Bowling towards All's Well that might end Well.

Denis Edwards

Alice Mowbray's time of sitting around at a not-very-happy Social Committee meeting finally rolled down to the finish. Now she was gone; resigned, left, Finito. The years of working like a donkey in a Peruvian mine, which, even though she had never seen a Peruvian mine or a donkey working in one, she suspected they worked very, very hard.

The huffing and puffing over putting on a show for the residents had decided her the days of doing ninety per cent of the work going into organizing events ended right here and right now. It had been the usual drill. Someone suggested putting on a show. No one else suggested they do much of the work likely going into it. That would be landed on Good Old Alice. She also knew a long queue would stretch out from the Rec room to accept any credit and accolades wafting around.

The last attempt at a variety show had not gone well. Six of the men backed out after the village manager got fed up with complaints the beer subsidy was too mean and canned it. The 'no free beer' triggered the walkout. Albie, pencilled in as the star, had a surge in his prostate problems. He went into hospital for a couple of days. When he came out he announced, what with the stitches and all, the dance numbers might be out of the question.

The chorus saw Sandra Gunderson, one of the weaker contraltos, rage at Bill MacIntosh, easily the best Baritone, and his helpful advice on how to 'veer in the general direction of the rhythm, the tune, and the words'.

She'd grabbed her music sheets off the piano and stormed out, sobbing, leaving a ghastly silence and pianist wondering what to do next. Everyone looked at Bill in a sympathetic way, certain he was now a 'dead man walking.'

Ted Ashby drew frowns for his cheery observation that 'At least we got a chance to see some decent drama.' Mick Mallin looked around at what was now a divided and probably wrecked choir and invited everyone around to kick off a wake for the freshly-dead show.'

Alice sat listening while the social committee batted around ideas for another show. A suggestion it do 'Hair' was turned down. In a village with an average age of seventy plus, getting volunteers for the nude scene might be a problem. Most of the other big shows went the same way; too much dancing, difficult songs, or, who cared.

It came down to local versions of 'It ain't half hot Mum' or 'Allo Allo'. The French-set 'Allo Allo' had its nose in front, mostly because Bob Castle owned half a dozen berets and a couple of waistcoats, key costume items.

Alice Mowbray decided this was the last twig of kindling on a slowly burning fire. It was the painful memory of her own French Connection. Her OE took in France, winding up in a village near Lyon. There was a too-handsome French chap, plenty of Beaujolais, and long easy summer evenings in the long grass meadows of rural Burgundy. It turned out the chap's wife, who he somehow never got round to mentioning, was still in the marital home.

She found out. She was not understanding. There were scenes. Even though neither spoke the other's language Alice understood keeping the affair going would involve weapons. Given the wife was a doctor implements and had exquisite skill in using them Alice retreated and kept retreating till she arrived back in Gore.

Without Alice to do all the work the social committee looked around at each other. Eyes faced down and no one was volunteering for anything.

Discussions of 'It ain't half hot Mum' took on water and sank. A craft show was more work than a theatre show. Last year's ran at a serious loss, with much blaming over promotion, public access, quality of the crafts, and people not doing their stints at the stands. Add some shoplifting and the general unpleasantness had everyone giving it a swerve. Ted Ashby tried to see a positive in all that. "At least the thieves on took the only bits of good stuff on offer, so we are getting a better class of toerag through here.'

More dances? Nah.

The ukulele band? Lester McClusky, the leader, asked around. A majority, a large majority, of the band was fed up with concerts that didn't pay. Forget it.

If Alice's time on the social committee was on the rocks what was next? Was anything next? The idea of doing nothing, or not much, had not occurred to her in decades. She had run as much of the farm as had Harvey. When he went to what he called 'The Big Freezing Works in the Sky' after thirty years on the farm and married to Alice she kept the place running for another eight years; relentless work and a lot of worry.

She got a brilliant offer, took it, and wondered what to do next. A woman at the Countrywomen's Institute Book Fair said something about retirement villages being a great option. Alice thought about it, signed up and here she was.

She plunged into the Social Committee. Doing all the work was like being back on the farm. It made her feel wanted, and yes, she did like a moment of praise and approval. Who wouldn't?

Did that matter now? No.

A couple of days later she plonked down to fill in time watching people playing not very good bowls. It was nice out in the open and there was just enough breeze to dial the sun's heat down.

