At seven fifteen, Stephen pulled into one of the two available spaces in the car park at the rear of the writers club. He was just about to enter the building when he heard a toot from behind. He turned to find Ted Hughes leaning out of his car window.
'Can you move it please, that's my spot.'
'Sorry,' said Stephen. 'I wasn't aware the places were pre-booked.'
'They aren't,' replied Ted. 'It's etiquette, I've been parking in that spot since Hilda died.'
Stephen thought about telling Ted where to stick his etiquette, but decided against it. There was no point in getting on the wrong side of a committee member before the meeting had even started.
Stephen backed out and allowed Ted to park, then pulled into the last remaining spot. As he got out of the car he found Ted standing alongside.
'That's Harriet's spot,' he said.
'Are all the places booked by committee members?'
'No, Valerie has one, mainly because her partner is disabled, but if she doesn't come, her sub takes the spot.'
'Substitute. I think Sheila is the substitute this month.'
'You actually keep a waiting list for a car parking space?'
'Oh yes, you have to plan it, otherwise there would be chaos. There are only six spaces.'
I'm surprised you don't have reserved parking, name plates on the wall.'
'We did think about that,' said Ted. 'But it was impractical really, as other clubs use the centre too.'
'Stephen shook his head and opened his car door.'
'Thanks for being reasonable about this,' said Ted.
'It's not a problem,' said Stephen. 'I'll park up on the hill.'
Parking spaces on the street were at a premium. Stephen had to drive two hundred yards before he found a spot. As he pulled into the space he heard an angry toot from the street. He looked across to see a woman, in a mini, indicating to turn right. She was still there when he closed the car door and pressed his key fob to lock it. Stephen decided he had had enough of parking confrontations for one evening and walked back down the hill towards the institute. Half way down he heard a voice.
Stephen looked towards the sound and saw the mini ease its way down the hill. Its window was down and an irate woman of about twenty five leaned out to shout at him.
'I don't know who taught you to drive, but they obviously didn't bother to teach you road manners.'
'Stealing my parking spot. I saw it first.'
Stephen shook his head and continued to walk. The mini followed at walking pace.
'It's no good being sorry. It was my space.'
Stephen stopped and faced his accuser.
'The parking spot was on my side of the road and I was quite within my rights to take advantage of it,' he said firmly. 'You would have had to pull across the carriageway to gain access to the space, therefore I was breaking no rule, written or otherwise. Now, I suggest you turn around and take one of the other spaces that are available a little further along the road.'
The woman's face reddened, her voice was almost a whisper.
'Okay, I'll do that.'
Stephen was still seething as he turned into the institute car park and let himself into the building. He took the stairs two at a time, walked down the passage and opened the door to the club room.
Stephen froze as his eyes fixed on a naked, elderly woman, sprawled out on a small white towel on the floor.
'Are you Ricardo?' she asked.
'He's late,' croaked the old woman. 'I've been here for ages, I'm getting cold and my hip has locked up.'
Stephen nodded sympathetically.
'Be a love and see if he's in the bar will you?'
'Yes, I'll, err...just have a look.'
Stephen hurried downstairs to the bar, he spotted Margot and Harriet sitting with Ted at a table at the far end. There were twenty or so other people dotted around the room.
'Over here, Stephen,' called Margot. 'If you're coming via the bar, mine's a G and T.'
Stephen hurried across the room.
'Is there someone called, Ricardo here?' he asked.
'No idea,' said Margot. 'Ask behind the bar, they might know.'
Stephen waved to get the attention of the barman.
'Do you know someone called, Ricardo?'
'Yes, he's an adult education instructor, teaches art and photography.'
'Is he here tonight?'
'Yes, he'll be in room ten, I think he's taking an art class.'
'Aha, that would explain it,' said Stephen.
'Explain it?' queried the barman.
'There is, what I assume to be, an elderly female model, upstairs in room one,' said Stephen. 'She's getting a bit cold.'
'Oh God. Is she called, Reanie?'
'I don't know who she is, I do know she's lying there naked in the middle of the floor.'
'They thought she was late and left a note to say that they've been moved to a different classroom tonight, but she never came in to pick it up. No wonder she's cold, they started the class at six.'
