Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation! Jane Austen, English writer 1775-1817
I like living, I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing. Agatha Christie, British writer (1890-1976)
I always felt that the great high privilege, relief and comfort of friendship was that one had to explain nothing. Katherine Mansfield, New Zealand born English writer (1888-1923)
Light tomorrow with today! Elizabeth Barrett Browning, English poet (1806-1861)
Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself! Doris Lessing, British writer
We can only learn to love by loving. Iris Murdock, Irish writer b1919
I am never afraid of what I know. Anna Sewell (1820-1878)
A little of what you fancy does you good. Marie Lloyd English Entertainer (1870-1922)
See You Sunday
What a great production week and a satisfying final night Saturday party, Kath thought. As director and producer of the play, she was pleased with her speech, gifts were well received and everyone was happy. She finally left the party amid cries of ‘see you Sunday for the set
The front door key would not turn in the lock – strange. Kath tried it a few more times then looked around. All the lights were out and clearly John was in bed. She could just make out his paper note in the porch which usually read ‘ have gone to bed, tiptoe in – see you in the morning’. This was the last of many late nights.
She knocked, gently at first, on the porch glass, then a little more insistently. All was quiet. Thoughtfully Kath considered her options for an overnight stay – who could she wake at this time of night? She then had a brilliant idea; to ring John on her mobile phone. Kath upturned the contents of her handbag onto the passenger seat – not there, not in the glove compartment or under the seats - bother. She fumbled to put on the car lights to illuminate the side path and walked quickly around the back of the house to check windows and doors. They were all tightly shut. Cold and wet, she banged on the wooden conservatory frame until the back of the house shook, nothing stirred! Now angry she then returned to the front porch and
Then she noticed a light go on across the road at Eileen and Mark’s. Eileen threw open the upstairs window and shouted ‘What’s your telephone number, I’ll give him a ring’ . Relaxing a little, Kath thankfully responded with the number. Very quickly she could hear the telephone ringing insistently
So what next? Ah. Kath spotted the wooden ladder leaning against the drive fence– it was not too heavy – could she put it up against the outside wall and climb up onto the
He quickly ran downstairs and opened the front door to the sound of Eileen shouting at him ‘Kath’s on the
Now fully awake John carefully helped Kath down the ladder, shocked at seeing her muddy and exhausted condition. Luckily the key did work in the door that time – with the deadlock now off! The hall clock chimed three as she wearily entered the porch - Kath read his note; ‘have gone to bed – see you Sunday’. How true that was.
The Blue Dress
The queue today seemed longer, maybe it was because the day was grey and dull and people wanted somewhere to go, where they could be sure of a chat and a laugh. There certainly was an odd selection today, quite a lot of shabbily dressed men, women of all shapes and sizes, and the usual whining children, obviously impetuous at having to wait outside the hall door. “Come on” shouted one irate, very large lady. “Its gorn two o’clock, and we’ve been ‘ere for ages”.
Maggie shuffled from one foot to the other. She was hot and tired having done her 2 hours cleaning job in the morning, rushed home to get dinner for Jim and the two children, then decided to com to the Jumble Sale, bringing Carol, aged 4 with her. You can always get bargains if you look hard enough, and goodness knows, they could all do with some new clothes, money being so tight. Since Jim had been made redundant it was a job to feed them all, let alone clothe them, but she always seemed so tired these days. Being three stone overweight did not help of course, but she could not seem to get rid of it, however hard she tried, and it was a job to get anything decent to fit her anymore, even in the charity shops. Still, perhaps she would find something today. “Oh, do stop it, Carole, we won’t be here much longer and I promise to buy you a game or a toy”. You could usually get one for 5p or even less, and Carol was a good child usually, but the children seemed to pick up the taut atmosphere in the house, and they were both irritable and whining a lot. If only Jim could get a job, he was getting more and more silent, sitting around the house a lot, but did not complain. It must be very frustrating for a normally active man to be out of work. The outside of the house needed painting, but they could not afford to buy the paint. Oh well, at least they had each other, and worry gets you nowhere.
“Oh, good, they[ve opened the doors”. The rush had started. She picked up the bags, caught hold of Carols hand tightly, paid her 10p and entered the fray. Goodness, what a crush; people pushing and shoving to get to the bargains first.
She pushed her way through to the toy counter, found a doll and some books, all for 5p each and picking Carol up edged her way back, away from the outstretched hands and heaving bodies.
