No Liking for Soft Centres

“No Crunchy Frog,” Alf said, sadly, poking at the morass of melted chocolate with a finger.

Patricia turned the page of her Women’s Own and tapped the empty mug at her side. Alf put the box down on the coffee table next to the silver plated Queen Anne Ronson Varaflame he hadn’t filled for at least a decade now. Which was very much for the best. His cigarillo habit hadn’t been doing either of them any good.

“I’ll get you another tea, then, shall I?” Alf asked. It took him a while to straighten up, but then he was still looking at the chocolates as if not done with his point.

“If you would,” Patricia said.

“I think the Feuilletine is still okay,” Alf said. “Praline, isn’t it?”

“Just throw them out,” Patricia said, turning to the article on patricide she had been hoping to read in quiet, without her husband chuntering.

“And the Gin and Lime is intact.”

Patricia shook her head. “I don’t know what they’re thinking, these people,” she clucked. “Gin and lime.” The young man who’d put the axe in his father looked such a nice sort, she thought. But, then, they always did.

“But no Crunchy Frog.”

“Tea, Alf, tea.”

“Right, right, yes, milady.” He did the voice. Patricia knew it was from some children’s series with puppets. Like his Monty Python crunchy frog chocolate variety joke, it never seemed to get old. To him.

“Two sugars.”

Alf hauled himself up and made it to the door before needing to rest. “You don’t want a…?”

Patricia nodded at the pile next to her chair. Last month’s delivery, still there. And, underneath, the delivery from the month before. It had been cooler then, of course, and the chocolates hadn’t melted in the post. Just because you could get them on mail order, and just because they’d designed the boxes to fit through the letterbox, it didn’t mean, she’d told him, that he had to buy them. Or take out a subscription.

Alf undid the top button of the shirt Patricia knew he’d ordered from the menswear catalogue he’d been keeping from her. It was nice, she supposed, for a man about three decades younger, who knew his collar size. And the less said about the chinos, the better. It was too late to be that man now.

“You like the orange Cointreau,” Alf said, fishing a flashy handkerchief out of his pocket that Patricia hadn’t seen before.

Patricia shook her head. “You were always the one with the sweet tooth, Alf.”

“Yes.” Another dab of the handkerchief. Was that aftershave she could smell? Something unpleasantly peppery, at any rate. “What about a biscuit?” Alf asked.

“Two sugars,” Patricia said.

“Right you are, milady,” Alf said, before shuffling out to the kitchen. Patricia put her magazine down, having quite lost her interest in baby faced killers. She heard Alf rootling around in the kitchen cabinets. She waited for him to use the sound of the kettle boiling to disguise the cracking of the can he would have fetched from behind the u-bend.

There was no point telling him off. The last time she had, he had offered to fetch her one. And not in the way the old Alf might have done.

“Tea,” Alf said, coming back into the room and doing his best not to let her smell the beer breath. 

“On the table,” Patricia said, and he hesitated over the coffee table or the TV table and he stopped, mid-dither, and there was another pat of the brow with his silly handkerchief.

“Next to me,” Patricia said.

“Of course, milady.”

The tea went down on top of the letters. Right next to what Chris had called the Chantilly, but at least her son had been consistent in his efforts. The mantlepiece and the shelf above the ginger wine that was not to be disturbed were testament to that.

Alf really did need to get the duster out. She’d have words with him when he’d sweated the beer out of his system. And the ring around the rim of the cup; he oughtn’t think she hadn’t noticed that, too.

“Pat,” Alf said, still bending, “I think… I think I need a lie down.”

“At 2 in the afternoon?”

“Just for a mo.” He gave her a look that had long since gone out of fashion. “You always could as well, you know?”

Patricia checked the colour of the tea. She turned the page to read the story of the ectopic pregnancy. “The Australian soaps are on in an hour,” she said.

The pair of them both knew she had only come because of what had happened. Chris would have been there that night. He’d have stayed over. Patricia’s daughter, though – she’d come the next day, to “check up”, as if there hadn’t been the chance to do that anywhen in the last twenty years.

“You going to be alright, mum?”

Alf hadn’t dusted the Chantilly. Patricia clucked, picked it up, took a tissue from her sleeve, began working away at the figure. Noted the maker’s mark on the bottom. Forgave Christopher again for being so easily taken in by the spiv who’d sold it to him.

“Mum? I just think, you know, it might be good if you got out a bit. Did something. Now you can.”

Patricia looked at her empty tea cup, at the ring around the rim. She remembered the chocolate deliveries. There’d be one in the next week. Through the letterbox in its specially designed box. Whether she liked it or not because he had needed her to like it. In lieu.

“Why don’t you take some of these back for the kids?” she said, handing the box to the girl who had never been grateful because, with that husband of hers, she’d never known what she had to be grateful for. “I’ve no liking for soft centres.”

Mike Hickman

Mike Hickman is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including 2018's "Not So Funny Now (2018)" about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. He has recently been published in EllipsisZine, Dwelling Literary, Bandit Fiction, Nymphs, Flash Fiction Magazine, Brown Bag, and Safe and Sound Press. His co-written, completed six-part BBC radio sit com remains unproduced but available to interested producers!