Madelie suddenly realised she must be feeling better. Or rather, on consideration, as she was singing along with the radio, happier. She could feel herself jiggling with the music as she peered into the wardrobe and ran her fingers along the shoulders of the hangers and their draped clothes.
“This little piggy went to market……” as she twisted the cream and chocolate crimplene dress for a fuller view before moving on, “This little piggy stayed at home……..”. As she moved on to a purple square-necked cotton shift, briefly, before alighting on the orange trouser-suit and with a “wee, wee, wee” deftly unhooked the hanger and settled the suit smoothly on the bed. A simple white-collared blouse followed though she had more difficulty over a choice of tie. Three were laid over the orange jacket in the hope that one claimed her attention most.
Pleased at making these decisions she looked out of the window through the large-patterned net and at the sun creeping above the houses opposite. The chimneys drew black shadows along the terrace of sloping slate roofs and the nearest added the skinny shadows of the television aerials.
Maybe it was the rising sunshine that had lifted her above that black line in her mind under which she had been hiding for so long. Hiding? Yes, she had been hiding, it felt like it. But what from?
She folded her arms and took a step closer to the glass and saw some sparrows dipping into the gutter opposite, reappearing with tufts of lichen then disappearing in a flurry of wings.
She looked down at the thin red streaks on the inside of her left arm, just below the elbow. Stared out of the window again and lowered her folded arms a little, hugged them tighter to her ribs so her breast hid the marks. The sparrows returned and busily tussled in the guttering and flew off again as each grabbed some packing for a nest.
Madelie had almost lost that sunshine moment but breathed it in again as a cloud shifted in the breeze and a shaft of sunlight hit her eyes making her turn away from it. The movement brought the radio back into focus and “didn’t we have a lovely time, the day we went to Bangor!” made her smile again and back to dressing.
Fresh underwear stepped into, bra settled into and hooks briefly struggled with. Sitting on the edge of the bed she folded first one leg of the tights over her hand then her toes into the toe of the nylon and unwound it over her foot to knee then repeated the operation before standing and adjusting the ridged waist-seam up to her hips. Finally checking, straightening and smoothing the whole legs. On the whole, she thought, tights were more comfortable than stockings, unless you snagged a leg, got a hole, then you had to bin the lot. With stockings you stood a chance of having a spare that matched.
Next was the blouse. Still smooth from being ironed though not that slightly crisp feel had it been freshly ironed. Definitely not warm like straight off the ironing board! She bent her head to watch her fingers button the blouse from top to bottom and brush away imaginary creases.
The radio chattered, early morning, bright and breezy cajoling from the ‘dj’ before another record, “now it’s time for ‘Mott the Hoople’ ” and the music slid into her head again.
Foot and leg, slight wobble, other foot and leg and she drew the orange trousers up high and adjusted her hip so she could pull the side-zip up then hook-and-eye the waist-tab securely.
She looked down at her flame-orange legs and indecision crept in. “Too bright?” She had been a shabby dresser for so long that this was a dramatic step too far, she feared, briefly.
“No,” she said aloud, “I’ll match the sunshine!” And she turned to decide on the tie.
End over, hand over, round and under and through, eventually she got the rhythm and directions right and looked at herself in the mirror again to adjust the tie. It was one of the newest style. Narrow Italian silk and design of bright horizontal bars of colour that eventually repeated after a scattering of red, white, green, yellow, orange, blue.
After a final easing the knot at her neck and removal of a defiant piece of fluff from her trousers she Retrieved the jacket from the bed and eased into and buttoned it. Looked in the mirror and undid the buttons. More satisfied this time she left the room, grabbed her bag, checked for keys then rushed out of the little flat to try to gather some lost time.
Her rushing from the door down the short path and turning to briefly jog into town flushed the sparrows out of the hedge whisked them back up to the guttering in a series of squawks. Within a few steps Madelie slowed to a brisk walk and the sparrows had drifted back into the comfort of the hedge.
Walter didn’t recognise Madelie.
“Hi! Mr policeman.”
“Mornin’ …….”. No more than a word and a half-raised arm as the woman in the orange trouser.-suit walked smartly passed him. He watched the brightly coloured figure swinging away from him, her short black hair sculpted to her head. She turned the corner but he failed to recognise the side-on figure and features as she moved out of view. He thought no more about it and went back to running his eyes around the street. “Being observant” his sergeant called it. So he continued walking, enjoying the sun warming the fresh morning with his people-watching and eaves-dropping on his way to a tea-break in a local cafe.
He too turned the corner, stopped briefly to click his radio and let the control room know he was having his break before turning the speakers volume down to a less startling level and entering his usual cafe. The man behind the counter called a greeting and promised to bring the tea and sandwich to Walter, as usual.