“Phew, here you are darling, and some books for Darren”. Carole beamed at her new doll “Can we go home now Mummy?” but Maggie was trying to get to the clothes – grabbing hold of jumpers and trousers, her bags were soon full. Something for every one, even a check skirt for herself. Straightening up, hand to her back which had started to ache, she picked up the bags, telling Carol to hold on to her coat, and made the door, but something caught her eye, from the stage of the hall. A dress, a beautiful shade of blue, hanging from a rack marked ‘good as new’. She knew from experience, that the goods on the stage were usually pricey, but something seemed to propel her towards the steps leading to the stage, Carole clutching at her coat, and whining “I want to go home”. They headed straight for the dress, and Maggie dropped the bags so that she could pick the hanger off the rack and really admire it – the silky material shimmered. The dress had a boat shaped neckline, tiny pearl buttons all down the back, a pleated skirt swirling out from a shaped waistline, which dipped to the front in a V shape. “Oh, it’s absolutely gorgeous” she cried, “I must have it – how much?” The woman helper looked her up and down “I don’t think it’s your size luv” she said. “I don’t care, I can slim down a bit”. The woman put her hand up to her mouth to hide the snigger, but Maggie was adamant. “How much is it then” she enquired. “Well, it was out for £5.00, and cheap at that, but as we’ve nearly finished I’ll let you have it for £3.50”. “£3.50, oh Lord, I can’t afford that, I’ve only got £2.70 left in my bag”. She sounded so desperate that the woman began to feel sorry for her. Poor thing, she looked so shabby and tired, perhaps the dress would cheer her up. “Oh, alright then” she relented. “I’ll let you have it for £2.50”. Maggie fished around in her massive handbag for her purse, and counted out the £2.50. She almost snatched the dress from the woman, folded it gently and laid it reverently on the top of one of the bags. “Come on Carol, we can go home now” and almost dragging the little girl down the steps, she disappeared into the throng of people, loaded down with bags, and limping slightly on her swollen feet.
Home at least, she dumped everything on the kitchen floor, thankfully, and limped across to put the kettle on. She took a cup in to Jim, and plonked down onto the nearest chair. God, she was so tired. “Had a good time luv?” Jim was being kind, getting up to fetch her a fresh cup. She told him about her purchases, but did not mention the blue dress, without knowing why. Carol had run upstairs to take Darren his books, and it was nice to sit chatting with her husband. He looked quite relaxed, puffing away at his pipe and he suddenly blurted out that he had been after a job, working on the buildings as a labourer. He would know for sure in the morning – had to go down to the site. “Oh Jim, I’m so pleased, I’m sure you’ll get it”. She felt quite excited at the prospect. “I’ll cook some sausages for tea as a treat”, and bustled out into the kitchen.
In the evening, after the children were in bed, she got out the blue dress, determined to try it on. Jim had gone to the pub for a drink with his mates, so she had a couple of hours to herself.
Now, she thought, this dress is going to make me feel really different, trying to tug it over her head, sweating and pulling with all her might. “Oh no, I can’t even get it on “she wailed, as despair set it – try again, but it was no use it was miles too small. Defeated at last, she sank listlessly on the bed, the dress in a heap on the floor. I must have been mad to have bought it, she thought. All that money and I cannot even get it on. Good job I did not tell Jim about it, he would go mad. Yet on the other hand, he has gone out tonight and I expect he will spend more than £2.40 so why should I feel guilty? Slowly, she got up, walked across the room to the wardrobe and took a hard look at herself in the long mirror. She saw a dumpy woman with rolls of fat bulging beneath her grubby white jumper, a tatty black skirt riding up above her knees, wrinkled stockings around her ankles, old fashioned lace up shoes, which were the only ones she could comfortably wear with her swollen ankles – she forced herself to look at her face, and painfully admitted that she looked a sight, her dark hair, though naturally curly, needed an expert cut, her face devoid of make up, except for a dab of lipstick, which was too red for her sallow complexion. Her eyes, though, were her best feature, unlined still, with long lashes. Jim had always said that her eyes were like blue pool, and he could swim in them. With a bit of eye shadow and mascara they would look quite nice. What about the rest of her though – she made herself look again, imagining herself three stone lighter. Suddenly she decided, she was going to get back to the weight she as when she married and stepping out of her clothes, she made for the bathroom, running the water, she emptied the sachet of expensive bath oil her sister had sent her for Xmas. She lowered herself into the warm scented water, and lay back luxuriously, dreaming of the rosy future she had planned.
“Good, I’m very glad you’ve come to see me, you’ll fell better when you’ve got rid of this fat” the little doctor sat back, folded his hands, and looked at her over his spectacles. “Now, what made you come to this decision, may I ask? I’ve been on to you for years to lose this weight, its bad for your health you know”. Maggie lowered her eyes, feeling a bit silly, but she had known Dr Castle for years, so decided to tell him the truth. “I looked at myself in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw” she said. “Hmm, I see”, well its about time anyway – we’ll make a new woman of you” and he handed her the diet sheet. Standing up as she left the surgery, a whimsical look on his face.
