Double Trouble by Lydia Penn

Part 2 of the “Double” Trilogy.

Audrey had always preferred to use the phone; writing letters, she considered a waste of time. It was early evening when she made one of those infrequent phone calls to her parents.

“I’m engaged,” she shrilled down the phone.

“Oh! To whom, dear?” responded her startled mother, holding the phone away from her ear with one hand, while with the other groping for a convenient chair, as she prepared to hear the worst.

Since Audrey’s older sister had become engaged, Audrey had made an unprecedented number of visits home, each time with some totally unsuitable young man in tow.

First, there had been a greasy looking, aspiring musician, with guitar, long hair and dirty fingernails. He was followed by a second-year medical student who discoursed on hormones and fallopian tubes, while peering diagnostically at everyone as he talked. More recently there had been a burly football player who wolfed down all the food that he was offered and studied the pantry for a lot that he was not offered.

– And there had also been the not – so – young totally unsuitable ones, such as the middle-aged divorced businessman with a paunch and a grown-up family; and the fifty-year-old widower who played the stock market and commandeered the phone to talk to his broker.

Visions of each as a possible son-in-law flittered through Florence’s mind and she shuddered. But Audrey was continuing after a brief pause.

“You haven’t met him yet,” She yelled, “He’s an actor.”

“Oh really,” replied her mother. “Where is he acting? Is he in repertory?”

“Well no, he’s resting at the moment,” Audrey admitted. “He’s waiting to hear from his agent.”

“Bring him down to meet us,” suggested Florence, feeling it was inevitable anyway, “Has he got a job while he’s waiting for a part?”

“Oh no.” Said Audrey. “He can’t leave his room, you see.”

Visions of an incapacitated son-in-law now filled her mother’s confused mind. “Is he sick?” she asked.

“No, but he can’t leave his room in case his agent calls, see. So I take him meals and get what he wants. Gotta go now, “she yelled and put down the phone, even as Florence mumbled “I see,” while not seeing at all!

Florence put down her phone and went to report this latest problem to her solicitor husband. Who was not solicitous at all. “Don’t worry – it’s just sibling-rivalry,” he obsessed. “It’ll all blow over like the others. Surely you have enough to do.” He returned to his perusal of The Times.

Certainly, there was a lot to be done. Andrea and Jason, her botanist fiance, had planned a spring wedding, and, as the mother of the bride, Florence, with her orderly mind, was determined that everything should be perfect. The house was a hive of activity, but Christmas was a quiet break. Jason had taken Anthea to meet his parents in Devon, and Audrey had mysteriously said that she had “other plans.”

After that brief lull, activity – and problems – began again. Jason’s two sisters were to be bridesmaids, but Audrey had flatly refused to be a third. She didn’t like Jason, who, once hearing her shouting at Anthea, had told her to “shutup or I’ll smack your bottom.”

Even Florence felt out of her depth as time went on. There were frequent visits from Mrs Potts, her inquisitive next door neighbour, who had obviously been doing a clear out and somehow thought Anthea would be delighted to inherit her junk! Her first visit was with a hideous looking, cheap pink vase, boldly inscribed with “A present from Brighton” across the front.

This was soon followed by an assorted pile of cracked and chipped plates. “Just thought they may be useful to dear Anthea,” She wheezed, dumping them on the kitchen table.

Florence tried to conceal the disdain she felt, but when one day Mrs Potts arrived with a pair of, rather grubby, white baby booties and the comment, “I was going to give them to my grandson, but I forgot – just a thought,”-, she felt she had had more than enough of Mrs Potts “thoughts!”

By early February Florence was deeply involved in working out the guest list, (“one has to be so careful,” she had explained to Anthea. “People get easily offended if they are forgotten or not allocated good seats at the reception.”) One day she looked up from her task, hearing the sound of a vehicle outside.

She moved to the window and was just in time to see a very old man, almost bent double and clutching a stick, being assisted from a taxi. He began to walk up the garden path, followed by the taxi driver, carrying a large suitcase. Two more, even larger suitcases were on the footpath outside.

There must be some mistake, thought Florence as she opened the door. “Can I help you?” She asked, as the taxi took off after bringing the other cases to the door.

The old man coughed and wheezed. “You must be Florence.” His strong voice contrasting sharply with his fragile appearance. “You’re Amy’s child, and you’re like her too.” he added. “I’m your Uncle Joe, back from South America.”

Florence was flabbergasted, but she had no option. “Do come in,” she said, heaving all the suitcases from the doorstep and closing the front door. She led him into the kitchen.

“Got any brandy?” demanded Uncle Joe. Florence felt she needed one too. What appalling timing, she thought. What are we going to do?

Uncle Joe had been back in England for a year, he told her. He had been living at his club in London, then in a small private hotel. “I’m getting on now;” he explained, “and I felt I’d like to die among my own kin (heaven forbid-not here, thought Florence.) So I got an investigator to trace out my family, you are a bit nearer than your sister.”

