The Italians at Cleat's Corner Store

The Italians at Cleat's Corner Store by Jo Riccioni

Book: The Italians at Cleat's Corner Store by Jo Riccioni Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jo Riccioni
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finch or thrush was worth the eating. Later Mavis had her comeuppance, running into the yard that afternoon and shouting that PC Ferris was giving Tommy Pointon a hiding for frat’nising .
    â€˜For goodness sake,’ Connie said, beginning to clear the tea things, ‘that was the war. They had to eat, like everyone else.’
    â€˜And you expect them Eye-ties to be more civilised now, I suppose? A leopard don’t change its spots.’ Aunty Bea folded her arms and adjusted her shoulders. ‘I hope you’re not setting your sights on them two boys, just because the likes of Mr Gilbert and her ladyship have granted them an audience.’ She glanced at Uncle Jack again. ‘Some of us remembers things.’
    â€˜What?’ Connie said. ‘What things ? I don’t remember anything because you never tell me in the first place.’
    Aunty Bea sniffed and went to the sink. Uncle Jack offered only a vague shake of his head before looking back down at the plate in his lap. For once his complicit silence sparked her anger even more. ‘See, you won’t even let Uncle Jack speak!’ She couldn’t help herself. She knew she’d pay for it later. ‘You treat us both like naughty children.’
    â€˜Don’t you get that tone up with me.’ Aunty Bea stood to face her across the table. ‘Course he speaks.’
    Uncle Jack rose to his feet, his chair making a drawn-out screech along the tiles. He shook a trouser leg of crumbs, gave a preparatory cough and lowered his eyes to Connie, like he might say something. But instead he retreated, vapid as a shadow, to the front room, where all that could be heard was the ghostly rustle of his newspaper.
    â€˜See what you’ve done?’ Aunty Bea gestured after him. There was something childishly lost and regretful about her now. Connie studied her tiny frame, as neat and trim as Uncle Jack’s was tall and gangling. With all her compact energy, she might still be young. Sometimes Connie had heard tinkers or gypsies at the door calling Aunty Bea miss or petal . She marvelled that they could not trace the years of disappointment gathered at her mouth, the cleft of regrets driven between her pale eyebrows. But exactly what disappointments, what regrets, Connie could never fathom.
    â€˜Happy now?’ Aunty Bea said, reaching under the sink for a dustpan and brush.
    â€˜Happy with what?’ Connie persisted.
    Aunty Bea resurfaced, her cheeks rosy as chilblains, as if, like everything else, she had spent her life scrubbing them raw. The emotions that crossed her face were as varied and confused as an autumn sky. The clock on the mantel continued its perky tick. Connie reached across to her aunt and pushed back a tendril of hair that had escaped its pin. It still glowed partially red among the faded brown, like an ember in the grate. But at the touch, Aunty Bea’s hand went up to her head self-consciously. Her expression cooled and the moment disintegrated.
    â€˜You’re the replica of your mother,’ she said. ‘The Lord knows we done our best for you. But it’s never enough, is it? Just like her, you are. Yearning after the fancy and faraway, always hankering after something, wanting more. Well, where did it get her?’
    Connie knew better than to answer, but the image of the cat, the monotony of the clock, the scrape of Uncle Jack’s chair, his retreating shadow goaded her on. ‘I don’t know, where did it get her? How would I know when nobody ever tells me anything?’ She heard the whine in her voice and put her hand on her forehead to steady her thoughts.
    â€˜It led her down a path of sin, is all you need to know,’ Aunty Bea said mechanically, ‘and the wages of sin is —’
    Connie was already out of the door and reaching for her bike, propped against the front of the house. Aunty Bea stood in the doorway, the dustpan brush trembling

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