'Can you get him?' asked Stephen. 'Poor old Reanie looks like she's frozen to the spot.'
'There aren't any internal phones in the classrooms,' said the barman. 'I can't really leave the bar unattended. Could you nip up and let him know?'
Stephen climbed the stairs and returned to the classroom. The woman was still lying on the floor where he had left her.
'You're in the wrong room, Reanie,' he said. 'They've moved to room ten tonight.'
'I'm not Reanie, I'm Dot. Reanie couldn't make it, so she asked me to stand in, or lie in, as it were.'
'I see, well, they're down at room ten.'
'I've never done anything like this before,' tittered Dot. 'I feel quite wanton.'
'Yes, well, err...'
'I'll get thirty pounds for this, you know? It's not bad money when you're on a pension.'
'No I'm sure it isn't. Look, would you like me to show you to room ten?'
'I would,' said Dot. 'But I'm stuck, I told you, my hip's locked.'
'Didn't Reanie tell you to find the art teacher before taking your clothes off?'
'No, she said I was to get here first and get into position, it's less embarrassing that way; you don't have to move about in front of the class.'
'Where did you put your clothes? I'll get them for you.'
'They're in that cupboard at the end of the room, that's where I found this towel. I won't be able to get dressed though, my hip's locked, I can't move.'
Stephen retrieved Dot's clothes, passed them to her, then turned and faced the door.
'You'll never make an artist,' she cackled.
'I'm a writer,' said Stephen. 'I'm hopeless at drawing.'
'Reanie reckons most of the art class are too. She showed me a drawing that one of them had done of her, it looked more like a hippo than Reanie, mind you, she is a big woman.'
Stephen sneaked a glance to the side, Dot was still lying in the same position.
'You're going to have to pick me up, young man, I did tell you I can't move.'
Stephen groaned inwardly.
'Ok, wrap the towel around as much of you as it will cover and grab your clothes. I'll carry you down to room ten.'
Dot grabbed both sides of the towel and pulled them over her hips.
'Doesn't cover much does it?' she laughed.
Stephen crouched, placed one hand under Dot's knees, the other round her waist and lifted her into the air. Dot threw her arms round his neck dramatically.
'Reminds me of my wedding day,' she cackled. 'Victor carried me to bed that night, you remind me of him a bit.'
'Come on then, Dot,' laughed Stephen. 'Let's get you to bed...'
Stephen's stopped dead as the door swung open and the woman he had just had the altercation with in the street stepped into the room.
'You don't waste much time,' she said.
Dot's knickers fell to the floor. The woman knelt, picked them up and offered them to the old woman.
'Don't go without these, it's chilly out there.'
Stephen turned a deep shade of purple. He opened his mouth to speak but nothing would come.
'It's not the way it looks,' he said eventually.
'It never is,' said the woman with a twinkle in her eye. 'Do you only go for the older type or do the rest of us stand a chance too?'
Stephen was saved from further embarrassment when Harriet and Margot burst into the room. They were followed by a tall, olive skinned man, that Stephen assumed to be Ricardo.
'You're not Reanie,' he said.
'Reanie had something on,' said Dot. 'Unlike me.'
'I left a message in the bar about the change of venue,' said Ricardo. 'You were supposed to come to room ten.'
'I didn't get it,' said Dot. 'All I got was cramp.'
Margot asked Harriet to find Ted and make a start on getting the chairs out for the meeting, then she turned her attention to Stephen.
'Carry her to the ladies toilets,' she ordered. 'Let's get her decent before the rest of the group arrive.'
'Will I still be paid?' asked Dot.
'We'll sort something out,' Ricardo promised.
Stephen carried Dot through to the ladies toilets and laid her gently on the floor. Dot looked dreamily into Stephen's eyes and placed her hand on his arm.
'How was it for you?' she croaked.
Stephen blew her a kiss and headed for the door.
'I hope your hip unlocks soon, Dot.'
'It clicked into place back there,' the old woman cackled. 'I just didn't want to miss the chance of having a pair of strong arms round me again. Is that Italian fellow still around? I've always fancied Italians.'