The warmth of Lakeside Cafe washes over me and I wrestle with my scarf to free my neck. It loathes me to flash my sagging jowls but this isn’t Shoreditch and I’m hoping the patrons of ‘Knit and Natter’ won’t care if I turn up looking like a wrinkled old testicle.
Martyn certainly wouldn’t have minded. Wrinkled old testicles were right up his alley, which was good considering our fourteen-year age gap. I smile and flinch at the memory of him, treasured recollections still beautifully barbed in the raw reality of his absence.
I glance around the bustling eaterie and spy three cardiganned women slouched on sofas. Technicolour thread entwines them and I know I’ve found my terminus. My mouth is dry with nerves, but I think of Martyn and his just fucking do it attitude and somehow I’m moving towards them.
I clear my throat. ‘Is this, er, is this Knit and Natter?’
Two of the three look up; the third is lost, eyes down, needled hands moving quicker than the speed of light.
The two attentive heads nod, smile. The lady closest to me drops a half-made something into her lap, extending a hand.
‘It absolutely is,’ she says, shaking my gloved paw vigorously. ‘I’m Jean, this is Pamela’ – she points to herself, then to a lady cradling a cappuccino, before gesturing to crazy needle fingers who still hasn’t stirred – ‘and that there’s Mavis. She’ll come up for air in a minute.’
I nod in turn to each of them, setting my bag down on a sofa arm. ‘I’m Graham.’ I pause for a moment, unsure of where to sit, unsure of whether to divulge that this is my first time out of the house since he passed so please be gentle.
No one probes for detail and I’m about to take a seat when Mavis looks up from her lightspeed hands and catches me off-guard with an exclamation of: ‘Blimey, we haven’t had one of you before!’
I feel myself flush hot-pink and my insides twist. Here it comes – the small town prejudice, the reason I’d migrated in the first place, the reason for my are you fucking kidding? reaction to returning, despite Martyn’s protestations that he simply had to pass at home because a London death would be so terribly dismal, darling. He had been right, of course.
I smile weakly, readying myself for judgment, but they’re beaming at me and I’m thrown.
‘Our first man!’ Pamela exclaims. ‘How wonderful!’
I feel my heart rate slow as Mavis flails excitedly. ‘I’ve been after a male perspective on this jumper all week!’ She pats the seat next to her and needles are speeding again as she continues. ‘Have you been knitting long, Graham?’
And just like that I’m inducted. I look at them all for a moment, poleaxed; unspoken words of explanation sit redundant on my tongue. Slowly, I feel my face form a smile, and I slouch down next to Mavis as Jean delivers a menu.
Sara Hodgkinson is a native northern Brit with a penchant for good food, fragrant books and long walks in the calming countryside. Sara has spent much of the last decade travelling the world, meeting great people and absorbing a kaleidoscope of cultures. She has lived in Singapore and Australia, and is currently back in the UK working as a freelance content writer from her home in the hills of Lancashire. In her spare time, she conjures fiction with the help of her two eccentric cats, merlot and a steady supply of decaffeinated Tetley tea.
Find Sara on Twitter @Sara_