|Off The Frame|
Tracey arrived at the club the following Saturday, talking on her mobile phone.
"Are you all right, Tracey?" asked Gill. "You look bothered."
"Hi people. Er, yes. I'm fine," said Tracey, who did look a bit distracted. "That was Jez."
"Is he all right?" asked Gill.
"Yes. He's very happy actually. He's been late for work all week, but today he finally caught his train on time."
"So what's the problem?"
"He doesn't work on Saturdays!" said Tracey, putting the phone away in her sports bag.
If Tracey was a little distracted, it was nothing compared to Jez's state of mind. Following his conversation with Pauline a week earlier, he had booked a trip to Egypt and could think about nothing else. He bored everyone silly with the details, which included a couple of days in Cairo, a visit to the pyramids, a camel ride along the edge of the desert and a canoe safari on the Nile. He had sorted out his visa, arranged an appointment with the doctor to discuss injections and malaria tablets and even booked himself on a canoeing instruction course. Getting his days mixed up was predictable really, but it meant he had to rush back to Upper Gummtrey in time for the canoeing course.
"How did the canoeing go?" asked Mike, when Jez arrived at the club later that afternoon, looking a little the worse for wear.
"It was cool!" said Jez, adjusting his bandana. "But to get the certificate, we had to canoe four miles down river!"
"Couldn't you do it?" asked Mike.
"I very nearly did - I could see the others pulling their canoes out of the water at the control point. I was just so exhausted and I thought I wasn't going to make it, so I turned round and paddled back."
Brian looked dumbfounded. He could barely muster a cough.
"Poor thing!" said Tracey, sympathetically. "Come and have a cup of tea and a biscuit before you play."
Jez sat and sipped his tea. Tracey and Shazia wandered off, discussing furbies and computer games and such like. Mesmerised by the particles of dust that seemed to tumble their way up the shafts of evening light streaming in through the window, Jez forgot what he was doing and dunked a biscuit heavily into the cup. The tea splashed all over his lap and pieces of soggy biscuit flew everywhere.
"What on earth?" exclaimed Gill, as she and Mike came through the door to investigate. "What's happened, Jez? Are you all right? Oh, there's tea all over you . . . and bits of biscuit!"
Jez mopped himself with the cloth Gill handed him. "I think I'll go home," he said. "I've got too much on my mind. I won't be able to play properly."
"Oh, I think you should play," said Mike, sniggering. "I think you've just perfected the Sampras slam-dunk!"
Exactly two weeks later, the players crowded around as Tracey produced a postcard from Jez.
"Has he found his mummy?" asked Mike.
Neil, the mens team captain, peered closely at the writing on the card. "Are those hieroglyphics?" he asked.
"Don't be silly, Neil," said Tracey. "Mind you, his handwriting is awful!"
"I can't read it at all," Neil complained, handing it back to Tracey.
"It says he's going to bring back plenty of sand for the committee to bury their heads in!" laughed Tracey. "Oops! Better change the subject - here comes Mr Chairman!"
"Has anyone seen the spade?" Brian asked, as he strode over towards the patio. He was wearing his old gardening clothes, because he and Bill were pruning some bushes and rearranging the flower borders that afternoon.
Tracey giggled. Shazia giggled and then coughed.
Brian turned to Mike and Neil. "Did I say something funny?" he asked, as the girls walked off, giggling and coughing.
© 2001 Dave Winship