'Hello'

Freddy Rayner was pointing at the chair near her.

'That taken?' he said.

Alice gave herself a surprise. It was her feeling oddly flustered as she waved at the seat, an 'It's all yours' gesture.

He sat down, looking at the bowls.

'You get the feeling we aren't looking at Commonwealth Gold Medallists here?'

She nodded, not sure what she was supposed to say. She'd had years of telling Harvey, the farmhands, the shepherds, the bank manager, the shearers, and then, the Social Committee what to do, when to do it, and, how to do it. Now there was nothing.

Freddy did not seem worried.

He was widowed two years ago, falling into the retirement village almost by mistake after his deal for an apartment in town fell over. He'd moved into his villa, a nicely sited one, and stayed in it, barely coming out.

Alice knew she should say something.

'Do you play?'

'No.'

'They've got coaching.' Alice said.

She did not mention she did most of the coaching. Did she trust herself to even think that could leverage into, well, something more?

Instead, a voice was saying 'Calm down, go slow and let things roll.'

The voice was telling her something else. He's male, and there aren't many of them in the place compared to the number of women. If she began treating him the way she did the male horses Harvey liked to run on the side; firm and aggressive as she helped the vet turn them into geldings might not be the best approach. Don't forget all the women constantly saying they did not want another relationship but perking up when the conversation drifted around to men, available or not.

It had been thirty-nine years since she had been anywhere near a man who wasn't selling something or not doing a good job on the Social Committee. She overlooked the little interlude with the manager at the fertiliser works. There had only been a couple of times, and she wrote that off to stress. She decided that would not happen again, and it didn't.

Now she was trying to remember the rules around men and women, sure they must have changed a few times since she'd marched Harvey down the aisle.

'Still, you don't have to rush, you know, with the bowls.' She said.

He smiled. Yep, she was right.

She did not let him see it but she was feeling a flickering relief. It was not looking as if she had made a mess of things.

She did not know much about Freddy past him being lost to grieving. Betty McManus sniffed around and found out his internet provider. Her grandson worked there, and checked Freddy's internet usage. Good news. He wasn't filling in his days trawling adult content. Betty piped down when someone mentioned her grandson could get fired and she could end up having an unpleasant conversation with the police.

Freddy might be a year or two older than Alice, not much more. He seemed relaxed just sitting there.

Alice felt herself calming down. Good. She hadn't done anything to scare him off. That was nice. it was pleasant and different to be chatting to a man. That was all she wanted. It was not as if she was going to grab him by the ears and drag him back to her place.

There was a moment's silence.

'I thought I'd have a look at a bit of the bowls, and then drift on up to the shop for a few bits and pieces.' He said.

Alice did not answer. She was mesmerised at how badly Clem Turner was botching being a Skip on the green right there in front of her. She'd coached him to do better than that. Still, leading a Clem to bowls and getting a Clem to play well might be a couple of ends too far.

'It is a bit hot, just sitting here.' Alice said.

'Yeah.' Freddy said, not moving.

'I probably need to get a few things too.' Alice said

'Do you want me to pick anything up for you? It wouldn't be a problem. Well… as long as it isn't too heavy.'

There was another long moment of bowls-watching.

Freddy broke the moment.

'I guess I should be getting going. Are you sure I can't pick anything up for you?'

Alice took a quick breath. She sensed this was a big moment. What did she do? It felt like walking along a high diving board and then looking down at the water. Did she dive or turn back? Turn back and that was that. She would never know the wild exhilaration of dropping through the air.

No.

'Look, this isn't the most exciting bowls I have ever seen.' Alice said. 'If it's all right, if you don't mind that is, I might tag along.'

She waited. Don't look at him in a pleading way. It'd be needy and no one wanted that.

They walked up the drive to the gate and turned down towards the shop.

'Go slow girl. Go slow.' She kept telling herself. 'There is no hurry.'

She was also reminding herself that if she was still in the Social Committee she would be sprinting around like the proverbial headless chook. She had missed it, at least for a little while, and worked on stopping herself feeling as if she had nothing to do, and that people with nothing to do were useless.

Well, walking along beside Freddy and chatting about nothing much did not feel useless. Who knew, but it could it be all the turmoil over shows and the rest was the 'all's well' bit. See how this went, and it might, just might, be the 'that ends well' part

Ends.

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