked in the kitchen window the table was covered with piles of crockery and pans. She pushed open the door, it stuck on the uneven tiles, but Leila wriggled around it. She looked in the pantry, empty, not even a tin of cat food. Leila shrugged, you couldn’t always be lucky. She rather liked the mugs on the table though, they were pretty, little village scenes. She took two, one for her and one for Monica. When the weather got better they could have coffee in the garden. She didn’t bother going into the other cottage, it was being done up and there was building material piled up in front. She didn’t want to get caught by early workmen.

The shop wasn’t open yet. She could see a light in the back, they must be getting ready, Gladys and Agnes. She would go up the lane opposite the bus stop and look at Jennifer’s house and then come back past the bungalows. Sometimes Ron, next door to the Harrison fellow who was so ill, would be in his garden, he often gave her a handful of beans or peas, but of course it was way too early in the season for that.

She walked round past the war memorial and the bus stop and looked up the lane.  She didn’t approve of Jennifer’s house. It was one of four stylish new builds in the grounds of a bigger, demolished house,  fortunately on a bend screened by hedges and shrubbery from the old garden.  Mostly Leila tried to ignore them, but she couldn’t ignore Jennifer; she was becoming quite a problem in Leila’s opinion, always having parties loud with flashy young people, or weekend guests who filled the pub, shrieking and screaming, playing ridiculous quiz games and crowding out the proper villagers. Leila remembered the red headed musician from last year who had been a frequent weekend guest; she had had to deal with him.

She reached the house; the gate was open, the garage door too and the car gone; the front door ajar; Leila stepped in. The hall was a mess, boots all over the floor, jackets and scarves tossed onto an old oak pew.  Leila sniffed, typical, dashing off somewhere. She supposed Gladys’ mother Joan would be in later to tidy up, but perhaps she, Leila, should just check there was nothing left on in the kitchen. She pushed open the swing door; maybe she could liberate something for breakfast.

“Doing your rounds are you?”  Ron from the bungalows was standing behind the island.

“What are you doing here, where’s Jennifer?”

“Gone on holiday, I’m just unblocking her sink for her, Gawd, knows what she puts down it.”

Leila looked at the state of the kitchen; Jennifer must have been having one of her gatherings. There were glasses and china stacked together messily on the draining board and the island held several foil covered platters. Jennifer’s little cat crouched over one whiskers twitching.

“Get off you little scavenger!” Ron swiped at it with a dish towel, “Salmon that is, she can smell it a mile away. Go on get off!”

Leila’s mouth watered. She peeked under the edge of the foil. Dainty quarter sandwiches of smoked salmon on brown bread.  “So wasteful,” she sniffed. Her fingers crept out, perhaps she could quickly liberate just one or two.

“Here take a few,” Ron was wrapping a pile of the little sandwiches in foil, “might as well, Joan will only throw them out, and have a bit of this.” He hacked off a lump of cheese from another platter added a handful of crackers and wrapped them in a piece of kitchen paper.

“Poor old thing,” said Ron to his wife later that morning, “She looked half famished, twitching at the salmon just like that cat.”

“She gets by,” said his wife, “I saw her coming back from the shop with her coffee, Gladys always has one for her, we see she’s alright.”

Back home Leila neatly documented the day’s rounds in her notebook. She unwrapped the sandwiches and opened the bottle of wine she had liberated from a crate in Jennifer’s hall and smiled with satisfaction.  Potato fry up for lunch, cheese and wine for dinner – the village never let her down.