Landsdowne Square. Part Three. A work in progress. Adult fiction.

Part Three

Mrs Clementine Clark

Magdalena, as life would have it has moved to London, to, as life would have it, work for Mr Gregory Picton, in his dressmaking store in Hartwell Street. She lives with a young widowed woman called Miss Katherine, whom I have yet to meet, but hear via Magdalena’s correspondence, is apparently wonderful. Magdalena has also befriended a woman who goes by the name of Miss Nancy Fallington, who just so happens to be Mr Gregory Picton’s first cousin, their mothers being sisters. Sadly though, Mr Picton’s mother passed away many years ago, so he is somewhat distanced from this side of his family. Miss Nancy is what people would call a Londoner and apparently fancies women, her best friend Miss Francesca, also being her lover. Boy, does Magdalena gossip! A month after the wedding, I am sitting in the bookstore with Lily and Hilary one day when all of a sudden Lily tells us she has bleeds. I give her my congratulations, and then realise that I haven’t had mine own for at least two months now. “I haven’t had mine in a while.” I tell the girls. “You might be expecting.” Lily says. “Oh, I do hope so. Matthias would love to have a wee babe. A boy perhaps.” “Did you hear Magdalena moved to London? Actually moved there to live?” Hilary asks me. “Yes, we heard. Miss Helen has now sort of replaced her, sewing dresses for all the neighbours.” “She writes me often, and I knew Mr Picton had a store, but never did I think she would move there. What about her poor mama?” I ask. “She works for Mr Picton?” Hilary shrieks. “She does. Has she not said?” I ask. “No, she has not. She neglected to tell us she worked for Mr Picton.” Hilary says. “She did not mention she had seen him nor that he owned his own dressmakers.” Lily says. “I’m not sure why she didn’t say all of this to you both. She wrote it to me. Ah well. Whatever I hear, I’ll be sure to pass onto thee.” I smile. When it reaches one o’clock Hilary closes the bookstore, and we go into the tearoom at the public house. It has been a popular place for chatting and gossiping and drinking, and is a nice reprieve for all we ladies, when there aren’t enough swap days to be had, or debutante balls to attend. “Mr Boroughshaw and I are courting.” Hilary announces over scones and tea. “Is that so?” I ask sheepishly, Lily having already told me. “Lily. Keep your news to yourself, and my news to yourself.” Hilary is annoyed. “I’m sorry Hil. I couldn’t help it. I had to tell her.” Lily says. “It’s alright really. No harm done.” I say. “Will he give you a ring?” I ask. “I don’t know. I hope so. He is ever so handsome. And an excellent conversationalist. We could talk for hours if the neighbours weren’t spying on us through their windows.” “How are you progressing with Joseph Lily?” I ask Lily. “Rather well. He says we shall marry in three years when we are old enough.” “Jolly good. Good girl. I hope he treats you well.” I say. “He does. He treats me very well.” Lily says. “I would say I am expecting ladies for it has been a rather long while since the Red Poppies bloomed.” I say, rubbing my tummy. “That is exciting. Have you written to your mama?” Hilary asks. “I have. I am waiting for her letter.” I say. “What is this I hear about Mr Clark and a group of carpenters building a climbing frame for the children in the square?” Hilary asks. “Tis true. I heard it from Mr Clarence Picton himself. Council feels the children ought to have something to climb on.” I explain. “And Matthias can help?” Hilary asks. “He can. He knows all sorts about building. I have no idea how. Perhaps he learned much from his dad?” I suggest. “He must be naturally inclined in that way then. Joseph is an apprentice in carpentry and he says it is quite complex.” Lily says.

“My red poppies have not bloomed this month my darling.” I tell Matthias as he undresses me in bed that evening. “Ah, you’ll be with babe. Tis why.” And then he is kissing me everywhere, and suffocating me with bearish hugs and overwhelming displays of affection. “You are very much hoping I am with child, aren’t you?” I say. “I am. Are you not?” He asks. “I am. I look forward to being a mother. Pushing a pram around the square while all the kids fawn over the babe, and your Mum pushes them out the way.” I laugh. “We ought to hold off on getting that pet lamb then.” He jests. “We ought. A baby might be trampled on.” I say. “I should start saving for the pram then.” He says. “You should.” I say. “Have I told you how much I love you Clementine?” “You have my darling. Have I told you how much I love you?” I ask. “You have, but please do tell me once more.” “I love you Matthias.” I say. “Oh pet, come here. I need to kiss you.” He says, scooping his hand under my head and pulling my face to his, locking us in an intoxicating and overwhelming kiss that forces me to breathe through my nose for quite some time. “I liked you as soon as we had danced.” I confess. “I liked you as soon as you fell to the ground, and I scooped you up in my arms, and held you close to my chest and breathed in your scent, a scent so pure and sweet. You were like an angel in mine arms.”

Seven months later I give birth in the infirmary to a beautiful baby girl whom I name Scarlet. She does not have any of my looks, and looks only like Matthias. Magdalena sends gorgeous little dresses in the post for Scarlet to wear when she is bigger, and I wrap them in tissue paper, and store them in our bedroom for saving. Heather crochets Scarlet a mountain of bonnets, socks, mittens, cardigans and booties, and Helen sews baby suits she can wear as a newborn, one we won’t have to worry about dirtying. Scarlet has her first visit with grandmother Heather and all of her aunties as soon as I am discharged from the infirmary which is a lovely milestone, that literally causes Matthias’s eyes to well with tears. He is a very happy daddy. A visit with my family however will have to wait until I am feeling up to going to the countryside. Mama has written to me that she would love to visit me, but all of my brothers would want to come with them, and that’s impossible because there in no where for seven extra people to sleep in my house, nor in Heather’s. Mama wasn’t too keen on paying for a room at the public house again, for she doesn’t really have the sort of money to be doing that, and so I said Matthias and I would cart it to the countryside to see them instead, for the three of us can fit easily inside mama and papa’s house. It is a tough business being a mother, and having to clean soiled cloths when one’s mind and body are sleep deprived. When I minded the babes in the nursery we sent their soiled cloths home with them, or we disposed of them – whichever their parents could afford. I don’t have the luxury of being able to do that now. I have to wash them all myself and shovel Scarlet’s waste into the soil cabbage patch in the backyard for the vegetables. “The council are building a climbing frame for the kiddies in the square. I’m going to help them.” Matthias says. “A climbing frame? They will like that. Their mothers will never get them to come in for their tea then.” I say, whilst breastfeeding Scarlet in my soft chair. “Nay, they won’t.” “When will it be built?” I ask. “We are starting it tomorrow.” “What about the post office?” “Helen will watch it for me.” “Will she now?” “How’s my babe going?” Matthias plays with her fingers and she latches onto his thumb and grips it. “She is good. She loves her food.” “Like her daddy.” “Boy, don’t I know it.” “You’re a fine cook. I can’t help it.” “What’d be her excuse then?” I ask. “Your breasts are lovely.” “Give over, you cheeky man.” “Proof is in the pudding. Look at her. Sucking like a baby pig she is.” “She has a strong bite she does.” I say. “Does she hurt you?” “No. She knows what to do. It’s mother nature.” “I wish I could be in your lap like that right now.” “Matthias, get away. Don’t you have work to do?” “No. Post office has closed for the day.” “What’s the time?” “Ten past four.” “Ten past four. I better cook tea soon.” “I can do it.” “You can cook tea?” “I can. Watched ma do it many a time. What are we having?” “Roast chicken with beans, peas, and boiled potatoes. Can you do that?” “I can. You just stay where you are and I’ll be gone into the kitchen.” “If you’re sure.” “I don’t want to interrupt her dinner. Besides, I can’t feed her can I?” “No. That you can’t.” I laugh. When Scarlet has had enough, I burp her, and lay her down in her cot, and go into the kitchen. Matthias is standing in front of the hob, stirring the peas and the beans in the pot. “Miss Hilary and Mr Boroughshaw are courting.” I say. “I thought so. I saw them walking together before.” “How is Christina going at the nursery? Did she come in to see you today?’ “She did. During lunch. She loves the babes.” “No doubt they’ll all be wanting to see Scarlet again soon. I should go over to your mother’s again tomorrow.” I say. “You should. She would like that very much. And the girls love having a real baby to knit for instead of their dollies.” “I know. Aren’t they gorgeous? I think there are eleven bonnets and beanies here from just your sisters alone.” “Mittens would be too hard for them, is that why?” “I think so. I can’t knit mittens mind.” “I can’t knit at all.” He jokes. “Ha ha. Very funny. I can’t build climbing frames or houses so we be calling it even.” “Can you wake me at eight?” “Don’t I always?” “Yes, you do. Just thought I’d remind ye.” After dinner Matthias sits in his chair reading a book, whilst Scarlet sleeps, and I bathe in my bathtub in the washroom. Hot water on skin is the most luxurious feeling in the world. Any woman who can bathe in a bathtub full of hot water ought to think herself a Princess. Surrounded by candles, I read Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s novel Lost for Love. Matthias pokes his head around the doorway. “What are you doing?” “I’m bathing.” “And reading.” “What are you doing?” “I’m watching.” “Watching what?” “Watching you.” “Would you like to join me?” “I would.” Matthias says, propping his book down on top of the lavatory seat, and undressing leaving all of his clothes on the tiled floor on top of my dress. I move forward in the bathtub so he can slide himself in behind me. “And what if she cries?” I ask. “What if she does? I’ll go for her.” He drags the tips of his fingers up my naked arms, and then brushes my shoulders with them, before wrapping them around my torso and hugging me to him. His jaw rests on my shoulder. “This is golden.” He says. “It is.” I drop my book onto the ground, closing my eyes. “I know why you like this room so much. The candles, the warmth, the vapour in the air. It’s like heaven.” “It is.” “May I please you?” “Please do.” I say. He moves his hands away from my torso and drops them lower between my legs where he rubs my private area up and down. He jostles his whole body so that I am sitting on a better angle for him. With his right hand he digs two fingers inside my private area, most deeply, so it feels like it is his penis instead. I moan out loud, and tilt my head back, onto his shoulder. “Oh darling.” He says. “I know.” I whimper. “Feel me.” He whispers. “I can.” I breathe. “I need you.” He is desperate. “Let’s get out of the tub.” I say. Matthias and I get out of the bathtub and he lies on the washroom floor on top of all of our clothes on his back. I sit on his gloriousness and moan when it fills me. I bend my head down lower to kiss him, but as he moves his hips under me, thrusting himself in and out, in and out, I lose focus, and can’t concentrate, and all I can do is whimper and moan with every thrust. Matthias moans and grunts and I feel his gloriousness tensing inside my body, which sets me off strongly, and I scream, and Scarlet starts crying. “Keep going. Let her cry. She’ll be ok.” I say. “To be sure?” “Yes. She’ll fall back asleep if I shut up.” I say. “You’d best be quiet then.” He nibbles on my lip and we kiss something fierce. He ejaculates inside my body which sends ripples through me and I shake and quiver and collapse on top of him. After a while we get off the cold hard washroom floor, and hop into bed, naked, his stomach pressed against my back and his arms caging me in tightly against his chest so I can’t move. Scarlet is fast asleep in her cot beside me. Matthias wakes the next morning and goes to work with the rest of the men in the square who are helping build the climbing frame for the children. I go down to the post office where I have a letter from Magdalena waiting for me. She tells me she has been to many a ball with Miss Katherine and her new friend Miss Nancy Fallington, and Miss Nancy’s lover Miss Francesca Verelia. She is enjoying life in London society much, for there is always an occasion to be making a dress for herself, something she couldn’t do much as the parties in the square were scarce. The London socialites apparently adore Magdalena’s work and she has been inundated with rather expensive orders. Women in London aren’t afraid to order the richest silks and the smoothest satins, and Magdalena is often ordering fabrics from Italy. All Magdalena has to do at a party is say her name upon arrival and guests all flock to her, wanting to chat with her about her latest designs, and whether she has ever considered designing for men, to which, she says she has not. She tells me some of her dresses have appeared in magazines, which I feel annoyed upon hearing, because I won’t ever see these magazines. Magdalena also says she feels she has several admirers; the most uncanny of them being Mr Gregory Picton himself, which she says is rather odd because they have known each other their whole lives and never once has he shown the slightest bit of romantic interest in her. And also because he is her employer, and she could never court her employer. Apparently he is very lenient with her at work, and often wants to sit with her in the backroom, talking over tea and scones, and their chats are truly meaningful and inspiring. She says she does understand how Miss Charlotte could despise the man, because of what he did to her, however she likes to look at him under her own light casting no aspersions on his character. She says it was her friend Miss Katherine who initially pointed out his affections for her, as Magdalena had not recognised them herself and simply thought he was friendly and polite because they had grown up in the square together albeit at a distance because of her shyness. I write back to Magdalena telling her that I applaud her decision to judge his character according to how she finds him, and I am gladdened to hear that they get along so well. I tell her that if I put my knowledge of Mr Picton aside, then he is a very favourable man to be courting indeed, and now that he owns his own dressmaking store, and they have this in common, she could be assured that he would guarantee her financial security should they marry. I tell her not to include what she has written to me in any of her letters to Miss Charlotte, for it may offend her to know that Magdalena works for and holds the affections of a man who ill-treated her in the past. I add that my saying-so may be futile for her letters to Miss Charlotte might have already been received. However knowing she has a clever head on her shoulders, I trust her that she would know to keep this information away from Miss Charlotte’s knowledge. I write that Scarlet is doing well. That she loves the breast, and she latches on rather well, completely draining me dry. Matthias is liking fatherhood and it suits him. He has recently helped build a climbing frame in the middle of the square with a few other men for the kiddies which they all love. Many of them are out playing on it until eight in the evening when Matthias is walking home from the public house. I tell her I often see her little brothers and sisters on the frame and I will yell a hello to them, and they will give me a hello back and ask me if I have heard from her, which I will either say yes, or no, according to whether I have had word from her or not. A few days later I receive another letter from her responding to my letter. She tells me that Gregory as he wants her to call him, has declared his affections for her, and he can no longer go on working alongside her daily, delivering her orders, and looking at her in a way that says he feels only friendship for her when he feels so much more for her. His feelings overwhelm her, she says, and she never knows how to respond, often dizzying and fainting, and coming to, to find Miss Katherine has loosened her corset, and she is half-sitting, half-lying on the chaise-lounge in the backroom of the shop, where Gregory will be waiting for her to come to with a glass of water and a piece of sugar. His attentions during her anxious episodes are admirable and his patience with her astounds her for she always thought any man would do away with a woman who was so delicate all of the time. Gregory says it makes her more endearing, she says. She knows that pretty soon he will ask for her hand in marriage and she really does not know how to respond. She is starting to have small feelings for him and if they grew into love and she marries him that will only offend Miss Charlotte and she doesn’t want to be doing that. She tells me to kiss Scarlet’s forehead ten times from her, and to tell her that Aunty Magdalena loves her much. She asks me how married life is. I write back to her again and tell her that married life is better than I ever thought a marriage could be. Matthias is the most caring, selfless man I have ever met, and I was very lucky I met him when I did. I tell her I have given Scarlet her kisses from her aunty. I ask her if she minds me sharing her news with the Patterson sisters for I see them regularly in the tearoom at the public house and inside their bookstore. In regards to Gregory, I say, if he proposes she ought to accept his hand in marriage and the feelings of others should not hold her back from finding her own happiness. Miss Charlotte will be offended naturally but it can’t be helped if Gregory has decided he feels ready to settle down with Magdalena. I tell her that his father Mr Clarence Picton is rather ill and does Gregory know? The next morning is a Saturday and Lily, Hilary, Scarlet and I have a picnic on the lawn, and watch the children play on the new climbing frame. “I have had a few letters from Magdalena these past few weeks and she has much news.” I say, eating my ham and cheese sandwich. “Go on.” Hilary says, holding Scarlet in her lap. “Well as cupid would have it Mr Picton has fallen in love with Magdalena and she knows he is bound to propose any day.” I say. “Good Golly Miss Molly. However did this happen?” Hilary asks. “I never thought he would love a friend of ours. I am stunned.” Lily says. “Charlotte and Magdalena are two very different people. We mustn’t judge.” I say. “I don’t judge. It’s just that. This is Mr Gregory Picton you are talking about. The most admired man in the square. He could have any woman he wanted. And he loves our most beloved and dearest.” Lily says. “I know. I understand how you are looking at this.” I say. “What about all the women in London? Surely he would have been captivated by them?” Hilary says, letting Scarlet chew on her finger. “You’re forgetting Magdalena is a London woman now. She doesn’t belong only to the square. She has made quite a name for herself with all the well-to-dos. Her dresses have been in magazines, and she attends all sorts of wonderful parties. Parties the Square could only dream of holding.” “What about her anxiety?” Lily asks. “She tells me he finds her endearing in her anxious state and he is often sitting right beside her when she is feeling panicked or when she has fainted. Apparently he is very attentive to her feelings. Which, in my mind displays a great kindness. He must really love her.” I say. “I am gobsmacked.” Hilary says. “I am too.” Lily says. “I was. When I first read it. It took me a while to grasp it fully. But I have now. And I am so glad if she is loved. Because isn’t that what any of us ever wants? Just to be loved by another?” I ask. “You are right. Yes. Of course. To be fair. You are right.” Lily says. “I do wonder what Miss Charlotte will think of this.” Hilary says. “Where is Charlotte today?” I ask. “I think she is at home. I did ask her to come today, but she said she was feeling unwell.” Lily says. “Oh. Well perhaps I will call on her later, and see if she is ok.” I say. “Tell Clementine what you did.” Hilary says. “Clementine. Do you remember that chat we were going to have a while ago about being close to men?” Lily asks. “Yes, I remember it. I am sorry we never did get around to having it pet.” “Well, Joseph and I, and I have told Hilary, so she already knows. Joseph and I, we did it all.” Lily says. “What? You what? No. Lily, you didn’t.” I am shocked. “I know. I am a fool. But we got carried away. And now I’m worried.” Lily says. “Have you told your mama?” “Lord no. If I told her what I have done she will kill me.” “Hilary?” I look at Hilary. “What can I say? I’ve made the same mistake once or twice myself.” Hilary says. “Oh golly. What am I to do with you both? Matthias was my first and last so I was never in that sort of situation.” I say. “You are the smart one in our group.” Hilary says. “Will Joseph say anything? Will he go about bragging to his friends?” I ask. “No. He won’t. He loves me. He knows how stupid it was. He apologised over and over. And he told me it was all his fault. And he should have just controlled himself. But he couldn’t.” Lily explains. “Where did this happen?” I ask. “In the back of the bookstore…” Lily says. “Lily! In the back of your papa’s shop! My goodness.” I say. “You’re telling me.” Hilary says. “What am I gonna do if the worst should happen?” Lily looks at me. “Well if you really love each other, then the worst won’t be the worst thing to happen, will it pet? Look at me and Matthias. We love each other very much, and now we have wee little Scarlet.” I smile. “Father Clanley will never marry us. We’re only sixteen!” Lily says. “Ah but I am sure your birth certificates can be fixed properly.” I say winking. “How do you mean?” Lily asks. “Matthias sells the birth certificate paper in the post office.” I say. “Oh Clementine, you are a bloody gem! Yes. If the worst does happen, Matthias can make new ones for us and Father Clanley will be none the wiser.” Lily smiles. “I never thought I would see the day when my little sister breaks the law.” Hilary says and laughs. “You could be with her on that.” I wink. “James and I are very careful.” Hilary says. “Why doesn’t he propose? You are both old enough to be getting married.” I say. “He will. Soon. I am sure. I think he is just saving for the ring.” Hilary says. Master Fletcher Mason runs past us to hop into his horsecart. He has a very funny look on his face. “Did you see that? Master Fletcher? He ran and got into his horsecart. He looked worried.” I say. “No, I didn’t see him.” Lily and Hilary say. I get up off the grass and run over to the moving horses who are doing a 360 degree turn in the middle of the road. “Master Fletcher. Is everything alright?” I shout to him. “No Miss Clementine. Mr Picton has just died. I have to fetch Mr Gregory Picton immediately.” “What?” I blurt out, but ofcourse he has no time to reply as the horses have galloped down the road by now. I sit back down on the grass next to the girls and Scarlet. I am not sure how to tell them what I know. “Mr Clarence Picton has just died. He has gone to fetch Mr Gregory Picton.” I say staring at the grass. I take Scarlet from Hilary and hug her to my breast. “What?” Both girls ask. “I don’t know what to say. I’m in shock.” I say. “How heartbreaking.” Hilary mumbles. “I feel like crying.” Lily says and she does actually start crying. Lily’s crying sets us all off, and we all start crying, my tears falling onto the top of Scarlet’s head as she sleeps. Our picnic has suddenly become depressing, and though the sun is still shining and the kids are still playing outside, it’s not happy anymore. The day has been changed. We finish our sandwiches, and our tea, and I change Scarlet’s cloth on the grass. Matthias comes up to us; he has just been to the public house. I tell him the sad news. He takes off his hat and holds it to his chest. “By golly. That is sad news. Does his son know?” he asks me. “He will soon. Master Fletcher has gone to fetch him just now.” I say. “First his mother and now his father. What will the poor man do?” Matthias says. “Can we go home Matthias?” I say feeling emotional. “Yes my love. We are going now. Ladies: safe on home now.” He says to Lily and Hilary. “Yes we be safe. You and all.” Hilary says. I place Scarlet in her cot, whilst Matthias boils some water on the hob. He brings my cup of tea into our room and sits on the bed beside me. I am in my day chair looking out the window at the whole square. “Death is a sad thing.” Matthias says, holding my hand. “It is. I am in such a shock Matthias. I feel I can’t breathe.” “You can breathe darling.” He rubs my back. “All I feel like doing is sleeping.” I say. “Why don’t you sleep then?” He asks. “Because it is only one o’clock and Scarlet will wake for her milk soon.” “What if I give her the milk from the bottle?” “You can. Yes, I guess you can.” I say. “Alright. Get into bed. I’ll tuck you in.” He says, and I kick off my boots and pull back the duvet and hop into bed. Matthias kisses my forehead, closes the curtains and wheels Scarlet’s cot into the drawing room, where, if she cries, she won’t wake me. The next thing I know I am being woken by Magdalena calling my name. “Clementine. Are you awake? I am here Clementine. Will you wake lovely?” She says, and I open my eyes and see her silhouette in the doorway. “Ay, pet. Come here.” I say. “Can I hop in with you?” She asks. “Yes, do.” I say, and she pulls back the duvet on Matthias’s side and slides in. We can hardly see each other but we sense what the other is feeling. We cuddle into each other and I scrape my hand through her hair. “Too much has happened. His father dead. He is inconsolable. I don’t know what to say to him. I realise I love him. But his father is dead.” Magdalena mumbles. “You said yes then?” I say. “I did.” “When?” “Yesterday.” “I am happy for you pet.” I say, kissing her cheek. “Thank you. I am happy and sad. He won’t stay in London now.” She says. “Oh Magdalena. I am a fool. I didn’t realise.” I say. “He loves me and I love him, but I want to stay in London. I have made something of myself there. Here I am just Miss Magdalena Baroche, the quiet shy girl with anxiety. But in London I am someone. Someone important.” She says. “He doesn’t have to take over his father’s work.” I say. “I know. He will feel obliged to though.” She is crying. “Oh dear pet. And how do you feel?” “So confused. So so confused. I wish I never loved him at all. I feel I am being torn into two.” “Where is he now?” I ask. “In the infirmary. Speaking with the undertaker.” I hold her in my arms and kiss her cheeks. My words are not enough. “I was so shocked and saddened by the news I had Matthias put me to bed. My shock and sadness is nothing to yours. I’m sorry darling. I really am. I hope you both find a way.” I say. She is sobbing into me. I stroke her head, and tuck some hair behind her ears. “Thank you Clementine. I hope you know that you are my dearest friend. Not even mama knows I am here yet. I had to come straight to you.” She says. “Oh darling. You already know that you are mine. I do love you.” I tell her. And I mean it. I love her in the way that only a friend can love her closest friend during a crisis. With my heart. “And I love you.” She sniffs, burying her face into my breasts. I pull her in close to me, and realise that friendships can be emotional and they can also be spiritual. Emotionally and spiritually we cleanse one another. “I want to stay like this forever.” I say, completely contented. “Hmm. Me too.” She smiles. “Will you stay in the square tonight?” I ask her. “Yes, we will. We will sleep at his parent’s house. “What is the time now?” I ask. “Just past three o’clock.” She says. “I would like to preserve this moment for you have healed me, and I hope to have healed you, but I should see to Scarlet.” I say. “Yes, you must. Thank you Clem. You are my angel.” She says, and we both get out of bed, and go into the drawing room where Matthias is reading in a chair and Scarlet is in her cot by the fire. “Is she alright?” I ask him. “She is fine. Are you alright?” He asks me. “Yes, I’m ok.” I say, and look at Magdalena. “Tea?” Matthias asks her and goes into the kitchen to boil the kettle. “Aunty Magdalena can finally visit baby Scarlet and what is it to be? She is asleep.” Magdalena says smiling over Scarlet’s cot. “Wake her.” I say. “No. I won’t be doing that. I know how hard it is to get them back to sleep.” “Show me your ring.” I say. Magdalena shows me her ring. It is beautiful. “Who might that be from?” Matthias asks. I get up and kiss her on the cheek. “Gregory.” She says. “Hmm fancy that. He does keep his cards close to his chest he does. Congratulations lassie. I am sorry we are seeing you under such circumstances.” Matthias gets up and gives her a kiss on the cheek. “I too am sorry. It was unexpected. We knew he was ill but death was far off the Sisters said.” Magdalena says. “People get things wrong all the time, don’t they pet?” I say. “They do. They do. He must have deteriorated quickly.” She says. “Suppose you’ll be living in his house now?” Matthias says. “Umm, that be a soft spot Matthias. Magdalena has made something of herself in London. It would be an awful waste of her talent to be coming back here. But that is for them to discuss.” I say. “Oh. Gee. Lassie. I am sorry. You are in the wars.” He says. “Thank you for the tea Matthias. I will go.” She says. “Want me to walk you?” I ask. “Nay. You’re right. I’ll go. You stay inside where it’s nice and warm.” She is crying. We stand up and I hug her, and walk with her down to the bottom of the staircase and to the door in the backroom of the post office. I pull her to me again, and she leans in against me, and we embrace for a long while before she leaves. I close the door behind me. We all attend Mr Clarence Picton’s funeral inside Saint Joseph’s Church. It is the saddest funeral I have ever been to. Mr Gregory is on his hands and knees at the altar screaming “Papa, papa. You can’t leave me here.” Magdalena is on her knees beside him, rubbing his back, sobbing, in pain because he is in pain. She wears a black satin dress with a high laced chiffon collarette and a black lace veil. Despite this being a funeral, she looks gorgeous. As always. The ribbon on her black silk bonnet sticks to her chin from her tears. I am squeezing Matthias’s hand so tightly. The whole scene is overwhelming. My tears roll down my face and collect in the ties on my bonnet as well. Every woman’s tears do. Scarlet is crying, and Matthias must take her outside whence Lily and Hilary move in closer to me, and we all hold hands and pray to the Mother Mary. Charlotte sits beside Christina crying into a handkerchief, dabbing her nose. The whole church is wondering the same thing: will Gregory stay and continue his father’s work in the Square or will he return to London with his new fiancé to their store in Hartwell Street? A day later Master Fletcher Mason carts Gregory’s and Magdalena’s personal belongings into the square and takes them directly to Gregory’s house in the square. I see him and the horse trot by when I am outside chatting to Lily and Hilary. Magdalena is going to be in need of her friends we realise. We all walk to her house next door to the square hall building and I knock on the black glossed front door there – a door I have never knocked on before. Gregory opens the door to us, thanks us for coming and leads us into his front drawing room. He does not come in with us. He gives us our privacy. “Magdalena darling.” I say, sitting down beside her. “Clementine. Oh I’m glad you are here. Let me hold her.” She says wanting Scarlet. I hand my daughter over. “How are you feeling?” Hilary asks her, sitting in front of her on a little footstool. “Distraught. Absolutely distraught. My career is over.” She starts crying. “Oh Maggie. Don’t say that. The women in the square love your dresses.” Lily says. “I know pet. But it’s not the same. I was someone in London.” She says sniffing. “Magdalena, you are someone here too. You are Mr Gregory Picton’s fiancé. A year ago that was everything!.” I say. “I know. It’s rather amazing how the world works isn’t it? We’ve lived in the square our whole lives and he has never once considered me. I move to London, and suddenly he wants to marry me.” She cry-laughs. “Perhaps London showed him something in you he had never seen before?” Hilary says. “Like what?” She asks. “Your skill. Your talent. Your quality.” I say. “Perhaps you were always so shy that you made yourself invisible to him?” Lily says. “Perhaps. I do fright when asked to dance by men.” “Yes, pet. You do.” I say. “Miss Charlotte won’t talk to me. I have tried talking to her a few times and she has kept on walking.” She sniffs, and then breaks into crying again some more. “She will come around. Just give her some time.” I say. “You always thought you would be overlooked because of your anxiety. But you were wrong. He loves you in spite of it.” Hilary says. “He does. He really does. He is ever so patient with me. I was wrong to assume it would repel him. It doesn’t.” She says. “You’re the talk of the Square now. Not Miss Anna Hollingsworth. That means something where I come from.” Hilary says. “I know. It really does. You’re right. I’m blessed. He truly loves me. He doesn’t know why he never noticed me.” “You were too shy.” I say. “I was. But I couldn’t help it. I was anxious.” She says. “Perhaps dress without corsetry from now on?” I say. “I have considered it many times.” She laughs. “How does he feel about selling the store?” I ask. “He is devastated. It’s not something he ever wanted. Having to leave. It’s not something I wanted either. But I love him terribly. I do. I couldn’t bear to be apart from him.” She says. “It’s really love.” Lily says. “It is.” “You are lucky Maggie. The angels are watching over you.” Hilary says. “They are.” She smiles and sniffs. “Will you stay here?” I ask her. “I will. I have moved all my things here already. My sewing machine too.” “So, you will sew for the women in the Square?” I ask. “I will. That’s what I must do.” She sighs. Gregory comes into the front room with a silver tea set and props it onto the tea table in front of us. “Ladies. Have some tea. You’ll all feel better.” He says. We all whisper our thanks, take a teacup and saucer each into our laps, and he sits down in the corner beside the piano, sipping his own tea. “I’ve just been telling my friends how saddened we were having to sell the shop.” Magdalena says. “Ah yes. It was very disheartening indeed.” Gregory says. “Perhaps your lady friends from London will come here for their dresses?” I ask. “It would be far too out of their way Clementine. Hartwell Street is more convenient for them.” Magdalena says. “Yes. Of course.” I say. “Well ladies, it has been a pleasure sitting with you. I must go now and finish off some paperwork for the council.” Gregory says, standing up and leaving the front room. “Mr Picton.” We chorus after him.

