Cowering at the back of Shoe Gallery, pretending to examine a brogue, I mourned what my life had become: hiding as if on a protection witness scheme. The shop door creaked open and I flinched; sure enough, in a few paces my Uncle was at my side, and putting the shoe firmly back on the shelf. “Definitely not, Niecey; too Virginia Woolf.”
Even hitherto impenetrable nooks such as the café upstairs at Ieko and the children’s section of the library were no longer places of safety. Since Uncle Adultery had made an offer on a “small abode” on Rotten Row, his visits to Lewes had increased in such frequency and length that they were one long joined-together visit; essentially he was living with me. At least when he hurt his ankle last year and was confined to my sofa he was stuck in one place. Now, no matter what I was doing – meeting friends in Baltica, browsing in Rehab, necking shots in the Brewers, somehow my Uncle would hear of it and materialise there, wearing his lavender silk suit and a pungent cologne. I began to suspect he’d secretly attached a tagging device to my person. The worst of it was that none of my friends appreciated my plight. That’s always the way with elderly relatives, isn’t it? You spend years bitching about your dreadful old mother, then when your chums meet her they think she’s charming. On one desperate occasion I snuck out, leaving Uncle A enthralling my social circle about the estate agent who’d shown him a house with a DOWNSTAIRS BATHROOM, but I got stuck halfway out the loo window and had to return damply to my seat, to discover the anecdote had only reached Act II, in which Uncle invoked the hardships of the trenches as an appropriate metaphor.
As ever, I was saved by Grange Girl, though by accident. She told me to meet her at the station. I like Grangey’s magical mystery tours, but when I got into the ticket queue she tugged my sleeve and led me, with a familiar nod to the railway guard, down the stairs onto platform 3. “I do like a place that’s been done up,” she said, opening the door to the waiting room. It had been freshly painted, was clean and warm, and had a darling little library of books to browse. More to the point, it was empty of uncles. I sat experimentally on a comfy sofa, but he didn’t appear. “Come on,” said Grangey, “I want you to see the Ladies, they’ve won awards, you know.” I unzipped my parka. “I’ll just stay here for a bit,” I said. With the Runaway next door for sustenance, John Grishams on the shelf and an award-winning loo mere steps away, why need I ever move again? Then my phone buzzed with a text from Uncle A, saying he was “devastated” to report that the house purchase had fallen through. I smiled at Grange Girl through tears of joy. “I’m ready to go back home,” I said.
Beth Miller, 5th April 2012. Published in VivaLewes.com