New York in Winter

New York in Winter

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The English Guests

I apologize in advance to my two or three English friends. 



The English Guests
July 2016 – January 2017
By Terence Hughes

            After a long wait, Sylvie and I spotted them in the deplaning crowd. Our English guests were rather formal, sixty-ish, about 20 years older than us. Hale and hearty Clive introduced himself in a booming voice. He had a firm grip -- nearly broke my hand. He was tall and ruddy. He was wearing a heavy wool blazer in the wilting July heat. Edna was very thin, very pale and looked older than her husband thanks to her long, lined face. Her voice was plummy and her clothes were pre-Laura Ashley, pre-60s, pre-War. Even her hair was done in a way that recalled the 1930s.
Edna took Sylvie’s hand and bared her teeth in a Miss Mapp smile. “How lovely to meet you, Sylvia.”
            It was Sylvie with an E at the end, as her French-Canadian mother had named her at birth. Sylvie smiled and didn’t correct her. “How do you do?” my wife replied formally.
            Clive jumped in. “Enchante’!” Big jovial laugh. He bent down to kiss Sylvie on the cheek. She giggled. Clive was rather handsome. And quite the showman, it seemed.
            They had a huge amount of luggage for two people who were staying eight days. There was a beat-up set of golf clubs. Each of us took a couple of pieces and staggered to the car with them.
            We drove from FLL to our condo in Deerfield. Back in the early 80s we were on the edge of the wilderness. The area’s completely built up now, but back then we felt like the Everglades were about to close in on us, especially in the rainy summertime.
On the way to our place Sylvie gave me a comical look like Are they moving in? We chatted about the Winfields, our mutual connection – they were a delightful couple we had met in Paris a couple of years before. By letter they introduced us and the Coverlys, Clive and Edna. The two couples lived in a village close to Durham. I had no idea where that was. Anyway, George Winfield told us the Coverlys were keen to visit Florida. Conscious of our duty regarding the “special relationship” between our two countries, I invited them to stay with us for a week. Remember, this was during the time of Thatcher and Reagan.
In the back seat Edna rhapsodized about the beauty of their quaint village, Dwindlethorpe, and the hedge-rowed countryside with its flocks of sheep and ye olde pubs. She peered out the window at the strip shopping centers and gas stations and said softly, “Well. It certainly isn’t like this,” followed by a tight little chuckle.
            As we approached West Deerfield Banyan Estates, Clive commented on the countryside around them. They talked about India, where Clive had been a soldier in 1947 (a “dogsbody”), when Britain awarded India with its independence. “Rather reminds one of West Bengal,” he said musingly.
            “Oh yes,” said Edna. “Quite.” She leaned forward and said to me as I drove, “My father was a general. I was born and raised in India. Clive is too modest. He was very young but had risen to major because of his bravery in The War. He was a prisoner of war in Singapore. He escaped after killing several Japs,” she concluded with pride.
            Clive cleared his throat. “Oh, darling, that’s enough. You’ll bore Andrew and Sylvia.” He appeared pleased with himself in the rearview mirror. ”Oh no no!” we protested, though of course we dreaded a long story about the war and all that.
            When we let them into our three-bedroom condo, which by apartment standards is very large and open, sunny, and of course well cooled, they got a funny look on their faces as they peered about: delight. They ran out to our terrace where they gawked at the beginning of the Everglades just beyond the community’s wall. Clouds were massing for the daily thunderstorm; it was July after all. “Lovely!” they exclaimed in unison. “Gorgeous,” Clive added. Edna nodded in agreement; they gave each other a happy glance.
            It was afternoon. They had been traveling for 24 hours with a long layover in New York. They looked all in. Sylvie is a gracious hostess, and she encouraged them to freshen up and change. “Take a nap, if you like. I know it’s been a long day for you.”
Clive declared heartily, “What a splendid idea! What say you, old girl?”
“That would be lovely…” Edna’s voice trailed off. She didn’t look well at all. 
“We’ll have tea when you’re ready. I bought some things that might remind you of home. Twinings tea. And – well, I believe you call them cakes.”