Nine months later.

The gang and I are on the front lawn with our men at a swap day. I swap some old jewellery for some unused cloth nappies with Miss Bessie. The girls think I’m insane, getting rid of such beautiful pieces, but I wear them no longer and taking the cloth nappies from Miss Bessie was the least I could do after her terrible terrible miscarriage. Charlotte looks ill and sits down on the grass clutching at her head. “Are you alright?” I ask her. “Shall we get the doctor?” Hilary asks. “No, I will be alright. I have a migraine is all.” She says. We keep an eye on her, dissatisfied with her state. Matthias and Gregory are watching her as well, speaking about getting the horsecart. Charlotte screams out in agonised pain, claws at her head through her bonnet, and then falls sideways, her face crashing onto the grass, her skin deathly, taut, pale, her eyes closed. We all scream and shriek out with horrified shock. Matthias and Gregory jump up, scoop her off the ground, and carry her lifeless figure between them, and throw them into Gregory’s horsecart stationed afront of the Landsdowne Square hall entrance, a few metres across the road from where we sit. They throw her into the cart, both hop up in the seat and gallop away to the infirmary. We all break into tears, and Scarlet at eleven months old looks up at me, worried. She starts crying as well but only because I am crying. Quick word fires across the lawn: Miss Charlotte is dead. We attend her funeral three days later after learning she suffered a brain aneurysm. We stand in the front pew of Saint Joseph’s church, dressed all in black, wearing black lace veils to hide our faces and our distress. We sob reservedly, and not too loudly, while Matthias, who is holding Scarlet on his arm, holds my hand, Gregory holds Magdalena’s, James holds Hilary’s, and Joseph holds Lily’s. Father Clanley talks of a woman with much to offer the square, having looked after the babes and giving her smiles wherever she went. None of us can hear what he is saying for we are all drowning in our own grief, and his words do not touch our ears. With four other men, Matthias and Gregory walk out of the church holding her casket. We follow them and Father Clanley to the graveyard beside his church, where Charlotte will be buried. I can’t ascertain what upsets me more – the fact she died so young, or the fact she died without ever marrying and having babes of her own. Maybe it all upsets me and my only consolation is in knowing she is now at peace with her parents who loved her dearly. She has left her house with all of its contents to the council for it to be sold. Her clothing, books, and personal items, she says in her will, are to be evenly divided among her four closest friends: us. Naturally, a few weeks later, Gregory sells her house and with his key lets us four women into her home so that we can divvy up her belongings. I have left Scarlet with Heather while we are there. We each take what we want and close the door behind us, Magdalena locking it and pocketing the key to return to her fiancé when she returns home. We all go to the tearoom inside the public house, sit down and order several teas. Charlotte being gone has left a hole in my heart, one I will never replace. “No amount of babes will erase her loss.” I say. “No. No they won’t.” Magdalena says. I feel so empty. I really loved her.” Lily says. “I did too.” Hilary says. “I know. I did too.” Magdalena says.

And then she tells us that she is expecting a child.

We each give her our congratulations in one form or another. “Gregory must be thrilled.” I say. “He is. He can’t wait to be a daddy.” Magdalena says.”Matthias was like that.” I say. “You know what they say. One goes out and one comes in.” Hilary says. “Tis true.” Lily says. “He doesn’t mind you that are not married?” I ask. “Nay. He says he sets the rules in this square. Why ought he mind, when he knows his intentions are genuine and he commits to me forevermore?” Magdalena says. “People in the square will mind.” Hilary says. “Let them mind. Everybody knows I am his fiancé and living with him. If we never marry it won’t be the end of the world.” Magdalena says. “Well children bring love. And love makes the world go round. What is marriage? It’s a piece of paper. It’s nothing.” I say. “Exactly.” Magdalena smiles. “Gregory adores you. Everyone can see that.” Hilary says. “Can they?” Magdalena asks. “Yes. It’s plain on his face. And the way he looks at you and talks to you.” Hilary says. “The way he puts his arm behind your back. And pats your waist. It’s lovely.” Lily says.

Landsdowne Square – Part Two. Adult Fiction.

