Some of my favourite afternoons have been spent at Trudy’s. I used to go to school with Trudy’s son, Danny, who, shortly after school, became my brother. I first met Trudy when I started working at the shop. She used to work afternoons, and I often worked the evening shift. It meant we only ever crossed paths at the exit but we usually exchanged a word or two.

After Trudy left the shop, we would chat at the till as I scanned her goods and, all right, occasionally I might have given her Staff Discount despite the fact that she’d left but she had worked there, on and off, since she was fourteen.

And besides, it wasn’t long before she came back. Sometimes, when our shifts overlapped, we’d have coffee. And then, when I left the shop, I’d come in later in the evenings for milk and whatever, and Trudy and I would go for a cigarette out back, and then I’d help her date-check whichever area of the shop was on her To-Do list.

In between trips to the shop for milk and nicotine, I used to go to Trudy’s house for coffee. It was great. We both take coffee the same way, which keeps things simple and we never ran out of conversation.

Now, I don’t pretend to understand everything, but sometimes, when I went to Trudy’s, her sister, Lyn would be visiting too. In the beginning, she ignored me completely. It was quite purposeful. Trudy would go into the kitchen to set the kettle going and the room would fall to silence. Lyn would look the other way, or turn in her seat. She certainly didn’t talk to me.

I credit myself with some observational skills, so I wondered what I had managed to do which had proven so thoroughly offensive. And then, Trudy called through from the kitchen, “It’s all right. Petrina’s fine to talk about it.”

“To talk about what?” I asked.

“The spirit world,” Trudy replied.

I don’t know where the words came from, but I didn’t even take a breath. “Oh, yeah. I’m fine with all that.”

“Oh, that’s a relief,” Lyn sighed. “There’s an old lady standing right next to you.”

Now, I am a hardened cynic most of the time. It’s not that I suspect everyone. It’s just that, when someone seems to be pulling my leg, all I can think is: ‘They never found Lord Lucan. Clearly, I’m sitting opposite him. I wonder who I’m supposed to call…’

However, Lyn has said some remarkably accurate things to me over the years. She has described my parents and my grandmother with startling precision and she’s never charged me a bean. Both she and Trudy are so calm and matter-of-fact about it all, I always feel better when I’ve seen them.

Some people are just blessed that way: to be calm and serene, and to put that energy out into the world.