            Clive and Edna thanked her gratefully. We struggled with the mismatched luggage – some of it cheap, some expensive -- and got it into their room. Fortunately, there was a walk-in closet, so the room itself wasn’t packed to the ceiling with suitcases and duffels. They asked if we minded their taking a shower. “Of course,” we told them, “of course, and you don’t have to feed the geezer.” I thought a little British humor might make them feel more at home. They smiled wanly. We left them to wash up and rest.
            After we heard them stirring in the guestroom, Sylvie busied herself in the kitchen putting together their tea. She was pleased with the results of the spread and said eagerly, “This will take the sting out of being away from home.” I kissed her and told her she’d done a bang-up job. “Pip pip,” she piped cheerily.
            The couple emerged peppier than before. But the way they were dressed floored us. Clive was got up in khaki from head to toe. He was wearing a bush jacket with many pockets. He carried a pith helmet under his arm. Edna was dressed in the distaff version, as they say in books. A khaki skirt, a bush jacket, a khaki hat with three yards of mosquito netting for a veil. Both of them were wearing what we call desert boots, also khaki-colored. Khaki socks. The clothes were a bit big on her, but I figured Edna had recently lost weight – it’s not a good idea to run out and buy a lot of new clothes when you’ve first lost weight.
            They stank of Deet.
            To top it all off, Edna carried a butterfly net. I began to bark out a laugh but stopped myself. They were frightfully serious about this getup. “We thought that, after tea, we’d go explore the jungle. Do you mind awfully?”
            Sylvie recovered herself. “Please make yourselves comfortable. Andrew, please help me bring in tea.”
            In the kitchen we stared at each other, stunned wordless. After a couple of moments she said, “The jungle? I think they’re insane,” she whispered. “I mean, those clothes.” She clapped her hand over her mouth so her laughter wouldn’t upset them.
            I helped her carry the tea stuff into the living room.
Clive and Edna were discussing our choice of paintings on the walls. Well, prints. But nicely framed. They clammed up as we entered the room. At the sight of the trays Edna exclaimed, “It looks wonderful!”
“Jolly good,” Clive exclaimed. So, I thought, people don’t just say those things in old movies.
Edna’s eager smile turned to consternation. Clive cleared his throat. Sylvie was smiling, proud of herself. “I had to search all over for Twinings. I know it’s all the rage in England. The man in the store told me it was. Is Assam – “ she pronounced it Ass em – “okay with you? I didn’t know what to choose.”
Edna looked at the tea bag like it was a dead mouse in her mug. Clive cleared his throat. “Do you have lemon? I always prefer lemon tea after breakfast.” That was Edna, voice cool and distant.
“No,” I said, coming to my wife’s rescue. “We do have limes. Will that do?”
The Coverlys exchanged a particular glance. Every couple does that glance. Every couple looking on knows what it means. Sylvie had committed a faux pas of some grave kind. Or I had, which was worse.
“Here, have some cakes,” Sylvie managed to say. She proffered a plate of cut up sponge cake from Publix, jellyroll and Keebler chocolate chip cookies. She had forgotten about the plate of cream cheese with pimento on little squares of white bread and cucumber sandwiches the size of quarters. I ran to the kitchen and brought them back. Clive cleared his throat, “Ahahm, this is a treat. Isn’t it, Edna?”
Edna had a martyred look as she sipped her unadorned tea. “Oh yes.”
“I say,” I said (yes, I did say I say), “Sylvie worked very hard to make a nice tea for you. I’m sorry to be so direct, but see, you’ve brought tears to her eyes.” Of course I didn’t say this. But I wanted to.
Edna looked at Sylvie with compassion. “Oh, my dear, I am so sorry. It’s only – I was expecting – well, we do it all rather differently at home. Shall I help you? Show you how we make a lovely tea at home?”
Sylvie nodded. “Okay.”
Just then there was a blinding bolt of lightning followed instantaneously by a deafening clap of thunder. The skies opened up. The Coverlys enjoyed the spectacle, running out to the terrace to experience Nature in her demented magnificence. It rained like a Bengal rain, I suppose, and then, as always, it stopped after ten minutes.
As the sun came out again, steam rising from the ground, Clive and Edna burbled, “Oh, it is like India!”
“Well,” Clive said, getting up, “time for that ramble in the jungle, my dear.”
