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“Look, there’s a letter,” he said, jabbing a bony digit in that direction, and wearing a smile as wide as a sunny, August Bank Holiday afternoon on Bridlington beach.
Mrs Grubbly was plumped down in her comfy chair too busy sipping from a bottle of dark stout and gnawing the crust of a doorstep sandwich, dripping with lashings of lard, to take too much notice.
“It’s not often we get a letter,” Mr Scrubbly proclaimed. “I wonder what that can be all about.” He got off his hard wood chair in a state of bewilderment, and walked over to pick it up. Mrs Grubbly’s name was clearly scrawled on the front of the envelope in large, capital letters.
“Oh,” he went, with a more than hint of severe disappointment, “it’s for you.”
“For me?” Mrs Grubbly exclaimed, rubbing her greasy, podgy, pink, sausage fingers together with glee and heaving herself out of her comfy chair. “What’s it say?” she asked. She could hardly contain her delight, and clapped her lardy hands with joy as she rushed across to the front door.
“It says,” announced Mr Scrubbly, holding the envelope well out of her reach, “Mrs Grubbly, Rosebud Cottage, Number 1, Pump Street, Never Ditchwood.”
“I mean, what’s it say inside?”
“I don’t know that, do I? I’m not Superman, I haven’t got X-ray eyes.”
“Well, open it.”
“I can’t open it. It says it’s for you. I’m not allowed. It’s the height of illegality. It looks like a card.” He looked perplexed and scratched his head. “It isn’t your birthday.” And then he read it again to make sure it was for Mrs Grubbly before handing it over. But then he had second thoughts. “You better wipe your greasy fingers, first,” he said, “it might be from the government.” Mrs Grubbly wiped her greasy fingers on her Taiwanese pinafore with the picture of Engelbert Humperdink printed on it, making sure not to stain the famous crooner’s face too much.
“What a lovely big surprise!” she chuckled as she tore away the flap. Lo and behold, sure enough, inside the envelope was a card.
“It’s a card!” she cried, “and it’s got a great big heart on it. It’s a Valerie time card.”
“Valentine, not Valerie time,” Mr Scrubbly corrected with a strict voice.
“Valerie time, Valentime, bibbly-diddly time,” Mrs Grubbly sang, as gaily as a piglet in a puddle of mud. “It doesn’t matter what time it is, it’s for me.”
“What’s it say inside?” Mr Scrubbly was feeling inexplicably flustered. “Open it!” he demanded.
“It says: ‘Please be my Valentime’” Mrs Grubbly read. “It’s Valerietime’s Day, Mr Scrubbly, and I’ve got a Valentime’s card!”
“Who’s it from?” Mr Scrubbly asked irritably, grabbing at it. It was Mrs Grubbly’s turn to hold it out of his reach, twizzling round and fending him off with her free arm.
“It says,” she pronounced deliberately slowly, “ it’s from an unknown admiral, isn’t it exciting?”
“Admirer, not admiral, Mr Scrubbly said. “It’s plain silly, if you ask me. Silly, silly, silly!” He sounded very, very flustered. “Valentine’s Day and silly cards,” he said. “It’s silly. It’s like a form of stalking sending cards without names. That’s what it is, it’s like stalking. The height of illegality.”
“Stalking, following people about and sending them horrible letters, anonymously.”
“It’s not sending horrible letters enormously, just one enormous card, that’s all.” But Mr Scrubbly wasn’t listening.
“If it wasn’t Valentine’s Day I’d report it to Sergeant Quibbly at the police station. He’d soon sort it out.”
“There isn’t anything to sort out,” Mrs Grubbly bubbled. “It’s just a lovely, lovely Valentime’s card! And it’s for me! The biggest, bestest surprise I ever had in all my whole life!”
“And what if the bloke, who sent it, slinks round here at night time when it’s dark and peeks through the window, eh? That wouldn’t be so lovely, him peeking through the windows in the dark. Would that be your biggest, bestest surprise you ever had in all your whole life? I bet it wouldn’t.”
“Don’t be a silly billy,” Mrs Grubbly said. “He’s not going to peek through the windows. It’s a smashing card, and it’s all for me!” She was so full of glee she did a little dance before dumping herself back down in her comfy chair with its plump cushions to gaze at her lovely card. In her excitement, she dumped herself down so hard the chair creaked and groaned as clouds of dust puffed out.
Mr Scrubbly took down his best, big raincoat, that made him look like a detective, from its hook and opened the front door.
“I’m going down to the Post Office,” he said crossly, “to see if anybody down there knows anything about it. We’ll soon get to the bottom of this,” he reassured Mrs Grubbly. “Mark my words, we’ll soon get to the bottom of it.”
“There’s no need to get all in a tiz and get to the bottom of it,” Mrs Grubbly said. “It’s only a lovely big Valentime’s card all of my very own.” But he was already out of the door, and didn’t hear.
Mr Scrubbly was down at the Post Office getting to the bottom of things when he saw Mr Slivvery, the ratcatcher. Grinning slyly, Mr Slivvery nodded his head, as he sidled over to join Mr Scrubbly.
“Did she get it then?” he hissed. And then he winked, digging Mr Scrubbly in the ribs with a sharp elbow. Mr Scrubbly winced.
“Ouch!” he complained. “That hurt. Did who get what?”
“Mrs Grubbly, did she get the card?” Slivvery asked out of the corner of his mouth.
“What card?” Mr Scrubbly replied, raising his nose in the air, as if Mr Slivvery was trying to shove a stinging nettle up it.