“Thanks,” he called out and looked to his seat at the window. The girl in the orange suit was at his table in the window and he hesitated to go there. She smiled at him, waved him to her and then he recognised her as Madelie, one of the irregular customers at the Jolly Puritan pub. She used to sit near him, out of the way of the more effusive drinkers and darts players but more recently perched on a bar-stool and chatted with Angel working behind the bar.
“I didn’t recognise you.” He said, sitting opposite. Her coffee was delivered and “I’ll bring your tea and sarnie” said to Walter by the man before he dashed back behind the counter to the kitchen.
“Good.” She said decisively to Walter. “I decided to change my wardrobe like I’m changing my outlook.”
“You mean from drab beatnik to flower-power girl?” he meant it as a compliment but she looked at him blankly, stopped the grin before it appeared at his somewhat behind-the-times remark.
Madelie smiled inwardly as she forgave his comment. “Not so much that. More that I decided I should try the happy, smiley person in me instead of miserable and mopey. I woke-up this morning and today I changed into a brighter me.”
“You can say that again.” He said. “In the pub you match all the shadows, dressed in that orange you can be seen for miles.” Walter felt it lacked a complimentary feel so added, “You look great!”
Silence as his tea and sandwich were placed on the table.
Embarrassed, he took to stirring his tea then gave attention to his bacon sandwich while Madelie looked outside and watched the pigeons, no they were doves, trailing along the kerb bumping each other as they chased invisible crumbs.
“I’m just here for a quick breakfast break.” He spoke to break the silence.
She turned back to Walter and felt again how reassuring she found his presence with his solid form, especially in the safe police-uniform and his not unattractive face. He had let his hair get a bit longer since she had seen him, more over his ears than tightly shaved round them. Even his side-burns had been allowed to grow, she noticed. Madalie surprised herself by thinking he looked much more fun now than when he had walked her home after the night in the Jolly Puritan. “Perhaps he has decided to go for flower-power!” She smiled briefly at this thought, echoing his out-moded imaging.
Walter caught her smile and passed one back, which they both held as their eyes also smiled to each other. He broke away first, taking the serviette and wiping at the grease on his fingers. Not completely successful he shook his head sadly and took out his handkerchief to wipe a finger. He was relieved it was a clean one, if she actually noticed! He quickly stuck it back in his pocket.
The young woman watched him over her coffee cup and sipped at it as he looked back at her.
“Time for me to go. I think of this as fifteen minutes community work as well as breakfast, you know.” He stood and picked his helmet off the floor and adjusted it straight and strap tucked neatly under his chin.
“I didn’t realise I was your social work” she smiled up at him.
“No, no, that’s not what I meant” concerned he leaned on the table, prepared to sit and explain.
Madelie stopped him with a hand put on his, “I was joking,” she said up to him, “Its nice to see you.
Let’s talk in the pub next time. We can put the juke-box on and annoy them with the Stones or Bob Dylan. They’ll all ignore us then.”
He relaxed a little. She moved her hand off his.
“Yes, that would be great. See you at the end of the week. My shifts change Thursday so, Friday then?”
“It’s a date!”
He nodded, “See you, then. Bye.” Did she mean a date? As in date? He paid for his meal, gave her a surreptitious wave as he walked passed her to the door. Outside, as he walked on she returned the wave. The two ring-doves hopped and flapped a few yards away at the policeman’s sudden appearance then settled to strutting and pecking again as he proceeded on his beat.
Madelie had suggested the meeting in the pub on a bit of a whim. She often saw him at the pub, sometimes sat next to him but they rarely chatted except when it was a quiz or darts night. On the latter it was more a shout than chat to get any words over the clamour of the players.
More recently she had perched herself on a chair at the bar when Angel was working. At least they could talk in the quieter moments. Angel had become such a good friend. ‘Actually’, Madelie admitted to herself, ‘Angel helped me climb out of the black, lonely hole I was in.’
She went to the counter, purse in hand but, “The copper paid for yours too” added another little shaft of sunlight to her day.
The day breezed along as sunnily as it had started. Working in a shop kept her busy. Meeting and greeting customers was sometimes daunting but often it was young women around her age and younger that were easiest to talk with. The best parts was when she was able to help them chose from the new dresses that blossomed round the shop. Mary Quant was on everybody’s lips and bodies, for that matter.
At lunch-time several clutches of noisy girls came to rush their break in the dress-shop in preference to eating. The newest and brightest dresses hung from the current mannequins on the staging in the windows. One or two models scattered on plinths next to the rack of special design or label, their backs to the rack where the carefully crafted pinning would be undetected down the back of the dress. From the the front the nipping gave a glowing elegance to the dress despite the vacant chalk eyes and bald head. Along one of the back walls stood the older models covered in pinafore and printed cotton. Large flowers or blocks of Parisian street scenes flowing down to the shins but failing to detract from the armless and headless upper reaches of the model.
