It was mid-afternoon, only hours before the party at Jennifer and Tom’s place and Dot was in a foul mood. She was in the deli and serving customers with none of usual bonhomie and chatter. Jonathan dropped in to buy some fruit.
“Are these apples fresh today, Dot?” he asked in a jokey way, knowing that Dot was a stickler for fresh food deliveries. Dot looked around at the few browsing customers and waited until they left. She squared up to Jonathan. He noticed that her face with rigid with anger. Her lips were tight and when she spoke it seemed to him that there was only the slimmest of gaps between her teeth. He braced himself for something unpleasant.
“How dare you! How bloody dare you call my apples into question. Mister apple expert!” she spat back, “Do you think I waste my time here selling bad food to people? I have built my reputation on freshness and quality, guaranteed. If it isn’t fresh to me on the back of the van, I don’t accept it, ever. So, yes, those apples, like everything else in this shop, are top quality.” Jonathan stared back at her in amazement at the tirade.
“Dot, it was only a bit of banter, for God’s sake,” he said. “What’s the matter?”
Dot was pacing back and forward behind the meat counter. The shop had no other customers which gave her additional freedom to bang tongs against the chopping board and vent her anger by opening and closing the sliding door to the chiller cabinet. After a few minutes of activity, she marched out in front of the counter, put her hands on her hips and addressed the ceiling.
“I do my best to run a business. I try to be nice, friendly and supportive to the people I serve, including my neighbours. I have lost count of how many times I have stepped in when friends and family have needed help. I think I am basically a good person.” She stopped, aware that she might shed some tears but a long, slow, deep breath corrected her emotions. She continued.
“I don’t preach about all of this much because I like to help without shouting about it. But, every now and again, I expect something in return.” She lowered her eyes from the ceiling and looked at Jonathan. He was aghast but transfixed.
“Dot,” he stammered, “if this is anything to do with last night, or to do with us as, well as an item, I mean a relationship, then I’m not sure a discussion in the shop is going to resolve it.” Dot screwed her face in puzzlement.
“What the hell are you talking about?” She was back to shouting form.
“Look,” he ventured again, “I really do like you a lot and I think we can have a wonderful friendship without any complications but, right now, for reasons I can’t explain, because I don’t know myself, it just doesn’t seem to be the right time to commit to anything or anyone. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?” Dot eyed him, her brow furrowed and her mouth twisted.
“I’m not talking about relationships or commitment or anything to do with last night or us or the man in the moon.” Jonathan could feel the surge of a massive blushing fit.
“Oh, oh, Dot, what are you going on about then? Dot took another deep breath and relaxed her shoulders.
“It’s them,” she said, pointing upwards.
“Who?” said a perplexed Jonathan.
“The honeymooners upstairs, the couple throwing the party tonight,” said Dot with a sneer.
“What’s wrong with them. Have they upset you?”
“Upset me! Upset me! Here we are with only a few hours to their little soiree and no one has been down here to order any food for a buffet. I mean, I assume that there will be food at this do. But no one seems to think about supporting their local business and their neighbour by ordering from the local deli. I’m on their doorstep but, oh no, they will probably get their stuff from Tesco or Marks and Spencer. Sod the little guy.” Jonathan had rarely seen Dot so animated.
“Maybe it was more convenient for them to buy the stuff near where they work,” proposed Jonathan, realizing that as soon as he had expressed his opinion, Dot would flare up again.
“How much more bloody convenient is it to be living on top of a fresh food shop where the helpful and friendly owner could put a buffet together and even deliver the food and even lay it out on the table and even provide serviettes as a nice gesture free of charge. How much more convenient, eh? Answer me that. Go on, answer me that.” Jonathan walked over to Dot and took her in his arms for a hug. He hugged gently. Her hug increased in tightness and intensity for a few seconds, before letting go of each other.
“You fancy me, don’t you?” said Dot, much calmer and resorting to her slinky Eartha Kitt, purring cat routine. “Don’t deny it because if you do, I won’t believe it anyway.” Jonathan raised his eyebrows and shook his head from side to side.
“Dot, you are priceless,” he said, “and a force to be reckoned with. I assume you are still going to the party.”
“Oh, I’ll be going,” said Dot, “ if only to compare the food on offer to the wonderful offerings they could have had.” Jonathan repeated his raised eyebrows and head shaking routine.
“Try not to cause trouble. They are trying to be nice and they might not have thought the food thing through properly. Try to have fun.” Jonathan had now clasped his hands together as if in prayer.
“Hmmm,” said Dot as Eartha Kitt, “I’m just an old-fashioned girl and if I do something for a man, I expect the man to do something in return, if you know what I mean.” Jonathan grabbed three apples, handed them to Dot to bag up, paid her and left the shop with a half-smile and a wave.
“See you later, madam,” he said. Dot blew him a kiss just as a vicar entered, causing her to begin a short cackling session. The vicar looked perplexed as he asked for a tub of coleslaw and six slices of salami.