“Sit down, Clive. I have something to discuss with Sylvia. My dear, I do hate to be tiresome, but I shan’t rest until we’ve had a little chat. Clive and I we always take our tea at five o’clock. On the dot. It’s just a quarter past four. Far too early. And we must find loose tea – no more teabags! The cakes and sandwiches are all right, I suppose, but perhaps we can scour the area and find some Marmite. Clive dotes on it. And he adores clotted cream. Some English biscuits would be lovely. We must winkle some out, somewhere. I do hope that’s not too much trouble. Of course, if we are too demanding, just say so. We’ll find a nice hotel much closer to the sea and pass a sybaritic week on the baking sand.”
Clive cleared his throat.
Poor Sylvie was cowed and helpless before the woman’s aggression. I’m the type to get mad – pissed, in fact – but I didn’t want to make a scene. I didn’t want them to see me as a typical “ugly American.” Even though Edna had insulted the hell out of my wife, who is as sweet and kind a person as you’ll ever find.
I smiled and suggested they do their exploring in time for us to have drinks at seven.
“Wonderful!” Clive boomed.
Edna smiled at me and said, “We always have dinner at eight sharp. I hope that’s not inconvenient.”
“We’ll manage,” Sylvie replied. Then she said smoothly, “We eat at nine.”
The Coverlys were taken aback. Then Clive guffawed, “Well played, Sylvia!” The tension broke and Sylvie tried to laugh too.
They left with pith helmet and butterfly net. To explore our exotic “jungle.” I hoped an alligator would end our misery. Here we were two hours in and I was heartily sick of them. I didn’t think English people were so pushy.
“Can you believe the fucking effrontery of those people?” I hissed at Sylvie, fearing the English guests might be just outside the door. “I think they should go to a hotel ‘closer to the beach.’ I really think I’ll tell them to get the hell out of here!”
“Help me throw this stuff away,” Sylvie said quietly. Good, I thought, she sees it my way. “Be nice, Andy. I think they’re just jetlagged.” She got thoughtful and said, “You clean up. I want to make some calls.”
Hotels at Hillsboro Beach! Good!
She riffled through the phone book, searching for something. Oh the days before the Internet.
I was just about finished with cleaning up when I heard her ask, “Do you have something called Marmite?” She went down Edna’s list and said, “Great. I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” She set down the receiver. “We’re going to Lauderdale. Somewhere on Commercial. An English food store. Of all the damned things.”
A couple of hours later the guests returned from their traipse through the jungle. Edna pulled from one of her many pockets a jar with four butterflies trapped inside. She rattled off some scientific names that meant zip to me. Clive was excited to have seen a gator, which he called a crocodile, and some kind of python – “It’s just like Inja! This place is bloody marvelous.”
I made everybody strong G&Ts, which they sucked down at a fast pace, until a tipsy Sylvie suggested ordering pizza for dinner. The English guests exclaimed merrily, “We’ve never had pizza!” They pronounced it piz-za, not peetsa. “What a novelty!”
“A treat!” Clive added. “Isn’t this marvelous, Edna?” He was obviously game. Edna nodded, “Oh yes, dear.”
The pizza arrived at 7:45 but no one minded, least of all Edna, who ate like a hyena. She practically scraped the excess cheese off the carton.
“I loved that Italian pie,” Clive said, glowing with pleasure and drunkenness. “I hope we can have it again.”
Sylvie told Edna about going to the English shop in Fort Lauderdale. “Will you come with me? You’ll help me pick the right stuff, okay?”
“You are a poppet!” Edna was glowing too. On G&T #4. She patted Sylvie’s hand maternally.
We stumbled to our room around 9:30. I said to Sylvie, “We know the secret of tolerating them. Keep em sloshed.”
“We’re gonna have one hell of a gin bill.”
“Small price to pay, old gel.”
Sylvie got under the covers. She glowered at me. “You invited them.”
I got in beside her and tried massaging her breast.
“Don’t touch me,” she said.
* * *
The women had already left for the English store when I got up, much worse for the gin and pizza. Clive was up and reading my paper. “Morning, old man. I hope you don’t mind. I made myself some ‘tea bags’” he said, as if it were a toxic elixir. Judging from the soggy pile on the kitchen table, he must have already drunk five elixirs.