All the way back home Maggie found herself looking in the shop windows at the piles of cream cakes and doughnuts her mouth watering at the thought of them, but she made herself think of the blue dress, visualising a new slim figure and how much better she would feel. No swollen ankles or breathlessness when she walked upstairs. She could join one of those keep fit or aerobic classes. Oh boy, this time it was going to work. When she set her plateful of salad and an orange juice in front of her, the family all looked up in amazement. “Aren’t you going to have any Yorkshire pudding or roast potatoes Mum” Darren demanded, but she shook her head, saying firmly “No, I’m going on a diet” and when she say Jim’s smirk she added firmly “And this time I’m going to stick to it, so don’t any of you buy me any sweets or chocolate”. “NO sweets Mum?” Carols face was a picture “What are you going to do on Sunday when you watch telly?” Maggie got up to clear the plates away “I’m going to chew a carrot”, and almost ran into the kitchen before they all burst out laughing. “Goodness, this is going to be harder than I thought” she almost drooled over the left over potatoes and pudding, but pushed temptation away and washed up the dishes, throwing away the remains on the plates before she gave in.
The following days were a nightmare, she found herself longing for puddings and cakes, was sick of the sight of salad and vegetables, but determinably held on a when she went to the surgery to be weighed, had lost 8lb. She felt ecstatic and nearly ran all the way home to tell the family, who all seemed pleased but puzzled. They liked her fat and cuddly, as Jim had so often told her, but because she was happier, even singing in the kitchen as she prepared their meals, they felt happier too.
As the weeks passed, a subtle change came over Maggie. Apart from being much slimmer (she was losing about 6-8lb a week) her attitude towards life seemed to be changing. She had joined a keep fit group and enjoyed the laughter with the other women. She had started going to a local pub with two of them after the class and was aware of admiring glances directed at her. She begin to look at Jim with different eyes; noting his balding head, the paunch he was starting, that sometimes he needed a shave, and that one settled in from of the telly at night, he did not want to the disturbed. Their occasional lovemaking too, affected her. She had always just put up with it, but with her new outlook, she began to feel very dissatisfied, wanting a whole new approach to their sex life. Watching Jim just turn over and begin to snore, started to fill her with an intense resentment, a hatred of her life which now began to feel like a prison. The children seemed much happier, because she now had enough energy to take them to the park, playing ball with them and even running. Each week, she stuck rigidly to the diet, losing more pounds and liking her looks more and more, gaining confidence in herself each day. On her last visit to the doctor he announced that she had lost 3 stone and was almost down to the desired weight loss – she felt almost delirious with joy, and could have hugged the little man whose own face was beaming.
On arrival home, she was almost trembling as she dashed upstairs to the bedroom and tenderly lifted the blue dress from its hanger. Slowly she slipped off her dress, and pulled the blue one over her head, the silky sheen against her body feeling really sensual, smoothing it down over her hips, before daring to look at herself in the mirror. She could not believe what she was seeing – it fitted beautifully, almost like a glove, the skirt swelling out from her hips showing her now slender legs. The bust line curved seductively into the waist. Gracious, I really do look good in it, she thought – but then, a thought struck her – where do I even go to wear such a dress, and what am I going to do now? I have got to change my life – do something with it – be something else but just a housewife. Thoughtfully, she wandered downstairs, looking up she saw Jim standing gazing at her in astonishment – his eyes almost popping out of their sockets.
“Wow” he said “you look an absolute knockout, where did you get that dress, looks like a film stars, what a lovely colour”. She stared back at him, thinking he has not mentioned about my slim figure or how nice I’ve been looking, only now that I have got the dress one – resentment began to mount inside her. Aloud she said “I thought we might go out somewhere nice, perhaps for a meal”. His face dropped “well, another time perhaps, I’ve made arrangements to meet the lads tonight. Sorry old girl” and he turned away slowly leaving her speechless and very angry. She stood for a few moments red faced and feeling totally rejected after all her months of slimming, then suddenly made up her mind.