The girls would come and go as individuals, the door opening and ringing the bell like an old bed-ridden aunt who is necessarily impatient for attention. Repeating as the door closed. In a small town most people grow-up together, young newcomers often getting whirled up with new friends. Leaving school and first jobs means catch-up time when they meet and where better than a dress shop full of the latest, brightest and shortest clothes?
Labels, nippy copies. Bright colours and acid designs. Boucle with its softness and crimplene galore with its myriad of colours and prints. Mary Quant held apart from Biba, or gingham versus Mondrian next to touches of Monet and Picasso. The whole shop could echo with giggles and gossip as they dared each other to the lowest V or most showy thigh. Pleated skirts that flew as they moved or denim that hugged and pleaded with outrageous zips. Sometimes one would be dared too far and she would buy and hug the bag excitedly with an “I’ll wear at the next party!” Or “I darent show my dad nor my mum for that matter” even a “Roy won’t know what hit ‘im. I will have to keep me knees tight” and many variations on the theme.
Lunch time passes and the flocks of chattering girls drift away.
Madelie’s day moves along too and the early morning lady swaps brief notes and gossip with the replacement afternoon assistant. Madelie, working a middle shift, as it were, makes them all a mug of tea, including the owner who arrives, chauffeured by her son in his new car. He calls them all outside to coo over his vermillion, open top, Austin Healey Sprite. “Best car I’ve ever had,” he chirps, “mind you I nearly got the new Mini but I was too cramped driving. This one’s only a two-seater but there’s more room.”
“He forgot to say his old car was a Ford Anglia!” Said his mother. “He only got this to annoy me; and attract the girls.”
“Right on both counts.” He responded, “Can I take you home, mrs Emersby?” and opened the door for her. She got in with a little difficulty, hoicking her skirt up higher than intended and trying to pull the hem over her knees after sitting down; failing and resigning herself to seeing her knees within worrying closeness to the gear leaver as he curled himself back into the drivers seat.
She started to wave but gripped the edge of the door as he lurched away. He flung a ‘sorry!’ her way as he changed gear and they dashed off, the remaining women turned back to the shop.
“I must say, you’ve taken to brighter colours like a duck to water.” Madelie was appraised by the owner as they stood behind the small counter. “And you make a fine mug of tea.” She took a mouthful and spoke again, a tender tone replacing the jocular, “And you’re smiling a lot more.”
Madelie took a slow sip from her mug and considered. She watched as a couple hesitated outside, the girl quickly studied the mannequin’s dresses in the window, pointed at one and was ushered away by the young man at her side. After a few steps she stopped, he stopped and shrugged as she pushed through the door. She moved for a closer look at the dress and he found a nearby lamppost to lean on and watch the traffic flow while he waited.
“Yes,” said Madelie, I do smile more. I suppose one smile just brings on another.” She turned and looked at the older woman. “Thanks.”
No need to recall the darker days of the last few months. She had turned a corner and realised that music was still playing and new friends were better than the old. She still missed the black jumper and cardigan and one day she would even dig them out. Perhaps that little Chinese lady had been right! Even the policemen were nicer these days. She put her mug down.
“I had better get on and change these ladies.” And proceeded to select the new blouses and jumpers for the assorted torsos around the shop walls.
PC Walter Copper’s day had proceeded in a similarly innocuous way. He paced his way along his beat, stopping, chatting and observing and by lunchtime had worked his way back to the station. A quick lunch break in the canteen and then a short time filling in his day-sheet, wishing he had more than a couple of memos in his pocket-book. No actions other than a brief companionable chat with old Joe the tramp and a brief word on the time of day with several of the old chaps sitting outside on a bench sunning themselves. A smile and cheery greeting from Winnie the new WPC at the station as they passed; he off home and she arriving for the evening shift. He cycling, she walking.
A few minutes later and he was wheeling his bike to his front path and the shed at the side where it stood. He tried to shut the low gate by leaning sideways whilst holding the bicycle saddle to keep himself and bike more or less upright. Just reaching, he pushed the gate and it crashed on its post and latch before catching on its rebound. The noise of the clash scattered a ribbon of shouting sparrows out of the hedge and into the tree of the neighbour’s garden.
“Sorry spadgers,” he muttered, regained his balance and pushed on to park his bike and go indoors.
The house was sadly quiet as he sat to wait for the kettle to boil. It took a long time for the water to bubble and the steam to build up enough pressure to push through the whistle on the wide spout.
He sat watching the kettle, knowing he shouldn’t.
“That’s another day without a story to tell.” he thought, “Except maybe the sparrows.”
from ‘It Happened in Burnthorpe’ copyright wordparc J Johnson Smith