I grunted and started the coffeemaker. I sat and asked him for the front section of the paper. For a moment he held onto it like it was a baby. Then he handed it over. After a few minutes he cleared his throat. Christ, here we go, I thought.
“What is it, Clive?”
He got a little red in the face and spoke with sudden delicacy. “Andrew, I don’t know how to approach this. Well,” clearing throat again, “it’s our sleeping arrangements. Edna and I are used to separate bedrooms. I hope it’s all right if we take over both of your spare rooms. She’ll take the bigger one with the en-suite. I’ll camp out in the small room with the lavatory down the hall.” He paused and eyed me.
You won’t be surprised to learn that I caved. “Sure. Of course.”
“Smashing!” He went back to the sports section, marveling, “Baseball – what a fascinating game! Based on our cricket, of course. I’d like to see a Yankees match. Could we do that?”
“We’d have to go to New York, so I don’t think so.”
He looked injured. “I see.” He threw the paper on the table and went to colonize the second guest room.
A while later I was on the toilet when there was a tremendous pounding on the bathroom door. “Andrew!” It was Sylvie, back from her expedition to the fort at Lauderdale. She sounded furious. I asked her to wait until I’d finished my business. She shouted through the door, “You come out now or I’m flying to Toronto!” Her parents lived there. The only time she threatened to visit them, with hints of forever, was when she was grievously wronged.
When I emerged she was sitting on the bed. Pale as death with a killer’s look. “Sit down. Dear.” She launched into an account of the horror of the shopping trip. Edna bossed the staff around like she was still dealing with the natives in India. Amazingly, they took her treatment of them in stride – they were English too. Edna spoke in a loud, overbearing voice, asking for this and that, criticizing the brands, bitching about the prices and yet she loaded three hand baskets to overflowing with assorted English (and some Scottish) treats. Two big jars of Marmite. Sylvie stood there both appalled and amused. When they got to the checkout she was no longer amused; she gasped when she saw the total: $217. Remember, this was 1982. The dollar was worth, what, two or three times more than it is today.
Edna handed the staff the two big “string bags” she had brought from England. When they were filled, she said to Sylvie, “I’m afraid I gave you the heavier one. You’re young and sturdy, unlike poor old me.”
Sylvie said nothing on the drive home, but she unleashed her demented fury on me. “What is it with these people? Oh, I am reaching my limit,” she whispered in a rage. “Either you tell them to go to a hotel or I will.”
For some reason I joked, “Just when they took over the other bedroom, too.”
Sylvie turned her killer’s eyes on me. “You allowed them?” I nodded. “You’re disgusting. Weak. A pushover.”
“Your parents sleep in both rooms,” I retorted.
“Yes but they hate each other.”
 I got up. I resolved to send the Coverlys and their gross English food packing, especially that foul-smelling Marmite. I would be firm but polite and soften the ultimatum with some of the self-deprecating humor the Limeys seemed to like so much.
I said nothing to our guests. I told Sylvie I did, of course. (Weak. Pushover. Check.)
What do you think she told me that night? She smiled good night and turned her cheek from me when I went to kiss her. She sighed as she turned out the light.
By this time Sylvie and I had learned to speak to each other in carefully worded code, rather like English people. We smiled when we on the verge of losing it, and we sighed when we wanted to scream fuck you.
            Sylvie sighed again.

The next day I took them to the beach. It was a glorious day for July. It wasn’t as humid as usual, and the sky was clear all day long. The breeze off the ocean was refreshing. The water was 85 degrees, so that when they stuck their wary toes in, they cried out in joy and dashed into the waves and spent a good deal of time “larking about”. Edna became energetic and even playful in the water. “Oh, stop, Clive, you brute!” she cried when he splashed her.
I had forgotten to pack sunscreen. I don’t use it much because I always have a good base. I was quite brown. My skin tone contrasted starkly with their pasty hue. Clive’s face was red but the rest of him looked like the belly of a flounder.
They were beginning to look pinkish. Well, I thought, the umbrella will save them. I had brought a picnic lunch with lots of water and a big thermos of G&T. Clive and Edna loosened up with that, and we all three had a marvelous time at the beach, which was almost deserted on a low-season Tuesday. They remarked approvingly that it was as if the beach was their private property. After a short nap, Edna donned a floppy hat and was pleased to search for shells. Clive dozed in the shade after polishing off the last of the gin.
