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"Jean and George's Little Secret"
Sarah Crabtree

Jean had just finished planting some Spring bulbs in a pot when her phone rang.

"You simply must come! Tomorrow at five? Wonderful! See you then. Ciao." Jean replaced the receiver and smiled. How nice of Hilda to invite her to tea.

George and Hilda were such old friends. Yes, that was true. They were all getting old now. She boiled herself a mug of instant coffee, and sat down at the table in her narrow kitchen. She'd known George and Hilda for eighteen years. Seventeen of those had been spent living next door to them at Violet Gardens. Sixteen of them with her late husband.

But after Alfred had died, Jean wanted to move on to a smaller place.

"We don't want you to go, Jean," George had bleated over the fence. "Hilda and I will miss our little chats."

Then George winked at her and whispered, "And you know what else I'll miss."

First they'd tempted her with outings to the local superstore so she'd not have to struggle home on the bus with her shopping. Sometimes they bought her an espresso at the in-store cafe. Occasionally they'd take her to an early-morning boot sale.

She and Hilda would stomp up and down in the mud while George rummaged through the cardboard boxes.

When the For Sale sign was erected, George got nervous.

"You won't go and sell it to a noisy family, will you?" he called after Jean one morning as she wheeled her shopping trolley towards the bus stop.

The wind happened to carry his voice in the wrong direction. Jean hadn't caught what he'd said. So she just waved and walked on. When she wheeled her shopping back two hours later, he was waiting for her. He was clutching a document.

"Hello, Jean," he smiled. "I wasn't going to mention this but there's a discrepancy with our boundary."

"But these open plan front gardens don't have very clear boundaries." She smiled back sweetly.

George chuckled good-naturedly.

"Your husband shouldn't have planted those bulbs along here." He pointed to a row of daffodils which divided their properties. "This part belongs to me. I'm getting sick of those bulbs."

Jean didn't stop smiling. "You can dig them up when I've gone. Sorry I haven't got time for a little chat. Got some viewers coming later." She pushed her trolley up the path to her front door, wishing she could make George eat his words.

The viewers were a jolly couple in their thirties, with five children and two dogs. When they offered Jean the asking price for her house, her estate agent strongly recommended she should accept it without delay.

Jean admired her tidy little retirement flat. She sipped her instant coffee. George in particular had been rather sulky when he found out she'd sold her house to a big noisy family. But he and Hilda insisted upon keeping in touch.

At three-thirty the following afternoon, Jean opened her cupboard, removed a neat little package and placed it in her shoulder bag. Next she checked her hair and make-up in the hall mirror. Not bad for sixty-two. "And you know what else I'll miss." She pictured George's round face and giggled like a schoolgirl.

Arriving at Lilac Gardens, she was surprised to see a For Sale sign outside George and Hilda's house. It was stuck in the flower bed which bordered the property she used to own. George must have dug those bulbs up, she decided. For now there was a bed of fine gravel covering it.

She smiled and pretended to ignore it. George and Hilda each greeted her with a hug and a kiss. Tea was laid out.

"How long is it since your husband died?" asked George over a cream puff.

Jean sipped the sweetened tea. "Two years. He died shortly after planting those bulbs. Remember?"

"Ah, yes." George stopped chewing.

"More tea?" Hilda fussed.

"Yes, please." Jean watched Hilda waddle out in her pink slippers.

George leaned forward and whispered, "Got anything nice for me?" She removed the little package from her large handbag. He snatched it and shoved it under the cushion he was leaning against.

Hilda fussed back in. "Aren't you going to ask us about the For Sale sign?" She poured Jean another cup of tea. Jean raised her eyebrows as she waited for George to describe in very great detail the inheritance they'd received from an ancient aunt who'd died.

As she listened, Jean thought about the carefully-wrapped pie warming up nicely under George's cushion.

After George had described the luxury retirement bungalow he and Hilda were about to move into, he chuckled, "You know we've never really forgiven you for selling your house to that noisy family!"

Jean sipped her tea and shook her head at the offer of another cream puff.

"Does that mean you won't be giving me your forwarding address?" she teased.

"Of course we will!" George grinned widely showing off a set of ill-fitting false teeth.

"Good friends are like good neighbours, aren't they Hilda?" Hilda smiled and nodded. Then she stuffed a whole cream puff into her mouth.

"Like I said," George continued. "Good friends and good neighbours are very hard to come by."

"My goodness!" exclaimed Jean, checking her watch. "Is that the time?" She made her excuses and left.

As she turned to wave goodbye at their gate, she thought about the nasty little gift she'd chopped up and put into that pie. It was a Spring bulb she'd saved from the pack she'd bought for her new pots.

"Deadly poisonous," it had said on the packaging. "Do not eat."

Nobody would ever suspect Jean. She waved once more and blew a kiss at Hilda. Those nibbles she'd given George over the years had been their little secret. Hers and George's. And soon dear old George would be eating his words.


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