Men! Louise mutters to herself as she queues at the popcorn stand. She doesn’t even like popcorn but if Josh is going to stand her up in favour of staying home with his mates to watch sidecar racing on Eurosport – Eurosport! after she’d bought the cinema tickets and she’d worn her most uncomfortable heels for him, well then she was going to see the damn film on her own and bloody well stuff her face doing it.
Not that she had even wanted to see the film – it had been Josh’s choice, where sci-fi meets law enforcement and she predicts the aging lead actor will grunt his way throughout the movie, overcoming both robots and the odds, saving the future of future mankind and in the process, implausibly winning the heart of the young bimbo in the skirt even shorter than the one she was now regretting wearing.
She settles down in her seat in time to have the adverts blasted at her so loudly she can hardly hear herself crunch on the papery popcorn. At least she will have the comfort of Josh’s empty seat to her right, and hopes the one to her left will remain empty too. However she soon senses she would not even be allowed this small luxury when a rather haggard old lady comes to her aisle and forces those already seated to stand to allow her and her baggage of maybe six bulging soiled carrier bags to pass. Sure enough, she sits down right next to Louise who feels obliged to give a quick polite yet patronising smile at her. As the old lady takes an age to settle her bags she grins back, a rather ghastly, toothless grin that Louise thinks seems somehow to grab at her. Blimey, what a witch, thinks Louise, I hope she doesn’t cackle all the way through the film.
The old lady cackles all the way through the film.
Eventually the awful movie reaches its awful end with the aging lead actor and short-skirted bimbo heading into the distance rather like a father taking his daughter to school. She gets up with the majority of the audience all aiming to get home and forget this forgettable evening as quickly as they can. She manages to leave the cackling old woman as the only person left watching the credits.
Leaving the cinema, the cold winter air strikes Louise like the gelo-blasts that the film hero aimed at those tiresome robots which seemed to make up the raison-d’etre for the film. With thoughts of a romantic post-cinema curry with ex-heartthrob Josh as broken as a snapped poppadum, she starts the walk across the shopping streets in the direction of home. She huddles herself for warmth.
She walks maybe half a mile and is feeling a little scared now to be out on the streets, unaccompanied by a jerk of a boyfriend and in such a deficient level of clothing. The authoritative clip-clop of her heels on the pavement reassures her whilst at the same time she fears marks her out as a feckless floozie to any slasher within earshot. Echoing her way now through the eerie precinct she feels almost certain of a violent and untimely fate and so is not surprised to hear a hiss called from the doorway between Wilkinsons and Jojo Maman Bebe.
‘Hiss’ insists the hiss. ‘Over here’
She turns to see her would-be assailant is the little old lady from the cinema, standing surrounded by her six bulging soiled carrier bags. Louise is amazed – she thinks she had left her firmly ensconced in the cinema, and has trotted her fastest across the pedestrian zone – how could the old crone have got here before her? She is definitely the same old woman –Louise would have recognised the hooked nose, hairy warts and faint smell of gunpowder anywhere.
‘Gis us a hand with my bags, my Deary’
Louise stops, conflicted between a desire to get home as quickly as possible, the security of having company and her repugnance for this hag. Her indecision over this dilemma prevents her making any form of coherent reply.
‘I’ll grant you three wishes if you do’ tempts the crone.
‘Three wishes? I know the first will be to warm up!’ jokes Louise keen to diffuse the woman’s clear insanity with admittedly low-grade humour.
‘Ah, no problem’ says the hag and starts fumbling around in her bags. Louise is desperate to move on, but being brought up well, considers it far too impolite to simply leave the crone standing. After much delving a smile breaks over the old girl’s face ‘Here you go, my Deary’ and she hands her a used pair of thick hairy tights, red and white hooped with the undoubted capacity to warm her goose-pimpled legs.
‘Oh…thank you’ says Louise, weighing up the potential warmth they would give against the ghastly itching and irritation the hirsute hosiery would almost certainly inflame. ‘They look like witches tights’ she adds trying not to look horrified at them.