We got back before teatime, somehow. Sylvie was slaving over that little meal and still giving me the cold shoulder for not rousting them out of the big guest room. I said, “But, honey, they’ve already used the sheets and so on. Might as well let them stay there.”
“It’s the principle of the thing, Andy. They can’t just march in and take over. Like they did in India. And everywhere else.”
I worked myself up into a minor state of righteous annoyance. I knocked pretty loud on the smaller guestroom door. Clive popped his head out of the bigger room. “What is it?” he asked impatiently. “Do you have a doctor who might come over double-quick? Edna’s suffered heat stroke. She’s in a bad way, old man.” He came into the hallway.
“I thought she lived in India for years and years.”
He was scarlet himself, and he said severely, “In Bengal she always used a parasol. She’s been in England thirty years. The heat today was extreme. The sun’s too strong,” he said in an aggrieved tone. As if the hot sun was my fault. “She’s lying down. Get her some cold water, there’s a good man. No ice!”
“About the doctor,” I said, not moving, “she’ll have to go to the emergency room.”
“My God, man, she can’t be moved! She’s in a bad way, a very bad way.” He shut the door in my face. I heard Edna cry. She babbled to Clive. I made out a few words. Wrong. Sorry I came. Wretched. Tea bags. Try to help. Treated so badly.
I banged on the door again. “Clive, I need to talk to you.”
“What now?” I stuck my foot out so I could see inside the room. I was shocked. Edna was as red as a twice-boiled lobster. There were sores and welts all over. She looked deformed.
“Are you satisfied now?” Clive demanded. “You can see we really do need a doctor to come here immediately.”
Sylvie had crept up and was peeking into the room aghast. “I’ll look for a doctor who does house calls. Or it’ll mean an ambulance.” She ran to the kitchen and riffled through the directory.
Somehow my resourceful Sylvie found an MD in Boca who did house calls. He arrived in an hour. He carried a reassuring black bag. He reminded me of Clive – tall, erect, full head of white hair, aquiline good looks, a little portly. He had instant credibility.
He shook his head over Edna. “Oy.” He injected the suffering Edna, prescribed topical medications, and patted her hand to calm her. I ran to the pharmacy to fetch the meds. $105. When I got back the doctor had gone, would return tomorrow, that’s $80 please. For today’s visit only.
And when I got back it had been decided that Edna was to be installed in our bedroom. Clive said the other room was too bright even with the shades down. He said the light seeped in like tropical death.
“I’ll stay camped out in the little room,” he said in a voice of self-sacrifice. “You deserve some comfort too.”
Sylvie avoided my eye. She replied meekly, “Let me change the sheets. Then you boys can move her.” Clive and I moved Edna who sat like suffering royalty in a kitchen chair. It reminded me of those movies set in India where the maharani is carried aloft by slaves.
We closed the shades and curtains in what had been our room. Sylvie and I looked glumly at each other as we changed the bigger guestroom bed. “You have no backbone,” I said. “You have no balls,” she said back.
For the next couple of days Sylvie and I waited on them hand and foot. We spent most of our time in the kitchen. They wanted only their prized English slop. My stomach turned every time Sylvie opened the Marmite; she gagged. They guzzled it so fast that Sylvie had to drive back to Lauderdale with a detailed list that Clive had provided. Just $118 this time, cheap. She had to get gin, too, of course. Edna seemed a lot healthier with a G&T to buck her up
Glad that Edna hadn’t died in our bed, we toasted one another that evening. Edna had stepped carefully into the living room for the celebration. She wore a nightgown that looked like a shroud from a Dickens novel. Sylvie and I were feeling better, too. They’d been here six days – well past the halfway mark. We counted the hours until they went home.
“Yes,” Edna said whisperingly, “if I’m able to travel.” She cast a piteous glance at her husband. He turned his head, nearly overcome by emotion. Sylvie turned her head towards me with an emotion called fury.
Sylvie served them beans on toast. They gobbled it up and thanked us profusely for the thoughtful treat.
On Day 7, Edna was still recovering, lolling away the day with the blinds closed and a drink in her hand. She was less miserable than before but fell asleep every time Sylvie went into the room.