Part Two
Miss Magdalena Baroche

The orders for petticoats and frocks have been coming in swiftly these past few weeks with Miss Clementine’s wedding dress being at the top of my list, her wedding being two weeks away, the date officially being set for the first of February. I am sitting afront of my sewing machine in my bedroom, which is at the front of my parents house; I look at my timepiece and it says that it is ten minutes to twelve, so I should expect to see Miss Helen appear in my garden at any moment. Mr Matthias was jolly well pleased that I am to take Miss Helen under my wing. If I could have an apprentice, one who has an eye for detail and a prowess with the sewing machine and needle and thread on their own, well, that would help me quite a lot with all of these orders. The problem with living in Landsdowne Square is that everyone knows me – I have lived here for eighteen years since the day I was born – and every woman who wants a dress made knocks on my door, and there I am, measuring them up, and there I am, sewing their desires, and there I am, a one-woman show, working until four in the morning, with very little sleep, fitting in the finishing touches to debutante dresses, and wedding dresses, and confirmation dresses, and baptismal dresses for boys and girls mind, and for party dresses of all kinds of styles. How I sometimes wish I did not live in a square, but in a street that has two openings, for people to come and for people to go, and not for people to stay. At present, I am very fond of Miss Clementine for she is thee most loveliest friend I have ever but had, in face, in appearance and in demeanour, and her heart is made of sunshine and sweet apples, and her character is so pure and inviting, that it truly is no surprise that Mr Matthias snatched her up right away, claiming her to him. How blessed and divine I feel to be making her dress for her wedding day, and to now be part of a coterie of women in the square who have bonded all the more for her presence. I feel I know so much more about Miss Hilary and Miss Lily now that I have spent some time with them, and of Miss Charlotte too, who was always an introvert, but became a complete recluse after her mother’s passing, only ever seen by I or anyone else in the square on her way to the nursery and on her way home again. Her own mother’s infertility has for all of her life, just until Miss Clementine’s arrival, rendered her companionless, for she has never had a playmate in the way of a brother or a sister and I cannot imagine what being an only child must be like for I have two older brothers and one younger sister, and both of my parents are alive and well. I do not say this to spoil Miss Charlotte’s circumstances – I merely say this to paint the backdrop to mine own. Miss Helen knocks on my bedroom door; Mama has sent her in. She says hello and then takes a seat on the vacant chair next to me by the window. We begin chatting and she tells me that since leaving school she has stayed home and has not done much else, for the post office supports her and there is no need for her to work, however her older brother Mr Matthias would like for her to be doing something productive every day and she says she has always had a liking for fashion and she would like to delve into the depths of designing and making dresses and if she could be of help to Miss Magdalena in the future, sewing dresses for all of the women in the square, then surely Mr Matthias would be proud of her and she could say that she is spending her days wisely. I say that I agree and I ask her if she has used a sewing machine before to which she says she has – that they have had lessons in school, and I say why ofcourse, for these lessons were how I learned to sew myself, I say, before I developed my interest in the craft and took it up as a full time paying job. She says now that she is no longer at school, she is no longer sewing, and does not want to forget how to use a machine. Before she leaves, we have agreed that she is to come and visit me every monday for two hours, whence we will draw, design, and pattern a dresspiece from scratch which she will then sew, under my supervision and it will be a work in progress. I tell her that she is to go to the fabric store and buy whichever fabric she desires, and she is to pay for it with her own money for I cannot afford to supply her fabric and she nods and says she understands – that she is even happy to recycle old dresses and create new styles with them and I say that yes, this too can be done, and we bid our goodbyes and she leaves, out through my bedroom door, through the front door, and down the garden path until her booted feet hit the coffee-coloured gravel and she is again walking back home from where she came. I have suffered with anxious feelings since I was but a small child, and I believe sewing has been a way for me to forget them, and live calmly and peacefully while I sew. My condition is not inherited for there is noone else in my family who is ailed with anxious feelings like I, and sometimes it has been tedious explaining these feelings to my mother who simply does not grasp how I feel. She tells me I will never marry if I do not stop these feelings, and I tell her it is not I who controls my emotions and feelings but my emotions and feelings who control me. I do not hold much hope for myself that I will marry for no man will understand my anxious feelings and it would be harsh of me to force him to understand them, when he has never experienced them himself. Of course like any other single lady-in-waiting in the square, I would very much like to have a husband, and live in mine own home, and have mine own children, and live a happy life, but I do not think marriage is my fate, for my anxious feelings have determined much of my fate already, much to mine own dismay. I can see what Miss Clementine’s fate shall be – she shall marry and have a bounty of children and live in wedded bliss, and perhaps she will stop looking after the babes in the nursery school while she minds and tends to her own, and Mr Matthias will have the post office, and this will be their income of course, like always. Perhaps I will live with Mama and Papa until I am old and feeble, like they are to surely become one day, while all my siblings have flown the nest and have built their own nests, and had their own children, and I am left to sit in my room and sew while my eyes grow cataracts and the knuckles in my hands grow arthritis, and I have only a few of my teeth left. *** I knock on Miss Clementine’s bedroom door and hand her the wedding dress, which I have draped over my arm, her boots and her undergarments. Miss Charlotte brushes past me smiling, closing the door behind her while she helps Miss Clementine into her undergarments and then wedding dress. Miss Clementine has chosen not to wear a petticoat nor a hoop underneath, however she has said she will wear ivory lace stockings. I retrieve my cup of tea from the kitchen table and return to standing in the hallway afront of Miss Clementine’s bedroom door, waiting. When Miss Charlotte opens the door and says they are ready, Miss Clementine is standing in her bedroom with her wedding dress on, her head piece in her hair and her booties on. She looks the loveliest albeit most daring and most controversial bride I have ever had the good fortune to lay mine own eyes on, and I tell her this. Miss Charlotte and Miss Clementine cackle with raucous laughter and step into the hallway, whence there is a knock on the front door, and Miss Lily and Miss Hilary let themselves in, and admire Miss Clementine as soon as they see her. Wreathes of white lilies adorn the front picket fence which was Miss Lily’s idea, and the square’s children knowing there is a bride inside number 42, have all lined up against the front picket fence waiting for their first glimpse of Miss Clementine, some of the children being the young children Miss Clementine minds. The five of us proceed through the front door and outside onto the stoney path whence the children ooh and aah over Miss Clementine, one boy saying: I can see her face!, and a little girl saying: a bride! a bride! I can see the bride! and then running off somewhere. The children are standing in front of the gate and I tell them to move aside whilst I open it. Miss Charlotte’s job is an easy one for she has not to hold any veil, for Miss Clementine did not want to be curtained off from the world, which is her personal preference and I do not hold it against her. By this time Mr Matthias and his men and family relations should already be standing in Saint Joseph’s church waiting for Miss Clementine. Our walk to Saint Joseph’s from Miss Charlotte’s house takes us only six minutes, with Miss Clementine walking at uttermost ease for she lacks excess fabric at the bottom of her wedding dress, which is always considered tradition and fashion, however, as I have stated previously, this bride today is rather controversial, and I highly anticipate the gawps and gapes she will receive in the church – some neighbours will applaud her dress sense – other’s will disown it immediately. We walk into the church in front of Miss Clementine and the organist begins to play the bridal hymn on his organ as we commence our traipse down the aisle holding our bouquets of flowers and our smiles in perfect place, trying not to slip or fall or disgrace ourselves in any way. I too was asked to be a maid to Miss Clementine; a position which I accepted gracefully, and with each step I take closer and closer toward the altar, I thank God our almighty saviour and hero, for keeping my anxiety at bay. If there was ever a day when my anxiety should not rear its ugliness, today is that said day! When I reach the altar I look to the church doorway and see Mr Phillip Everington with his arm looped inside his daughter’s arm: Miss Clementine’s. The organist takes the hymn up a gothic-dramatic notch, and Mr Phillip Everington proceeds to walk his daughter down the aisle toward her husband-to-be. After the ceremony Miss Hilary takes Mr and Mrs Matthias Clark, Mrs Heather and Mr and Mrs Phillip Everington to the entrance of the Landsdowne Square Hall building, where a feast is to be had in their honour and some waltzing around the ballroom can be done in wedding fashion. All of the square walks from Saint Joseph’s church to the Square Hall, myself walking arm in arm with Miss Charlotte, Miss Helen, her four younger sisters, and Miss Lily, our services for the day complete. When we walk into the foyer a gift table is stationed against the wall on our left, and some parcels and gifts have already been piled high there. We pass through the single wooden door in front of us to enter the ballroom where rows of white clothed tables and brass metal chairs have been arranged, and have been adorned with brass vases of flowers and greenery, everything looking ever so romantic and luscious. As we walk we see placecards decorating each space afront of every chair and we walk toward the back of the ballroom to the last table on our left where I have been seated with: Mr and Mrs Phillip Everington, their six young sons, Mrs Heather, her five young daughters, Miss Lily and Miss Hilary. There are seventeen of us on one table, eight people facing eight people, with Mr Phillip Everington sitting at the head of the table. The remaining tables have now by this stage been occupied with everyone else in the square, and there are around twenty long rectangle tables, ten on the east side of the ballroom and ten on the west side of the ballroom, with some space left in the middle of the ballroom for dancing. Miss Clementine’s six brothers sit facing Mr Matthias’s five sisters, and I think it is adorable that some of them are facing their equal in height and age. After the entrees have been served, Miss Clementine’s six eldest younger brother’s take up the hands of Mr Matthias’s sisters, leaving I to invite the youngest, the five year old, Master Thomas, to dance with myself. His parents remain seated at the table, smiling their gratitudes at me, for rescuing this young tot in his plight. Master Thomas and I try our best waltz, with it being somewhat haggled by the difference in our heights. He tells me that he is to be my suitor when he is older and I shan’t marry anyone else for I am to wait for him to be a man so that he may take my hand in marriage. I tell this to Miss Hilary and Miss Lily who adore his sense as much as I do, and we all agree he is but the cutest. It is nice I think to myself, to be able to dance the waltz without anxiety washing over me, and then again, what is there to be anxious about when dancing with a five year old boy? Mrs Clementine and Mr Matthias float past us and giggle and smile at our partnership, they leaving my periphery as quick as they had come into it. I return Master Thomas to his chair and sit down in mine own looking at the brocaded upholstery on the chair on my left and noticing a small round stain of blood on its surface. I immediately scan the gathering for Miss Lily, whence I jump out of my seat and rush to her aid immediately albeit her being completely unaware that I ought to rush to her aid in a matter of urgency. She sees the startled look on my face and inquires whatever is the matter Miss Magdalena, and I pull her by the hand and lead her out of the ballroom and into the washroom, where she soon discovers she has received her bleeds for the first time. We are followed into the washroom by Miss Hilary, who understands what I have seen, and holding her purse she pulls out of it a handful of carefully-cut bunched-up squares of cotton cloth, which she hands to Miss Lily, and tells her to place them in the middle of her undergarment only. By this stage Miss Lily is worried and scared and is crying and Miss Hilary stands in Miss Lily’s lavatory stall with her holding up her sister’s dress while the cuts of cloth are put into place. I remain beside the basin and the faucet that has running water. Miss Hilary says she will be right back and she leaves the washroom, returning a short time later with a crystal bottle of vinegar which she says the kitchen maid was nice enough to give to her, after Miss Lily’s predicament being explained and divulged to this maid, the maid nodding in understanding, and saying the very same thing happened to her when she first got her bleeds. Miss Hilary dabs some vinegar onto the back of Miss Lily’s dress so that it does not stain and will eventually wash out more easily, and I tell Miss Hilary to keep the vinegar with us until we return to our table where we ought to scrub the seat Miss Lily has been sitting on. Miss Lily is horrified that she has messed a ballroom chair and bursts into hysterical sobbing and Miss Hilary tells her not to be bothered by what has happened for it is Mother Nature’s Way and nobody in the ballroom has witnessed anything but we three, and the situation has been rectified and there is nothing left to concern ourselves with. We are to go out into the ballroom with smiles on our faces and walk back to our chairs where we will sit down in them and I, being Miss Magdalena, will secretly scrub Miss Lily’s seat whilst she perches her little buttocks on the edge so as to conceal our doings, Miss Hilary explains. We follow her plan and all goes well, nobody notices anything and Miss Lily’s small stresses are alleviated as soon as she knows her chair has come clean, and I have been able to pin a panel of the fabric in her dress to another panel of fabric on the other side of her dress, so as to cover the small stain, nobody knowing at all what has unfolded this evening amongst friends. She inquires if she is able to dance with her bleeds and Miss Hilary says as long as pains do not cripple her then she may do whatever she pleases, and she gets up and runs to a table closest to the foyer, to tell her mama that she just got her bleeds. Her mama congratulates her, tells her that it is wonderful news, and she ought to rejoin the gathering in the dancing, to push her one step closer to finding a suitor. All this I know because Miss Lily bounds back to our table with a grin on her face, like telling her mama of her bleeds has somehow liberated her and has relieved her of all of her ails and woes. She goes on to ask me if there is anything she cannot do with her bleeds, and I say that she cannot wash in a tub and she cannot go swimming in a lake or a river, and aside from that she can do whatever she wishes. She grins again. She asks Miss Hilary how many days she will have her bleeds for to which Miss Hilary says she will have them for around seven days if she thinks of her own bleeding timeframe. Miss Lily then goes on to ask if the cotton cloths will last the entire evening, and Miss Hilary says she will have to dispose of them in two or so hours, and put new cloths in. Miss Lily grins. I look at her joy and I have no idea why she looks so happy. I tell Miss Hilary: she should save her grinning for when she is agonised in pain and scrunched up like a babe. That’ll stop her grinning and Miss Hilary says: too right it will, and Mrs Clementine sits in Master Thomas’s chair beside me, and asks us at what we are laughing. I tell her that Miss Lily just got her first bleeds, to which Mrs Clementine gasps in excitement and joy and looks at Miss Lily and says congratulations, and welcome to the RED POPPIES; Miss Lily is confused and asks Mrs Clementine whatever does she mean, and Mrs Clementine explains that she is referring to a pet name that every woman calls their bleeds so as to keep the menfolk out of the conversation. Miss Lily’s eyebrows go up to express her understanding, and then she laughs, and has a sip of her mineral water. The main course starts arriving and Mrs Clementine stands up, bidding her temporary farewells and then rushing back to her seat at the small table presiding over the whole ballroom, which seats just she and Mr Matthias. While we eat our lamb mutton with honey-glazed carrots, turnips and peas, with minted potatoes, a lot of chinking and colliding of the cutlery can be heard, and much sipping from glass crystalware is noticed. Master Thomas is having some difficulty cutting through his lamb, so I prop my cutlery on the sides of my dinnerplate, and commandeer his cutlery to cut his lamb into digestible portionable pieces. His mother mouthes a thank you across the dining table, after which I smile, pat Master Thomas’s head, and he recommences eating, all obstacles having been removed by my maternal assistance. Miss Charlotte in front of me tells me I am ever so good with the child and inquires why I never began nursery work, and I explain to her that I always adored fabric, loved the feel and the sight of it, and whilst I am very fond of children, I could not mind them every day, for then I would have no time to sew and to do that I love. She says she understands and how she does wish she grew to be consumed by a fated interest, something not as mild as having a liking for knitting or for reading. I say that they two are some more of my great loves and she says she never learned to use a sewing machine whilst she learned how to play the pianoforte and speak fluently in French. I inquire why she never became a teacher, and she explains that teaching was once upon a time, a possibility for her, however, extra schooling would have been needed after finishing school, and after her father’s death, it was something her mother would not put pennies to. So she settled for working in the nursery instead, which is a vocation that needs not a single qualification, only a maternal heart and a gazing eye. I hold up my champagne glass and announce to Miss Hilary and Miss Lily that I would like to toast to Miss Charlotte and to all women in the ballroom this evening for their maternal hearts and their gazing eyes, for without those kinds of women none of us would be here this evening. Hear, hear, they all say, and we collectively take a sip from our glasses and prop them back onto the tablecloth. Miss Lily taps her glass with her teaspoon and announces that she would like to make a toast to love and she would like to toast to the married couple who have just gotten but married, and we all say hear, hear and we down the last of our champagne together. *** Mrs Clementine has invited me over to her house for tea; Mr Matthias her new husband slept in her bedroom last evening and is still sound asleep in her room when I arrive. Miss Charlotte is having tea with a neighbour so as to give the newlyweds some space. Mrs Clementine opens her front door to me in her dressing robe, and I feel our relationship’s closeness says that her choice of attire is completely rational and sensible in my presence. I take my seat in the kitchen and Mrs Clementine props a pot of water on the hob to boil so that we have biscuits and tea. The fireplace in the kitchen is going softly, so it isn’t too cold, when kitchens with stone slated floors normally are. Mrs Clementine wears house slippers and a sleeping bonnet. Her wedding gifts sit on one half of the dining table, untouched and unopened, about which Mrs Clementine inquires will I please stay for the opening of the gifts, to which I say of course, I would love to witness the generosity of the residents in the square. When the water has boiled, Mrs Clementine blows out the flame, covers her right hand in a teacloth, and pours the boiled water into two teacups: one for I, and one for she. We drink peppermint tea, and allow the hot steam to warm up our morning faces for it is only 10am. She tells me Matthias has decided that they will live above the post office, the building will have to be renovated and rather soon. She says: he says he will get onto renovating the place straight away once the bank approves him taking out the large sum of money it will cost to build a second storey. She goes on to say that Miss Charlotte says they can both live in Mrs Clementine’s room until the renovations are complete for the more people in the house the merrier it ought to be. Mrs Clementine says Miss Charlotte is glad for the company anyhow, but it won’t be for very long. According to Matthias, Mrs Clementine says, adding the second storey to the post office will only take two months, if he uses a builder that is in town. His fees are much higher than the fees of the builders around the square but Matthias says it will be worth it in the long-run. We should be able to have a bedroom, a kitchen, a washroom, and a small room for the baby if there ever is one, she says. I tell her I am pleased to hear her good news and she will be wanting to have her own place now that she is married and entirely up to no good, after which she laughs and says, well yes, she is still figuring out whether it is good or bad. After that, I laugh. I then inquire if such a small space above the tiny post office would become too stuffy for her, and she explains, that if it does, they can buy a house, and Matthias can sell the post office. I inquire why he would need to sell it, and she explains that he would still be supporting his mother financially and she, and paying off the mortgage every month would see him end up in financial ruin, and it is a risk he does not want to expose himself to, and I say that it makes perfect logical reasoning. We place our teacups back in their saucers and Mrs Clementine drags across the table a few parcels for our inspection. When they are all unwrapped, before our eyes we see: cutlery sets, dinnerplates, teacups and saucers, boiling pots, stewing pots, a few bonnets for Mrs Clementine, some fountain pens and wells of ink for Mr Matthias, writing kits, candles, bars of soap, towels, some blankets, some wooden spoons, some teaspoons, some milk jugs and some sugar bowls, some salt grinders, a pestal and mortar, an apron, perfume for Mrs Clementine, lip and cheek rouge for Mrs Clementine, which we say is from Miss Lily, a small stool, some pillowcases, a bedside lamp, a book about marriage, some bedsheets, a breakfast tray for when in bed, a crystal glass Venetian vase, scrubbing brushes, hair pomade and shampoo for Mrs Clementine and a razor for Mr Matthias, a bottle for storing liquids and mostly milk in, an empty glass jar for storing jam in, a clock, and a small stamper with its own wooden handle, which is my favourite gift of all because it says: Mr and Mrs Matthias Clark. Mrs Clementine thinks the stamp really adorable as well, and I say Mr Matthias will like it much and it will be used much in the post office I am sure, and she says to me, please do call him Matthias, for you are family now, and I oblige her and say all right. Miss Charlotte returns home and props her bonnet atop the kitchen counter for there is no room on the table, and she approaches the table and eyes all of the gifts. Matthias enters the kitchen and looks at all the gifts and is astonished and he asks his wife: is all of this for us, and Clementine says, yes dear, these are all of the presents from the people of the square, and then he says we should marry often Mrs Clark, and she says, yes, we should, and they both chuckle and he kisses her forehead and goes about boiling some water for some tea. Miss Charlotte says that she won’t have any tea for she just had a cup of tea at Mrs Brownwell’s house, and she goes to sit in her chair in the drawing room where she can sit in peace and it isn’t so crowded. I say I am happy to have come over for the gift-reveal however I must be off for I have many dresses to sew and many deadlines to meet, and Miss Clementine kisses my face goodbye while Mr Matthias bids me his goodbye from a distance away, and I leave 42 Landsdowne Square in high spirits. *** Master Fletcher Mason is carting Miss Helen and I into town today. I have been instructing Miss Helen on how to sew properly for nine weeks now and she has proven to be a dab hand with needle, thread and machine. She has decided she will consume herself with dressmaking like I on a full time basis, and I tell her if she is serious then we must go into town and invest in a Singer sewing machine and a mannequin for her to pin her patterns to. We hop out of the carriage, bid our goodbyes to Master Fletcher Mason, who says he will return for our collection in three hours, and then departs with the horses. Miss Helen and I have decided we shall have breakfast in the new cafe, it being a Tuesday morning, and the cafe opening at eight o’clock morning, and it now being nine thirty morning. Two waitresses take our coats and pull out our chairs for us before we sit down and are handed some menus to peruse. Since the last time I was in the cafe, some more delights have been added to the menu such as lemonade, coffee, chocolate tarts, cream tarts, baked cheesecake, mousse, lemon meringue, cucumber sandwiches, devilled eggs, rashers of bacon, and orange and poppy-seed squares. Miss Helen orders two devilled eggs with three rashers of bacon and a glass of orange juice, and I order a cucumber sandwich with a pot of coffee. Miss Helen confides in me that for her fifteenth year she received from her mother and brother some money which she has not spent yet, and this will be the money that will pay for the Singer sewing machine. I say that it is wise that her birthday money is being put toward something worth investing in, and she confesses she is very proud for not spending it on frippery. She confesses she has a penchant for bonnets with all sorts of trims and laces, and I confess, that I do as well, and that it is nothing to be ashamed of, and that we should only feel ashamed when we spend our money on a new bonnet when we know that a loved one around us needs our money more than we do, such as when I really wanted to buy a new bonnet made of navy velvet that had a navy smocked trim, with a navy silk ribbon, but my little sister needed new school shoes and mama had to put off buying them a fortnight, and so I put off buying the new bonnet from in town, and gave mama the money instead, for the new school shoes, because no child should have to go to school with their stockings showing through their shoes, and Miss Helen agrees, and confesses she does not know where she and her sisters would be in life if they did not own the post office, and she goes on to say she owes her older brother a lot for the way he has taken care of his family on behalf of their deceased father. I say that she does and that they all do, and her older brother is an absolute darling, and Mrs Clementine is very blessed to have such a man for her husband, and Miss Helen agrees, and says if she ever marries she should hope to marry someone as half as decent a chap as her brother Matthias, in character, in heart and in honesty and integrity. Then she goes on to add, she would adore it if she could marry someone like Mr Gabriel Oak in Far From the Madding Crowd, and I say: I daresay – are you reading it too? To which she says that she is reading it and that she has actually finished it, and has passed the book onto her younger sister Miss Christina for reading. She says she highly recommends it to every woman in the square, and I admit that I do as well, and I believe Miss Charlotte, Miss Clementine, Miss Hilary, and Miss Lily are all either in the process of reading it or they too have also finished the reading of it, to which Miss Helen says: oh goodie, some more women to converse on this with, to which I nod my head and say: oh yes, it is such a great narrative is it not? And Miss Helen agrees that it is. After purchasing the sewing machine and the mannequin from Tailor Brothers, in town, which Miss Helen is having delivered to Landsdowne Square to her house so that we don’t have to lug it around town with us, we walk down Hartwell street passing some boutiques, clothiers, and couturies, gazing into the enticing and appetising windows displaying dresses and frocks, and gloves and umbrellas, and hats, and bonnets, and shawls, and slippers, and boots, and petticoats. We swoon for everything we see, and declare we must sight every store along this street for we would be missing out on a pivotal life-experience if we left for Landsdowne Square in horsecart and did not bask in all of the glories Hartwell Street had to offer. We enter a clothier called Saphine Berello who is an Italian designer and we admire her pieces. There are mannequins modelling frocks and dresses everywhere, frocks that can be ordered once our measurements have been taken. We in Landsdowne Square could never afford to order a dress or a frock from Saphine Berello, all of the women in the square having their dresses and frocks made by Mr Winston, the only clothier in the square, for a sixth of the fee the clothiers in town would charge. Not because Mr Winston is a poor dressmaker, not because he cannot design, but merely because he does not use the most expensive silks and satins, nor does he dress his mannequins in styles and fabrics which are unattainable by those of us who are not wealthy and who do not come from aristocracy, for none of us in the square do, and this is how we have come to love and appreciate all of our neighbours, for they are a lovely bunch of humble, down to earth, caring people. As our last looksee, Miss Helen and I walk into a couturier who looks less expensive and we admire the cuffs and the sleeves on a dress when we are approached by a familiar voice that says good morning Miss Helen and Miss Magdalena. We turn around and behind us standing is Mr Gregory Picton himself, who we have not seen since Miss Bessie’s wedding and rumour would have it that he put his belongings in a case and moved out of the square altogether, although we had no idea to where. We reply with our good mornings and I begin by inquiring whether he is looking for a dress for someone and he says that he most certainly is not for he owns this store and he wishes to know what we think of his store and whether his dresses are to our taste, and I say that the dresses are beautiful, and I don’t dare ask who sews them for that would be very impertinent of me, so instead I say, the work in the cuffs is exquisite and the stitching in the collar is of the purest quality, and a broad smile spreads itself across his prickled face, and he blossoms with excitement and begins by stating that he would love to tour us about the store personally and show us all of the dresses on offer, and Miss Helen says: Oh, yes, please do Sir, to which he says, please follow me, and we follow him about the store, admiring this dress and admiring that dress, and saying ooh and aah here and squealing when we come across a most gorgeous piece, when Mr Gregory will say I am so pleased my seamstress’s work has delighted you so. Miss Helen inquires if he measures women himself, and he says oh no, no, Miss Katherine does this, and although Miss Katherine isn’t in our presence right now, we know that if we were serious about having our numbers taken and a dress ordered we would see her, and we would then know who his seamstress is. Tis very easy for a gentleman to own a store however behind closed doors it is the woman who does all of the work, and unfortunately, in fashion, it is the men who get all of the recognition for the dresspieces, and they haven’t a clue how to thread a needle mind. We head toward the front of the store readying ourselves for our departure whence Mr Gregory inquires how everybody in the square is albeit receiving word from his father every now and then, and we say that everyone is most well and in very excellent of health, that Miss Bessie is now expecting, and Mr and Mrs Matthias are now wedded of course, and their matrimony was a most joyous occasion, and they have built a second storey above the post office, so that they may live there, and since her before mentioned wedding Mrs Clementine has left the nursery, and has been replaced by Miss Helen’s younger sister Miss Christina who has recently just left school. Miss Charlotte is very happy to have her, and not too dismal with Mrs Clementine’s absence for Mrs Clementine still resides in her house of course, just until she and Mr Matthias can move into the post office. Mr Gregory says: ah, much has happened in my absence and, I remark, that quite, it has, and he inquires what brings us into town, and I explain that Miss Helen has taken to being my apprentice, and she purchased her first sewing machine today. Mr Gregory says this is wonderful news, and that yes, of course, he had entirely forgotten of my good dress making reputation within the square, and for this he apologises. He believes his forgetting of my good name has been simply because all of the couturies in London have swamped his mind and life in the square has taken second place, and once again he apologises, and to this I say that he has nothing to be sorry for, and that life goes on, and with it so do memories, and we entirely understand this, don’t we Miss Helen? And Miss Helen nods and says of course we do, and we bid Mr Gregory our goodbyes before leaving his store and hopping into the carriage that Master Fletcher Mason is waiting in a little ways down Hartwell Street. We arrive in the square with Miss Helen hopping out of the carriage outside her house and we bidding our goodbyes, Master Fletcher Mason taking me to the post office, where I hop out of the carriage there and walk inside the post office. Mr Matthias is behind the counter serving Mrs Brownwell, who is posting a letter to her sister, and I wait my turn before she turns around, says good day to me, and leaves the post office. Mr Matthias says he knows precisely what brings me here for he knows I am not wanting to post any letters, and I say that quite right, I am not here wanting to post any letters, and smiling, he says: Mrs Clementine is in the back, and he swings the wooden counter gate upward and allows me passage through to the backroom where Mrs Clementine is sitting beside a small fireplace and sewing by hand. Miss Magdalena, she shrieks, ever so happy to see me, and she jumps up, puts her sewing down in her chair and rushes to my space and embraces me tightly before pointing to the chair in front of her and telling me to take it. I say: so this is where you have been spending all of your time now that you are not in the nursery, and Mrs Clementine says that indeed, this is where she has been keeping her husband company during the lulls, and taking his lunch leaves with him, whence they have been eating in the public house, hot pots and shepherd’s pies. Mrs Clementine inquires how we went in town buying Miss Helen her first sewing machine, and I say that she has made a sound investment in a Singer, which will be delivered, and Mrs Clementine says that is good news, and Matthias will be more than happy to pay for the delivery, and I say Miss Helen will be happy for that, and we both laugh. She inquires how Miss Helen is progressing, and I say that Miss Helen is making excellent progress, that in six or seven months she will be of great assistance to me when the dress orders prove too much for one pair of hands, mine own, and that she has a knack with needle and thread anyway, and an enviable amount of patience with hand-sewing, which I add, is what is highly regarded in this industry anyhow, and Mrs Clementine agrees, and says, yes, it is, and that she wishes she had more patience when it comes to hand-sewing, for she tires easily, and she abandons her sewing more often than she sews it, and to that we laugh. I inquire when the renovation upstairs will be finished and Mrs Clementine discards her sewing onto a sidetable, jumps up and announces: why, it is nearly so, and she asks if I would like to go upstairs with her and see it and I say that I would like that, and I leave my felt purse on my chair, and go upstairs with Mrs Clementine to have a looksee at what will shortly be her new home. When we reach the landing I can see that all of the walls are up, they have been papered and the floors have been polished and all architraves and skirting boards have been installed, and the renovation is looking a real home, and this I say to Mrs Clementine whence she interjects: just wait until you see in here, and she opens a polished wooden door to reveal a room with a floor full of holes and open circles, with a wall with exposed pipes and plumbing and what-have-you. I say I can see where her problem lies, and she says that so can she, and they are just waiting on their basin, their faucet and their hob to be installed and then they can move in. She declares: oh, I will have running water, can you believe it? and she looks wholeheartedly and entirely pleased, and she adds that she has never had running water in her life, and I inquire where her washing room ought to be and she closes her kitchen door behind us and opens another door facing it, which is where her washroom will be, and once again I step into a room whose floor has two open-gaping holes cut into it, which she says are for a wash-basin and her bathtub, which will have its own taps and running water, and a fireplace built into the side of the brick wall. I remark that this whole renovation has been nothing short of inspiring and however did Mr Matthias afford all of this, for surely this lot would have cost him a pretty penny and Mrs Clementine inquires if I would like to know of the total sum, and I look at her pondering whether she is crazed to confide in me such information, and she reads my face and laughs and then whispers forty three pounds, and I gasp for that is a lot of money, and then she inquires whether I am to be sewing tomorrow, and I say that I am not, and she inquires whether or not I would like to accompany her into town for she has an appointment with the plumber, and she must give him a final payment, and I say that I would love to accompany her into town, and she remarks that is good news, for if she doesn’t pay the plumber she won’t be getting her kitchen or her washroom, and to that we laugh and make our way back downstairs. I sit back down in my chair, propping my felt purse in my lap, pulling off my right glove, and then my left, for my hands are starting to feel rather warm, and Mrs Clementine says tea, and I say yes please, and she pours into a teacup some boiled water from over the fireplace, and hands me a cup and saucer, which heats up my already warm hands, and I thank her. I look toward the ceiling and ponder aloud where the holes for the pipes are and Mrs Clementine laughs and says she thought the very same thing when Matthias showed her the flooring upstairs, and she explains to me that there is a small gap of about twenty centimetres between our ceiling and her flooring upstairs which is what the plumbing and the pipes will travel under to then exit their way through the brickwork and run down the side of the existing post office and into the ground to join the existing plumbing. Her explanation has me rather confused and I say as much and then state that is truly is men’s business for it is so puzzling, and Mrs Clementine agrees, and adds although with Matthias’s careful guidance she has slowly and gradually begun to understand the way houses work now. I say that they must need a sharp drill to drill through the brickwork and Mrs Clementine says that the equipment and tools they have nowadays is wonderful, but the noises and sounds that come with all of the drilling is not so wonderful, and she has often been downstairs brewing the workmen tea when she has heard the drilling and the whole post office has sounded as though it will collapse, and Matthias has consoled her, has told her not to worry, for it is all normal and the post office will not crumble for it has been made good and strong. I tell her that when Miss Helen and I were in town we just so happened to bump into Mr Gregory and Mrs Clementine starts smiling as though she knows what I am to say next, and I tell her that he owns a ladies dress store in town, and she inquires how his business is going, and I say by the looks of the dresses, it must be going well, for he did not say himself, and I inquire whether she knew that this was an idea of his while he was still in the square, and she says, that she knew about it, and that Mr Gregory even approached Matthias for business advice, to which Matthias gave him excellent advice, and she adds she is ever so glad to hear his ideas have finally developed themselves, and we are going into town tomorrow, so why do I not show her this store of his, for she would be happy to see it, and him, and the dresses on offer. I say that I would love to show her where his store is, and that I am sure Mr Gregory would only be too happy to tour another person from the square about his store. *** Mrs Clementine and I hop out of the carriage and bid a good day to Master Fletcher Mason who Mrs Clementine paid to bring us into town. We walk inside the builder’s offices and ask to see her plumber. Mr Fritzby comes to the counter, has a quick word with Mrs Hamishden who is responsible for keeping all of the accounts and Mr Fritzby tells Mrs Clementine to set a date and a time with Mrs Hamishden for the washroom and kitchen to be installed once the account has been paid. Mrs Clementine hands some money to Mrs Hamishden, Mrs Hamishden counts the money out in front of her, puts it in a metal tray and then writes Mrs Clementine receipt for her payment. The top of the receipt a stamp reads: FINAL PAYMENT RECEIVED and we say thank you to Mrs Hamishden, who tells us Mr Fritzby will be by tomorrow at nine o’clock morning to fit the kitchen hob, basin, and utilities into the house, we say thank you again, and we close the office door behind us when we leave. Mrs Clementine says: there, that was nice and easy, and I say, yes, it was, and is she ever so pleased knowing she can move into her new home tomorrow, and she says, that she is, however it will take some time carting Matthias’s bedframe and mattress there from his mother’s house, and they won’t be sleeping in their new home until the bedframe is in of course, and I say, why of course, what is a marriage without a bed? Mrs Clementine and I walk into a furniture store where Mrs Clementine is shopping for a three piece dining set – a dining table and two chairs – for the timebeing, two soft chairs for the drawing room, two footstools, two mahogany sidetables, two lamps, a small bookcase, and a rug to cover the flooring in between their bedroom and the kitchen and washroom, which is to be their drawing room area of sorts. Mrs Clementine pays for everything she has desired having in her new home, and tells the furniture storeman that she will pay him the delivery fee when the furniture has been delivered the following morning, to which he says is all right, and the furniture shall be delivered by his delivery boy at 11 o’clock morning tomorrow. We say our thank you and leave the furniture store having completed all of our errands. We walk into Mr Gregory’s dress store now called Gregory Picton’s and find him standing behind the counter; he smiles at us as we approach him and he says he believes God has brought us into town this time for no reason but to admire the dresses in his store, and I tell him that he might be correct in his assumptions, finishing on the word however, where Mrs Clementine completes my sentence and says: God has brought us into town today so that I might pay my plumber for his last works and acquire some new pieces of furniture for my new home, which I believe Miss Magdalena has already told you about, has she not? And I say that I have, and Mr Gregory says that I have, and he inquires if she found every piece she had her mind set on, and she says that she did, and he inquires when she will move into her new abode, and she says tomorrow evening, and he says: oh, so soon, and she says: soon to himself perhaps, but not to she nor her husband who have been living with Miss Charlotte for two months while the second storey has been built above the post office. And he adds why of course, and he inquires about Mr Matthias, and Mrs Clementine says he is well, and business is as strong as ever it were, and how is business in dressmaking and selling, she asks, and Mr Gregory says it is a vocation that has proven to be much simpler and easier than he ever presumed it could be, and we both say we are glad to hear this, and he averts his attention solely to me and says: Miss Magdalena, my dressmaker says she wouldn’t mind having a second pair of dress making hands to help her sew the dresses around here. We haven’t advertised a position on the window as of yet, however seeing as we have been neighbours all our lives and you are a dab hand with the machine, I thought I would extend the offer of the position to you before we advertise it formally. What do you say? Would you be happy to sew dresses here with her? I do not speak for quite some time. I have not been offered a job by anybody at anytime in my life before now and I actually do not know how to behave. Mrs Clementine is looking sternly at me, understanding my uncertainties in a heartbeat for they would be her own, and I look back at her, and then to Mr Gregory, and I say that I do not know whatever to say for I have never been offered a job before and I have simply sewn dresses for women ever since leaving school, and it is the only thing in life that I have known, and it is the only thing I am good at, and why, I would be a fool to turn down such an offer, however, my mind boggles with the particulars, for how would I get to town every day, would I catch the steam train, can a lady be expected to travel in a steam train alone every morning and every evening alone? Mr Gregory puts his hands on my shoulders and tells me to breathe, and says that I need not think nor know all of the details immediately, for he simply wants to know if I would be interested in the position, and I say I have never spent lengthy amounts of time outside the square before, and yes, I would definitely be interested in the position, however there is much to think about, and Mr Gregory chuckles, pulls a barley sugar from his pocket and offers it to me and tells me to sit down in a nearby vacant chair for a moment to gather my thoughts and some air. Mrs Clementine chuckles and pats my back, while Mr Gregory looks at me in pure amusement. Mrs Clementine then says she would like to do some inquiring on my behalf, and I say that she should, and Mr Gregory tells her to please do, and she goes on to inquire how sewing dresses for him would benefit me financially when I reap one hundred per cent of the profits from all of the dresses I sew right now. He says that this is a very good question, and that if I worked for him we would split the profits 60/40, 60% to me because I sew all the dresses and 40% to himself for he employs me, upholds the goodness and reputation of the company and pays for all of the advertising. Mrs Clementine says that I advertise to my customers by say-a-say and that is free of charge, and how would this job possibly benefit me when I have a steady and consistent bank of customers always knocking on my door? Mr Gregory compliments Mrs Clementine for her sharp thinking and her cleverness, and says that working