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Read the opening sentence. Does anything strike you as unusual or impossible ? Discuss it with other students. After that, go on reading
Mrs. Whitaker found the Holy Grail; it was under a fur coat. Every Thursday afternoon Mrs. Whitaker walked down to the post office to collect her pension, even though her legs were no longer what they were, and on the way back home she would stop in at the Oxfam Shop and buy herself a little something. The Oxfam Shop sold old clothes, knick-knacks, oddments, bits and bobs, and large quantities of old paperbacks, all of them donations: secondhand flotsam, often the house clearances of the dead. All the profits went to charity.
The shop was staffed by volunteers. The volunteer on duty this afternoon was Marie, seventeen, slightly overweight, and dressed in a baggy mauve jumper that looked like she had bought it from the shop. Marie sat by the till with a copy of Modern Woman magazine, filling out
Mrs. Whitaker puttered around the shop. They still hadn’t sold the stuffed cobra, she noted. It had been there for six months now, gathering dust, glass eyes gazing balefully at the clothes racks and the cabinet filled with chipped porcelain and chewed toys. Mrs. Whitaker patted its head as she went past. She picked out a couple of Mills & Boon novels from a bookshelf — Her Thundering Soul and Her Turbulent Heart,
“This is nice,” she called to Marie.
“It’d look nice on the mantelpiece.”
Marie shrugged again.
Mrs. Whitaker gave fifty pence to Marie, who gave her ten pence change and a brown paper bag to put the books and the Holy Grail in. Then she went next door to the butcher’s and bought herself a nice piece of liver. Then she went home.
The inside of the goblet was thickly coated with a brownish-red dust. Mrs. Whitaker washed it out with great care, then left it to soak for an hour in warm water with a dash of vinegar added. Then she polished it with metal polish until it gleamed, and she put it on the mantelpiece in her parlour, where it sat between a small soulful china basset hound and a photograph of her late husband, Henry, on the beach at Frinton in 1953. She had been right: It did look nice.
For dinner that evening she had the liver fried in breadcrumbs with onions. It was very nice. The next morning was Friday; on alternate Fridays Mrs. Whitaker and Mrs. Greenberg would visit each other. Today it was Mrs. Greenberg’s turn to visit Mrs. Whitaker. They sat in the parlour and ate macaroons and drank tea. Mrs. Whitaker took one sugar in her tea, but Mrs. Greenberg took sweetener, which she always carried in her handbag in a small plastic container.
“That’s nice,” said Mrs. Greenberg, pointing to the Grail. “What is it?”
“It’s the Holy Grail,” said Mrs. Whitaker. “It’s the cup that Jesus drunk out of at the Last Supper. Later, at the Crucifixion, it caught His precious blood when the centurion’s spear pierced His side.”
Mrs. Greenberg sniffed. She was small and Jewish and didn’t hold with unsanitary things. “I wouldn’t know about that,” she said, “but it’s very nice. Our Myron got one just like that when he won the swimming tournament, only it’s got his name on the side.”
“Is he still with that nice girl? The hairdresser?”
“Bernice? Oh yes. They’re thinking of getting engaged,” said Mrs. Greenberg.
“That’s nice,” said Mrs. Whitaker. She took another macaroon.
Mrs. Greenberg baked her own macaroons and brought them over every alternate Friday: small sweet light brown biscuits with almonds on top. They talked about Myron and Bernice, and Mrs. Whitaker’s nephew Ronald (she had had no children), and about their friend Mrs. Perkins who was in hospital with her hip, poor dear. At midday Mrs. Greenberg went home, and Mrs. Whitaker made herself cheese on toast for lunch, and after lunch Mrs. Whitaker took her pills; the white and the red and two little orange ones.
The doorbell rang. Mrs. Whitaker answered the door. It was a young man with shoulder-length hair so fair it was almost white, wearing gleaming silver armour, with a white surcoat.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello,” said Mrs. Whitaker.
“I’m on a quest,” he said.
“That’s nice,” said Mrs. Whitaker, noncommittally.
“Can I come in?” he asked.
Mrs. Whitaker shook her head. “I’m sorry, I don’t think so,” she said.
“I’m on a quest for the Holy Grail,” the young man said. “Is it here?”
“Have you got any identification?” Mrs. Whitaker asked. She knew that it was unwise to let unidentified strangers into your home when you were elderly and living on your own. Handbags get emptied, and worse than that. The young man went back down the garden path. His horse,
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