You know how I feel about busy bodies. We’ve got one on our road–you know the type, always trying to build community, sharing news, getting signatures for cards or money for flowers when one of the neighbours gets married, gives birth, or dies (not always in that order). Ours is called Martha Montgomery, and it was with much trepidation that I opened the door to her yesterday evening.
“Miss Agatha, I’ve scheduled an urgent neighbourhood meeting. I’m sure you’ve heard the terrible news that Mrs Roberts has passed away and we’ve got to organise some kind of response,” she squeaked breathlessly, before handing me an invitation and running to the house next door.
Now, I confess I really didn’t know Mrs Roberts because when I moved into the area, she was described to me as “unfriendly and close-minded” and why should I bother reaching out to someone like that? However, I know that my presence is so valued by those around me that I felt I should attend.
The meeting was held at our local, which was the first of Martha’s many mistakes of the evening. A few of the men were already drunk by the time she clinked two glasses together to quiet the group. Thankfully, she did not suggest we open with a prayer, but instead launched into a short essay of tribute (I don’t doubt she has pre-written obituaries for everyone in our postal code). However, before she could finish listing all of the family members who are left to survive without their grumpy, old granny, she was interrupted by the landlord.
“Quite frankly, Miss Montgomery,” he said calmly, “I’d rather you move this meeting elsewhere if you intend to keep singing the praises of that terrible woman.”
Martha let out a gasp of shock, without realising that most of the group was already aligning itself behind the barman.
One of the non-drunk men (whose wife wasn’t present as she was attending a healing service at the Spiritualist Church) said, “I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, but Mrs Roberts was a mean, mean person, and I don’t think we should pretend otherwise.”
A chorus of “amen’s,” “right on’s” and “get us a Stella, won’t you’s” echoed round the room.
Then, an elderly couple who had yet to speak or even move (I had been tempted to tap them to make sure they too hadn’t passed) stood up and looked at each other. “You say it, Timothy,” said the woman. Timothy nodded as his wife sat back down.
“We have lived in Number 8 since 1979. Mrs Roberts moved into Number 10 the same year. She was a horrendous neighbour. She was a horrendous person.
From the get-go, she was trouble. You lot are probably too young to remember, but she tried to get a petition going to have the milk float banned from the village. A few years later, she started in on the estate agents, posting a long list of ‘undesirables’ she didn’t want them showing around any houses. We’ve only got five curry houses and two Chinese, thanks to her worry about the village being swamped by Asians. She did everything within her power to destroy this area and the livelihood of everyone who has lived here.”
“And her children,” his wife piped in, “they were just as bad. She spoiled them rotten despite the fact that she made it patently clear that she hated minors.”
“Indeed,” said Timothy. “The truth is I occasionally wished her harm and I shouldn’t have done that. But now that’s she dead, I don’t mind. Rather than celebrate her life, I think it would be a much more sensible use of our time to try to undo the wrongs she did.”
And with that, it was agreed. En masse, we spread out, stopping at a variety of restaurants (all except the one on Devonshire Road as two people had heard the authorities had been round recently) to purchase meals and then picked up a pint of milk for each of us. By the time we returned to the pub, the landlord had already set up a tin for donations and had collected close to twenty pounds. We spent the rest of the evening reminiscing and planning and appreciating those who are alive and who are not evil.