from my home disallows me the opportunity to grow or become better than what I already am. He goes on to say, working in a company, there is room for growth and for one to work their way up. One might start off being a seamstress, but then one could be Head Seamstress, and then one could be in charge of a whole factory of seamstresses etcetera until one has grown an empire. Mrs Clementine inquires if this is his goal – to own a fashion empire, and he says that it is, and she asks if he can foresee himself controlling a factory of seamstresses, and he says that he can, and she says that I will think about the offer most carefully. We arrive back in the square where we part ways, she to the post office, and I home, the horsecart having dropped me off at my door first. Mr Gregory has given me much to think about. I find mama cooking stew over the hob and I prop my purse on the table and pull up a chair. She inquires how Mrs Clementine and I went in town and I said all was well and her payment to her plumber has been made, and they will go ahead tomorrow with installing her new kitchen and washroom, and mama asks if she is to have running water from a faucet and I say that she is and then mama says she wishes we had running water, and I say I wish the same, and then I add, perhaps we will one day, and she asks me to go on, and I say that Mr Gregory offered me a job sewing dresses for his frock store, and she says really, and I say truly, and she pulls up a chair herself and says that it’s marvellous news and I say that it is, and she asks me why I look so glum when I have just been offered my first real job, and I explain to her that while I earn one hundred percent of the profits from the dresses I sew in my bedroom, I would only earn sixty percent sewing for the store. Mama says she can see where the problem lies, and I say that I can as well, and I tell her I would not have known what to ask nor what to say to Mr Gregory had Mrs Clementine not been there, and she truly was an angel and a saving grace as she did all of my bidding for me, and mama says she does seem like a splendid young woman and that they were finally acquainted at Miss Bessie’s wedding, and I say that yes, we have become rather good chums rather quickly, and mama says, it isn’t every day I befriend a woman who will accept me with my flaws, and I agree with her. Mama then says to ask Mr Gregory if he will cover my travel expenses, and I tell her to hold on one moment while I find a bit of paper and I find my pen and ink well so that I can write her tips down, and she says good idea, and once I have found everything I need, mama goes on: and ask him if you can have one hour for lunch, and ask him if he could pay for your lunch seeing as I don’t charge you for it right now to come downstairs for it see, and tell him you’ll be sewing your name on the inside of those dresses mind, for he aint the bugger who is sewing them, it’s you who is sewing them see, and you should get the say-a-say amongst all the ladies in London, not he, and where was I, oh yes, ask him if in future there are higher prospects for you, can you become head seamstress? How many seamstresses work for him right now? I tell mama only the one, hence why he has offered me the position because the dresses she sews are in high demand, and mama says good, your dresses will be just as good, if not better, and in just as high a demand if not higher, and I suggest you tell him that also, for I never seen a dressmaker as meticulous as you my dear, and you tell him that as well, that your own mama has seen your work from when you were a young’un and you have talent my dear, you do, pure talent. I say thank you to mama and ask her when the stew will be ready for I am famished, and she says any minute now, and I say good. And then I say: mama, should I ask him all of these things in a letter, or should I take horsecart into town again to see him in person? Mama tells me I should write him a letter expressing my conditional acceptance of his offer, conditions which will need to be discussed in person, I suspect, mama says, and then adds: when one looks for a job, the proprietor views his candidates in meetings called views see, like, the proprietor views the candidates and questions them to see if they fit the bill like. I ask her if I fit the bill, and she says he must think I do if he has offered me the position without a view, and I say oh, well that is favourable then, and mama says that it is very favourable. Mama shouts for my brothers and sisters to come downstairs, and when they do they gather round the table and we all have stew together. Papa won’t arrive home from work until seven this evening so we do not wait for him. After dinner I write to Mr Gregory my letter of acceptance, pop it inside an embossed envelope and stamp a wax seal on the backside so it to be closed and unreadable by others. *** Mrs Clementine is standing behind the counter at the post office when I walk in, to give her my letter for posting. I tell her it is my letter of acceptance for Mr Gregory with a few conditions I have written on a bit of paper, and would Mrs Clementine care to skim through them? I give Mrs Clementine the small scrap of paper I had written mama’s advice on, and she reads them all saying she entirely agrees and mama is a very wise woman and she is ever so glad I consulted mama about the position, and I say that I too am glad, for I felt I was overwhelmed with a situation that I was not equipped to deal with alone, and Mrs Clementine pats my shoulder and says: never fear poppet, as long as we are friends you will never go without advice for all sorts, and I say I am glad of that and I am ever so grateful for our friendship, and I ask her where Mr Matthias is and she says that he is upstairs seeing to the workmen as they install her kitchen and her washroom, and I say oh my Lord, this is ever so exciting, and she says that it is, and we shall swap with him when he comes back down and sit and have tea in the backroom, and I say that would be splendid. Then I add, it will be even more so when you can sit and have tea in your own kitchen or your own drawing room, now that would be exciting, and she says that yes it would be, and she does not have to dream it up anymore for it will be real in about half of an hour, and I say that it will, and I might as well stand behind the counter with her for I might be in everyone else’s way if I stay standing in the shop, and she says, oh right, too right, and she swings up the wooden counter-top hastily and I duck under it before she slams it back down again onto the join of the counter itself. Mrs Brownwell is in again today posting a letter to her sister in Bath, and after her departure I say that I have noticed Mrs Brownwell writes her sister quite often and Mrs Clementine explains that it is because her sister is ill and Mrs Brownwell frets if she does not have correspondence with her, as anyone would I suppose, and I say, oh yes, of course, and I inquire how her parents and little brothers are in the country and I say, and how is Master Thomas? And Mrs Clementine says, oh Miss Magdalena, little Master Thomas says we are to be sisters-by-law for when is older he will ask for your hand in marriage, and I say really and she says really, and then we giggle and remark how adorable he truly is. I ask his age again, and she tells me he is but five. Chapter Six Four days later from Mr Gregory in Hartwell Street arrives a letter stating a day and time I should meet with him in his store so that we can sit down and discuss my conditions for my employment there, over tea. I write him back saying tea would be lovely and I look forward to conversing conditions with him. I sign it Miss Magdalena Baroche, seal it with a red wax stamp, and walk it over to the post office for posting. Mrs Clementine has been living in her new abode three days now and when I enter inside the post office Mr Matthias is behind his counter as per usual and he says good day to me. I say a good day to him and might I run up and visit my best chum, and he says please do, and I say thank you, deposit some coins into his hand for the letter, some extra, for I say I require Master Fletcher Mason to cycle it into town quite promptly for it houses a most urgent reply belonging to myself, Mr Matthias says he will see what can be done about the speed at which my letter is posted, and I say thank you very much indeed, and I walk through the back room and up the stairs on the back wall to see Mrs Clementine, my good friend. When I arrive on the second floor, she is sitting in her new soft chair, knitting, in her drawing room, which is a room, but really isn’t a room, and it really is just the space that was left over when they created a room for the bedrooms, the washroom, and the kitchen, but it has a ceiling to floor window that looks out onto the roof of the neighbours, and their chimney, which Mrs Clementine says is fine for it is nice to have a dull view than no view at all, and I say this is true, and then I say, speaking on the matter of views, this time altogether entirely different, one of an employment nature, I have received word from Mr Gregory to meet with him tomorrow midday in Hartwell street to state my conditions. Would you care to accompany me, for I ought not go alone, nor will I know how to say it when I am there without you. Mrs Clementine says she will wear her best frock and I shall wear my best frock, and we will go arm in arm into Mr Gregory’s store and knock the place down with our brilliance. I say this is just marvellous and precisely the answer I was hoping I would get from her, to which she smiles and gives an offer of tea, one that I accept, and I follow her as she leads me into her tiny little kitchen where she boils water on the hob, and we each take a chair next to the small table stationed against her kitchen wall, and chatter away. I say that it is rather a luxury to have one’s furniture arrive so swiftly, to which she says that it is, and she is ever so glad that it did arrive so quickly for without it she and her husband would have been drinking their tea and eating their dinner in bed, to which I say that isn’t such a bad thing, and she chuckles and says, nay, of course, there be worse things in life, and I say, too right, there be. I inquire if it bores her to be sitting at home all day without a scrap of bread to be picked up off the floor, or a milk bottle to be washed, and she says her time spent at home is rather lovely for she and Mr Matthias will have porridge together of a morning before he goes into the post office at nine o’clock, whence she sits and knits, crochets, and reads until twelve o’clock noon, whence Mr Matthias closes the post office for an hour, whence they might have a cooked lunch together upstairs, and then Mr Matthias will return to the post office at one o’clock afternoon, whence Mrs Clementine will knit, crochet and read until she has to start preparing dinner at five o’clock evening, and sometimes during the afternoon, she might go over to the nursery to visit Miss Charlotte, and chatter away with her on a stool, and with Miss Christina too, so that each of them might be updated on the goings-on of the other, whilst the children are minded and watched over. I inquire if Miss Charlotte has conveyed much about whether she is missed inside her home and inside the nursery, and Mrs Clementine tells me she is missed in both places by Miss Charlotte, but they have remained the closest of friends and Miss Charlotte will think about advertising for another young lass to pay her lodgings to share her home with her, however she does suffer with a few reservations, for: should this new young lass do precisely what I did myself, and get up and get married and then build her own home, whatever will Miss Charlotte then do again, but miss someone else, and to this I say, yes, loneliness is a lonely business, and I would be lonely myself had I time enough to register my loneliness, however time I do not have, for I have dress orders coming out of my ears, and I feel the offer to work inside Mr Gregory’s store has come at a very good time, however I have reservations myself, for I have never worked for someone else before, and this my mother knows, and mama tells me not to fret, but it is ever so hard not to fret with my anxious feelings by my side all the time, like. Mrs Clementine pats my hand on the table and smiles at me and says my worries ought to hush, for I have good tidings and blessed things coming my way, and I know she is right of course, for she is always right, but my anxious feelings seem to dictate every step of my way, and I tell her this. *** I admire the red velvet on the soft chair I am sitting on in the back parlour behind Mr Gregory’s store in Hartwell Street. It is the most beautiful velvet. Mr Gregory’s seamstress mans the counter whilst Mrs Clementine and I drink tea with him. She asks his permission if she might state my conditions, and he says please do so, and she begins listing my conditions, with me timidly watching on, and praying they all appear reasonable. When she is done stating them, he says it is all very reasonable and we ought not to worry ourselves, for my demands can be met most certainly. When I feel I have enough courage I inquire of him: Mr Gregory, if I will, I working monday through to friday and having washing day and the Lord’s day off, will I not tire of catching the steam train every day, and will I not tire of having Master Fletcher Mason fetch me every day, for the journey to Landsdowne Square is for half of an hour, and that is quite a lengthy journey for a lady, Sir. He mumbles a hmm, and then says that he can understandably see how the commute would concern me, and the best way forward would be to act out our plans, for I to travel to and from Hartwell Street the beforementioned ways, and if I find I am utterly exhausted after three months of doing this, then perhaps I ought to consider paying lodgings in London someplace, and I look at him in horror, for I would have never conceived such a thing, although this I do not say aloud, and I feel the heat rising in my chest to my head, and the room starts to spin, and I plant my palms onto Mr Gregory’s lace tablecloth, to steady myself, and before I know it, my navy velvet bonnet with my head has collided with the edge of the lovely tea table and I am out cold. When I come to Mrs Clementine has me propped upright with her arm, and is fanning me, and I feel that she has loosened my corset, no doubt a solution to my breathlessness, one she has witnessed many times over now. Mr Gregory returns to his parlour, seating himself opposite me once again, and declares in jest that his water system ought not to be poisoned, for then he will have no choice but to demand compensation from his water company for his ailed guests. Mrs Clementine laughs and says to null and void his troubles, for my disposition is since from birth and quite an often occurrence. He says he has heard of this condition called anxiety before however he does not understand how it works nor what brings it about, and I tell him that I do not neither, however in this instance it was his allusion to my leaving the square and coming to live in London Town, and he immediately gives his most heartfelt apology, and asks my forgiveness for his impertinence, and I say there was none unveiled in my presence, and it perhaps was not so much what he said that horrified me, but perhaps my emotions surrounding his suggestion that forced me breathless. He says that he sees, and that he is ever so sorry to hear of my ails, and if he hears of a good doctor whom specialises in this field then he will be sure to pass on his card to myself, and I say that would be much appreciated, and Mrs Clementine thanks him for the tea, and tells him we must be leaving now, and he tells me that I should not think my condition being exposed to him has jeopardised me of my employment offer, for he would not discriminate over something that cannot be helped, and I tell him that I am very glad he is a sensible and reasonable man who does not hold it against me, and he says he wishes me better health in the evening, and I say I will be well again shortly, and Mrs Clementine and I leave the back parlour, smile to his seamstress as we pass her, and depart his store altogether. *** Two days later I am having tea with Mrs Clementine, when Master Fletcher Mason presents himself on Mrs Clementine’s landing just before her kitchen door, he raps his knuckles on the wall to indicate his presence, and we turn and Mrs Clementine asks him to come forward to her. He does as he is told and says: Mrs, I have a letter for Miss Magdalena from Hartwell Street, and Mr Matthias says I has to come up the stairs to see you and to give it to her, with her being here for tea. Mrs Clementine says her thanks, kitters away in her purse for 15p, and hands it to him, enclosing his hand in hers as she does, with a loving warm smile spread across her face. He says: Thank you Mrs, and scurries back down the stairs to join Mr Matthias in the post office. Mrs Clementine presents me my letter on a silver tray which is rather formal of her, however as we are sitting opposite one another in soft chairs, it is easier for her to lean out the tray rather than lean her whole body out of her chair to give it to me, I figure. I laugh at the formality, to which she smiles and in jest, she tells me not to chide her. Even before opening my letter, I know it to be from Mr Gregory and I say as much to Mrs Clementine and she says they are her thoughts as well. I read the letter aloud: Miss Magdalena Baroche, I hope you will be overjoyed to know that I have decided to employ you as a seamstress with opportunities to grow with my company, as my company itself sees growth, alongside my current seamstress, whence the two of you will converse with one another on all matters of drawing, designing, sewing, and measuring the ladies of London, and seeing to payments and bills owed, without much ado from myself. You will be expected to purchase fabrics from the merchant at a most affordable cost, with my seamstress’s guidance of course, however affordable fabrics is something you will have an affinity with by now, I am sure. With regards to your name adorning the inside layer of the dresses, might I suggest you use a small clipping of left over fabric and sew this with your name on it, on the inside of the dresses. This way the dress itself has not been interfered with and ladies can clip it off if they wish. Will you please present yourself for your very first day at 345 Hartwell Street, Harredon, London, two days from now, at 9 o’clock morning sharp. Yours cordially, Mr Gregory Picton, Proprietor of Gregory Picton’s. *** My first few weeks working for Mr Picton have been pleasant enough. Miss Katherine, his seamstress, and the wonderful woman behind all of the wonderful frocks in his store, is English-born, widowed with no children, and was raised in the heart of London. She knows not much about the country at all and has been to more coming out balls than I have had hotpots. She is very knowledged, travelled, and well-read, having gone to finishing school and having focussed on dressmaking. She is nineteen years old, and lives in her own home that she purchased with her deceased husband when she was seventeen. He died shortly after their wedding from tuberculosis. She says that she has thrown herself into sewing ever since as she tries not to dwell on what she cannot control; a circumstance which she did not have a say in. Mr Picton is very happy with my machine work and has said that a number of women have come into his store and have spoken with him directly and have inquired who in fact this magnificent Miss Magdalena Baroche is, for they have some lady friends who have ordered frocks from his store, frocks that were sewn by myself, and they now want to order some frocks for themselves, frocks bearing my name, for they are ever so enamoured with my machine work, and they can tell a finishing school seamstress from a home-seamstress; how marvellous it is that I did not bother with finishing school then, I giggle to myself. When I arrive back in the square I am due at Number 61 Landsdowne Square, which is the post office, whose address comes after all the addresses belonging to the residences in the square because it is a commercial property. Mrs Clementine has arranged it so that instead of having guests walk through the post office of an evening, if we walk down the side lane beside the post office and stop at the door connected to the back room, and ring the bell attached to the brickwork there, then she will hear it and will be able to come downstairs to greet her guests. Which is exactly what I do, and after a short time in the dark and the cold, Mrs Clementine’s face does appear and she opens the door to let me inside, and once I am inside, she closes and locks it behind me, and welcomes me to follow her upstairs. Once upstairs we walk straight into the kitchen where a pot of soup has been boiled on the hob and some bread has been gotten into already on the table. Mrs Clementine tells me that Mr Matthias is at the public house with some of his gentlemen friends and they might be there a while, so we have the house to ourselves until his return and we may be as womanly and as delirious as we possibly wish to be in one another’s company. Mrs Clementine props a bowl of soup and a spoon and a butter knife down in front of me, and I untie my bonnet and prop it under my bottom, before putting my spoon into my soup bowl, and reaching out toward the cob of bread and breaking off a small chunk that I dip into the delicious hot soup, and then deposit into my mouth. The soup that Mrs Clementine has made is of the pea and ham variety and it is ever so tasty and delectable, and I can tell she has had the bone boiling in it all day, which is the way of it, naturally. I tell her that many ladies in London are favouring my dresses and I am but new to the city, and she tells me that sewing my name to every one of my dresses was a magnificent and wise idea and if Miss Katherine was savvy, she would follow suit, and I say: oh but she has. She has seen how women want my dresses and she knows her sewing is just as good as mine, and I can vouch that it is, of course, however before when she was sewing for Mr Picton, the dresses went completely unmarked so naturally, the ladies of London were completely left unawares about who the dressmaker was. But since my arrival in the town of London, I feel I am making a huge difference in London fashion, for none of the dressmakers in the boutique couturies have names on their dresses either, and I feel the women find it refreshing to be able to give credit where credit is due and credit to whom it ought to be given to, when it comes to the origins of the garments they are wearing. Mrs Clementine jests that she did not think me the boastful type, and I say, that I did not either, and we both laugh as I eat some more soup and bread. She then goes on to say that it won’t be long before all the couturiers in London are marking their dresses with their seamstresses names, and I say, nay, it won’t be, and having marked dresses will soon pave the way for so many budding designers out there, and she says, too right it will, for say-a-say is the quickest way to spread news and gossip, as anyone knows. She says of news and gossip, I have some news of mine own, and I say: what might that be now, and she tells me that she is expecting, with an enormous grin on her face, and my spoon falls into my soup bowl, and I start squealing. I have never been more delighted for a friend, and I tell her this. To soon have a little baby to play with – how wonderful that shall be. To soon have a little baby to dress in little clothes – how wonderful that shall be. Chapter Six I have been working for Mr Picton for nearly a year now and I am sitting at my sewing machine sewing an order for Miss Holdsworth when Miss Katherine says to me that she wonders if I might be interested in becoming her tenant and paying lodgings for the second vacant bedroom in her house two minutes from Hartwell Street seeing as my vocation is situated in Hartwell Street, and she does pity me having to catch train every morning and sit in carriage every cold night, and does it interest me? I stop winding the winder, and stop for a moment, and look at her. I say that I have become quite accustomed to travelling each morning in the train and travelling each evening in Master Fletcher Mason’s horsecart, so much so, that it hasn’t bothered me in the slightest, however I will think about her offer for if I did reside two minutes away from Mr Picton’s store, I may very well find that I have more time to do things for myself rather than for every other lady living in London. There isn’t much keeping me in the square, I think to myself, other than Mama and Papa, and of course, I do love them dearly, but they are getting on now. At noon, Miss Katherine and I take our tea break in the backroom, sitting opposite the round tea table, facing each other. She inquires if I have put any more thought toward her offer, and I say, that, actually, whilst finishing the zip on one of Miss Holdworth’s dresses, I was indeed to-ing and fro-ing with the thought of packing a suitcase and moving myself and my life officially to London, for, if it became an awful situation, then I could merely pack my things once more, and return to Landsdowne Square where my presence would be most welcome. She asks what the outcome of my ponderings will be, and I delight her by confessing that on this one occasion I shall throw all caution to the wind, and with spontaneity in my step, I will leave Landsdowne Square and most enthusiastically embark on a new living arrangement inside her home. She squeals with excitement, propping her tea cup and saucer onto the white doily in front of her, kicking her chair back from under her bottom, and jumping up and down like a school girl, however, to be fair, she was but one only two years passed. I join her in the ruckus, and this such ruckus alerts Mr Picton to some commotion, and he presents himself in the backroom rather soonish, with an astonished look on his bristled face. Miss Katherine goes on to tell him that I shall be moving to live with her and she is rejoicing at the thought she will soon have a lady companion to cook with, and sew with, and read with of an evening. Mr Picton says that he agrees, and that the news of my new living arrangements is something that I ought to celebrate, and why do I not plan to hold an arrival party, to which I say: whatever might an arrival party be? And Miss Katherine enlightens me by explaining that Londoners hold balls for all sorts nowadays, henceforth an arrival party being the event where a young woman has committed herself to living in London for quite some time, and thus needs to formally introduce herself to her community for want of friends and a social circle. I exclaim that it is a brilliant idea – and why ever did I not think of holding such a ball myself? Mr Picton offers his own private ballroom as the venue for the upcoming ball, and Miss Katherine and I eye one another quickly, both affirming that we were both unaware he even had his own private ballroom. That settles it then, Mr Picton says, leaving we ladies alone in the backroom once more, feeling giddy with the thought of another ball that will be in mine own honour. How delicious a thought, I think. So the following morning, after telling mama and papa my good news, I run upstairs to my room, and pack all of my clothes into my one and only suitcase. In a crate, I stow my books, and rolls of parchment, and canvas paintings from my youth, and their easel. Some friends of Mr Matthias oblige in being of strong assistance to me by loading my Singer sewing machine and mannequin onto the back of a horsecart, which Master Fletcher Mason chauffeurs into London, with myself as his passenger, at a fee of two shillings. We arrive at Miss Katherine’s home, where two burly men in torn blue trousers, stained white shirts and braces, each grab one of my hands and pull me down from the tray behind the horsecart, to which I give me utmost thanks. With me out of the way, one of them hops onto the back tray of the horsecart so as to steer my sewing machine off the tray, while the other man readies himself to catch it, and together they both carry the damned heavy thing over Miss Katherine’s home’s threshold, and into the second bedroom where I have agreed to live for the next twelve months. I open my purse to offer them five shillings for I have no idea whom they are, and they say that payment has been covered by a Mr Gregory Picton and they shalt not be taking any pennies from me. I express a deep gratitude for their services, and promise to call on them when it is time to be moving back to Landsdowne Square, in jest of course, and they know it. They smile, nod their thanks, and walk down Hartwell Street back to wherever they came from. Miss Katherine greets me and ushers me inside, closing her bright green front door behind us. She inquires if I would like some tea and I ask her how much time before we must start work, to which she answers that we have thirty minutes to spare before we must walk to work, which is only up the road a minute away. I say I will have some tea, and I enter her cosy drawing room where I sit down in a very soft and inviting armchair, putting my bag on the floor, and crossing my feet. A small morning fire crackles in the grate and I spend my solitude albeit a temporary one that lasts five minutes, peering about the room, concluding that Miss Katherine’s drawing room is indeed more cosy than mama and papa’s, and the absence of one million siblings who insist on prancing about the parlour like beheaded chooks ought to be the reason behind my findings alas. Miss Katherine returns with a silver tea set on a silver tray and props this onto the small tea table in front of our knees. She asks whether I take sugar and milk and I say that I do have both, and once our teas are brimming to the edge of the teacups, we sit back, relaxing, familiar and comfortable with one another. I feel at ease knowing I have bathed and dressed and all of my belongings have been stowed away in Miss Katherine’s second room, of which she confides in me, saying that all the rooms in her house have names, and do I not know it, to which I say that I most certainly do not, and will she please tell me their names. Miss Katherine’s room is called The Regal Room, mine is called The Majestic Room, and the drawing room is called The Divine Room, while the kitchen is called The Feasting Room. With this new information I can see that Miss Katherine is a creative soul – one who will not accept mediocrity when fantasy words and playful words that explode inside one’s mind are readily available, she says. Why call it a kitchen when The Feasting Room sounds so much better, she asks, and to this I agree, and say that I ought to have named my sewing machine years ago. Her sewing machine is called Mrs Couturier, which is very adorable and oh-so-befitting indeed. We finish our cups of tea, leave 300 Hartwell Street for the day, and venture toward Gregory Picton’s – our place of employment. When we get to work we hang our coats on the coat stand in the backroom, tightening our bonnets to our heads, lest they might have loosened themselves during the removal of our coats. I sit down at my machine, pop a bobble of white cotton on a spindle, pulling it through the main metal spindle on my right hand side so that my machine has something to work with, and then threading the main needle with the white cotton, pulling it through the needle quite a way, so it doesn’t decide to defy me and retreat through the hole whence it came. Satisfied the cotton is being my friend today, I stand up, kicking back my stool, and unpinning from my pinning mannequin the right sleeve belonging to Miss Dearing’s order, I take it with me back to my machine to sew it closed, and to add some lacework at the end of the sleeve so that her wrist is dressed as well. Undressed wrists and ankles are for paupers and every well-to-lady in London knows it. Women who cannot afford to buy dresses with adorned sleeves and hems sometimes purchase trims of lacework separately later on and stitch these onto their sleeves and hems later on, which is more affordable, if you don’t have the money to buy it done from the bobble. I would be one of those women had I not grown into dress making and sewing mine own dresses. During our tea break Mr Picton presents me with a fruitcake, which he says is a “welcome to London” gift from himself to myself, and shall we slice the cake and eat some with our tea, and I say that we most definitely shall, and I retrieve three small round cake plates from a cupboard above my head, and Miss Katherine goes about cutting the fruit cake into three portions, leaving a fourth rectangle belonging to no one. Mr Picton inquires if I have put any more thought toward my arriving party, to which I say that I actually have not, and with all of the traipsing about England that I have done that morning, all thoughts pertaining to parties and arriving in the borough of London formally have so far not presented themselves within my mind, as far as I, of that thought, am aware. Mr Picton smiles, and says I shall feel at liberty in approaching him at any time of the day at the deciding of a date and some thoughts on the banquet and the entertainment. I thank him, spooning a mouthful of fruitcake into my mouth, and eating my portion until there is not but a crumb left on my white china cake plate. Miss Katherine confesses that the fruitcake is indeed most lovely and decadent and wherever did Mr Picton buy such a wonderful delicate sweet from, to which Mr Picton says, he had his maid Mrs Parfrey bake it that morning using cherries that have been glazing for a month. A month! Miss Katherine and I both squeal. However has she glazed them for a month without them expiring? I ask most inquisitively. To which Mr Picton says of this he has wondered himself, and he has asked her, however, she will not confide her baking secrets to him. That evening Miss Katherine takes to The Feasting Room to prepare our dinner of pumpkin soup and rolls, while I spend some time in my room, unpacking my dresses, and finding a place for all of my old canvasses and books. There is a small book shelf near the window which I find is suitable enough and my sixty or so books just fit in it nicely. This time however I have not alphabetised the titles in the shelving as I normally would, for after work, I was left feeling rather weary and very much looking forward to my first dinner in my new home. I fold my dresses nicely so that the chest is turned upward and all collars are on full viewing, and prop them into drawers in the chest near the doorway, closing them behind me when the job is done. The bed which is big enough for two adults has a beautiful apricot cotton duvet with matching pillow slips which I just adore. It is covered in trees and birds and orchids which are my favourite flower. I mentally note that I feel I will enjoy sleeping in my new bed as well. I make my way into the kitchen where I sit down in a faded white wooden chair, de-creasing the fabric in my lap so that I may accept a lapcloth when Miss Katherine proffers me one. I take the lapcloth from her and place it in my lap, next accepting the bib, this I tuck into my collar and let it hang over my chest so that I don’t splatter soup all over my dress. I do adore the bedclothes in The Majestic Room, I say to Miss Katherine in between sips of my soup, to which she explains that she made it herself and she is ever so glad that I like it. We dine for the rest of the evening in a comfortable silence, not really feeling the need to discuss anything in any sort of depth, for we do a rather lot of talking whilst at work. She does mention that she likes having me working alongside her, for before Mr Picton employed me, she worked alone the day, and she was melancholy for not having another woman or lady friend to converse with. I say to this that I understand her feelings entirely, for when I used to sit up in my room inside mama and papa’s house sewing dress orders day in, day out, though I was occupied and my brain was kept at work, my heart was weary with the lack of conversation, and the interruptions made by my younger siblings were actually small reprieves for me. They say everything is healthy for one’s body, mind, and heart in moderation, and I must agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly. Miss Katherine and I wash our bowls and spoons afterward and retire to The Divine Room to sit by an evening’s fire, crackling away in its grate, in soft chairs with our boots off our aching feet, cross-stitching. She is stitching some birds in a tree and I am stitching a kitten playing with a pink ball of wool. Mama gave it to me as a leaving home gift. We didn’t cry when I left – I wasn’t sad. Because I know I will have better prospects in London and if I want to ever see mama and papa and the babes all I have to do is fetch Master Fletcher Mason and he will only be too happy to cart me into Landsdowne Square once more. I did see papa’s eyes looking rather glassy though – his eldest daughter leaving the nest – how wonderful and heartbreaking all at the same time. I put a hand to his whiskered face, looked into his eyes and told him I loved him before dropping a kiss on his bristled cheek. When would you like to hold your arriving party, Miss Katherine asks, and I look up from my cross stitch momentarily to say I haven’t really put much thought toward it, however if time and finance permits I should think in three weeks from now, and Miss Katherine agrees that sounds reasonable and would I like another cup of tea, to which I say that I would, and I hand her my teacup and saucer so that she may take them into The Feasting Room with her. She returns shortly afterward placing my tea in front of me, and returning to her chair, and picking up her needle and circle again. I have to attend my sister’s birthday tomorrow evening and as such will not be home to cook the dinner. Feel free to use any of the ingredients in the kitchen and whichever dishes you see fit, she says. Thank you very much, I shall, I say, sipping my tea. Where does she live, and what is her name, I ask of Miss Katherine, to which she answers that she lives in the East End and her name is Jacqueline, and she will be turning 21. Do you have any other siblings, I ask, to which Miss Katherine says, nay, but it only ever were she and her sister after their mama passed away when they were children. I am terribly sorry to hear about your mama passing, I say to Miss Katherine, who says that she too is very sad about it at times, and she was quite young when her mother passed, which is one of the unfair things about life, when a mother dies so young, leaving two young’uns behind. Did her father manage very well, I ask, to which she says that he managed quite well, as they also had a maid to cook for them, and clean the house. What was your father’s occupation Miss Katherine, I ask, to which she says he was a wagon maker and a carpenter and what a fine craftsmen he were, and times weren’t all that bad for he and the maid fell in love, and decided to marry, and she became their stepmother, and she and her papa are still alive today, she explains. Oh that’s wonderful, I exclaim – I am ever so glad that there was a happy ending for your father and the maid albeit the circumstances under which they met, I must admit, they must have been poorly and painful at the time, I say. I was eight years old and Jacqueline was ten, so we were oblivious to the possibility that papa would marry another woman ever again. Mrs Lindsay was nice enough, and love her we did, but I am not sure we will ever love her as much as we loved our mama, she says. No, quite right, you will not, I say. So that is where I will be tomorrow evening. How will you spend your evening tomorrow, Miss Magdalena? I think I will come straight home for the street merchants will have closed shop by the time we close ours, and I will make a start on the dinner straight away and perhaps come and sit down by the fire while I wait for it to be done, I say. Lovely, Miss Katherine says. The next day at the dress store passes rather quickly and though it doesn’t feel like it I get rather a lot done. After helping Miss Katherine sort out her machine, for there seems to be a miscommunication with her winder and her needle and when she winds the winder the needle does not budge, I see to a lady whom has just walked in the store. How do you do, I ask her, to which she says she is good and well, and what beautiful dresses we have in here, to which I say that we do, and I say that most modestly for half of it is mine own work, and she asks if I might be Miss Magdalena Baroche, and I say, why yes, of course that woman is I, and she asks me: will I take her measurements and make her several dresses and petticoats and I say that I will, and does she mind waiting a moment while I fetch my pins for they reside on the counter. With my small tin of pins in my hand, I lead her to the dressing room where we will have some privacy. She removes her hat and gloves and props these on a chair in the corner. I pull the curtain closed around us so that none of the other ladies or Mr Picton specifically can see her whence she is undressed. Once she has removed her bonnet, her jacket, and her dress, I help her step out of the latter, and this we drape over another chairback. I ask her to remove her boots and to stand on the small wooden stool afront of her. With the long snaking measuring tape dangled around my neck I measure her hips, her waist, her bust and her shoulders, her underarms and the length of her arms. Once I am finished measuring I ask her to wait a moment whilst I go and fetch my calico. I wrap a long sheet of very thin white calico around her figure, silhouetting her figure with my pins, starting from her underarm and going downward until I reach her ankle. When I am satisfied that my pin-work follows her silhouette closely enough, I take my dressmaking scissors from the chair and begin cutting away the excess fabric, which is all the fabric on the external side to the pin. Once the excess fabric has been but all removed, I begin unpinning the silhouette I had made, to free my customer from her fabric-prison. I wrap calico around each of her arms, pinning these as her sleeves, and remove all excess fabric outside of the pin. Once the excess fabric has been removed, I unpin my customer free from her sleeves. I pinch the flesh under her arms in a few places to get an idea of how much fabric I ought to leave for stretching room. There is nothing more uncomfortable in this world than too tight a sleeve, and not being able to move for the fabric of one’s dress might accidentally be too tight across one’s shoulders. Once Miss Karathwaite has dressed and we are out of the dressing room and back in the light shining into the store through the window, I slide across to her three separate cards of fabric, lace and colour samples that she is able to choose from. Miss Katherine made this card of samples at her old workplace, and I am very glad she remembered to bring it along with her to Gregory Picton’s. I take up some sheets of drawing paper and a leadstick and standing behind the counter whilst Miss Karathwaite faces me, ask questions about the two dresses Miss Karathwaite desires, drawing illustrations of them as we speak, and noting names of different fabrics she would like, and different colours she would like, and all the embellishments and lacework that she would like. One dress is to be long-sleeved with lace cuffs and a lace hem, with a round décolletage, and the other is to be a cropped sleeved dress with a square décolletage and a cut a little bit higher above her ankle than the other dress ought to be show as to show off her new booties she bought from Manfred’s yesterday. Miss Karathwaite being the third woman this week to mention making a purchase at Manfred’s has me mentally noting that I ought to walk in there myself during my lunch hour, to peruse the many delectable leathery delights on offer. I tell her we will keep her pattern and her measurements in the backroom on file until the next time she wishes to have a dress made. Keeping her patterns and her measurements allows us to skip the whole process of dressing and redressing, and one can just jump straight to choosing colours and styles, which is the fun part really. Miss Karathwaite agrees and nods her head and says that is a very good idea, for it really is a bother to be undressing and redressing when one needs to buy so many things in Hartwell Street and then needs to have luncheon and tea as well. I sympathise with her, and say that yes, I know wholeheartedly how bothersome it is to be doing all of that. I tell her that it will take me two weeks to make these two dresses and two petticoats, and does she mind that time frame, to which she says, not at all, and that actually sounds rather marvellous in fact. Miss Karathwaite inquires whether we be like all the other couturiers in Hartwell Street, and will we deliver her dress to her house, and then can she pay us her bill there? I answer: Of course Miss Karathwaite, naturally, and she smiles, bids me a good day, and I bid her a good day. I felt like adding: Well, Mr Picton ought to do something around here. Which he does mind; he delivers all of the dresses to his customers at their homes. A second after her departure a lovely young lass who goes by the name of Miss Nancy Fallington, approaches me at the counter, with her lady friend whom I have not been acquainted with yet, all smiles, and joy, and glee, and knowing she wants to embrace me, I step out from behind my counter, and we embrace each other, with her saying: Oh Miss Baroche, how do you do? You are looking so well, and what a fine frock you are wearing today, of course it is one of your own, I need not hazard a guess as to who made that, to which I say, ah yes, Miss Nancy, how lovely it is to see you, and yes, this be one of my creations, do you not just adore it? I ask twirling around and giving her a 360 degree view of the dress I wear at work this day. Oh, I do Miss Baroche, I do adore it, I always adore your work which is why I am in again today, and Miss Baroche, my lady friend here Miss Francesca Verelia, would too like her measurements taken for archiving for later. Of course Miss Nancy, why hello Miss Francesca, and how do you do this fine day, please do come this way. I will send you to the dressing room for undressing and pull this here this curtain closed. Prop your belongings on the chairs Miss Francesca. Do call me in when you are ready to be measured, won’t you? I say. I pull the curtain closed behind me while Miss Francesca undresses; a bonnie woman with strawberry blonde curls cascading about her face, with the cinchest waist one has ever seen, and dimples so alluring I could kiss her my very self. A little sparrow tells me you reside in our very own Hartwell Street Miss Baroche! Oh, whenever did this happen, my talented bon? Miss Nancy says, pushing her hat up a bit for it is sliding down over her face. Oh, but only yesterday, I say, adding that news does indeed travel fast in this street, to which Miss Nancy says, do I not know it? Will you be having an arriving party then? She asks me. I shall be having an arriving party, most definitely Miss Nancy, and you shall be the first guest who receives invitation by hand, I smile. Oh, Miss Baroche, well this calls for a celebration, it really does. You, an innovative and modern dressmaker living in our very own Hartwell Street, and you are to be having an arriving party too, oh, I must gather the coterie, Miss Baroche, for they all too, do love your work, and they will be thrilled when I tell them you are now one of us, she says. Will they truly? I ask. Certainly, Miss Baroche, you are much admired in these parts of London pop, she assures me. Miss Francesca announces she is ready for my aid, and I leave Miss Nancy standing by the counter to take her friend’s measurements. Another woman walks in and thankfully Miss Katherine sees to her, for I really have my hands full. Miss Nancy is flicking through the fabric samples, and calling out names to Miss Francesca through the velvet curtain, who says her decisions ought to be delayed until she can have a thorough look at the fabrics herself, and Miss Nancy tells her she won’t be disappointed for they have the finest silks and satins on offer all the way from Italy if a lady wants. As Miss Francesca would have it, she is ordering one full length gown, in a very expensive silk that I know we do not have in the backroom, and so I tell her I must order it from Italy, and its arriving here will take three weeks, and then it will take one week for it to be made, and does she mind any of this?

