Tiffany is just sliding the fish fingers under the grill when strains of Je T’aime Moi Non Plus sound faintly from the other room. She runs to grab the phone from Shannon, her five-year old daughter, who is about to start pressing random buttons on the screen.
‘That’s Mummy’s special phone. You know you mustn’t touch it,’ she says. ‘Now sit and watch CBeebies with Jayden for a few minutes. Tea will be ready soon.’
Back in the kitchen, she looks to see who’s calling. It’s Ronald, one of her regulars. Tiffany knows exactly what he wants.
‘Allo, zees ees Madame Sophie,’ she says in the closest thing to a French accent she can manage. She suspects it doesn’t sound that authentic, but since Ron has almost certainly never been to France, he’s not likely to know.
Tiffany used to work in a nail bar in Barking High Street, but Covid put the kibosh on that. With two kids under five, she couldn’t manage on Universal Credit, so this seemed like a harmless way to earn a bit extra.
‘What can I do for you zis beautiful evening?’ she asks. She swears Ron is already breathing faster.
‘Tell me what you’re wearing?’ he blurts.
‘Ah, Ronald, for you I ‘ave put on specially my black silk robe, so smooze against my skin, oui?’
She looks down at her faded jeans with non-designer rips at the knees and her tatty pink sweatshirt liberally splattered with brown stains from Jayden’s breakfast Coco Pops.
‘And what about, like, underneath?’ he asks, his breathing definitely heavier.
‘I am wearing my red lace brassiere, ze low-cut one, and ze matching g-string. Zen I have on my black stockings and my red stilettos.’
Ron is panting now. She surveys her fluffy bunny novelty slippers, a present from the kids the Christmas before last, and notices that the left one has developed a hole where the nose should be.
‘And have you……you know?’
Some men prefer their ladies au naturel, but Ron isn’t one of those. He wants things bare down there. Like a little girl, she thinks, but the idea is too disturbing, so she pushes it away.
‘Mais naturally, cheri. I know what it is you like and I am always ready and waiting for you.’
This is a lie. She hasn’t plucked her eyebrows for almost a year, let alone shaved her legs or any other part of her body.
‘Could you, like, you know, act as if I’m there with you?’ he says.
Tiffany rolls her eyes. Ron is taking longer than usual. Never mind, once he goes over his ten minutes, the fee doubles.
‘Oh, Ronald,’ she says, throatily. ‘Ah oui, just like zat. You are so big and strong and ‘andsome.’ She treats him to a fake moan. ‘You are ze greatest lover I ‘ave ever ‘ad.’
A sudden shrieking fills the kitchen and nearly makes her drop the phone. It’s the smoke alarm; the bloody fish fingers are on fire.
‘Oh, Ronald, I am so sorry, it is ze police! Zey are raiding my maison.’ This is about the only word Tiffany remembers from a year of French lessons at her Dagenham comprehensive, although, admittedly, she bunked off most of them.
She pulls the pan out from under the grill and frantically flaps the tea towel at the alarm to make it shut up.
‘I am desolate, cheri, you will have to phone me back in …’ she does a quick mental calculation of how long it will take her to go to the chippy, ‘…an hour and an ‘alf.’
‘No!’ he shouts, ‘I can’t stop now!’
‘Ze police, zey are putting on me ze ‘andcuffs.’
There is a squeak followed by a groan from the other end of the phone. It seems Ron won’t need to phone back after all. Tiffany disconnects the call.
She inspects the fish finger carnage. If she scrapes off the worst of the burnt bits and covers the rest with baked beans, the kids will probably eat it, especially if she allows them unlimited tomato ketchup.
She makes a mental note to mention handcuffs the next time she needs a client to reach a speedy conclusion and reaches into the cupboard for a tin of beans.
Hilary Ayshford is a semi-retired science editor living in rural Kent. She writes short stories, flash and microfiction, and her pantomime Bottoms Up! has been published by Lazy Bee Scripts.