Clive told me he was dying to play an American course. It was the last full day, so I said, “Sure, old bean.” I looked up golf courses in the phone book and found a public course in Pompano. It cost $45 to play a round. Guess who paid.
As luck would have it, there was another English guy there, and he was looking for a partner in the game. His name was Reggie who was from a place called Esher – Clive was impressed, I think. Reggie and he exchanged those hearty greetings that Americans like to make fun of (“Haw haw, ripping, old boy!” stuff). I wasn’t feeling especially amused, so I smiled and sighed.
They dragooned me into their service as a caddie. Imagine my delight. I had never caddied. I had never played golf. I had never watched it on TV. I had never given it half a thought. I was terrible, and they both exploded at me for not knowing a putter from a curling iron.
My sole satisfaction was that they were terrible golfers. They tore up the green like gophers. They shot into the rough all the time, into the water, into the sand. They cheated on each other at every opportunity. They got into a tiff at several holes. They turned as red as Edna, with sweat flying off their faces like sprinkling cans.
Over whiskeys at a nearby bar they mended fences and began talking about Thatcher and the Queen and all this British stuff that bored and irritated me. I laughed at their stories in the wrong places – they glared at me – then ignored me completely. I sat there calculating how much the English guests had cost us so far. $970. And counting.
When Reggie asked where he lived, Clive replied, “Dwindlethorpe.”
“Dwindlethorpe! By God, you must know Bobby Jenkins. Wonderful fella. We were in the army together at Partition. Two young bucks we were, marauding all over Madras. Those were the days!”
Clive shrugged. “Don’t know him. Perhaps he moved away.”
Reggie scrutinized him. “I say, Coverly, you seem like an old India man too. Where did you serve?”
“Oh, I was all about the subcontintent. Bengal, Punjab, even down in old Kerala.”
“Punjab! You might have known George Winfield.”
I piped up, “I know George!” They ignored me. These drinks were setting me back a good $20-30.
“Not that I can recall,” Clive laughed. “Was he a short chap with a fat bum?”
Reggie laughed hard at that. He was on drink #3. “Oh, not my George Winfield. A tall trim bloke with a marvelous sense of humor.”
Which sounded like my George Winfield.
Clive laughed heartily. “My Dwindlethorpe neighbor, good old Georgie Porgie Winfield. And that horrible wife of his, donkey-faced Mavis!”
“Crikey, that Mavis!” Reggie snorted.
The Limeys laughed uproariously. Only drunk as skunks did these people ever let loose enough to act like normal human creatures, which is to say uncharitable boors.
* * *
That evening we were sitting in the lounge (their word) having our drinks. Happy hour had crept up to 5:00 and even earlier. We ate at 8 as usual, but we were so shit-faced (my word) by then that we hardly knew what we were eating. We let the dishes pile up in the sink until the next afternoon, when we finally were able to function. The Coverlys were always up well before us, making real tea and spilling it on my paper.
Anyway, on the evening of Day 7, we were chatting in an alcoholically friendly way when Edna stuck out her arms as if we had to inspect them. “Oh dear, I’m still so broken out – the sores haven’t completely healed. Do you see?”
“Oh, darling girl,” her husband said commiseratingly. “You know, Andrew, Sylvia, I’m not sure Edna can travel all the way to England in this condition. Perhaps we need to stay a little longer – till she’s really on her feet again,” he added in a rush. “I shouldn’t like to take advantage but it’s tricky, you know?”
Sylvie began to shriek No! I masked it by exclaiming, “No problem! Just a day or two, of course.”
Clive was benevolent. “Bless you both. Isn’t that marvelous, my dear?”
Edna coughed and murmured, “Most kind. Thank you so much.” Her voice remained weak, faltering.
Sylvie smiled, got up, and went into the guestroom, loudly locking the door.
I’m afraid we had to make do with delivery Chinese. Edna got sick.
I sighed and slept on the couch.

Day 8. The Coverlys were supposed to leave Fort Lauderdale at 8 am. I was up hours before dawn, aching from my night in the doghouse, but cheered by the prospect of their departure. After three mugs of strong coffee, I was still hung over and parched from gin and MSG. I was standing at the sink drinking a giant glass of ice water when Clive appeared, pale and gaunt.
