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Open Features: It Comes To Those Who Wait

Margie Clough's delicious tale tells of sweet revenge in a retirement home.

Marianne Jones was one of the most popular residents at the Greenfield Retirement home. Her small round figure could be frequently seen, bustling about the common rooms and corridors. Always elegantly dressed, hair carefully waved and discreetly tinted, she had a pleasant smile and a friendly greeting for everyone and her many friends knew that they could knock on the door of her room at any time and be sure of a welcome.

Marianne’s room, Number 213 on the second floor, was the best room in the Home. Being on the north side of the building it was warmed by the afternoon sun in winter and its windows gave a view of the Municipal gardens over the way. It was at the end of the corridor, conveniently near to the bathroom, if a long way from the lift. It was a bit larger than the other rooms too; there was even space enough for her wide-screen television set. Marianne would not have been happy if she had been forced to give up this set when she moved in. Not that she spent all day in front of the screen like some of the women at the home; far from it. She always took part enthusiastically in all the many activities organized by the management.

She loved the bridge drives, the Bingo and the sing-songs, and all the other social events. But when there was nothing better to do in the evening, she enjoyed sitting in a comfortable armchair watching her favourite soap operas. Life at the Greenfield Retirement Home suited Marianne very well and she would have been perfectly happy there if hadn’t been for Muriel Mumford in Room 214.

When Marianne first moved into the Home, she had tried to make friends with Muriel, but every friendly overture had been met with a frosty rebuff. The other women on their corridor were of the opinion that Muriel had hoped to get Room 213 herself and resented the fact that it had been allocated to Marianne. Be that as it may, Marianne was constantly aware of an animosity, which made her uncomfortable around Muriel so she avoided her when possible. There were a few unpleasant incidents too, like the complaints about Marianne’s radio playing late at night (at five past nine) and about boxes obstructing the corridor (a small parcel someone had left outside her door). But she didn’t suspect the depth of Muriel’s resentment until the day of the Musical Concert.

The concert had been advertised weeks in advance. Tickets were limited, so there was a scramble to get one’s name on the list. Marianne had heard that a singer, whom she particularly admired, was to perform and so she made sure her place was booked. On the afternoon of the concert, she started her preparations early. She showered, changed into her best black dress and set her hair so that she would be ready in plenty of time. Although the concert only began at seven, the bus was coming to fetch them no later than six.

At a quarter to six, Marianne was in her room, collecting her handbag and putting on her jacket, when the phone rang. Out of force of habit, she answered it, but when she heard the voice on the other end of the line, she wished she hadn’t. It was her sister, a hypochondriac, with a long sad story about her health, the way her children were neglecting her and how her housekeeper was using up all her tea and sugar. As soon as she could, without mortally offending her, Marianne cut her short. Then she grabbed up her bag and made for the lift at the far end of the passage. She pressed the button for Ground floor and waited—and waited—and waited. Eventually, in frustration, she abandoned the lift and walked to the stairs. These were situated at the other end of the corridor so it took a while to reach them. As she put her foot on the first step she heard the whirring sound of the lift arriving at the second floor. Marianne was a very refined old lady, but I shall not repeat the words she muttered under her breath.

It was well after six-o-clock when she got to the bus. All the others were already in their seats and they didn’t look pleased. Marianne felt very bad and apologized to them all for keeping them waiting. Someone remarked in a loud voice. “If people can’t be here on time, they shouldn’t expect us to wait for them.” Marianne recognized the strident ringing tones. The person speaking was Muriel. When they arrived at the hall, the bay where the bus usually stopped was already occupied, so the driver had to park round the corner in a muddy field. The passengers, grumbled at getting their shoes dirty and at having to walk all the way up the road instead of being dropped outside the door. Muriel made several pointed remarks about the trouble Marianne had caused by coming late. She insisted on bringing up the subject again on the way home as well. It quite spoilt the outing for Marianne.

The next day a notice appeared on the board by the front door. It was signed by the supervisor and stated that, because of numerous complaints having been received with regard to the unpunctuality of certain residents, drivers of official transport had been instructed not to wait for anyone who was not present at the stated time. As Marianne was reading this, Muriel sailed by, with a supercilious smile. She had obviously been lying in wait for Marianne to appear so that she could gloat at her discomfiture.

Determined not to reward Muriel’s spitefulness by showing any reaction, Marianne kept her face resolutely towards the board as though she was totally absorbed in reading everything written on the papers pinned to it. She read about various items lost and found: sunglasses, library books, wedding rings. She read all the advertisements of forthcoming attractions at the local cinema, all the fixture lists for the darts and snooker teams and all the menus for the coming week. Then, just as she was about to turn round to make sure that Muriel was no longer there, a small but important communication caught her eye. It was a reminder to everyone to collect the remote control discs for the front gate before Monday when a new electronic locking system would be installed. Marianne had been putting this off, but now that she realized how little time she had left, she went straight to the office and signed and paid for her new disc. The secretary ticked off her name on a list. A quick glance was enough for Marianne to ascertain that there was no tick next to Muriel’s name.

Tuesday was the first day of the new system and it was also shopping day for those whose surnames fell between H and N on the alphabetical list. The bus would be waiting outside the gate just after breakfast and would leave for town at nine in the morning. Marianne got ready early and took her disc with her when she went down to the dining room. She was sure that many of those belonging to the H to N group would have forgotten to renew their discs, and sure enough when she asked around she found that she was almost the only one to have the means of opening the front gate. “Don’t worry,” she told all her friends. Just make sure you are at the gate early and I’ll let you out.” Muriel and her bosom companion, Alice passed her as she was going to the front door. “We won’t allow anyone to delay us this time, will we?” Muriel said, looking at Marianne smugly as she went to collect her hat and bag from her room.

Soon the shoppers were seated in the bus ready to go. They had made sure to be early just as Marianne had asked and she had opened the gate for them all. All except Muriel, that is. Just before nine, Muriel arrived at the gate and tried to open it with her out-dated disc. The gate remained closed. She grumbled to herself, rubbed the disc on her handkerchief and tried again. The gate still remained closed. She tried again, rattling the bars and pulling at the gate, but without success. As the bus was parked a few metres down the road, the driver and passengers could not see her on the other side of the gate, but Marianne who had been waiting and listening for her, heard and recognized her voice.

“What was that noise?” asked somebody. “What noise?” said Marianne, cupping her hand round her ear, feigning deafness. ‘I can’t hear anything.” The others craning their necks, could see nothing. Maliciously, Marianne agreed when someone suggested that the sound must have come from the street and not from the Retirement Home grounds. It would have been the work of a moment to get out and press the button, to open the gate and let Muriel through, but Marianne sat still in her seat. She was silently gloating, enjoying this moment of triumph. Behind the gate Muriel was turning red with anger and frustration. Forgetting about the dignified image she liked to project, she was preparing to open her mouth and yell to attract the driver’s attention. But just at that moment somebody in the bus mentioned that it was getting late. The driver, unaware of Muriel’s predicament, drove off, just as he had been instructed, leaving Muriel shaking the bars of the gate in fury.

On the way to town somebody happened to mention Muriel. “I thought she said she was coming.” “She must have changed her mind,” said someone else. “ She wouldn’t have been late.” Marianne said nothing. Sitting back with a contented sigh, she reflected on the sweetness of revenge.


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