An air of gloom hung over our table in Nero’s.
‘What’s up, chums?’ I asked cheerily, slopping moccachino down the leather sofa. I gave it a half-hearted flick with a napkin and sat somewhere else.
‘We’re all suffering from the same malaise’, sighed Cycle Girl.
‘Too much caffeine?’
‘I’ll tell you about mine’, said Hoxton Mum. ‘I’ve been trying to keep things local, so I gave up my intimate relationship with Beowulf at Toni & Guy’s, and started going instead to -’. She named a well-known Lewes hairdresser. ‘We could have been so good together. But she only knows one cut, and that’s the cut I get.’
‘Hair looks nice, Hoxie’, we fibbed, kindly. There’s no comfort in the truth.
‘Yes, that’s because I went grovelling back to Beowulf, cap in hand. Cap on head as well, to hide the mess. But now, whenever I see [Lewes hairdresser], she gives me a hurt look. I should have known better than to cheat a friend.’
‘That’s nothing’, said Grange Girl. ‘Yesterday, there was only one parsnip in my veg box, but the recipe called for two. So I had to buy one from a supermarket!’ She groaned, and clutched her stomach. ‘My parsnip and caper curry was disgusting. Serves me right. Maybe it’s better this way.’
I wondered if it was merely the provenance of the parsnip at fault, but said nothing.
‘At least your veg box people are still in business’, said Pells Boy. ‘Did you know that Seymours closing down was my fault, because I didn’t like their irons? Though it’s easy to pretend, I went and bought one from Woolies. Next thing I knew, Seymours was gone.’
‘Didn’t help Woolies, though, did it?’ Cycle Girl murmured, in a careless whisper. I could barely hear her: tonight the music seemed so loud.
‘The one that gets to me’, said DJ Mama, clutching her brow, ‘is the agony when you refuse Lewes Pounds in your change. We hurt each other with the things we want to say.’
I was puzzled. ‘What are you all on about?’
‘I know you’re not a fool’, said Cycle Girl. ‘Lewes Guilt, of course. It’s highly contagious.’
I suddenly felt bad about my casual coffee-spilling, and dabbed the stain diligently with my scarf.
‘Don’t even talk to me about restaurants’, said Absent-Minded Girl, though we hadn’t been. ‘Every time I passed it, I thought, mustn’t do to Guidos what I did to Circa. But every time I’d forget, and get take-out from Yummy Yummy instead. Oh, the guilt, the guilt.’
I wished that I could lose this crowd, so I went home. As I walked past Anne of Cleves House, I noticed it was shut. The sign on the door said it would be closed till March, owing to very low visitor numbers. I swear I’d been planning to take the kids there at half-term. I stumbled home on non-rhythmic feet, and took to my bed, lain low by this most virulent virus.
Beth Miller, 3rd February 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com