Pippin Pearmain is enjoying the busiest week of her life. As a child star turned jobbing actor, she’s used to tight deadlines and patient waiting around, but this return to the world of stage and film after ten years of unofficial retirement is a whole new experience. Filming Half-Life of the Lost would be enough for most sixty-something women, but Pip also has to attend the world premiere of her ballet, Delphine, and dance the principal role in her second ballet, Queen of the Clowder. A grey leotard with a stocking tail and Alice-band ears is fine for a costume, but Pip ends up with a glorious silver crown. For someone who doesn’t do jewellery, she seems to be accumulating quite a lot! She has new friendships to cultivate and, as the sunset falls on her most challenging film role ever, she has a strange encounter that’s been fifty years in the making.
Back home in quiet Jellico Bay, Pip joins a new friend in a mad expedition to her childhood home to fulfil a promise. Along with her film co-star and two peculiar cats, Pip creeps into the garden under a full moon…
Pippin Pearmain had a problem.
It wasn’t a big problem in the scheme of things. After all, Pippin was sixty-six years old and, until a couple of weeks ago, she had been unofficially retired from performing for over a decade. Now she had a role in an indie film being made as part of a dance festival on Delphinium Island. It was all down to Magda Saxer’s determination to track Pip down at her quiet cottage in Jellico Bay.
It wasn’t a big problem, but it wounded Pip’s ego. For a small, odd, and mostly underestimated woman, pride was an important possession. Pip had been a professional for close to fifty years. Her roles were offbeat and eclectic, but in the business it was said that tiny Pippin Pearmain was utterly professional and totally reliable.
Too A.D.D. or O.C.D. or uptight not to be was something they usually added, using whatever term was in vogue in 1967 or 1992.
Pip didn’t believe she was obsessive or compulsive, and she was certainly not attention deficient. She had no diagnosed disorder, or any disorder indeed. How could she have a disorder when she loved order so much?
She had routines. She loved lists. Since her mother and her lifelong agent had died three days apart in 2012, Pip had assiduously protected her heart from dismay. Her lists helped to keep her focused.
Living in Lemonwood Cottage with cats for company and a garden big enough to grow an industrial-sized crop of German camomile to repurpose into her favourite tea was good. She had her ballet practice—performed at exactly seven o’clock each weekday morning—and her weekly order of tarts from Jelly-and-Juice. She had strawberries and cream on Fridays, and her stock of Caraway’s Comforts soaps and lotions. She’d initially bought these online, since the tiny general store, Jellico Bay Essentials, didn’t choose to stock them. Waiting for the postal delivery soon became tiresome, so Pip and Jellico Bay Essentials had words over that choice.
It was Essentials’ choice that they did not stock the Caraway’s Comforts brand. It was Pip’s choice that they did. Every day for a calendar month, Pip entered Jellico Bay Essentials and called a cheery good morning to the till jockey de jure. She stalked to the Blush Me Beautiful aisle –Mister Essentials had an interesting way with signage—and surveyed the line-up of available lotions with a doubtful eye. American Spa. Luscious Lips, Honeypie, Smart Hydration.
Pip stalked back to the till jockey de jure. “Excuse me, Maria, Demi, Bo-Shane, Iphigenia…I can’t seem to find the Caraway’s Comfort range. Would you mind…”
“I’m sorry, Ms—”
“I’m sorry, Miss…”
“Me too. May I speak with your manager?”
After the first seventeen times, Mister Essentials took to hiding in the staff loo as soon as the CCTV showed Pippin’s approaching figure.
Pip took to loitering just outside the staff only door, doing the crossword.
He had to come out eventually.
She quite frequently stubbed her toe or jammed her finger during this period, the universe’s way of informing her that it thought she was behaving badly, but it was absolutely worth it.
On Day Thirty, Mister Essentials wrote up a monthly order for Caraway’s Comforts.
To Pip’s secret pleasure and vindication, that reluctant order of one tub of Caraway’s Comforts Housemaid’s Hands for his most persistent and annoying customer soon expanded to six. Jellico Bay hadn’t had a housemaid in decades, but the stuff worked equally well for the girl from Jellico Gifts and Cards and the man who kept homing pigeons. It smoothed and soothed. It rubbed in well without leaving a greasy residue. It smelled agreeable, as if the housemaid had just come back from a relaxing hour picking flowers and rubbing herbs in the garden.
Soon the range was selling so well that Pip had to ask Mister Essentials to keep her order aside because the shelf tended to be bare when she arrived.
The look in her eye apparently warned him not to mention her thirty-day pilgrimage now that she had reverted to her usual once-a-week shopping routine.
When the poster, Agent for the Caraway’s Comfort Range took up permanent residence in the shop along with Buy Local and Stockist for Jellico Bay Just Jam and Delmsford Minted Cheese, Pip thought her work was done.
After all, she informed the universe, the stuff was good. It worked far better than its competitors. Not that she’d tried them, of course, but the evidence was plainly visible on her peers’ faces and hands.
Apart from her Caraway Crusade, Pip also had her bucket-list, an actual list done in green ink, showcasing interesting buckets she had known. She’d had her elderly neighbour, Mister Clancy, with whom she shared garden tips, tea and Bushman’s Best Biscuits. She’d had her cousins, safely living at least a couple of hours away—out of touch since her move, but there if and when she decided to resume their acquaintance. Juniper and Lupin, they were called, although Juniper preferred to be Jan. She had a gingerish daughter called something floral, and a husband called something generic. Mike or Mac or Mark, Pip thought. Definitely not Oswald Hopplethwaite.
That had been the situation until the middle of February, and Pip had not had a problem with it. If the people of Jellico Bay thought her odd, then she was happy to entertain them. If anyone greeted her, she always smiled and waved back, calling a cheerful good morning, even if she couldn’t match the greeter to a name.
But now—Mister Clancy was gone from this Earth. So was Cousin Lupin.
Jan and her daughter Clarkia were staying in Pip’s cottage, minding the cats and the grumpy lemon tree while Pip, to her secret amazed satisfaction, had a job.