Zaz’s probation officer Pete got Zaz himself to ring Phyllis’s doorbell, seeing it as Zaz ‘taking ownership’ for his actions. There was no immediate reply.
“She's out,” said Zaz, but Pete impressed the need for patience; not one of Zaz’s stronger qualities, Pete thought. Zaz reached for the bell once more, just as it opened a chain’s length.
“I don’t want to buy anything!” said Phyllis.
Pete nodded to Zaz.
“We’re not sellin’ anything Mrs: I’m Zaz. Social Services wanted me to come and apologize.”
“You! You’re the little bastard who’s been making all that racket, then.”
“We weren’t making any noise …”
“Zaz is here to say sorry Mrs Wardle and to hear about how you feel about what he did. I’m Pete Jepsom; may we come in?”
“Alright, but I can’t make you any tea with my arthritis, and my home help isn’t due until tonight.”
In the front room, Phyllis shifted a ginger tomcat from an antimacassared chair, and nodded toward the sofa for her guests. There was an awkward silence and meaningful gestures from Pete that eventually sunk into Zaz’s consciousness.
“We were only skating. We didn’t mean no harm.”
“I didn’t see any skates.”
“Skate boarding. I was grinding, and your wall’s gnarly.”
“I haven’t a clue what you’re on about young man.”
“What Zaz was saying was that he was sliding his skateboard along your wall because it’s really good practice.”
Pete raised an eyebrow as Zaz broke the awkward silence that followed.
“So you lived here long, Mrs?”
“I was born here: 1929. When I was your age I was evacuated to Minehead to avoid the bombing. My mother was having a baby, so our Libby stayed with her and I was loaded on a train at Temple Meads and sent off.”
“I’ve been to Minehead. Maggie got some vouchers in The Sun and we went to Butlins.”
“I didn’t go on holiday, you know. I was sent to live with some strangers who didn’t feed me and I ended up with rickets and the Red Cross told my mother who came and took me home. Only when we got home nothing was the same. Dad was killed by a bomb in the yards while shunting coal trains, and mum’s baby was still-born. You know why the wall looks like it does? The railings were all taken away ‘for the war effort’, which likely meant Bert Harris got his pockets lined at our expense, and nothing was the same in this house afterwards.”
“I haven’t got a mum. Maggie does her best, but she’s not my real mum: she left me at Frenchay just after I was born.”
“Oh you poor chap.”
“You being funny with me?”
“No, no; but here am I going on about a silly wall and its missing railings, and you with no mum and all.”
“Tell you what; maybe you could help me make Mr Jepsom here a cup of tea. My hands aren’t very good at holding teaspoons and such.”
“Call me Phyllis, dear.”Pete ticked a couple of boxes on his check-sheet and wondered why every day couldn’t be like this.