Landsdowne Square – Part One. Adult Fiction. 1874.

Part One

Miss Clementine Everington

I have come to Landsdowne Square in Harredon, London, from Harredon London countryside. It is a very beautiful square with the facades of all sixty residences being painted a different colour, the homes keeping very conservative and subdued ofcourse – nothing too garish. I lug my belongings to my new front door with me, and a small boy who goes by name of Master Fletcher Mason departs with the horses. Thank goodness the front door isn’t very far from the gravelled road, for every little house in this square is without front yard really. We are compensated with a large communal lawn, which exists as the centrepiece of Landsdowne square, and this has been by architectural planning and land design. 42 Landsdowne Square is of white brick, with a deep green front door which I adore. It is both aesthetically and functionally pleasing, with two sleeping rooms, one drawing room with its own fireplace, an internal washroom, with a free standing white porcelain bath that has glossy black wrought iron feet, which is an

absolute luxury that I did not have at mama and papa’s home in the countryside. Our bathing was done in a large tin bath afront of the fireplace of as Sunday evening, when father made himself scarce. My new home also has an internal kitchen where we can cook on a coal hob which is just grand. I have come to live with Miss
Charlotte, who is 21, whose elderly parents recently passed away, leaving her orphaned, and alone, and quite lonely.
After reading her ad in the newspaper, I took pity upon her circumstances and mine own – that of needing to escape the countryside for a borough more happening – and wrote to he of my interest in becoming her tenant. Two weeks ago horsecart was sent to me from Landsdowne Square to bring me to meet Miss Charlotte so that we could converse
living arrangements etcetera. We warmed to one another instantly and agreed today to be my living in day. Miss Charlotte meets me in the hallway where she helps me with my luggage. I have two cases we take into a room down the hallway on the right, which is to be mine room. We chat for a few minutes before she leaves me to unpack alone, to take in my surrounds and gather my thoughts. She closes the door behind her. I untie my bonnet and put it on the bed. I rub my head just above my ears where my bonnet has been digging into my head. I fold my dresses and petticoats and place them in the drawers chest in the room. I fold my overthrows and undergarments and place these
onto the plain white wooden shelving to the left of the chest of drawers. The few other bonnets I possess, I pile neatly next to my stockings, and then I close the lids on my brown leather cases and stow them under the large square bed. My bed is made of brass and looks rather new – not a bed that would belong to an elderly married couple. I look down at the embroidered duvet I am sitting on – it is a colourful masterpiece that would have been lovingly and painstakingly crafted over many hours by Miss Charlotte’s mother, I presume. I leave my room to find Miss Charlotte sitting in the drawing room by the fire, her stockinged feet resting on the footstool afront of her, while she knits babies booties, and her freshly boiled cup of tea, waits patiently, in its saucer, on a small round-wood side table to her left. Her boots have been discarded on the floor under her feet. I sit down in the soft chair facing her and she looks up at me and smiles. She inquires how I have found my new room and I tell her that I am very happy with it, that it is very comfortable indeed, and isn’t the brass bed-frame ever so lovely? Is it brand new? To this she says, it is new and it was purchased especially for me, as her parent’s bed frame was extremely outdated, and just would not do for someone of my age, I being 20. I thank her for her generosity and spirit and she tells me that her home is now mine home, and we shall do everything together like we are sisters. I smile warmly and tell her of my new job at the nursery commencing tomorrow, the nursery where she too minds the children of Landsdowne square. The room we will mind the children in, she explains, is a room inside the Square hall building, which is at the very back of the Square, and located in such a way as though it presides over the Square. She tells me I will be fond of the children there, as she is fond of them herself, and she might as well be for she might not be a mother, with not having any line of suitors calling on her, at her age. Miss Charlotte says she is content either way, to be with husband or without, and to have my new-found friendship in her life is a great source of comfort for her anyhow. I second her
appreciation for our new-found companionship, and say that I would like to boil the kettle, for I would like a cup of tea. She throws her knitting aside, jumps up from her soft chair, and leads me into the kitchen whence she puts a metal kettle on the hob to boil some water. She does not have running water and any water we need for the kettle
must be got from the water pump outside in the rear garden. I nod and say I am used to using water pumps as we had one at home in the countryside. We sit down at her small dining table set for two, chatting away happily while the water boils. She tells me she is an only child, her mother passed away seven months ago from old age. Her father’s
passing was three years ago before now from pneumonia. A kitty walks across the table past my elbows, and jumps off the edge of the table and onto the rug on the ground, stopping to curl up on Miss Charlotte’s stockinged feet. Miss Charlotte scoops Fox up in her lap, and walks with her to the hob, to make the tea. We go into the drawing room
once more, to drink our tea, which is much warmer than sitting in the cold kitchen. I sit down again in the same soft chair, propping my cup of tea onto the little sidetable beside me. It is the same sort of sidetable as Miss Charlotte’s.
The fire crackles softly in the background, and I hear the click click click of Miss Charlotte’s knitting needles. The room is peaceful and calm. I do away with my boots, setting them down on the ground next to my footstool. Miss Charlotte says that they are beautiful boots, and I say I purchased them from Harrington’s the last time I was in
Harredon, which was four months ago. She asks where I buy my petticoats and dresses and I tell her about Mrs Briggs, the clothier in the countryside, where I was born, that sells everything a young woman needs for dressing.
She smiles and asks if I am reading Far From The Madding Crowd by Mr Thomas Hardy, and I say I have heard much ado about it however have yet to buy a copy, after which she says, well go to the bookstore during your lunch break tomorrow and buy it then. She would lend me her copy, she says, however she is in the middle of reading it. As
women who love reading, we should read it together sitting by the fire of an evening, thus she will stop with the book at once, and wait for me to arrive at the same sentence, so that we may read it aloud and follow the narrative together. This is a splendid idea, I say, smiling and then sipping my tea. I say I have a cross stitch in my case I ought
to be working on, and so I leave the drawing room to retrieve my cross stitch from my new room, and rejoin Miss Charlotte with my cross stitch. She knits and I sew, and we sip tea, and we enjoy the warmth emanating from her fireplace, on this, a very peaceful Sunday afternoon.

I open my eyes and look around the room. It is a strange room with foreign shadows and I have momentarily forgotten where I am. It soon dawns on me that I am sleeping
inside 42 Landsdowne Square. I grab my timepiece which says that it is seven o’clock in the morning. I turn the lantern up higher and get out of bed. I remove my nightgown, fold it, and put it away on the shelf. I pull on my undergarments and find a petticoat to wear. It is made of a white cotton. I find my favourite lilac coloured dress that
has small brown flowers all over it. I step into it, holding the shoulders as I do, and put my arms into the long narrow sleeves once the dress is high enough up my torso to do so. However will I close the buttons on the back of the dress without mama here to help me? Tis a huge dilemma I have never encountered before. Thankfully there is a knock on
my door and Miss Charlotte walks into my room. I breathe a breath of relief and ask her however have you been dressing unaided for seven months? It has been difficult with bending my arms at all sorts of odd and strange angles, but I have managed, she answers. Once she has finished fastening the button on my dress, she turns her back to me, so that I may fasten the buttons on hers. I put on a matching bonnet, tying it under my chin. Miss Charlotte has her bonnet on already. We go into the washroom to brush our teeth together, I using some of her tooth cream as I haven’t brought any with me from the countryside. How silly of me to forget it. Miss Charlotte says she doesn’t mind sharing hers until I buy mine own. Her basin and her bath both have drainage systems however no running water, so if I am ever wanting a bath I must boil the kettle on the hob in the kitchen, and cover my hands in teaclothes so as not to burn myself. She says the pots are quite heavy when full so she will help me. I explain to her that mama and I sat inside a tin bath beside the fire using pots of water we boiled over the fire, and with these, while resting on our knees, we filled the tin bath with water until it was full. I inquire however have you been bathing with no one to help you? And she says she has been bathing in very low water, and to this, we both laugh. It doesn’t do to live alone we
agree. We go into the kitchen where we scoop porridge into bowls and sit down to a hearty and warm breakfast before we walk to the nursery. The children will begin arriving at eight in the morning, Miss Charlotte says, and so we leave our dirty bowls in the washtub, put on our brown leather boots, and leave for the nursery. Miss Charlotte
locks the door behind us with a silver key, and puts it in a grey felt pouch that she sewed herself and wears around her neck. She says she never carries on herself more than two shillings at a time. Whilst the square is a lovely place, one never knows when they’ll be mugged, she says. I close the gate behind us and follow Miss Charlotte, listening to
the beige gravel crunching under our boots as we step onto the road to walk toward the nursery. I take in the square and my surrounds – it is such a beautiful square with four lines of houses bordering the square naturally, all fashioned in one cottage style, painted in either white, cream, or lemon, light green or pale blue, every door
mismatched, wooden picket fencing boxing in every home. Miss Charlotte points out the church, the infirmary, the officer’s house, the bakery, the butcher, the bookstore, the hatmaker, the clothier, the bootmaker, the writing store, the grocer, the confectioner, the toymaker, the public house, the bank and finally, the post office. Miss Charlotte says
that if I do not want to keep my pennies at home I ought to go to the bank on my lunch break and open an account there, to which I say I will do just that. In the nursery room, we go around, pulling curtains back off windows to let the sun shine in. The first child arrives and goes by the name of Timothy. He says hello to Miss Charlotte, nods to me, leaves his lunch-tin in Miss Charlotte’s hands and runs off to play with a toy train-set. The day has passed; I have watched and played with thirty-six babes – some of them related, and some of them not. I have bottle-fed seven babies, changed their soiled clothes and sung them lullabies, lulling them to sleep. At one o’clock I have my lunch break for half an hour. I make way for the bakery because I am famished. I buy two cheese buns and devour them before going into the bank and opening an account there. I deposit money I do not need one me into the new account, and breathe easy knowing my purse is lighter with less for the muggers to rob me. I go next door into thew bookstore where Far From the Madding Crowd is piled several copies high atop a wooden table on most visible
display. I pick up a copy, take it to the counter and pay for it. The young girl behind the counter is very pretty and has a beautiful smile. Knowing I am new to the square she introduces herself to me as Miss Lily Patterson. Her parents own the bookstore, and she lives at number sixty, with them and her sister Miss Hilary. I tell her I am a new
companion to Miss Charlotte Broadfall and her eyes light up. She explains to me that they all used to walk to school together, their school being in the rear of the square hall. It teaches students aged five to fourteen, at which age students commence working, or continue their education for another three years if their parents can afford it. Miss
Lily works in the bookstore three days a week, and is studying a course in typing two days a week. She says her course helped her initially with the cash register in the bookstore. I wouldn’t know how to operate this new contraption, a cash register, if my life depended on it, I say to her. I do however know how to use a typewriter, I tell
her, taking my book from her. We say our goodbyes, and I leave, catching the names of some more books on my way out. As I approach the building housing the nursery, I see a man and a woman laughing, sitting up rather high in an expensive looking horsecart, two horses at the front of it for pulling it. How extravagant, I think to myself, taking a
closer look at the man, without making it obvious that I am inspecting him. He is the first man I have seen in the square – and rather dashing too. The woman beside him is blonde, her hair pinned in a tight bun high on her head; she wears a small expensive looking hairpiece on this bun. She is laughing happily. He entertains her, and I think
they must be husband and wife. Inside the nursery I tell Miss Charlotte that I have just seen a very dapper man with a very beautiful woman sitting in the tallest horsecart in town. The horses themselves are even dressed – no word of a lie. Did the woman have blonde hair and was she dressed somewhat expensively? She asks me, to which I say, yes, and that she was. Did the man have dark brown curls and a dark brown beard and was he wearing a day jacket? She asks me, to which I say yes, and that he was. She tells me I have seen Mr Gregory Picton, the mayor’s son, and a Miss Anna Hollingsworth – the woman he is courting. She is the daughter of Mr Herbert Hollingsworth, the owner of
the bank in the square, and a few others in Harredon, as well. Miss Anna lives in country Harredon on a private estate, whilst Mr Gregory Picton resides in the square with his father, often taking horsecart to the countryside to visit her, and bringing her back to square sometimes to picnic on the lawn afront of the Square hall building. Miss Charlotte says their engagement was announced in the paper two months ago. Miss Charlotte is sitting on a little wooden stool eating a sweet bun, whilst some babes and toddlers tug at her hems on the floor, and children older than two run around the room, or sit playing quietly, with wooden toys, nattering to one another in gobbledegook. She tells me we are allowed a thirty minute lunch break, albeit, this is how she usually eats her lunch, sitting amongst the children, and watching them, only ever leaving to go to the lavatory. It’s a very nice way to have lunch, I think, and I vow to leave all my errands for my days off, so that I can sit with Miss Charlotte and have lunch with her and the children. Who does the nursery belong to? I ask. It is a council initiative that has been running for two years now, and time before that, babes and children were minded, by neighbours in private homes, with the minding fee set by each minder. The council decided that the child minding fees needed to be consistent across the whole square, so that anyone wishing to have their children minded, they would pay no more than 3p per child a week. You and I are paid 10p weekly by the council. A woman who works for Mr Picton puts the wages into our accounts. Just give me 1p at the end of every week for your room and we shall be calling it fair. How is that? Miss Charlotte says. I say tis more than fine, and I’m delighted to be working and living with her. At four in the afternoon, all of the children leave, and we go about the room picking up empty milk bottles and crusts of bread, the children have left where they have been playing and napping. Miss Charlotte and I wash the bottles and teats in the kitchen using a faucet that has running water. I’m overjoyed by the faucet with running water, and this I tell Miss Charlotte. She agrees that it is indeed a luxury, and she wonders if she will ever have running water in her own lifetime. We prop the milk bottles on a draining board upside down to drain and dry overnight, and go back into the nursery, pulling all curtains across all windows, and go home for the evening. As we enter the cold night air, Mr Picton is coming home in his horsecart. Miss Charlotte and Mr Picton nod to one another in greeting and I smile politely and we keep walking.

Miss Charlotte is telling me about all the wonderful things that happen in the square such as: the flower shows, the mayor’s quarterly debutante ball, the community picnics on the lawn, the swap days – which are monthly events where everyone gathers in the townhall bringing items from home with them that they no longer want or need to swap with neighbours. A group of ladies in the square bake scones and bread and put on tea for the adults whilst the babes and children drink milk, and everyone chats whilst swapping items of value. It’s a place where they can eat cake, drink tea, and socialise with their neighbours, in one place all at the same time. It sounds absolutely wonderful and I can’t wait to attend my first swap day. Swap days are great for mingling with the single lads in the square, Miss Charlotte says, and I feel this is a great thing for we single ladies, for working with children five days a week does not leave much time to socialise with single men mine own age, and I am not the sort of woman to be drinking ale in the public house. I ask Miss Charlotte to forgive my impertinence, but was it ever a desire of hers to settle down and get married? And she goes on to explain that many a man in the square would be seen as lowering himself marrying a woman who owns her own home, when he does not, and she believes this to be the sole reason why she has been
overlooked marriage-wise. I feel at once gum upon hearing this might be the reason behind why this lovely, attractive and highly fashionable woman of 21, is a spinster. Miss Charlotte delighted in a few courtships when she was younger, when her mother was still alive and her mother owned the house, so, she says, she isn’t without knowing
love at all. It dawns on me that she no longer lives alone, and that I live with her as a sister of sorts. Single men in the square ought to court her, if they know that I am living with her, and nothing untoward would happen if Miss Charlotte’s home housed another young woman, surely. Surely the single lads in the square would have to come to
this conclusion? I say all of this to Miss Charlotte and she is thrilled I have thought such a thing. A joyful expression floods her face. She tells me the next ball is this coming Friday, and one million ideas start buzzing about the room, about what dresses we ought to wear, and how we ought to style our hair, with Miss Charlotte saying she cannot wait
to introduce me to, tapping a commentary of names off the tips of her fingers, and she mentions the few I could do without being acquainted to. I tell her I would like to be introduced to Mr Gregory Picton and his lady friend officially regardless of whether they are betrothed to one another, not because I am immoral but because it would be
nice to become acquainted with the mayor’s son. The otherwise never crossed her mind, she says.