‘Well yes, I suppose they do’ says the woman who reaches down and lifts a bunch of her ankle length black skirts a few inches to reveal that she is wearing a similar pair.
‘Nice’ says Louise and decides that she ought to accept them or else she might get turned into a pumpkin.
‘There, that’s better isn’t it, my Deary’ and Louise has to agree after she dons the tickling tights and picks up some of the bags to carry for the witch by way of a thank you.
‘This way’ says the witch and together they start to walk across the town, in the wrong direction as far as Louise is concerned, but she is worried that if she leaves the witch she might make her reappear at the start of the film.
The witch talks about her cats, Louise likes cats, and to her surprise she finds the witch quite good company. They pass a coffee shop. It is shut of course, Louise is by now tired and very thirsty and wishes out loud that it was open. Suddenly the shop lights came on and a barista comes to unlock the door, welcoming them and taking their orders. No one else comes in, but then there is no one else to come in.
Louise considers the machiatto the most delicious she has tasted and declares the biscotti the most almondy. Over the divine beverages they sit and chat, Louise soon finding herself able to talk to this witch about anything and everything. This surprises her a little as she never speaks this freely even with her friends, nor had she ever ordered a third coffee before – but the more of this scrumptious elixir she imbibes, the more uninhibited she becomes and the better company this dear old lady proves to be. By her fourth cup (and biscotti), she is talking so much it it’s like she was under some sort of spell or something. Louise starts to confess her darkest secrets, like how she had once glued her little brother’s hair to his pillow whilst he slept, and the time she left the gerbil cage door open the day it escaped and got eaten by the cat. To her continuing shame, she admits that she still hadn’t owned up and had blamed everyone else for the cage crime and had cried and cried until her parents had bought her a hamster (Harriet), her rodent of preference.
Despite its dreadful start, thanks to the unlikely good company of a pungent old witch, Louise was now rating this as one of the best nights she could remember.
The witch hardly has to say a word, just nodding and tut-tutting where necessary to punctuate Louise’s unremitting blatherings.
The talk turns to men. Never that far from Louise’s mind, she now finds herself freely pouring out the history of her past romantic disasters – from Larry the lettuce fetishist, through Gordon the go-er who went off-er, and then of course her unsavoury dealings with Peg-leg Pete. Inevitably she comes to the story of her and Josh, a city banker type with whom she had felt things had been going OK though he had never before spoken of his interest in sidecar racing, or that he even had Eurosport on his cable package. Her earlier rage has cleared and she can now see Josh’s excuse for what it really is – an excuse – and a fatally poor one to boot. ‘Oh I just wish I could meet my prince charming’ she sighs.
Louise wakes up in her bed with the most stinging of headaches and with a mouth like she’s spent the night licking a sheep. She rubs at her temples to pacify them to no avail and slowly rouses to some sort of consciousness, opening just the one eye as to open both would be just too painful. The alarm clock insists it’s 9.40am and thus she is thus very, very late for work. She tries to rise but the pain in her head demands she stay put. She tries to recall how she got herself in this state – the film, the coffee shop, the witch. The witch? Louise has no idea how she got home last night. Did she leave the witch with her bags? Walk her home? Was the ghastly woman even here in the spare room?! Louise’s head throbs too much to even consider the truth, let alone work it out.
Then she hears it. ‘Ribbit’. From the end of her bed. ‘Ribbit’. Now Louise likes frogs but this was the most handsome frog she has ever seen – large (for a frog) and with beautiful emerald skin. ‘Ribbit’, it says again.
Dulled as her brain is, the last thing she can remember from the last night comes back – her wish for a Prince Charming. Whilst the inside her head hammers its objection, she manages to sit up in the bed, waits a moment for her tender brain to stop bouncing against her head, picks up the frog, and gives it a gentle kiss on the lips….
I hope you enjoyed that story. If you have 2 mins spare, add a comment to let me know what you think, if you have 5 minutes, add that comment then find another story on my site – there’s plenty to try.