“I say there,” he bellowed into the swirl of children in Alison’s garden. “Can’t you keep the noise down? My wife needs her afternoon nap.”
No one seemed to hear his words, but Alison waved to acknowledge him. Her face said she’d be with him as soon as she’d dealt with whatever crisis was besetting the two children in front of her. Quite how Alison could discern what those two were saying was beyond Cyril. From where he was standing, I sounded like all the children in the garden were blending their voices into a single shrill cacophony.
One of the other mothers marched up to the fence before Alison extricated herself.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
“Good afternoon, madam. My name is Cyril -”
“I don’t care what your name is. Why are you peering at the kids, you old perv?”
“I beg your pardon, madam. I merely wished to ask if you could moderate the noise. My wife -”
“They’re kids. Of course they make noise. That’s no excuse for ogling at them. Eff off or I’ll call the police.”
Cyril’s grip tightened on his stick. “This is my garden and I shall stand where I please within it. I assure you that I have no intention of effing anywhere until my wife can have her nap.”
The other woman’s mouth hardened into a line, but Alison arrived before she could answer.
“It’s all right, Tiffany,” said Alison. “I’ll talk to Cyril.”
Tiffany’s feet remained firmly planted.
“I think little Caspian’s fallen off the bouncy castle,” said Alison.
Tiffany’s eyes snapped open and she was gone with an “oh!” of horror.
“Yes, Cyril, what is it?” asked Alison.
“Nothing,” said Cyril. “Absolutely nothing at all.”
It took Cyril twenty minutes to get up the road to the newsagent and back. He composed himself before he ambled back into the garden and spent a few minutes poking his stick into his cabbages and artichokes, hoping he looked like a man looking for aphids suckling without signed permission. The woman called Tiffany shot him an occasional glare, but showed no sign of wanting to say any more to him.
When a small boy wandered close to the fence, Cyril straightened his back. “Hullo, young shaver.”
“Hello,” said the boy.
“I’ve got a present for you. Something for the party.”
The boy looked uncertain.
Cyril handed him the packet he’d bought from the newsagent. “It’s just some chocolate. Share with your friends. Enjoy yourselves.”
The boy accepted the packet of chocolate-covered coffee beans and ran back to the party. Cyril darted a look around Alison’s garden, but all of the mothers were preoccupied with the children in front of them. He saw with some satisfaction that Tiffany looked as if she needed a lie down already. Not nearly as much as she’d need one by the time the effect of all that sugar and caffeine had worn off.
“If my wife can’t have any peace,” he said under his breath, “neither will you. You think you’re tired now? Just you wait.”