On the evening of the ball Miss Charlotte and I touch down on the gravel track in our heels and are joined by our neighbours, who too are walking the gravel road toward the hall, in a row: Miss Dorothy Fortescue, Miss Annabelle Fortescue, Miss
Magdalena Baroche, Miss Elizabeth Walton, Miss Arabella Walton, and Miss Bessie Forthampshire, and her fiancé, Mr Harvey Bradbury. Miss Charlotte introduces me to our neighbours as Miss Clementine Everington, the woman who has been living with her. To this they all smile, and nod their hellos, saying how do you do, and Mr Bradbury says: The mystery woman and elusive new-comer is now but among us! We all laugh and walk into the stone marbelled foyer of the hall, acquainted and ready to mingle, over hordeurves, strawberry spritzers and whisky. I have seen the inside of the foyer before – I walk through it daily to get to the nursery. What I have not seen before is the
magnificent ballroom right before mine own eyes. Miss Charlotte tells me it was personally designed and built by Mr Clarence Picton – Mr Gregory Picton’s father. Eight large white columns line the room, with white renaissance embossed walls, and white filigree. Pattern after pattern, depth after depth, detail after flawless detail, haloed by a Sistine Chapel-esque ceiling, which is quite in contrast with the dark, deep red, polished, mahogany flooring that seems as though it goes on forever. The minimalist approach works wonderfully drawing attention to women’s dresses and the couples who are dancing and the different coloured fabrics swishing this way and then that way. There is a white-cloth table stationed against the west wall and the east wall – they hold bottles of champagne, glasses of strawberry spritzers, gins and brandies, and scotches and whiskies, and a pyramid of clean flutes for guests to drink from. Somewhere above my head a clock strikes eight o’clock, and we silence ourselves and anticipate Mr Clarence
Picton’s presence to perform a welcome speech in the heart of the ballroom. This evening, there are only three young lasses entering the social arena: Miss Lily Patterson, Miss Marbella Gideon, and Miss Margaret Jones; they have all just turned 15 in the last three months or so. The coming out age is a little younger in the square because a longer
courtship was preferred by the council, and by the young girls living in the square, steering them away from having to marry some lad they hardly know, in such a short space of time, which is the custom the world over. The age used to be 17, Miss Charlotte explains, so lovers are not allowed to engage in any physical relations until the girls are
seventeen. Miss Marbella, Miss Margaret and Miss Lily take up the hands of their suitors to dance. The ballroom follows suit and women and men line up facing each other to commence some steps and some hand claps. Miss Bessie and Mr Harvey disappear and Miss Charlotte and I stand in front of a white wall next to twins, Misses Dorothy
and Annabelle, and Miss Magdalena. At 19, the twins have wasted two years yearning for admirers, but admirers have been scarce. Appearance wise they are attractive, however they both have a bump on their nose that causes their noses to take over the whole face, and this makes them appear hawk-like. They are short in stature, and very narrow-shouldered and flat-chested, giving them pre-pubescent appearances. They have a small jaw each and barely a chin, and have enormous chocolate eyes and very long eyelashes that take prominence anyhow. The rosiness in their cheeks gives them femininity so combine this with their eyes and their lashes – I personally find them endearing – but I am not a man and have no idea what men seek in a mate. Miss Magdalena is very shy and suffers severe bouts of anxiety the second any man asks for her hand to dance. She instantly rescinds, turns bright red, and appears as though she will faint if the experience doesn’t end promptly. She tells me she must find another doctor with whom
she can work on her anxious feelings, lest she becomes a spinster at eighteen. She is very attractive – she has black curls; a curl cascading either side of her face – and she wears a black silk embellished floor length ball gown that has beading all over it – it was apparently custom-made for her eighteenth birthday four months ago. We instantly
become great friends and I promise to help her with her anxiety. She tells me every woman in the square admires Mr Gregory Picton, with a relationship between himself and Miss Charlotte being quite intimate around three years ago. This was information Miss Charlotte had neglected to share with me, and I am left feeling curious and intrigued. Apparently Miss Charlotte was not in high enough esteem because her business was in childminding. Mind you, three years ago, his father was not the mayor. What Mr Picton was so hoity toity about, neither of us knows. Miss Charlotte has not overheard us speak her name thankfully, for she is engaged in conversation with a Miss Vivian Glossman a few metres away. I ask if Mr Picton was Miss Charlotte’s only suitor, and I am assured that she has had three suitors in as many years, and then none at all in the last seven months, since her mother’s passing and since she owns property. I am dumbfounded and I say: How can Miss Charlotte be of not a high enough station one year, and then be of too high a station the next? Miss Magdalena is just as baffled as I am, and calls the lads in the square pillocks. A young man holds out his hand afront of me to ask for mine in dance. I give him my right hand in acceptance, farewell Miss Magdalena with a smile, and allow myself to be stolen away into the crowd of dancers. He
introduces himself as Mr James Boroughshaw, and inquires who I am. I introduce myself. He knows I’m living with Miss Charlotte, and how long have I been in the square? I say I arrived on Sunday evening, although unbeknownst to him and everyone else, it was really Sunday morning. I don’t suppose she wants Father to know she skipped Sunday Mass because she was waiting for me to arrive by horsecart. I pass by Miss Charlotte who is in dance with a man I don’t know; we smile in unison and then are led away in the throng. The hems of every woman’s dress brushes against her neighbours’, and sometimes we laugh at this and sometimes we don’t. Mr James asks me if I know many in the square and I tell him about the women I met on the way to the ball, saying that they have been my only acquaintances thus far. He leads me away from the throng of dancers and hands me a strawberry spritzer. Walk around with me, he says. I nearly my spritzer into his face. Excuse me? I say. Oh no, not in that way. Walk about the room
with me; there are a few neighbours of ours that you must meet. And then he winks at me. My heart relaxes after nearly jumping through my corset, and I reclaim a hold on more glass more tightly so as not to drop it and send it smashing and shattering the ballroom floor. I find myself many amiable new friends – Miss Lily’s older sister Miss
Hilary, who too works in the bookstore. She tells me how proud of her little darling sister she is; squishing Miss Lily’s small white-gloved hand, brimming with pride. Miss Lily confides in her sister my purchase of Far From the Madding Crowd, in both volumes, of recent, to which Miss Hilary confesses she has finished reading both volumes. My astonishment must be written all over my face as I say it: it has only been on shelves but 7 days, and Miss Hilary says she is a fast reader, however she does not plan to spoil the ending for me. Miss Lily says she is reading it too, confessing she hopes Miss Bathsheba chooses Mr Oak as her husband. Mr Oak has the nicest demeanour out of the
three suitors. Mr James excuses himself for our conversation is far too feminine for his tastes. He bids his farewell after saying we shall dance again. Miss Charlotte joins us; she is rhubarb in the cheeks from dancing. I tell her we are conversing all matters Far From The Madding Crowd to which she says it is a book that is newly her most dearest
and Mr Thomas Hardy is most definitely London’s literary genius. Miss Hilary asks her if she has finished it, and Miss Charlotte says she has not for she is up to the part where Miss Bathsheba is given a private sword demonstration by Mr Francis Troy. What a toff! Miss Lily scoffs, expressing disdain for this character. Where are the older generation
this evening? I inquire of the group, Miss Charlotte explaining anyone older than 25 does not attend the ball, so that more of the young ones can attend to become familiar with one another. Have you had your ball? Miss Hilary asks me. No – we don’t have such things in the country. I say. Miss Lily says: you have missed your grand entrance by a
whole year, and Miss Hilary tells her to hush. Miss Charlotte says: nay – the lass is still young and has plenty a time to settle down with a husband, do you not pet? She then winks at me which makes me feel easier. I did not wish to ponder how much of society life I had missed simply by living in the countryside. Besides – look at me – I am but 20.
Nobody is as old for marriage as I am, Miss Charlotte remarks. A little birdie tells me that you and Mr Picton once had a fond friendship. I say. This being old news to Misses Hilary and Lily, sees them smiling and then snickering, with their faces finishing up in stone. They don’t know how to behave my dredging up the past, Miss Charlotte’s past, of which they do not know of her feelings. She feels she owes me an explanation being her newest friend. She starts: Mr Clarence Picton and Mr Gregory Picton were just as they were – no political titles. I had seen Mr Picton out and about, when we were in school. Our classes were given separately ofcourse – ladies in one class and men in another, so as not to be distracted by either sex. Mama and papa could afford extended education, so I stayed on for an extra three years until I was seventeen, learning French, playing the pianoforte, singing, learning Latin, and reading the materials my lecturers gave to me. Finishing school was not good enough in his eyes and after courting for two months he decided that we didn’t have a future together, because we were too different from one another.
Miss Charlotte finished. I found her story hard to swallow because I found her to be very loving, kind, loyal, generous, and from her account – very educated and talented too. What else could Mr Picton possibly desire? As though reading my mind, Miss Hilary says: someone with blonde curls whose father owns a chain of banks perhaps?
Rather sartorially. Would he really be so superficial as to overlook one’s parentage, upbringing, education, and character for their appearance? Miss Lily asks. Yes, perhaps he would, Miss Charlotte says. Miss Charlotte is plain in looks. She has thin, wispy, mousy brown hair scraped back into a bun, with her parting down the middle. When her
cheeks aren’t rhubarb from dancing her complexion is rather pale. She has small brown eyes, and a small narrowed and pointed nose, small pale lips, and large ears that stick outward. Her ears overwhelm her tiny face, and while she is not ugly, it can’t be said that she is pretty. That is just my sketch upon quickest glance however, and what she lacks
in appearance, she more than makes up for in character and heart and a wonderful nature, and any man in the square would be blessed to have her as his wife. I have been like her sister for but the past five evenings and we are well bonded already. A young handsome man with light brown wavy hair and deep chocolate dense eyes and a strong
jawline introduces himself as Mr Matthias Clark. It is my pleasure to meet you, I say. I am Miss Clementine Everington – a guest in Miss Charlotte Broadfall’s home. So I hear, he says. Will you dance? He asks me, holding out his left hand. And then he adds: and enlighten me on all the ado. Ado? I ask. Yes, Miss Clementine, there has been much ado about yourself in the square. To be sure? I ask. Surely, he says. I did not think I was known at all, I say, and then he whisks me away from the other three women. He owns the post office – a business he inherited when his father died. He has five younger sisters. He asks me if I am from the countryside, and I say that I am. He inquires about my coming out ball, and when I say I have not had one, he instantly stops dancing and asks if I am of age. I say that I am most certainly of age, and that in the countryside coming-out-balls are nonexistent. He breathes a sigh of relief, rejoins his hands with mine and goes back to twirling me around again. He asks if I’ll be wanting to write to mama and papa, and I say that I will be wanting to write to them. He says he will post my letter to them with no fee if I agree to have tea and scones with him, in the morning, in the teahouse away from the hustle and bustle of the ball. It is a very bold suggestion, I think, when he has only known me for three minutes. I do wonder what word of me is going about the square. I ask him, and he says: nothing indecent of course. I agree to have tea and scones
with him in the morning. The dance ends, I thank him for it, curtsey, and then take my leave. I tell my three lady friends about my dance with Mr Clark, and they all squeal with delighted excitement upon mentioning breakfast. They affirm that it is indeed great news for he can guarantee the woman he marries a great deal of financial security
and stability because he owns the post office. It is a positive meeting indeed and I am absolutely flattered this handsome businessman is interested in a lady of my standing. I say. Of your standing? Miss Hilary scoffs, believing wholeheartedly, I am but a lady like every other lady in the room. I left school when I was 14 and helped my parents
work the land. I sold chickens, eggs, and cow’s milk to farmers at market, and minded babes for a small fee when parents were out. I wrote letters for my illiterate neighbours, and for the elderly in the town, I sewed dresses and mended their socks, but this is the only kind of work experience I really have, and whilst I can read, and write, and
use a typewriter, I don’t feel I’m of station to wed a businessman, I say. They all gape and gawp at me, until Miss Lily finally says: Nonsense! News of you has been nothing short of quick in the square! Miss Charlotte and Miss Hilary second this. I confess that I am baffled to this being so. Miss Hilary says: you are very pretty – Miss Lily was
going on about the prettiest, bonniest lass she had ever seen, when you bought Far From The Madding Crowd from her just the other day. I feel my cheeks turning rhubarb. I look to Miss Lily who has turned rhubarb as well. Miss Lily then says: well, yes. I did say she was the prettiest. Yes. I did. Why, thank you ladies. I do feel short of breathe now. Or stifled or something. Might you excuse me a moment while I go outside for some fresh air? I ask. Miss Charlotte asks if I need her to accompany me, and I say that I oughtn’t, and I go outside. It has come as a shock and a surprise to me that people in the square have noticed my presence. I guess living in the countryside, where everyone
knows everyone, I took my recognition by others for granted. It was only natural. News travels fast in the square – and I am beginning to see that life in the square is no different to life in a small tight-knit town. I rest my palms on the concrete railing afront of me, the concrete cold and calming. I feel dizzy, and faint in the cold night air, and I
haven’t time to wonder why. My head crashes down nto the smooth curved edge of the concrete railing, and I keep falling until my whole body hits the ground.

I wake up in the infirmary having no idea where I am. I peer out the window opposite me, the sun is out so it must be day. I feel a pressure on my forehead. I put my hand to it and instead of feeling skin, I feel the crepe texture of a bandage, which has been wound around my head to stop all bleeding. Miss Charlotte sits in a chair to my right, holding a teacup and saucer, which are keeping her hands warm. She looks at me and smiles and asks me how I’m feeling. To which I say that I am but confused. To which she proceeds to describe the events of the evening before, stating Mr Clark found me unconscious, lying on the ground outside. He ran inside to the ballroom, and shouted for help. Some men arranged for horsecart to take me to the infirmary. Mr Clark, as miss Charlotte says, scooped me up in his arm, leaving my legs dangling in my beautiful black silk ballgown, lifelessly against him, and my head lolling, unsupported, until Miss Charlotte, herself, was alerted to come outside immediately, and she held my head in her hands. She asks me of my last memory, and I say I was resting my palms against the concrete railing because I was feeling dizzy. She asks if I have had a spritzer before, and I say that I have not, that I have not consumed alcohol before, and she immediately gets up from her chair, propping her tea on my blanket, to go in search of a Sister. Three Sisters return with Miss Charlotte to my bedside, and cries of: thanks heavens child – you’re awake, and good morning Miss Clementine, and a how are you feeling Miss Clementine? I hear. It soon becomes apparent that I am allergic to alcohol, and my nervous system was rendered dysfunctional and I blacked out. I was told Mr Clark carted me to the infirmary himself with Mr Picton horsecart. Miss Charlotte came along as well, acting as my guardian and next of kin. I am discharged from the infirmary the next
day at four in the afternoon. I feel well enough to walk home, and so I go outside to be welcomed by a glorious and warm sunlit day. Immediately upon exiting the infirmary I find myself standing outside Number 60 Landsdowne Square, where Misses Hilary and Lily live. Gravel crunching under my boots, I walk to their fence and see them sitting in rocking chairs. They jump up, cry Miss Clementine!, and push open their gate and rush over to me. Miss Hilary asks me why Master Fletcher Mason is not fetching me home, and I explain to them that his services were unneeded as I felt well enough to make the short distance home. They walk me all the way to number 42, knock, do not wait for Miss Charlotte to open the door, instead opening it themselves. Miss Charlotte shrieks in shock, in the hallway, grabs my arm and leads me straight to bed. She is harried and flustered and wonders why I did not call for Master Fletcher Mason. She unties my boots, and pulls them from my feet throwing them down quickly. She unbuttons my day dress, and pulls at the sleeves to free my arms, motions for me to stand, and yanks the dress
downward, taking my petticoat with it, getting me to step out of my dress. She puts me to bed like a wee babe, and tucks me in like she is my mother. I open my eyes when I hear Miss Charlotte coming into my room with a metal teatray. Atop it is a bowl of vegetable soup and a pitcher of orange juice. She sits down in a chair beside me and keeps me company. According to her timepiece it is eight in the evening. She tells me this month’s ball was hugely successful and each girl has been called upon by a suitor, Miss Lily, by a young man called Mr Joseph Lee, who called on her whilst she was at the bookstore, yesterday.

On the way to the nursery we stop by the newspaper boy to pick up the newspaper, which we can read through whilst minding the children. Miss Charlotte hands him 1p and he bids us a fair morning. we go into the nursery and go about pulling back the curtains. We go into the kitchen and fill the babes’ bottles with milk the milk man has left on the doorstep of our scullery. At noon, every child eats sandwiches, while all the babes suckle at the teats on their bottles. Miss Charlotte and I sit on little three-legged stools, eating sandwiches, and going through the newspaper. One article in the newspaper is announcing the opening of a teahouse that businessmen have introduced all over Paris of late. According to the article it serves its patrons tea and scones and it is a place where women can meet with their friends to gossip and hydrate themselves after a long day of shopping. Miss Charlotte says we must go to this café together one Saturday lunchtime. I agree that it would be lovely and that we should invite Misses Lily and Hilary along, and we could ask Master Fletcher Mason to take us there. Miss Charlotte licks her finger, and turns the page and we come to an article that says: MR GREGORY PICTON AND MISS ANNA HOLLINGSWORTH HAVE CALLED OFF THEIR ENGAGEMENT. Miss Charlotte and I inhale loudly, with shock, for not being able to imagine such news.

Misses Lily and Hilary have just finished their shift at the bookstore, and they are giddy, and skipping home like two small children. Miss Charlotte and I are walking by when they ask us whether we have read the newspaper today. I say that we have, and they inquire if we can believe the news, and we say we cannot. The four of us stand stationery in the road, gossiping and pondering who broke off the engagement. Miss Lily says she doesn’t mind who it was – she is simply overjoyed that Mr Gregory is eligible again, to which Miss Hilary says: you may admire him from afar, but you shan’t get your hopes up, for he is twenty, and you are only but fifteen, and he may deem you too young for such things. Why did the council lower the age then? Miss Lily is annoyed. Miss Hilary explains, it was made that way so she can spend some time getting to know the men her own age, and not those whom are much older than she. Miss Lily is still annoyed but this explanation suffices for she changes the topic rather quickly and asks if we have heard
about the new teahouse in London. I say that we have, and we ought to call upon Master Fletcher Mason to take us there, and they all agree. I ask Miss Lily have you had tea with Mr Joseph Lee as of yet, and she says that I have not, but I don’t doubt, he will call on me again soon, I am very sure of that. How is your head now, Miss Clementine, Miss Hilary asks, and I say that it is healed and I am on the mend. Tis a pity you didn’t see the ball to the end of the evening, says Miss Hilary, to which I say, that it is indeed a pity, and Miss Charlotte adds that I shall not worry for there will be another one in 3 months. All the good men might be taken in three months because of the pace at which all things romantically-inclined unravelled in the square, Miss Lily says, and Miss Hilary tells her to: speak for yourself; I don’t have any suitors and neither does Miss Charlotte. Miss Charlotte says she did but dance with a few men at the ball, but only time will tell if any of them will call on her at home. I say that they are bound to call on her
at home now that I am living with her and things are more appropriate in the eyes of society. Miss Hilary says the single men in the square ought to dispose of the bees in their bonnets, and Miss Charlotte laughs, agrees, and confesses, they are a strange sort of folk. Miss Charlotte and I arrive outside our house, we bid our farewells, and vow to see the Patterson sisters soon.

Miss Charlotte closes the door behind us, and I throw my bonnet on my chair in the front room. I get the fire going, whilst Miss Charlotte starts dinner. I go into the kitchen and start peeling potatoes at the kitchen table using a peeling knife, cutting them into small pieces appropriate for a cheese and onion pie, when I am done peeling them, for that is what Miss Charlotte fancies for dinner. The pastry bakes in the oven, and a pot of water boils on the hob. Miss Charlotte scrapes the chopped potatoes into the pot. We hear a knock on the front door, and I put down my board and peeling knife to see who may be at the door. Mr Matthias Clark smiles at me. I ask him to come in, and I lead him into the front room where he sits down in my soft chair by the fire. I sit down facing him, and tell him: it is lovely to see you. Would you like a cup of tea, I ask him. No, thank you very
much. Dinner is cooking at home, and I shan’t be late for that, he explains. I have come to ask of your health and to see how you are getting on, after the other evening when you hit your head at the ball, he says. Oh, I’m feeling really well, thank you Mr Clark, for asking. My head has healed and I am on the mend, I daresay, I say. I am in your debt
for finding me and for knowing so quickly to go to the infirmary, I say. I did nothing extraordinary and any man would have helped a woman in my predicament, he says. I thank him again. I would like to call on you again, Miss Everington, if you would so like that as well, he says, and looking into his chocolate coloured eyes, and feeling myself smiling because he is smiling, I say: why, yes, of course. I would like it very much to be called on again by you. He stands, and I stand, and we smile at one another, and I feel a happiness brimming in mine own heart, and I do wonder if he can see it, or hear it, or sense it somehow. I show him to the front door. Miss Charlotte asks whoever called on me, and I answer that it was Mr Clarke, and she throws her wooden spoon, and runs to me, and squishes me in an embrace ever so tight I think I might combust! I cannot exhale. We are both smiling and laughing feverishly. I didn’t come to the square for a husband, but simply put, to get away from the countryside to have a better life with
more opportunity. However, if finding a husband does so happen, I will embrace it, for I am a woman in need of a husband anyhow.

I write to mama and papa describing my new living arrangements, and how I am getting on. I tell them about Miss Charlotte and my new friends I have made. I send my love to my six little brothers and to the family dog called Guinea. I tell mama and papa I am newly allergic to ethanol and I shalt not drink another beverage containing ethanol lest I want to render myself unconscious again. My head wound is healing nicely because of the great care taken by the Sisters in the infirmary, I explain. I put the letter into an envelope, carefully writing my old address on the front of it, and seal the envelope with some red wax.

I push the door of the post office open to walk inside. Mr Clark is standing behind the counter, naturally. There is but one another customer looking at envelopes on my right, but otherwise, I have his undivided attention. He says good day to me, and I bid a good day to him, and I stop in front of his counter propping my letter in front of him. I think I promised a young lass free postage provided she accompanies me to tea and scones. Not only did this young lass not show, but she has not kept her word, and thus he suffers a deep dilemma – do I still give this woman free postage as I said I would, and be a man of
my word, or do I charge this woman for the postage of the letter that now sits afront of me? He asks me. I cannot help but laugh and all sense of propriety is but lost for he brings such a warmth and a humor to my heart, and I must laugh it out in this way. We shall have tea and scones to make up for the missed engagement, I say. Very well. Consider your postage covered. You shalt not pay a penny this time, he says. He chuckles somewhat and smiles that warm, kind smile he has. Forgive my impertinence, but how is it, Mr Clark, that you are a bachelor when you have such promising prospects to offer any a lady? I ask. In the company of women, I am intolerably shy, and despite being able to ask for your hand in dance, I’ve not had the courage before now, to call upon any ladies in their homes. He explains. I find this very hard to believe, as you not only saved the life of an unconscious woman by driving her to the local infirmary, but you have also suggested a second meeting with this same woman. You have struck up enough courage to find yourself inside the walls of her front room, to inquire of her health, I say. Such behaviour says much about a man who claims he has not the courage, nor the confidence to pursue a woman, that he is fond of, I say. He is dumbfounded and does not know how to respond. Instead, he just smiles a hard strong smile. With my own assessment I recognise the meaning behind mine own words, and conclude that I must marry this man at once, for I would be foolish if I did not. Miss Clementine. Whence do the children leave your care? He asks. I say four. He asks if I might like to walk around the square with him after work. I would like that very much so, I say. He smiles and is
completely chuffed with himself. I shall sit on the wooden bench and wait for you then, he says. I smile, nod and bid by farewell. I close the post office door behind me feeling elated. How I have struck such good fortune in the short amount of time I have been here, I ponder.

Mr Clark is sitting on the wooden bench, just as he said he
would be. He stands up smiling, and only sits back down once I have, myself, sat down. I have my light caramel coloured felt gloves on this evening. Some school-aged children play hopscotch in the road. Mr Clark is with hat and gloves as well, and we stare at one another’s gloves before looking up. So what have the men in the square been saying about me, I ask. It is nothing unjust or unfair, they just think that you are very pretty and very beautiful, and the perfect sort of fabric woven for marriage, he answers. How should they think this when they have not met me, nor if they know if I can cook, or sew, or darn socks, or light or rekindle the fire? Mr Clark chuckles and says that beauty stands alone, without these skills for measurement. What have the women in the square said of me, he asks. I’ve not been here long enough to hear of the opinions of women pertaining to you, but I am sure they would all view you as I do, I say. Miss Clementine, what is your view of me, he asks. I am stuped and stuck for words. The words will not find their way free from my thoughts. How does one tell a beautiful creature of his worth? I go on by
saying: I admire you greatly, for the way you found the courage to suggest a second meeting when we first met, for the way you helped me when I was unconscious, for the way you confessed to being shy earlier today, and for the way you have overcome your shyness to be in my presence, I explain. It takes courage to find courage, and if you
believe that I am truly beautiful, I am very flattered, and I accept your compliments, with the high hope that you will continue to call on me, I explain. It is not the explanation he has anticipated for is staring at the grass below our feet. I know I have delighted him when moments later, a smile forms in the corners of his mouth. He takes my gloved
hands in his own, and rests them in his lap, for there is no space on the bench between us.

