Whilst politeness costs nothing, rudeness (as Mr Screw was wont to say) commonly got charged at a clip on the nose, which at current rate went for two-pound and all square. It was on the list of charges, in his little book, and he would always give a receipt. In that same little book he noted down Gilda’s worries and ticked what there was to be done about each. It was his job, five days a week, early off on Thursday.
“They’re all the bloody same,” said Gilda. She was like so many of them here on the young side of twenty, and the wrong side of marriage, visibly pregnant as she had been for six years now. “I mean, if my Alfie knew he’d go spare. Right spare.”
“Spare,” said Mr Screw, and licking a pencil stub he noted that down too.
“I don’t mind it at the holiday camp. Well, you don’t do you? Bit of slap and tickle. And you got to take your chances with the pop stars. Like octopuppies they are.”
She blushed, “Oh, I say.”
Mr Screw nodded. “Please do go on, dear lady.”
“Last week I was having driving lessons, I mean, I know I speak common but that don’t mean nothing does it? He was all over me. And this morning he was cleaning me windows,” she nodded in that direction. She lived on the fourth floor. “He wanted to know if there was a little scrubber in. Asked me if I’d seen his squeegee. I said I don’t know, but he was flicking it about and I said it was getting me all wet. He had no trousers on. He made a funny sound.”
He patted her knee, there-there. “Can you describe it?” said Mr Screw.
“It were about seven inches long and...”
“The sound, Gilda. The sound.”
Gilda had to think about that.
Patiently Mr Screw waited, all ears. He was such a plain little man, so inoffensive to look at, never shocked and always interested. He came here every Monday. It was on his round. He had to collect the rent, the whole block either tatty little flats or flat little bedsits. It was so much easier having them all in one place. Girls like Gilda, blank-eyed and very dolly. They weren’t bad people. They were confused. They had their role and it wasn’t a very nice one. Mr Screw did what he could for them like they were the daughters of some old friend. Even after a rare night of running about London on more hectic work for Aunt Minerva. The girls weren’t any trouble. A lot of them were in trouble, as they would say.
“It were... fwoooarr!”
“Fer-roooar,” tut-tut. He closed his notebook. Hob’s Lane was the tiniest of estates and so modern as to be named for the UnderGround at Hob’s End, two streets over, W10. Launderette, shop, street market and pub, the Vick & Comet – there where doubtless Tim Lee was already bragging about birds with one eye open for irate husbands. A polite word would be had. Gilda’s Alfie was not to be messed with, not by the likes of Timmy Lee. Alfie to Mr Screw’s recollection was up north in Newcastle for his brother’s funeral. He sighed. Life could be ever so complicated, and people so readily confused.
Even (or perhaps especially so) by themselves.