Excerpt from Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Three Things About Elsie

by Joanna Cannon

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon X
Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
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    Aug 2018, 384 pages

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Sarah Tomp

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We spend most of our time with each other, me and Elsie. We even opted to eat our meals together, because it makes it easier for the uniforms. It's nice to have a bit of company, because nothing in this world sounds more lonely than one knife and fork rattling on a dinner plate.

It was later that day, the day Miss Ambrose gave me my ultimatum, and Elsie and I were sitting by the window in my flat, having our lunch.

"They've still not shown their face," I said.

I knew she'd heard me, the woman in the pink uniform. She was dishing up my meal on a wheel three feet away, and I'm a clear speaker, even at the worst of times. Elsie says I shout, but I don't shout. I just like to make sure people have understood. I even tapped on the glass to be certain.

"Number twelve." I tapped. "I said they've still not shown their face. They've been in there a few days now, because I've seen lights go on and off."

The woman in the pink uniform spooned out a puddle of baked beans. She didn't even flinch.

Elsie looked up.

"Don't shout, Flo," she said.

"I'm not shouting," I said. "I'm making a point. I'm not allowed to do very much anymore, but I'm still allowed to make a point. And that Dumpster hasn't been collected yet. They need to be told."

"So why don't you write a letter?" said Elsie.

I looked at her and looked away again. "I can't write a letter, because I've been given an ultimatum."

"What do you mean?"

"Miss Ambrose has put me on probation." I spoke into the glass.

"What crime did you commit?"

"It's a figure of speech," I said. "That's all."

"They'll clear it all away soon, Miss Claybourne," said the woman.

I turned to her. "They shouldn't be allowed to just leave her things out like that, someone ought to be told."

"They can do whatever they want when you're dead," said Elsie. "Your world is their oyster, Florence."

In the courtyard, a tumble of leaves gathered at the edge of the grass, and oranges and reds turned over and over on the concrete. "I only saw her last week. Walking along that path with a shopping bag."

The woman in the pink uniform looked up. "It should make a difference," I said. "That I saw her. Now everything she ever was is lying in that skip."

"They had to clear the flat," she said, "for the next person."

We both watched her. She gave nothing away.

"I wonder who that is," I said.

Still nothing.

"I wonder as well," said Elsie.

The woman in the pink uniform frowned at herself. "I've been off. And anyway, Miss Bissell deals with all of that."

I raised my eyebrow at Elsie, but Elsie went back to her fish finger. Elsie gave up far too easily, in my opinion. There was a badge on the front of the woman's uniform that said HERE TO HELP.

"It would be quite helpful," I said to the badge, "to share any rumors you might have heard."

The words hovered for a while in midair.

"All I know is it's a man," she said.

"A man?" I said.

Elsie looked up. "A man?"

"Are you certain?" I said.

Yes, she said, yes, she was quite certain.

Elsie and I exchanged a glance over the tablecloth. There were very few men at Cherry Tree. You spotted them from time to time, planted in the corner of the communal lounge or wandering the grounds, along paths which led nowhere except back to where they'd started. But most of the residents were women. Women who had long since lost their men. Although I always thought the word "lost" sounded quite peculiar, as though they had left their husbands on a railway platform by mistake.

"I wonder how many people went to her funeral," I said. "The woman from number twelve. Perhaps we should have made the effort."

Excerpted from Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon. Copyright © 2018 by Joanna Cannon. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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