I have not had a man hold my hands before, and it is a strange and wonderful experience. I look about me and hope that no one is watching us, and he reads my body language and tells my worries to hush, and that I ought not to be concerned for we are doing nothing wrong. A warm energy burns its way through my entire body, and I know I want to look at this man for my entire life. Mr Clark tells me to call him Matthias, and that he wants to very much to call me by my first name. You may call me Clementine, I say. He kisses my glove, and pats the kiss into the glove. Misses Hilary and Lily walk past
a fair way away, and I can see them giggling away. I need not wonder about the source of their amusement for I know that it is me. Matthias asks if I can visit him in the post office at four o’clock the next evening, and I say that I can. Shall we walk, he asks, and I say that we shall, and we stand up, but not I before he, and he loops his arm through
mine, so our bodies are close, and we begin our walk along the path bordering the square. Mr Gregory Picton passes us in his horsecart and dips his hat through the window. Matthias walks me to my front door, bidding me a fair evening. He kisses my gloved right hand, whilst looking sternly but lovingly into my eyes. I thank the Lord Matthias cannot read my thoughts before nodding my head to him, bid my good evening, and close the front door behind me.
In the drawing room, Miss Charlotte sips soup from a spoon, I confess that Matthias and I are now courting, and we will be seeing one another regularly from now on. Splay across her face does the broadest grin I have ever seen, one that outdoes the Cheshire cat’s, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. She exclaims she would like to do away with her soup immediately so she can jump about the front room with glee; however, she is far too cold and hungry to do what her heart desires for her stomach growls louder than her heart. I chuckle at her dramatics. I untie my bonnet and throw it on my soft chair. I ladle myself some soup in the kitchen, and grab a chunk of crusty bread, both which I return to the drawing room with. It is much too cold an evening to eat in the kitchen. How long will you stay in the square for, I am asked. Would I return to the countryside? Would I like to raise children in the square or in the countryside? I haven’t thought about it, I say. But I do feel either setting is wonderful for children, I say. If you are to go to the country side, whatever you do, please do not ever forget me, for we are having such a jolly good time, and I shall miss you, infinitely so, she says. Your worries ought to hush, such a thing will never happen. I will never forget you because we are bonded like sisters, we are, I explain. My heart sings with happiness, she says. She smiles and bites off a chunk of bread before chewing it, difficultly. I admit, the bread is delicious, but I find it a little hard to chew, and I voice this aloud, and we both laugh at my silly little problem, knowing there are children in this world who go without food daily, and I ought not to concern myself with the unchewable nature of my evening bread.

Matthias is not in his post office. I ring the brass bell to let him know someone is at the door. He presents himself seconds later and I am reminded why I adore him so much. I take off my gloves and drop them onto the counter. He pushes a middle section of the counter upward, removing the wall between us. I follow him into the backroom where
there is a fire going. A small tea table with two chairs are near it. He pulls out a chair and faces it to the fire, and I sit down in it. He pulls out a second chair and faces it to the fire, then sits down in it. He places his hand on my lap and smiles. He is being forward and he knows it, and his courage surprises him. Clementine, he whispers. I look at him  and our faces are very close. There is an anxiety in my chest that is new to me, and I cannot ascertain whether it is a good energy or a bad one. Matthias, I have not been this close to… I say, and he cuts me off by tilting my face to him, and kissing me firmly and hard on my lips. I am instantly rendered light headed, and the gravity around us disappears, forcing me to rely on his being seated beside me to remain upright. It is quite nonsensical to me that his touch makes me feel weightless and somewhat ill. If I pulled away from him, I would surely fall off my chair. I do not  pull away and his kissing become stronger, and I can sense he thinks more of me, than I just being beautiful and
pretty. He tells me I am but the loveliest thing he has ever seen, and he does not know how he has lived his whole life until now, without me in it, which, in my right mind, is quite a great claim to make during one’s first kiss with me. Stand up, he says, and so I do, and he pulls me back down into his lap, wrapping his arms around my figure, until
his fingers interlock, which forces me to squeal, thinking I am locked inside a man’s embrace, and I would have no chance of escaping if I tried. He nuzzles his nose into the side of my neck, and looks at me in adoration. I wish to make you my wife Clementine, and we shall marry in Saint Joseph’s church, and you cannot possibly object,
because as you see, you are locked in my arms, and alas, now in mine own heart. He says. An overwhelming amount of love for him presents in my soul, and I can do nothing but kiss him, and so I plant my mouth firmly over his, and affirm my love for him. He pulls me into him even more tightly, nuzzling my neck and shoulder with his face and
breathing my scent in. Are you alright, my love, he asks me. I am, I say. How grateful to the Lord I am that he has led you here, he says. I have not known a love like this in my life, and I am elated and euphoric. I too am most grateful for our love Matthias, I say.

The Girl Who Entered The World Upside In, by Tira Burgess. Ages: 12-15.

Pazora was in no way normal. Nor was she abnormal. She was tall and lanky for her age of 14, had quite a squeaky voice, and every single day she pranced around the garden in her trademark black and white tights and long sleeve black high-collared dress. She wore her hair in two long plaits with her hair parted straight down the middle. She had no parents for they had died in a car accident, and she was an only child. She was raised in her parents’ home in Ealing Common, West of London, by the nanny and the butler and the cook, with her relatives visiting once a week to have dinner with her in the grand dining room. Her Aunt Delilah would come with her husband, her Uncle Watford, and their two children Milton and Isadora, who were ten and eleven, respectively, and quite obnoxious and rude as far as children were concerned. Pazora could not really tolerate her cousins, feeling they were extremely ill-behaved and not disciplined accordingly. They would sit at the table and catapult peas and corn from the tips of their forks, sometimes, some of it landing in the gravy, or in the water carafe, or in Aunt Delilah’s spritzer. She laughed when this happened and paid them no mind. If Mummy and Daddy were still alive, there is no way I would get away with that, Pazora would think. Isadora would run around the dining room, as though she were playing musical chairs, and would sometimes only have her tummy filled with food by her father who would quickly spoon-feed her from her dinner plate as she walked or skipped past him. And not a word was said! Why would Aunt Delilah and Uncle Watford allow such behaviour? Pazora was often confused, and she never did ask them why they did not discipline their children. Perhaps, the discipline was dished out at home, away from Pazora s as not to embarrass the children? Or perhaps they simply did not see any errors in their children’s ways?

Aunt Delilah, her late mother’s older sister was loving, and warm, and maternal, and always treated Pazora as one of her own, so Pazora was delighted to be in her aunty’s company every Wednesday evening when Cook Nancy would roast a duck and serve it with potatoes and turnips, and the best gravy West London had ever seen. After dinner, Aunt Delilah, and Uncle Watford would retreat to Pazora’s front room, where the fire would be going, and the children would sit on the rug on the floor, with their boots and shoes off, and listen to a story Aunt Delilah delighted in reading to the three children before they made their ways home. Uncle Watford would leave his empty sherry glass on a small mahogany drinking table, and Nanny Luella would come, take Pazora by the hand and lead her upstairs to bed. But not before Aunt Delilah and Uncle Watford would kiss Pazora on each cheek, goodnight, and then fight oftentimes bitter cold, to get back into their car and drive home in the winter.

It was a puzzlement to many a folk who lived in the borough, of why Pazora did not go to live with her Aunt and Uncle, when they would clearly have her. Why would a fourteen year old child live alone in a large house with no one for company? These were the whispers in the streets. Pazora was not alone however for he had Nanny Luella and Cook Nancy, and Butler Gordon for company. And they were like her family. They looked after her. And they were all very happy. Luella, Gordon and Nancy, were sisters and one brother. Only Pazora and her parents knew this fact. So whilst their roles of employment were made quite public, their familial ties were not, for such a connection would be seen as unwanting in this day and age where a sense of decency was everything and English folk shan’t be related to their fellow colleagues. So, in a way, Pazora had her own family, and the three people she lived with were happy also, because they too were orphans when their parents passed many years ago, Pazora’s parents taking them all in to fill three much-needed roles, that of nanny, cook and butler, when Pazora was newly-born. Pazora’s father was an accountant and Pazora’s mother was a socialite – she had never worked a day in her life. Pazora was home-schooled from the age of five, and at twelve she started at Bromley’s School for Girls in, well… Bromley, naturally.
Pazora liked upper-school, as it was called back then. She liked routine, and she liked her classes. She was good with the English word, and was quite talented at painting. Her tutors were all very knowledged and well-regarded in the whole of London, Bromley’s School for Girls being highly-regarded itself. It was one hundred shillings a year in tuition fees, a sum of money Pazora’s parents had no quarrels in affording, and Pazora received the brightest and most intensive of educations; an education many a child in London could only dream of.
Pazora was privileged although without her parents, and being subjected to such tragedy at only three years of age, she did not deem herself as such. What sort of child could look at the world through rose-tinted glasses when their parents were gone? Pazora could not. And for all of the clothes, and shoes, and pretty dresses she owned, she did not once think she was better, or better off than those ashen-faced children she saw playing in the street, swinging off the lamp posts on dock-rope, that they had most likely nicked.
Her family, adoptive-of-sorts, did not let her play with these children before or after dinner time, and if she wanted a friend over, it must be one of the girls from her own school, by written invitation. The household was yet to purchase a telephone.
Any of these rules was complied with; Pazora was a good girl – she did as she was told and yes, she was curious, and inquisitive, but she did not question the judgment of her elders.
A Thursday afternoon was spent in her room, with her school friends Meredith and Sabrina. Nanny Luella and Cook Nancy served them small round biscuits that had been iced using an assortment of colours. Some biscuits looked like hearts, some looked like flowers, and some looked like stars. Pazora, Meredith and Sabrina ate the biscuits rather quickly, until the plate sat empty atop Pazora’s black leather pouf with its black wrought iron legs. Nanny Luella was soon up the stairs again collecting the plate, making jokes about nothing in particular and inquiring if the trio were alright for refreshments.
Meredith and Sabrina were fond of lemonade and soon three glasses and a pitcher of lemonade were presented in Pazora’s bedroom on a silver tray for drinking. The three friends drank the lovely lemonade, and when Nanny Luella had gone, resumed their chatting, which was also much about nothing.
“Have you heard of going to another world?” Meredith asked her friends, to which they said that they had not. Meredith went on to explain it was another world where strange and wonderful things were possible, a world that existed alongside our very own, but a world that was indeed, most awfully hard to get to.
“What ought we do to get to this world?” Sabrina asked, her blonde ironed curls bobbing up and down near her ears as she spoke.
“There are many stories saying one should do this, and one should do that. I’m not sure which is true, or if any story has worked, not having tried any of them out myself. But there are three of us here, so perhaps we ought to try something?” Meredith looks at Pazora and Sabrina, awaiting their replies.
“I would like to try and get to this world.” Pazora says enthusiastically.
“I too!” Sabrina says in unison with her friend.
“Well, the first story should be that we must open a window, take off our shoes, and jump off the ledge to our deaths, where the angels will come and take us to this world.”
“Meredith – that sounds awful. We will surely die if we do that!” Pazora says horrified.
“I think I would like so much to retract my wish to be part of this now.” Sabrina is frightened.
“I don’t mean to frighten you ladies. That is simply what I have heard. Don’t be alarmed. We will do no such thing. We could try the second story if you like?”
“What’ll that be?” Pazora asks.
“We run into the road naked, lie down, close our eyes, and wait.”
“Oh what’ll that do? What a sham! Wherever did you hear such nonsense?” Pazora chides her friend.
“We can’t call it nonsense until we have tried it!” Meredith exclaims.
“I won’t be lying in any road naked. That’s despicable Meredith.” Sabrina states.
“Fine. Number three says we could go to the local river, remove our boots, swim to the deep, push ourselves under the water, and hold our breath indefinitely.” Meredith says.
“Meredith, where have you gotten such horrid information? I most certainly will not drown myself.” Pazora says, defiantly.
“It does sound bleak and obscure, I do agree. How are we to find this other world though, if we do not try any of these?” Meredith asks, sincerely.
“I don’t want to find any other worlds, of that I’m sure. Pazora, if you aren’t minded, I will be off home now. I have heard enough morbid talk.” Sabrina gets up off the floor, picks her boots up with her, and sits down on the black leather pouf to put them on.
“No, I’m not minded at all. I will see you out. You too Meredith. It’s late and I shall be having my bath now.” Pazora says, leading both girls down the stairwell, and to the front foyer, where she unlocks the front maplewood door for them, and bids them farewell. It is 4:30pm.
In their absence, Pazora goes upstairs and into the washroom where a beautiful freestanding bathtub with gold feet is the centrepiece of the large-tiled room.
She ponders the three awful stories Meredith told her about, and wishes that she never heard them. She had never heard such morbid nonsense in all her young adult life. She vowed to tell Nancy and Luella about it at the dinner table after her bath.

After her bath, she dried herself off, put on her nightie, her long johns, her slippers, and her dressing gown. She towel-dried her hair, and had wrapped her hair in a cut up sheet, tying a knot in its corner, before Nancy and Luella go about putting her hair in rags in the later evening. In the kitchen Nancy and Luella are sitting at the preparation table, drinking tea, with their boots off. The fire is going and of this Pazora is grateful for even with her long johns and dressing gown on, she still feels the cold.
“The girls are gone?” Luella asks, spinning in her chair so that Pazora can sit in her lap. Pazora sits down in Luella’s lap, and Luella puts her arms around Pazora’s waist.
“They are.” Pazora says, pulling a teacup toward her, and pinching two shortbreads from the plate in front of her.
“Phew. We must throw this cloth away Paz. It’s awful smelling. How long have you been drying it out for?” Luella asks Pazora, her face rather too close to Pazora’s hair wrap.
“Oh, perhaps three months or so…” Pazora says.
“Well, I’ll be cutting you a fresh sheet tomorrow then. This one’s ready for the bin!” Luella and Pazora laugh. Nancy smiles.
“I have something that sounds really strange and awful to tell you.” Pazora says, swallowing shortbread.
“Oh? Something to do with your friends?” Nancy asks.
“Sabrina, no. Meredith, yes. Merry was telling us about three ways to get to the other world. And she says the three ways are jumping off the window ledge and landing on the ground below, running outside into the road naked, lying down on it and closing our eyes, and going to the river, taking off our boots, and holding our breath underwater. Sabrina and I haven’t heard anything as awful before. What do you make of it?” Pazora looks to her guardians.
“Well,” Nancy says, “there have been a few stories much like those since we were kids, and yes, some girls did try similar acts, and they died because of it, naturally.”
“They are very deathly acts, I must say.” Luella says, gravely.
“Well, I shan’t be trying such rubbish. The only world one would find is heaven, and nought much else.” Pazora says, assuredly.
“Too right. Too right. There’d be no sense in ending your life in any of those ways. Nought whatsoever. So if Meredith coerces you into trying any of those things. tell her to sling her hook, won’t you?” Nancy says sternly.
“Oh, I will. And I did. I told her I would see her out so I could have my bath, and I saw them to the front door.” Pazora says.
“Good girl. And what did Sabrina make of it?”
“She was just as shocked as I was.” Pazora says.
“Right. Too right. Sense in your head. Good. Keep it there.” Luella says.
“I will.” Pazora smiles.
“We’ll be having peas and lamb for dinner. Want to help me split the peas?” Luella asks Pazora.
“Mmm hmm.” Pazora answers without words. Nancy puts the bowl of peas on the wooden table in front of them and the three women go about dissecting the peas, until Nancy gets up and begins marinating the lamb with various herbs and dripping. She puts the lamb into the oven, and returns to her chair. Gordon, freshly shaved comes into the kitchen looked rather dressed well.
“Going out you are?” Luella asks him with a cheeky smile.
“I am.” Gordon says, kissing Pazora on the top of her head, and taking a chair.
“Will you be in for tea?” Nancy asks her brother.
“I won’t. I’ll be having dinner with a lady-friend.” He smiles.
“Oh, do tell.” Luella ever the gossiper requests.
“You don’t know her, I promise you that much.” Gordon says, smiling, and looking down at the table.
“Will this be your first outing together then?” Pazora asks a very sensible question.
“Ay, too quick you are. No. This will be the fourth outing together, I believe.” Gordon says unashamedly.
“Oh, she must be a bonny lady then.” Luella says, smiling politely.
“She is very bonny. I am very fond of her.” Gordon says.
“How old might she be?” Pazora asks.
“Nineteen.” Gordon replies.
“Good age.” Nancy says, looking out the window at the rain pelting down on the cobbles and the grass in the rear garden.
“Very sensible age.” Gordon agrees, and pinches a shortbread.
“Whiskey?” Nancy asks and Gordon says he would. Nancy pours him a glass of malt whiskey, and he cups it in his right hand.
“Spritzer?” Nancy looks to Luella and she she certainly will. Luella accepts the glass bubbling in front of her, takes a sip and offers Pazora a taste.
“Just a taste mind. No more.” Luella tells Pazora, who sips from the champagne flute, and savours the carbonated flavours.
“Oh delicious! How many more years till I can have my own glass?” Pazora asks.
“Two more years darling. Two more. Not another drop before then.” Nancy says, pointing the wooden spoon in Pazora’s direction, and moving it up and down with every word for extra emphasis.
“Just like mam you are, when you do that.” Luella laughs at Nancy’s antics.
“Ay. I see why she brandished the wooden spoon around now, I do. Makes a point, it does.” Nancy says, laughing with everyone else.
“It does. I heard you loudly and proudly.” Pazora says, and then snickers.
“I’ll whack you one if you can’t be too careful.” Nancy says, waving the wooden spoon about some more in jest.
“Be only too careful Paz. Nancy whacked me one when I was a kid. I trod muck through her bedroom, and she had a right fit.” Gordon jokes, of his older sister.
“Ay. I can’t forget that.” Nancy says, grinning widely, showing of her dimples. She’s a pretty brunette of twenty five. “Screaming bloody murder, I was. I knew it was you, who had done in. Mam came running. I was fuming. Steam coming out my ears. New bloody carpet that was. I was sure you had done it on purpose.” Nancy says, telling the story.
“Nay, I had not. I was chasing Gumphrey. He had me shoe.”
“Bloody Gumphrey. Always taking the bloody shoes. No doubt he were up to his belly in muck too. The pair you made. Ah, Gumphrey. I do miss that dog.” Nancy reminisces.
“Ay, good little thing he was, when he wasn’t nicking things.” Luella says.
“Gumphrey? Like Humphrey?” Pazora asks.
“Yes. I named him. Thought it was a grand name at the time.” Gordon says. “I wanted us to share initials see?” Gordon explains.
“Oh, I see.” Pazora bursts into giggles, and can’t stop laughing.
“She be mocking me alright. He was the best dog in the whole street, you remember that!” Gordon says, sentimentally.
“Ay he was.” Nancy says.
“What happened to him?” Pazora asks.
“He died. Of old age. When he was 14. Your age he was. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it?” Nancy says.
“Yep. Horrid. Too much death talk. Something else please.” Pazora suggests.
“Ay, what’s too much death talk then? Fair at heart are you?” Gordon asks.
“Oh dear, no. I just had a horrible afternoon with Meredith’s tales, and I shan’t be bothered repeating them, but let me say, it really is enough death talk.” Pazora explains.

Chapter Two

Meredith isn’t at school the next day and it isn’t like her to miss a single day. Thinking she must be unwell, Sabrina and Pazora walk to her house after school and knock on her front door. Meredith’s mother Patricia answers, holding a baby, who is probably Meredith’s little brother, on her hip.
“Hello lovies. What can I do you for?” Patricia asks sweetly. Her lips are coloured red and her white and black polka-dotted dress is pretty smashing as far as 1930s fashion goes. Sabrina and Pazora take in her figure and her curled hair.
“Umm Meredith’s mam. We came to find out why Meredith wasn’t in school today.” Sabrina says.
“Not in school? What do you mean not in school? I sent her packing myself.” Patricia says matter of factly.
“She weren’t there. Honest to goodness, she wasn’t.” Pazora says.
“At all? Not for the whole day?” Patricia is concerned.
“Not at all. Not for a single minute. We came to see if she was in bed resting.” Sabrina says.
“Nay. She didn’t stay home today. She was fine. More than fine.”
“Right. Maybe she was skiving or something. We’ll be off then.” Pazora says, turning to walk away with Sabrina.
“Girls.” Patricia calls out.
Pazora and Sabrina turn to face Meredith’s mother.
“Thank you for telling me. It was good of you to come.” The girls smile and walk down the street.
“You don’t think she’d be daft enough to hold her breath in the river?” Sabrina looks to Pazora.
“No. Certainly not. Not daft enough for that. Last night was just talk wasn’t it? Just talk.” Pazora says.
“It gave me a right fright though.” Sabrina says.
“Me too. Me too.” Pazora exhales loudly, while kicking some stones out of her path.
Sabrina and Pazora part ways with a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek, a few minutes down the cobbled street, each girl going to her own home, gladly.

Nancy and Luella are seated at the prep table inside Pazora’s kitchen, chatting over cups of tea, and the same shortbreads from the day before. Pazora tells them about Meredith not being at school and ponders aloud if they think it has anything to do with the tales she spoke of the day before.
“Surely not.” Nancy exclaims quickly.
“No, nay. Not for a feather, no.” Luella seconds Nancy’s statement.
“Why would she be away from school if she isn’t unwell then?” Pazora is annoyed, and she wants a concrete answer.
“I don’t know love.” Nancy says.
“Maybe she was skiving for the day? You’ll see. She’ll turn up at tea-time.” Luella says, smiling.
“She wasn’t skiving. Her mam said she sent her off to school this morning. What if she doesn’t turn up at tea time?” Pazora asks.
“Her mam will send for the police.” Nancy says matter of factly.
“We thought she was resting in bed for the day.” Pazora says.
“And she wasn’t.” Luella says.
“No, she wasn’t.” Pazora stares at the floor and glimpses her cat Blackberry licking his paws on the cold, hard slate floor. Pazora picks him up and puts him in her lap.

The evening passes with Nancy cooking and Luella and Pazora reading a novel in the front room near the glowing fire Gordon has stoked. When dinner is ready the three siblings and their younger companion sit down to supper with Blackberry the cat, who claws at his food of cod and potato with his paw before eating it. Nancy calls him a daft beggar for being so fussy. There is a quick knock on the front door and Gordon gets up to see who it is. Meredith’s mother, father and baby brother walk past Gordon, and head toward the kitchen at the back of the house to find Pazora.
“She hasn’t come home for her tea. She were here last night. Anything awful happen?” Patricia addresses Pazora who has a mouth full of mashed potato.
It takes Pazora quite some time to swallow her food, and empty her mouth, before she is ready to speak.
“Oh. Meredith’s mam. How terrible to hear that. Nay. Nothing awful happened. We were in my room eating biscuits, and drinking lemonade, and chatting.”
“They were. I made the biscuits myself, I did.” Nancy says. “I helped her.” Luella confesses.
“What about the chatter then?”
“Merry was giving us some tales. But they have nought to do with her now.” Pazora says, strongly.
“What sort o’ tales?” Patricia pulls out a wooden chair at the end of the table, sits down, unhooks the metal clip on the shoulder of her dress and lifts her breast to her baby’s mouth so he can suckle.
“Tales about how we can get to the other world.” Pazora says straightly.
“Other world? What might this other world be? I’ve not heard of any other worlds, have you George?” Patricia looks at her husband.
“No, never.” He says, still standing.
“And what was Merry saying then?” Patricia is intrigued and concerned, as a mother would and should be.
“She was saying that if we were to go to this other world we were to do three things in the way she said ‘em.”
“Go on.” Patricia says. Pazora looks at Nancy, who tells her to continue.
“Ay alright. First one was we must take off our boots, and open the window, and stand on the ledge and then jump off it. Second one was we must get undressed till we are naked, and run into the road, and lie down on it, and close our eyes. Last one was something about going to the river, and going in the water, and holding our breath under the water.” Pazora finishes, but wishes she hadn’t said any of it.
“How serious was she about going to this other world then?” Patricia asks, almost nonsensically.
“You can’t be serious? Would you think your own daughter so daft? Surely not?” Nancy asks loudly, shocked.
“I am serious. You know what these girls are like. Think of the stories. How many girls commiting suicide because they’ve had it?” Patricia says.
“You seriously think Merry would kill herself?” George asks his wife.
“I’m not sure that she would. But why was she not at school then?”
“Merry’s mam: Merry is happy. She loves school. She loves her classes. She wouldn’t kill herself.” Pazora says quickly.
“Why would she come up with such daft stories then?”
“I dunno.” Pazora says.
“Where did she get them from? Who told them her?” Patricia is insisting on answers.
“I don’t know Merry’s mam. I don’t know. We don’t know. We were scared. We thought she was bonkers for talking nonsense. She didn’t think she was bonkers though.” Pazora says.
“So you’re saying Merry thinks if she kills herself she’ll find this other world? You did tell her the only thing she’ll be finding is herself dead, didn’t you?”
“Yes, we did. We told her that, we did. And then I sent her packing. I didn’t wanna hear no more morbid stuff.” Pazora says, becoming flustered.
“Who’s we?”
“Me and Sabrina.”
“Ay, that lass who was with you today.”
“Yes.”
“Right George, let’s go. We’re going to the police station.” Patricia says, re-hooking the clasp on her dress, hoisting the baby onto her hip again, and rushing to the front door. She and her husband leave without a further word.