Florence studied him across the table. The long white beard, the ruddy weather-beaten complexion, the twinkling blue eyes, seemed a little out of place with his obviously expensive clothes. As she appraised him, it was rather disconcerting to realise he was reading her mind.

“Here, I won’t be a liability to you,” he drawled in his rough colonial accent. He put a hand into one of his pockets and pulled out a thick wad of pound notes. “Get some more brandy,” he urged. “And while you’re at it, whisky as well. I had shares in a mine, you know. Very successful,” he added.

While he helped himself to more brandy, Florence excused herself and went to phone her husband. “Make up the spare room bed. I’ll be home shortly,” was the typically laconic reply.

There was something endearing about Uncle Joe, even if he did slurp his tea, spilled food down his waistcoat and had no idea what cutlery to use, Audrey certainly thought so when she arrived for an unexpected visit about two weeks after his arrival.

“How is your fiance?” enquired a harassed Florence, trying to reorganise the wedding plans to accommodate Uncle Joe.

Audrey snorted. “Oh him! He was so mean he wouldn’t even buy me an engagement ring. And do you know what. He expected me to work to keep him, while he sat at home watching T.V. and waiting for his agent to ring. Wouldn’t even take me out for a meal. Men,” she added scornfully. “I’ve had enough of them!”

This scathing denunciation obviously did not include Uncle Joe. Both recognised they were kindred spirits. Audrey came home more frequently than was her habbit and took the old man out for long country drives; she loved his breezy manner and bawdy, highly embellished stories of his adventures. Shortly before the wedding, he approached Audrey’s father. “Clive!” he said, “I’d like you to draw up a new will for me.”

The wedding was to be weeks after Easter. By then the house was completely chaotic. Somehow, the contents of Uncle Joe’s large suitcases and bits and pieces of Anthea’s trousseau became muddled up as things were moved from room to room. Anthea narrowly escaped going on a honeymoon with a set of braces, and a pair of long johns at the bottom of her suitcase, while uncle Joe appeared one morning waving a couple of minute frilly items in front of the family. “I don’t know what these are, but I don’t want them,” he growled.

Of course, Anthea was a beautiful bride – she was beautiful anyway. “Just like her mother,” said her proud father. In spite of all Florence’s misgiving’s, the wedding went off perfectly.

The only unplanned, and certainly unforeseen, item was Uncle Joe, who woke from a little snooze at the reception and in the middle of Jason’s somewhat lengthy speech, raised his glass and began to sing lustily, “for he’s a jolly good fellow.” After a moment’s silence everyone, except Anthea and Florence, broke into applause and the atmosphere became relaxed.

However, it was perhaps all too much for Uncle Joe to have walked into; so much bustle and activity. Soon after the wedding, he declared to Florence, “I’m going to stay with your sister for a while; she invited me at the wedding and I need to be quiet,” he wheezed.

The house was also very quiet after all the excitement. With the departure of Uncle Joe, Audrey had also departed. Florence had given up trying to speculate what Audrey would do next. She leaned her thoughts back to Anthea and Jason. “The next stage will be grandchildren,” she enthused.

Anthea soon obliged!

An excited phone call announced that their first baby was due less than a year after the wedding – it was time for Florence to start knitting booties and other baby necessities. The baby was a girl, and they called her Flora – what else!

Four more babies followed in rapid succession. Jason was delighted. It seemed like a repeat of his own chaotic but happy childhood years. From her excited phone calls, it seemed that Anthea was thrilled too.

Not so for her mother, who felt things were a bit out of hand and did not fit at all into her organised mind and systematic planning.

“I hope they know what they’re doing,” she fretted to her husband after yet another visit to a heavily pregnant Anthea. “Such a terrible expense too. It’s almost an annual event.”

“I should think they know exactly what they are doing,” was his wry reply – “Good old Jason”.

Uncharacteristically his wife through a cushion at him!

Audry seemed to have made some sort of truce with Anthea and Jason and visited them quite often, romping with the children who adored her. But as she passed thirty, her mother began to worry that she would never marry.

Until –

One Saturday afternoon, a new model car drove up to the house, and a tall neatly dressed young man got out. He hurried round to open the passenger door for a well-groomed, smartly dressed Audrey.

“Mummy, Daddy, “she cried, displaying a large, sparkling engagement ring. “This is Grant and we are getting married in six weeks time. Isn’t it wonderful!”

Florence had to approve. Grant was a pleasant, well spoken, well-dressed accountant. He chuckled that while he had no problem with a page full of figures, he never had been able to figure out Audrey! Maybe that as the attraction, as he was certainly devoted to her.

As they wanted, they had a small family wedding and Grant’s parents came down from Scotland. They obviously approved of Audrey, who looked her best for them.

It was over a year later that Florence got one of those exuberant phone calls from Audrey. “I’m pregnant,” she screamed. “You can start knitting, Mummy.”

Florence was delighted – her sixth grandchild. But as she began dutifully to knit again, there was a second phone call from Audrey, “Mummy,” she cried in even more excitement, “Guess what! I’m having twins!”

Audrey never did anything by halves!


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