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The phone on the landing began to ring. Fran had given up thinking it might be for her months ago and made no move to answer it, knowing that her downstairs neighbour would be there before her anyway. Sure enough, she heard Dahlia's broad voice, as distinctive as her broad hips, in cheerful conversation with the unseen caller.
'Miz Castle. Phone, Miz Castle.'
Surprised, she pushed herself away from the table. Most people used her mobile, except, she remembered, as she went downstairs, cousin Charles.
'Charles?' she said, as she lifted the grubby receiver.
'How did you know it was me?' He sounded surprised.
'You're the only one who calls me on this number,' said Fran. 'Where are you? I thought you were going to see Aunt Eleanor today?'
There was a short silence.
A muffling blackness descended on Fran and she dug her nails into her palm hard to force her mind to clear.
'She's dead, isn't she?' she said.
'Fran, you're scaring me,' said Charles. 'First, you knew it was me, second, you knew she was dead. What's going on? Were you down there today?'
Fran took a deep breath. 'No, of course not. I told you, you're the only person who rings me on this number, and I doubt if you'd have rung to tell me how she was as I'm going myself tomorrow.'
'You won't go now, surely?'
'No? Oh, I suppose not.' Fran frowned. 'But I've already made arrangements to stay with an old friend. I might as well go down.'
'Why don't you go and stay on the night of the funeral instead? I assume you'll go to the funeral?'
'When is it?'
'Not sure yet. I'll give you a lift if you like.'
'Thank you, I'd appreciate that.'
'I'll ring you nearer the time, then, shall I?' said Charles, sounding more normal.
'Yes, great, Charles, but you haven't told me what happened. When did she die? What was it? Heart?'
'I suppose so, but no one seems to know. Barbara got there first today and was actually sitting with her without realising she was dead.'
'Remember I told you? My sort-of cousin? Barbara Denver.'
'Oh, right. Yes. Well, Eleanor was quite old, wasn't she?'
'Over 90. She -'
'Don't say it,' Fran jumped in quickly. 'Please don't say she had a good innings.'
'No clichés allowed, eh?' said Charles, sounding amused.
'Sorry. It's so belittling. But how awful for you all. Especially Barbara.'
'Well, yes. She wasn't too happy. Anyway, I thought I ought to let you know.'
'Very kind of you, Charles. Thank you. And I'll give you a ring later in the week, shall I?'