“Andrew, there’s something wrong with Edna. She’s breathing queerly when she breathes at all.” I sighed and followed him into her room – our room. Edna was drenched with a cold sweat. Her face was an ashy color. Her eyes were fixed on some distant point, and she thrashed in pain. Sylvie walked in. Her eyes popped. “She’s having a heart attack! I’ll call an ambulance.”
“No!” Clive ordered. “Please don’t separate us.” He looked desolate.
Sylvie ran to call the doctor.
Just as the doctor arrived Edna gave a strangled cry. Her chest heaved and then stopped moving. The doctor sprang into action. He checked her vitals, murmuring There there there. He gave her a shot. “She’s gone into shock. We almost lost her.” She started to breathe but in a jagged way. It was terrible to hear.
We stood there paralyzed.
“She needs complete bed rest,” the doctor told Clive. “I’ll check in on her twice every day.” At eighty bucks a pop. “I don’t recommend moving her. The stress of it would be harmful, eh wot?” Even the bloody doctor from New Jersey was talking like Terry-Thomas.
I stayed with the doctor who replied to my questions that it was better that she not be moved. My heart sank. “She’s close,” he told me confidingly.
“Close? To what?”
He prepared another shot for her. “What do you think?”
“So shouldn’t she be in the hospital?”
An emphatic shake of the head. “I’ll arrange for a nurse and an IV drip. They’ll be here this morning as early as I can scare them into getting here. An oxygen tent too. Do you have liability insurance?” I turned as pale as Edna. The doc gave me a severe look. “Don’t try to get her out. It will be on your head if she suffers a turn for the worse.” He made it plain that worse would be the worst.
Clive went to bed early that night and asked for tea and some English biscuits. “I don’t think I can eat any more today. Thank you so much for your kindness. You are the kindest Americans I have ever met. You are wonderful. I am very grateful.” Then he broke down. Sylvie sat on the bed and comforted him. He grabbed her hand. “Dearest Sylvia.”
Clive’s booming voice was a thing of the past. He spoke feebly. We had to strain to hear him. “I don’t know what I’d do without Edna. My Edna. I can’t bear to think of going back to Dwindlethrope without her. That house. Her garden. Too painful. Mayn’t we stay here another few days? She is so weak…”
After exchanging looks of mutual hatred mixed with pity for Clive, Sylvie and I assured him that they would be welcome to stay. We told him that we’d arrange a return flight for eight days later. We expected Edna to be fully recovered by then. He praised our kindness again.
Somehow we muddled through the rest of the day, waiting on the disconsolate Clive and dealing with the nurse, and finally we fell into bed exhausted.
Edna was coming along nicely until the morning before their departure. She couldn’t get out of bed. “Andrew, could you ask Sylvia to make me a boiled egg? What you call a soft-boiled egg, two minutes on the dot. Thanks awfully. And one of those nice bagel things. They’re quite good. And she really must make the tea stronger. How many times must I tell her? I hope to be in fine fettle by lunch. What is for lunch? Clive liked that funny Chinese food -- he was quite taken with the fook yon egg. Please keep the curtains closed. I couldn’t bear the harsh sunlight today. Thanks so much. When is Sylvia going to do the wash? I’m out of clean … things,” she murmured modestly. “Now, please let me nap. I feel so awfully weak today. I’m afraid of a relapse. Forgive me for being a bother. And, dear, would you mind bringing me a G&T? It might lift my rather low spirits,” she wanly smiled.
Clive beamed. “That’s my girl!” he cried in encouragement. He was back to booming. “We’ll have you up and about in no time. Tickety-boo!”
“And we shall be quite at home,” Edna smiled, looking around the darkened room. “You know, I find that I like Florida. In some ways it seems like home – like my girlhood in West Bengal, what with the endless sunshine, the torrid temperatures, the creepy-crawlies and, oh! the kind natives.” She gave us her most gracious smile and sighed.
Clive whispered, “I suppose it’s time to leave for home.” We protested but Sylvie ran for the phone and called British Air. She made them a reservation for three days from then. Edna still wasn’t well. Sylvie made another. Edna still wasn’t well.
After the seventh time, we stopped making reservations.