Miss McGuire – extract

‘Ben Hammond, will you get a move on?’

‘Stop shoving, woman. There’s no rush.’

‘There’s a queue a mile long behind us. Budge over, so at least they can get past.’

‘The coach won’t go without its passengers, Rosa. There’s no need to get aireated.’ Nevertheless Ben squeezed against the driver’s seat and allowed the other pensioners to ease past him.

Rosa glared at him.

‘I was only trying to get a look at his gearbox.’ A passenger giggled. Rosa grabbed Ben’s sleeve and towed him along the aisle of the bus. ‘Leave it out, Rosa.’

‘We’ve to look for seats G1 and G2. Oh, and keep an eye out for H1 for our Anna. Oh, here they are. And don’t forget to put your seatbelt on. Would you like the window seat or not?’

‘Er, I’ll take the aisle seat, I think. You always like to look out of the windows.’ With ponderous slowness Ben took off his coat, folded it, pushed it into the luggage rack and looked around. ‘Here, we’re a hell of a long way from the driver, aren’t we?’

‘Are you going to grumble all the time?’ Rosa drew a deep breath and then spoke calmly. ‘Best seats I could manage at such short notice. Now you sit tidy and have a look at the nice view.’

After allowing Rosa to settle into her seat Ben leaned forward and, remembering his ‘orders’, looked out of the window and contemplated the contours of a dirty hawthorn hedge. In the foreground an overflowing rubbish bin displayed its contents. He sighed. ‘Nice view’ indeed. Why the hell had he gone and allowed himself to be conned into going on this trip with the women. On the Richter scale of things he liked least, going on a pensioners’ outing on a Sunday must qualify as a definite seven point five. He should have stood firm. He should have held his ground and come up with a good excuse when Rosa started to persuade him. He might have had a chance had not his dreaded sister-in-law butted in and joined forces with her. For a while he listened to the high-pitched chatter around him, then he got out his iPod and put it on. Leaning back, he allowed the music of Glenn Miller to seep through him. That was better. He could escape into his own tunnel of sound.

He thought about his lovely vintage car, stuck at home in the garage. If only those brake shoes had arrived as the suppliers had promised, then they could have all gone for a proper spin, instead of being stuck here on a coach trip.

A pincer-like nip on his right arm made him wince. Rosa was staring up at him, her lips moving. With reluctance, he removed his earpiece.

She sighed. ‘It’s easier getting through to Voyager One. Do you have to put that thing on the minute you sit down?’

‘You told me to look at the view and all I could see was a rubbish bin. What do you want then?’

His sister-in-law leaned over his shoulder and rattled a paper bag under his nose. ‘I thought you might want a sweetie. They’re those nice sherbet lemons. I eat them all the time, such a fresh acidy tasteā€¦.’

‘That figures,’ Ben muttered. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ ‘Sour taste, sour face.’ ‘Don’t be so rotten.’

‘You are what you eat, so they say, and some might say that you’re the living proof of it.’

With an agitated crackle, the paper bag was snatched away and Anna’s face loomed over him. ‘You’re just being bad tempered ’cause you can’t get your silly old car to go. Should have bought British like sensible people do, then you wouldn’t have problems with spares and such.’ She paused then smirked. ‘If it had been me, I would never buy foreign.’

Ben stifled his irritation. Anna was, after all, family. ‘I keep telling you, my car is not foreign; it is vintage American. Built in the days when cars were cars.’

‘Still not British. Not only that, it’s a left-hand drive.’ Anna tossed her head indignantly and her bifocals flashed. ‘If it was up to me, well, I could never drive a left-hand drive.’

‘Don’t be so bloody daft, woman!’ He felt a sharp pain in his ribs and glared at his wife. ‘And will you stop digging your elbow into me.’

Rosa pursed her lips. ‘We’ll change the subject, shall we?’ The sound of the coach engine increased and she looked about her. ‘Oh, I think we’re off.’

Ben was not to be deterred. He hissed. ‘No good changing the subject. Your sister is forever getting these daft ideas. And I don’t give a hoot how long she worked on the police force. As far as cars are concerned, she’s do-lally.’ He raised his voice. ‘And it might interest her to know that one of the reasons why I bought a left-hand drive is so that she won’t start “borrowing” it.’

There came a gasp from Anna and Rosa intervened. ‘Stop harping on. She’s my sister; she’s all I’ve got.’

‘So that makes her a saint, does it? Well, I’ll tell you this. When I wed you, you never said The Force was part of the deal.’

‘Will you shush? People are looking.’

Ben slumped back in his seat, jammed his earpiece into his ear and lapsed into injured silence.

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