Directly the door closed behind him, she phoned her friend who sometimes did a bit of baby sitting for her. Luckily that was alright so she was free for the evening. Right, she thought, out you go, my girl and enjoy yourself. Within an hour, she was seated in the pub where she went sometimes with her friends, nonchalantly leaning on the table, chatting with a girl she knew. The man across the room was definitely staring at her, and she looked away, blushing, laughing at a joke her friend was telling her, but not really listening to it, aware of the mans eyes appraising her. “Cor, someone certainly fancies you” Janet said “and don’t look now, but he’s coming this way”. Maggie felt rooted to the spot, although wanting to run, suddenly feeling guilty at what she was doing – she really loved Him and only wanted a little harmless fun, but the man approaching was very attractive and she had the weirdest feeling that this was going to lead into more than a harmless chat in a pub. “Hallo, may I buy you two ladies a drink”, we don’t often see such loneliness in here, really brightens up the place”. His eyes were looking deep into hers, willing her to answer, nice open smile, grey eyes, laughter wrinkles at the sides, slightly grey wavy hair, making him look quite distinguished. What a corny statement though. She felt resentful and stupid at the fact that she was drawn to him. Her friend was simpering, fluttering her eye lashes. “How kind of you, yes we would like a drink, wouldn’t we Maggie, why don’t you join us?” “Maggie” he said “That’s an unusual name, do you mind if I join you”. “No, of course not, the more the merrier” she retorted, rather rudely, as he sat down by the side of her.
She had to admit as the evening wore on, he was very witty and amusing, and against her will, she found herself laughing and joining in the conversation. Halfway through the evening, they were joined by one of his friends, who was obviously soon very attached to Janet, and they seemed to pair off. Incredibly, she found herself being taken home in Terry’s car, and although she had told him that she was a married woman, he obviously thought it was strange that she was out in a pub on her own. However, she insisted on being dropped at the end of her road, and he was a perfect gentleman, just kissing her lightly on the cheek and arranging a meeting for the next week, before driving away. She stood for a moment, collecting her feelings and calming down, before returning home.
The house was in darkness, Jim had obviously gone to bed. She made herself a cup of coffee and stretched luxuriously on the settee – what a super night it had been – to think of all the years of slogging and slaving, no money, no decent clothes, just a drudge. Well, no more, definitely no more. She was tasting the nicer things of life, and she wanted more. It was almost with distaste that she finally slid into bed beside Jim who was snoring heavily, having had too much to drink, without a doubt. She found it very difficult to sleep – her mind was going round in circles, what was she going to do – she had promised to meet Terry again tomorrow night, but if only she could get rid of this guilty feeling. Supposing Jim found out, whatever would he do. To get a divorce would be unthinkable, but then, what was she thinking about anyway. Perhaps if she got a job, things would be easier. Both children were at school now, so she could get a part time job somewhere. Life seemed so complicated. Perhaps she could have a talk with Janet, ask her advice, even get a job maybe, yes that was the answer – a part-time job – it would give her money to buy some new clothes, and perhaps save for a holiday abroad somewhere, for the whole family. It would be good for them all. Satisfied with her thoughts and with a definite plan in mind she drifted into sleep. When she met Terry the following night, she found herself liking him more and more. He still acted the perfect gentleman, and was very good looking, tanned by the sun, enhanced by the spotless white shirt – and she felt almost light headed to be driven in the white Rover car. She had made herself look exceptionally nice tonight and had put on the blue dress. His eyes appraised her, and his hand lightly touched her cheek. “You look good enough to eat tonight. Talking about eating, where would you like to go?” he said. “Oh, I’ll leave it to you, surprise me Terry”. She fluttered her eye lashes at him, deliberately flirting. They ended up in the most exclusive restaurant in town. The prices on the menu made her gasp inwardly. She had to manage to feed four, on the money spent on one meal there. Still, why not, she was worth it, so she ordered all the things she loved and could never afford, including a big steak with all the trimmings.
During the conversation, she found herself telling Terry about her idea to get a job. To her surprise he announced “I’ve got the very thing for you, a friend of mine has a dress shop, and she is looking for a model for the fashion shows she gives”. “Me? But I’ve never modelled in my life, I wouldn’t have a clue” Maggie was adamant. But Terry just laughed. “We’ll go round to see her tonight, don’t worry, you’ll be fine, she’ll give you some lessons in deportment and then there will be no holding you”. True to his word, after the meal, they drove to a very imposing house, where she was introduced to Dora, a beautifully groomed woman in her 40s, who was very pleasant and obviously overjoyed to see Terry. They were ushered into a tastefully decorated room, and offered drinks from crystal glasses. Maggie looked around her, this really was living, thick carpets your feet sank into, soft lights, an air or opulence everywhere – even a tape of Chopin music playing in the background. Rather bemused, Maggie realised that Dora was offering her a job and to start tomorrow for training. “You have a good figure, nice legs, and attractive features. With a little help you will soon learn how to move like a model”. The evening went like a dream, the drinks going to her head, making her lively and talkative. She noticed that Terry had his arm around her, drawing her tightly towards him and Dora was watching them both quizzically. Suddenly, she glanced at her watch. God, it was 1.00 am, what ever was she thinking of, and she rose unsteadily to her feet, but Terry pulled her down again. “My little Cinderella isn’t going yet is she? The night is only just beginning” he murmured. “Terry, please take me home” she implored, “it’s much too late”. He looked into her eyes, shrugged his shoulders, sighing a little and said “Oh well, there will be plenty of other times”, and still with his arm around her, rose, said goodnight to Dora, and led her to the car. He didn’t say much on the way home, but his goodnight kiss was harsh and demanding, his hands stroking her body, until trembling, she managed to get out of the car, promising to see him the following day. She stood on the pavement watching the car roar off down the road, before walking to the end of the road and letting herself into her house.