“The Valentine’s card I sent her. It’s a whopper. You couldn’t fail to spot it. Biggest one in the shop.”
“Why don’t you ask her?” Mr Scrubbly asked fractiously. “It’s a very silly thing to do, Mr Slivvery, and you’ll be lucky if she doesn’t give you a poke you in the eye with the sharp end of a stick.” With that he stomped across to the other side of the Post Office in a huff, and was standing near a very colourful display of greeting cards, when something caught his eye. Right in the middle of the display was a colossal Valentine card, much bigger than the one Mr Slivvery had sent to Mrs Grubbly, with a heart the size of a lovesick elephant’s. Waiting till after he saw Mr Slivvery slither out of the door, Mr Scrubbly looked round suspiciously. As soon as he saw nobody was looking, he plucked the card from the display, and hid it beneath his best, big raincoat. Clutching it against the flap, he lurched across to the counter where Mrs Dumply, the postmistress, was knitting a large polka dot jumper for Mr Dumply. Opening his best, big raincoat, Mr Scrubbly pointed down beneath it.
“I want this,” he whispered.
“What?” enquired Mrs Dumply, glancing up from her knitting. Mr Scrubbly pointed down again.
“This,” he whispered.
“What?” Mrs Dumply enquired again. Mr Scrubbly pointed frantically under his raincoat a third time. Mrs Dumply put her knitting down. Raising herself from her chair, she stood on the very tips of her toes and bent over the counter to peer into the shadows within Mr Scrubbly’s open flap. “My, my, that’s a whopper!” Mrs Dumply reeled. All eyes in the Post Office turned to look. All they could see was Mr Scrubbly’s back. He was holding the flap of his raincoat wide open, and pointing down at something inside. “The biggest one in the whole of Never Ditchwood!” Mrs Dumply was saying, “Who’s the lucky girl?” Everybody sucked in their breaths, and there was a nervous rustling of stationery.
Mrs Dumply winked. Such muttering and whispering, like you’ve never heard, broke out. Mr Scrubbly swivelled his head to glance over his shoulder. They were all looking at him. He went bright red like a tomato, and smiled crookedly. As he turned slowly round to face them, the gathering recoiled as one, covering their eyes with their hands. Unable to stand the suspense, one by one they peeked through their fingers. Mr Scrubbly was drawing his hand from under his raincoat. And there it was: the most ginormous Valentine’s card anybody had ever seen.
“What a whopper!” they all chorused. Mr Scrubbly glowed with pride.
“Who’s it for?” Mrs Dumply asked the question that was on everybody’s lips.
“It’s private,” Mr Scrubbly snapped, “and none of your business. That’s the whole point of Saint Valentine’s Day, that nobody knows your business. And it’s up to Post Office employees to keep it that way, and not to let on to anybody.” Mrs Dumply couldn’t help but dimple with suppressed delight at such romance. For the rest of the day, she told everybody who came into the Post Office that Mr Scrubbly had bought Mrs Grubbly the biggest Valentine’s card ever seen in Never Ditchwood.
Mr Scrubbly slipped back into Rosebud Cottage, number 1, Pump Street very quietly, and went upstairs to attend to an important matter.
“Did you find out who sent that card?” he asked later, pretending that he was reading The Never Ditchwood Evening Bugle.
“It was Mr Slivvery,” Mrs Grubbly announced excitedly. “How nice of him. What a lovely, lovely man he is.”
“Lovely? With all those rat droppings on his fingers?” Mr Scrubbly said. “Ah, look,” he cried all of a sudden, “there’s a much bigger card on the mat. It’s colossal. It’s for you.”
“How do you know it’s for me?” Mrs Grubbly asked, all suspicious and excited at the same time.
“It’s a card,” Mr Scrubbly said, getting all flustered again. “It wouldn’t be for me, would it? I wouldn’t send a card to myself…” and put a hand over his mouth as soon as he realised he might’ve given the secret away. “I mean, I wouldn’t send a card to anybody. It’s silly.” But, by the puzzled expression on Mrs Grubbly’s big round face, he’d gotten away with his slip of the tongue.
“But how do you know it’s a card?” she asked curiously.
“Of course, it’s a card,” Mr Scrubbly explained. “What else could it be? Everybody knows that. It’s Valentine’s Day.” Mrs Grubbly stooped down to pick it up.
“It’s silly sending cards,” she giggled, “it’s like stalking and sending horrible letters enormously. ”But she was smiling to herself when she said it. She opened the envelope and took out the card. It was very, very big. She’d seen one just like it at the Post Office, and had secretly wished that somebody would send it to her. And now somebody had. It was a whopper.
Not only that, but it was exactly the very same big one that Mr Scrubbly had spotted in the Post Office after he stomped away from Mr Slivvery.
“Who’s it from?” Mr Scrubbly asked, pretending he didn’t know. “It looks twice as expensive as the one Mr Slivvery sent.” “I don’t know,” Mrs Grubbly said with a strange air of mystery, even though she did know really. “It says: ‘Please be my Valentime instead’, and then it says: ‘From an even bigger unknown admirable.’ And in tiny writing at the bottom it says: ‘The unknown and mysterious Mr S. But not Mr Slivvery’ in brackets. I wonder who that could be?” Mrs Grubbly inquired, even though she knew that it was Mr Scrubbly. Mr Scrubbly beamed behind his newspaper.
Copyright © 2014 Bryan Hemming
Une fois. Encore.
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