Three French Hens
A woman in her late seventies, with highly coiffured white hair, sits upright in a winged armchair next to a small, three-legged table on which a telephone stands. She wears a navy blue cardigan over a baby blue blouse, a string of pearls and a dark blue pencil skirt with opaque navy tights and patent low-heeled shoes. The woman, Penelope, holds the phone to her ear whilst scanning the piece of paper in her hand.
We hear ‘Greensleeves’ for a minute or two as it plays through the telephone. It stops abruptly.
PENELOPE: Ah! Hello, Customer Service? Excellent. My name is Penelope Henley. Kate? Thank you, Kate. I’m hoping you can help clear up what I can only describe as a very unfortunate misunderstanding. Quite an incredulous situation, Kate.
Thank you. I’m sure you will.
Now, my daughter insisted I employ a personal shopper this year – as if I’m too old to go to the shops by myself – anyway, I did what she asked and now I’m paying for it – password?
Is there a password?
My daughter set up the account.
No, in my name. Penelope – wait a minute.
I would have told her.
Camilla Parker Bowles?
Charles and Diana? No? Hm.
1953, the Queen’s coronation, that must be it. Is it?
Royalist? No, I’m not an anything-ist.
Seventy-three Baxter Avenue.
Is this really necessary?
1939. Ellen, Penelope Ellen Henley.
Yes, let’s get back to it, I agree.
Laurence. He was the young man who arranged everything, he did the shopping, he took down the order. I don’t know where he was from – he was very polite, ever so friendly but, well, he had a slight accent. France? Germany perhaps?
Laurence. Except he said it sort of: Loronse. Loh-ronse.
Is this helping?
Turkey, schnapps, champagne, the usual. Yes, all of the food was exactly as I asked. And nearly all the gifts – to his credit, Kate, for a man he had exceptional taste. He chose a very chic dress for my daughter, modern but modest you might say. I simply adore the earrings he chose for my daughter-in-law, not that she deserves them but that’s another story.
Yes, Kate, that’s exactly right, extended family, never easy is it? One does what one can.
Now, Kate. It seems Laurence, Loronse, has misinterpreted a rather important part of the order.
No, he read the order back to me, twice in fact. But everything I heard, was what I thought I had asked for. Not so, Kate, not so.
I have three sons, you see.
Edgar, John and Alan. They’re all musical.
No, my daughter – Elizabeth – no, not a musical bone in her body.
But she’s very good at bowls.
My sons are all musical and all members of a local brass band. It’s quite a prestigious group. All male too: twelve drummers, eleven bagpipe players, pipers – I never know…neither of those are brass are they? Well anyway, I know they have seven trumpet players because they were in the paper, Kate. The trumpeters – and the drummers – they were all part of a wedding proposal. One of those flash mob things. So public.
Everything’s bigger these days. Can’t anyone propose quietly over a glass of bubbly?
Are you married, Kate?
Well, be careful how he asks you.
Even one trumpet and you know he’s hiding something.
I blame Hollywood. And supermarkets. Bigger, better, buy-one-get-one-free.
Sorry, Kate. Sorry.
No, we can’t make you late for your lunch break. I’ll get straight to the point – although you did ask me about the boys Kate, you did ask!
The boys, the men I should say. My sons: Edgar, John, Alan. I wanted to get them something extra special this Christmas. There’s so much to celebrate. Baby George, advances in technology, a hot summer – there’s much to celebrate –
Oh but I’d rather talk with you, not your colleague. I feel I can trust you to follow this matter up, Kate. I’ll get straight to the point, Kate.
This morning, the delivery man, well, he forced me to sign, he made me sign for them, he said he couldn’t take them back.
Well, you may ask, Kate, you may ask.
I specifically ordered three French horns, one for each of my sons and that’s what – I’m sure of it – that’s exactly what Laurence, Loronse, said when he read the order back.
Only now I’ve got a large cage in the hallway, and they’re very pretty Kate, quite striking to look at, but I never once asked for a large cage containing three French hens.
What would I do with three French hens, Kate?
What would I like? Oh, a refund or exchange…gift vouchers?
I’d like three French horns, Kate.
That is what I would like.
The manager? Yes, thank you Kate.
I knew I could count on you.