Still shaking, she stood with her back to the front door, realising now that she was playing with fire, then raising her eyes, she saw Jim standing at the top of the stairs fully dressed, staring down at her, his face red and angry, his eyes glaring with hate. “Well, my lady, what have you to say for yourself, a before you start lying, I know what has been going on, I followed you tonight, saw you with your boyfriend and I don’t like what I saw – you and your fancy man, kissing and cuddling in the car” he sneered. “I suppose your family isn’t good enough for you now, perhaps you’d better pack your clothes and go after him, in fact, I’ll help you to pack. Me and the kids will manage fine – after all, we’ve had to do quite a bit lately anyway, with you always off somewhere. Maggie felt as though she had turned to stone. This was something she had never imagined. Jim had not said anything before about her going out. They just stood there staring at each other like two strangers. They she stirred, heard herself saying “Jim listen, I only wanted a bit of fun, there was nothing in it really – I was so bored with staying in every night and really we never seemed to have anything to say to each other, and he’s not my boyfriend, and anyway you were always up the pub with your friends, never seemed to have any time for me”. To her surprise she realised that she was getting angrier and angrier, defending her own actions, but she went on “Look at all the slimming I went through, and you never even noticed that I was trying so hard, or did you prefer the dowdy slut that I used to be, probably easier for you to cope with, treating me like some sort of servant; someone to clean for you, cook meals, and go out scrubbing to make ends meet. Well, I’ve changed now Jim, and there’s no going back. You pushed me too far, and now I’m starting a job tomorrow, which should bring us in a lot more money” and then sarcastically “ more beer money Jim!” but she could have bitten her tongue off as she saw the expression on his face change. Without another word he turned away and walked slowly and heavily up the stairs, like a man in a daze – a man without hope left.
Maggie stood at the bottom of the stairs for a long time, just staring into space – whatever had she done? She still loved Jim – but then, did she? They had not shown their love for a very long time surely there was more to a marriage than just living together, each going their own way. But what about the children, now both at school, and doing very well. Darren in particular was top of his form, but seemed to be determined to be better than anyone else, almost aggressive to anyone who beat him. Carol was still rather clinging and inclined to whine whenever Maggie was near. Maybe she sensed what was going on. Oh God, why was life so difficult. She was shocked back into life by the sight of Jim coming down the stairs carrying two suitcases. “Alright Maggie, you win, you can cope with the lot, I’ve had enough” and to her astonishment, he had opened with front door, looked back at her once and gone, closing the door quietly behind him. Slowly she climbed the stairs, her mind in a whirl – what was she to do? Memories came flooding back, how happy they had been when they first got married, and when the children came along – she remembered the look of joy in Jims eyes, and what a good father and lover he had been, before things had become difficult, and they had no money, no nights out together, and then she had let herself go, getting fat and ugly, and Jim had seemed to lose interest in everything. What had happened to their love for each other and the children.
Suddenly she stood quite still, thinking – did this sham of a life really make up for the love and affection she had known. Blast the Blue Dress, it was Jim she really wanted, she knew that now, could feel his arms around her, knowing that she could put all her trust in him, that his love was worth more than all the Terrys and his simpering friends.
“Jim, oh Jim” she cried out “what have I done”, and before she realised what was happening, she was running down the road as fast as she could, crying out his name. He was almost at the station when she caught him up, and as he turned, she ran into his arms and with tears running down her face, murmured incoherently “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, its all my fault, I love you Jim, please don’t go”. He put down his cases and held her close, speaking in a soft calming voice “Its alright love, its alright, stop crying, I’ve been a selfish pig, but I love you very much, and couldn’t face the thought of losing you. We’ll go home and talk, and sort things out”. Maggie felt that life was beginning all over again as they turned, linked together, cases and all.