“Full on, in’t she?” Gordon says, returning to his dinner.
“She’s worried about her child. Give over.” Nancy is cutting into her beef with a knife and fork.
“I know she is, but just saying. Did you hear the way she interrogated Paz?” Gordon says with his mouth full.
“I heard her. Every word. They’ve gone to the police now. Let the police deal with it.” Nancy says, trying to end the topic of discussion.
“You don’t honestly think she’ll be missing do you love?” Luella looks to Pazora.
“No, not really. She probably had a row with someone, and that set her off.”
“Did you have a row with her last night?” Luella asks.
“No, I didn’t. I sent her off home. I told her I needed a bath. She wouldn’t be minded of it.” Pazora replies.
“Did she seem minded?” Nancy asks.
“No, she didn’t. Are you saying I caused this?” Pazora asks the three people at the table.
“No, love. We’ll be saying no such thing. Just trying to collect facts, is all.” Gordon says reassuringly.
“Good. Coz I’m sure the facts are is that she’s had a right row with someone, probably some boy, and she’s not felt like school today and she’ll go home when she’s good and ready.” Luella says, smiling at Pazora. Pazora whispers a thanks to Luella who is like an older sister to the minor, and finishes eating her tea.

Pazora doesn’t go to school the next morning. She wants to stay home to hear of any news of Meredith being missing. At around 11am Sabrina knocks on the front door, and before anyone answers, she just lets herself in. “Oi, I’ll be out of a job, if everyone in the bloomin’ street keeps doing that!” Gordon says, closing the front door behind the fourteen year old girl, and watches her, as she goes into the front room, and then into the dining room.
“I’m looking for Paz.” Sabrina tells Luella in the hallway.
“Ay, you stayed off too then.”
“I did. Want to hear about Merry.”
“Fair enough. Pazora is out in the garden on the swing. Can I fix you a drink?”
“No, I’m alright. Maybe later.” And Sabrina walks down the hallway and opens the back door that swings outward into the rear garden where she finds Pazora. Pazora is swinging on a home made swing – a plank of wood attached to dock-rope which is strung and tied to a large sycamore tree.
“Nice day for it then?” Sabrina asks, sitting on the rock in front of Pazora.
“Nice day. Any word on Merry?”
“No, not one.”
“Ay, not here either.”
“Her mam?”
“Not from her. But she was here last night. She was going to the police station.”
“She was?”
“Yes, with Merry’s dad and baby brother.”
“Right. The police will be out looking for her then.”
“They will.”
“You think she killed herself?”
“No, I don’t think so. Merry wouldn’t do that.”
“You heard her. She wanted to find this other world.”
“Yes, I heard her alright. She scared the beejesus outta me, but she weren’t serious. She’s not stupid. She wouldn’t really do it.”
“What if she really did it?”
“Then she’ll be dead.” Pazora swings, and kicks the grass with her pointy-toed boots.
Sabrina doesn’t know what to say. What if Meredith really is dead? And then what?
“Let’s go down the street and see if there’s any news.” Pazora says, getting up off the swing hastily, and putting her arm through Sabrina’s to lead her along through the side gate and out into the main road built up with side-by-side block houses, a few shops here and there, and a few pubs. Pazora and Sabrina walk down the street for a while before spotting some girls with their mothers chatting in a group.
“Any news on Meredith?” Sabrina asks no one in particular.
“Ay, yes love. Her mam’s gone down to the river with the coppers.” An elderly woman wearing a headscarf and a long day coat and slippers says. Sabrina and Pazora set off in a run, silently praying to God that Meredith hasn’t drowned herself. When they get to the river, Patricia, George and their wee little baby are sitting on the embankment watching around twelve police officers wade about in the water, spread across a large area There are other people with Meredith’s parents, from the street they all live in. Neighbours, nurses, the local midwife. They are all concerned for Meredith’s welfare. Pazora and Sabrina sit beside Meredith’s baby brother on the sodden wet grass and remain quiet. Patricia looks down at them, quietly acknowledges them, and returns to staring at the river. The officers pull out many things, and line them up in a neat row on the embankment: some old boots, an old pram, a china bowl, a small doll, a drinking vase, and a suitcase full of lanterns. They don’t however find Meredith, or a body for that matter. After six hours of searching the river they call off the search and leave the river. Patricia and George are very silent and very beside themselves. If Meredith hasn’t drowned in the river, where could she be? Patricia and George walk home with their baby son and pray that their thirteen year old daughter Meredith is safe, wherever she is.

That evening whilst Pazora is asleep Meredith visits Pazora in her dreams.
“Paz – it’s me. Can you hear me?” Meredith says. Pazora stirs and doesn’t respond. Meredith tries again. “Pazora. It’s me. Merry. I’m here. Can you hear me?”
Pazora mumbles that she can and almost nods back off into a deeper sleep before she realises who he is talking to.
“Merry! You’re in my dreams! Golly. What are you doing here?” Pazora asks Merry whilst asleep.
“I found the other world. You know the one I was telling you about? I’m here, and it’s amazing.” Merry is smiling and she looks very happy.
“The other world? Are you serious? How did you find it?” Pazora is surprised and interested.
“I can’t remember how. All I know is that I did, and you should see it for yourself. It really is beautiful. Nothing like you could ever imagine.”
“Can you describe it to me Merry?”
“I can’t. There are no words to describe what I’m seeing. You’ll just have to come and see it for yourself.” Merry is grinning.
“Merry. Are you dead?” Pazora asks.
“Nay, don’t be daft. I’m not dead. I’m talking to you aren’t I?” Merry grins and skips around in a circle. The landscape is very familiar to Pazora. They stand outside in their shared street in the road, where they live on the cobbles.
“Will you come then?” Meredith asks her friend once more.
“I’ll think about it.” Pazora says, and ends the conversation by falling into a deep sleep, and Meredith disappears from Pazora’s dreamscape.
In the morning, Pazora wakes up, and has forgotten all about the dream. She pulls on her school clothes, her socks, and her shoes, and then braids her hair, and finishes it off with two thin, sleek black ribbons, which she ties into bows. She bounds downstairs where Nancy and Luella are tucking into a breakfast of porridge and eggs on sourdough bread. They ask her how she slept and she said she slept very well. She goes off to school after breakfast and her day unfolds in a normal manner until she spots Sabrina waiting for her at the school gates at three o’clock.

“Pazora! Did she come? Did she come to you too?” Sabrina asks, impatient for a response.
“Oh, hello to you too Sabby. Who? What? Came where?” Pazora is really confused and has no idea what her friend is jabbering on about.
“Merry! Did she come and speak to you in your sleep?”
“Oh, ay, she did. I forgot. How could I forget such a thing. Sabby – yes. She did. What did she say to you?” Pazora recollects her dream from the night before.
“She told me she found the other world. She wants me to find it too. She says it’s wonderful.” Sabrina eyes light up.
“Ay, she told me the same thing. I asked her if she was dead. She said she wasn’t. But if she isn’t dead, then where is she?”
“She’s in this other world like she said.” Sabrina answers rightfully.
“Sabby, what other world, and where? And why did she speak to us in our sleep? Why can’t she come to us in the here and the now ay?” Pazora asks her friend, as they walk up the street together.
“I don’t know. You’re asking me too much, things I don’t know Paz. You ought to be asking Merry these things, not me.” Sabrina says, annoyed.
“Are we gonna tell her mam?”
“Tell her mam what?”
“That she came to us in our sleep.”
“No. I don’t think it would be too good to be doing that.”
“Nay. Me either. Let’s just tell nobody about it then.”
“Agreed. Latch me finger.” Sabrina says, sticking her pinky finger into the air and motioning for Pazora to hook her pinky finger onto it, binding a friendship promise of not to tell.
“Do you think it’s odd she couldn’t talk about it?” Pazora asks, kicking the stones on the cobbles, and sending them in numerous directions.
“Nay. Not odd, no. She said there are no words for that world. I believe her good and true.”
“What sort of world has no words to describe it Sabby?” Pazora questions her friends explanation diligently.
“Beats me Paz. Not the slightest clue. We could read about it in the library.” Sabrina suggests.
“Ay, we could. Brilliant you are. Let’s go.” Pazora links her arm through her friend’s and leads her to their small local library where the librarian Mrs Frollingshade is sitting down behind the desk sipping some tea and eating her afternoon sandwich.
“Girlies, what shall I be doing you for?” She asks them with a mouthful of food.
“Good afternoon Mrs Frollingshade. We’ve come to see if you have any books about other worlds.” Pazora says to the woman behind the high desk.
“Ay, we be having many a book about other worlds lovie. What kind of other worlds are we speaking?”
“Err, we don’t know Mrs. Just different to this one, is all.” Pazora says, looking at Sabrina for some help. Sabrina isn’t any better at coming forward with an explanation.
“Well that’s all very vague. Let me see what I can do.” And she leads the girls around the library pulling out a nondescript book here and there, tossing them to the girls, accumulating a collection until they have around eight books each, balanced precariously in the crooks of their elbows.
“This’ll be enough I think.” Pazora says to Mrs Frollingshade who looks very pleased with herself and her memory of where “books on other worlds” might be.
“Will you be reading them here or at home?” She asks them quickly.
“We’ll be reading them here.” Pazora says, going over to the row of desks where she and Sabrina set their piles of books down, and then take a seat each.
“We won’t get through all these today Paz.” Sabrina says, yawning twenty-three pages into the first book.
“Ay, that we won’t. Let’s get her to put them in reserve and we can read them all the days until we are done.” Pazora says.
“Good idea.” And the girls ask Mrs Frollingshade to put their sixteen books into the reserve for them so that they might come into the library daily and read their ways through each book until they have read them all.

Chapter Three

“Pazora. Don’t sleep. There is much to do and I need your help.” Meredith says, one night in Pazora’s dreams.
“Merry, leave me be. I must sleep. I am so tired. Sabby and I have been doing an awful lot of reading of late.”
“Reading what?” Meredith asks, sitting down on the cobbles in their shared street eating a cucumber and brie sandwich with the crusting on.
“Books silly.” Pazora giggles and takes a cucumber and brie sandwich from the white china plate her subconscious mind has created in her dream.
“I know books. But which kind?” Merry asks, sipping some lemonade and propping her glass back down onto a cobble square carefully so it doesn’t spill.
“Books about other worlds and such.” Pazora explains.
“Oh. Wonderful. Do tell me about them. It has been such a long time since I’ve read a book.” Merry says, fixing her skirt and resting her empty hands in her lap.
“Do you not have books in your world?” Pazora asks, rumpled.
“No, no books here Paz. We don’t need books here. We know everything.” Merry smiles.
“We? Who is we?”
“Me and the other people here.”
“Other people? Are there other people there? Anyone we know?” Pazora is intrigued.
“No. Nobody we know. They are all strangers here. Lovely strangers though. Nice, kind people.” Merry smiles.
“Do you have day, and night, the sun and the moon?” Pazora asks.
“Ay, we do. And more. But I can’t describe them or call them anything, for I don’t know what they are called.” Meredith says very cryptically.
“More what?” Pazora asks confused.
“More things.” Merry says.
“Are there people near you who will know what they are called?”
“No, all the people are not near me right now, because I’m chatting to you.” Merry giggles, and bites into another sandwich square.
“What do you do all day?” Pazora asks carefully.
“Whatever I want to do.” Merry giggles again like it was obvious. Pazora is annoyed with her vague answers.
“Are you sad or happy?” There. That’s a better question, Pazora feels.
“I’m very happy, can’t you tell?” Merry jumps up and starts skipping down the street. She stops, turns and then skips back and sits down.
“I can tell. Yes, I can see that. Don’t you miss our world?” Pazora asks sadly.
“No, not at all. If you were in my world you wouldn’t miss it either.” Meredith says matter of factly.
“Your mam and dad are heartbroken. They think you are dead.” Pazora says.
“Ay, daft daft daft. Tell them I’m not dead. I’m perfectly well. I’m fine. Tell em’ that.” Meredith says smartly.
“Ay, I will, but I doubt they will believe me.” Pazora says, yawns, stands up, and enters a deeper sleep. Meredith disappears.

Sabrina isn’t waiting at the school gates for Pazora at three o’clock. Pazora heads to the library alone where she finds Sabrina asleep in a reading chair. She flicks Sabrina on the ear and stands back, awaiting a reaction.
“Oi, what’d you do that for?” Sabrina asks annoyed, the book in her lap falling to the carpeted floor.
“You were sleeping. I thought I’d wake you.” Pazora sits down in the chair next to her and picks up her book from the day before. Mrs Frollingshade brings them a plate of biscuits and two glasses of water.
“Ay yes, I bunked off. These books are more important than arithmetic and geography.” Sabrina says, yawning.
“How many you have gone through?” Pazora asks.
“Three so far. You?”
“Uh, only two. And I’m not finding any answers yet.”
“They don’t say how to get to these enchanted places do they?” Sabrina states.
“Nay, they don’t. They talk about them and the people who live there and the goings on and what have you, but never how they got to be there in the first place.”
“Nay. Useless fanciful things.” Sabrina says.
“How do you suppose Merry got there?”
“No idea.”
“If I was to surmise, I’d say she went there in her dreams.”
“In her dreams? Why, then she’d be asleep in her bed, you daft girl.”
“Oh… right. She would be too.” Sabrina looks downtrodden. “Well that was the only explanation I had.” Sabrina sighs.
“I’ve none, so you are beating me.” Pazora winks and pulls some hard-boiled lollies from her coat pocket. She gives one to Sabrina who takes three graciously.
“Are these Wellington’s?”
“Too right they are!” Pazora smiles. “Luella went past last afternoon and bought them for me.” Pazora smiles.
“I do love Wellington’s sweets. They make them the best.”
“They do.” Pazora agrees. And then: “I’ve had a thought. If you say she went to this other world in her dreams, why haven’t we seen this place in our sleep?”
“Oh, Paz. That’s a good question. Yes. Why haven’t we?” Sabrina ponders it for a moment. “Maybe coz we are asleep when we are sleeping?”
“How else are you meant to be when you’re sleeping you twit?” Pazora laughs and whacks Sabrina over the head with her book. Sabrina then whacks Pazora back. Pazora’s hair gets stuck in the corner of the book’s binding and ruins her plait. She pulls her plait free from the book’s clutches, and fixes her hair.
“Maybe you can be awake in your sleep?” Sabrina offers slowly.
“Awake? Who are you kidding? When you’re awake, you’re awake, and when you’re asleep, you’re asleep. There’s no give and take, no in-between.” Pazora is sure of that.
“Ay, I know. I was just thinking, is all.” Sabrina sighs and eats a biscuit.

Weeks pass before the girls have read all of their books about other worlds, not any closer to knowing where Meredith really is or how she got there. Pazora and Sabrina swing in the back garden of Pazora’s home one afternoon, chatting, and discussing their dreams and Merry’s visits.
“Her mam wants a funeral.” Sabrina says.
“Ay, I heard. Mrs Beckwith said so.”
“Really? She told you that?”
“Nay, not me. She was telling Mrs Frollingshade. I was eavesdropping naturally.” Pazora grins a cheeky grin, and swings higher into the air, her plaited hair trailing behind her, and her school skirts billowing around her.
“Imagine having a funeral for someone who isn’t dead, and when there is no body to be buried.” Sabrina makes a funny wrenching sound.
“Tis a bit strange if you ask me.” Pazora agrees, stopping her swing, and sitting idle in her wooden seat. “What if she is dead?”
“What do you mean?” Sabrina is confused.
“Well, what if Merry is dead, and there is a body but the coppers just haven’t found it yet?” Pazora suggests.
“The coppers would find her body if she was dead Paz.”
“Nay, they don’t always. Many people go missing never to be found.”
“I don’t suppose Merry is one of those people.” Sabrina says adamantly.
“Why would you be supposing that?”
“Because she comes to me in my sleep. Every night, without fail. There hasn’t been a night she hasn’t come Paz.” Sabrina says.
“Ay, me too. She does come. Every night. Without fail.” Pazora ponders this too.
“And dead people don’t normally do that, do they?” Pazora concludes.
“Nope. They don’t.” Sabrina agrees.
“Do you think she’ll ever come back?”
“Dunno. Can’t say. Only God knows.”
“Maybe it has nowt to do with God.” Pazora quips.
“Maybe, maybe not. We should have confession and tell Father Gorley about it and see what he thinks.”
“Ay, we should. Go. I’ll beat you to the pews!” Pazora says, jumping off her swings and running out the back gate and down a dirty, rubbish-strewn laneway to the local church, where mass is conducted by a priest by the name of Father Alfred Gorley.
Sabrina and Pazora arrive on the stone steps of the bluestone Catholic church off the main road in Ealing Common ten minutes later, huffing and panting, and trying to catch their breath. Once they are sure they have composed themselves, they flatten their skirts, and their plaits and curls, and swing the big heavy wooden door open and let themselves inside. The church is empty and silent, and a small sparrow sits in the arch of a marble column near the altar. Father Gorley enters the church from a back room holding incense and humming to himself.
“Father Gorley. We’ve come to say our confessions.” Sabrina says loudly.
“Oh. Good afternoon ladies. How is the weather outside?” He makes small talk with them so he has some time to finish what he is doing before he has to leave the altar and sit in the confessional box.
“The weather is lovely. The sun is out. We have been swinging in the garden catching the rays, we have.” Sabrina says, bubbling.
“Right. Who’d like to confess to the Lord our Father first?” Father Gorley looks at the schoolgirls.
“Might we say them together for they concern the same thing?” Pazora asks quickly.
“You might. The Lord won’t object to that, no he won’t. In you get.” He says, opening the door for them, and then closing it behind them. He takes a seat in the box next to theirs closing his door behind himself, and waiting.
“Right Father, so this is how it goes. Our friend Meredith is missing, as you know, and her mam wants a funeral.” Pazora starts and then looks at Sabrina.
“But there’d be no point in a funeral you see because Merry isn’t dead.” Sabrina adds.
“Go on.” Father Gorley says, interested.
“Merry has come to us in our sleep for the past four weeks Father. And she says she isn’t dead.” Pazora says.
“What does she say then?” Father Gorley asks.
“She says she is alive, just in another world.” The girls say together, and then giggle because they used the exact same words in unison. Father Gorley takes no notice.
“Does she talk about this other world then?” Father Gorley asks.
“Ay she does. But not in great detail. She just says it’s wonderful. She is happy. It’s a nice place, and there are other people there who are kind to her.” Sabrina adds.
“I see. And has she visited anyone else in their dreams?”
“Not that we know of, no.” Pazora says.
“Why would she choose the two of you to visit?” Father Gorley asks.
“Beats me Father. No idea.” Pazora says. “No idea.” Sabrina adds.
“Perhaps because you were her closest friends?” He suggests.
“Perhaps.” The girls say. “Where do you think she is Father?” Sabrina asks quickly.
“I believe Miss Meredith is exactly where she says she is. In another world, happy and with others.”
“Ay, and should we go to this world too Father?” Pazora asks diligently.
“Ay Miss. Nobody can decide if they should or they shouldn’t go to this other world. Now, if they want to go to this other world we cannot see, then that is a different story pet. Only those who are unhappy here would choose to leave this world of they own accord.” Father Gorley explains.
“That is all for now Father. We have nothing else to confess.” Pazora says, shutting the hatch joining the two boxes. The three of them leave the confessional boxes, Father Gorley returning back to his altar, and the girls running before remembering to walk, down the middle aisle, and out the church doors and into the sun.

Pazora and Sabrina present themselves in the kitchen where Nancy and Luella have been fraught with worry for the pair.
“Don’t be leaving that yard without telling us where you’ll be going. We had no idea where you were. We don’t know what has happened to Merry. And we don’t want the same thing happening to the pair of you. Got it?” Nancy talks to Pazora and points the wooden spoon straight at her. She strikes a very frightening figure when she is mad.
“We only went to church to have confession. Keep your hair on.” Pazora says, sitting in a wooden chair, taking a shortbread and the milk pitcher, and pouring two glasses of milk for herself and Sabrina. They gulp the cold liquid down greedily. All that running made them thirsty.
“Are you staying for your tea?” Nancy looks at Sabrina.
“Yes, if that is alright with you.” Sabrina smiles.
“It’d be alright with me, yes. We are having shepherd’s pie.” Nancy says.
“Perfect. It’s my favourite.” Sabrina goes around the table with Pazora setting out the cutlery and the condiments.
“So what sort of confessions did you have for our Father Gorley then?” Luella asks, whilst still knitting without looking at her actions.
“We told him about Merry and how she isn’t dead.” Pazora says.
“Ay, and what about Merry? And how do you know she isn’t dead?” Luella asks.
“Merry visits us in our sleep. Stays a while. She eats biscuits and drinks lemonade on the cobbles with me sometimes.” Pazora says.
“She does that with you? She does that with me too!’ Sabrina says excitedly, a white milky moustache coats her top lip.
“She visits the both of you?” Nancy’s brows go up.
“Ay, she does.” Sabrina wipes her lip with a napkin.
“Maybe its her spirit who’s visiting ye?” Nancy suggests politely.
“Nay, it isn’t her spirit Nance. She isn’t dead.” Pazora says matter of factly.
“And I suppose Merry said so?” Nancy looks at Pazora with consternation.
“Ay, it was Merry who said so, yes.” Pazora responds positively.
“Her mam is having her funeral tomorrow.” Luella says, suddenly.
“Tomorrow? Well that’s bonkers. Merry isn’t dead.” Pazora repeats herself again.
“Yes, I know that’s what you said pet, but we haven’t seen nor heard from her for a month now. So naturally her mam and dad are in their rights to be having a funeral.” Luella says.
“Father Gorley will be wasting his time tomorrow. Merry is happy and alive.” Sabrina says.
“I think we best end this discussion ladies. It’d be getting us no where now.” Nancy says.
“Fine. If that’s what you want. Sabby and I will be up in my room. Call us down when tea is ready.” Pazora and Sabrina leave the kitchen and run upstairs to Pazora’s bedroom, closing the door behind themselves. They lie down on Pazora’s bed, playing with the tassles on the blanket.

“They don’t believe us.” Pazora says, and a tear trickles down her cheek.
“Don’t cry Paz. I won’t bother about them. We know what’s true and that’s all that matters.” Sabrina says, hugging her friend.
“She really does visit us in our sleep.” Pazora mumbles disconsolately.
“Ay, she does. I know it.” Sabrina reassures Pazora, with another hug. The girls fall into a nap where Meredith visits them again, this time together, because they have fallen asleep so closely, their hands touching.
“Girls! You’re here. Well done. You came. Thank you!” Meredith squeals with delight and hugs her friends tightly before letting each of them go.
“What do you mean we are here? Asleep? Yes. We are asleep. We are having a nap before dinner.” Pazora says, correcting Meredith.
“A nap? Oh, it’s more than a nap. You have left your world. You have come to the other world, my world. Can’t you see it now? Isn’t it wonderful?” Merry is joyful with glee. And Pazora and Sabrina look about themselves and the usually regular landscape of their familiar cobbled street has been replaced with something one can’t describe. But something wonderful, happy, and full of good energy.
“Oh, I see it now.” And Pazora cries tears of joy and happiness. “I wasn’t unhappy in my world, but here I am. I’ve come anyway.” Pazora says, wiping her eyes with the corner of her sleeve.
“Why would you have to be unhappy to come here?” Meredith is confused.
“Well, that’s what Father Gorley said. He said one would only come to this other world if they weren’t happy with the other world.” Pazora says.
“Oh, poor Father Gorley. How wrong he is. Don’t go to him. He does not know. He hasn’t ever been here before. Priests don’t know everything.” Merry rolls her eyes. Merry takes Sabrina’s hands to make her skip with her. Sabrina and Meredith skip a while, whilst Pazora thinks a moment.
“Your mam is having a funeral for you tomorrow.” Pazora tells Meredith.
“Why would she do that? I’m not dead. I’m perfectly happy and well. What a daft thing to do.” Meredith says, skipping around, holding Sabrina’s hands.
“She hasn’t seen you in a month. She thinks you’re dead. And now Nancy and Luella and Gordon will think I’m dead too.” Pazora doesn’t cry, but she wants to.
“Ay, they’re all silly. All of them. None of us is dead. We are perfectly happy and well. Aren’t we Sabrina?”
“We are.” Sabrina says, twirling around with her arms above her head, enjoying herself.

Chapter Four

When dinner is ready and Nancy has carefully placed the large heavy glass dish holding the shepherd’s pie onto the large wooden table, she asks Luella to call the girls downstairs. Luella goes to the bottom of the stairs, holds the rail and calls out.
“Girls – tea is ready. Come down now.” Normally Pazora would reply to Luella’s calls, but being asleep, she cannot. Luella calls for them again. There is no answer. She hoiks her skirts up with her hands and commences her climb upward. She opens Pazora’s bedroom door, and enters. She looks about the room and the girls are not there. They are not asleep on her bed. The window is open and Luella peers out of it and down into the garden below. She furrows her brow. She has no idea where they are and she was sure Pazora said they were coming upstairs.
“Nancy, the girls are not up there. They did go upstairs, didn’t they?” Luella asks her sister, unsure now.
“Yes, they did. That’s what Pazora said. Maybe they’re outside? Have a check.” Nancy suggests.
Luella goes outside to the back garden where the swing is unoccupied and the girls aren’t to be found. She walks down the side of the house and goes to the main road where the girls might be playing. They are not in the main street either. She goes back inside via the front door and runs to the kitchen.
“I can’t find them. At all.” Luella is beginning to panic.
“Alright. Don’t panic now. I am sure they are about somewhere. Gordon!” Nancy calls for Gordon who was reading a book in the front room.
Gordon appears in the kitchen in daywear, with his book in his hand.
“Pazora and Sabrina have gone awol. Can you go and find them and tell them dinner is ready please?” Nancy says, tutting, and exhaling loudly, exasperated.
Luella has put a cold wet cloth on her forehead for she has become hot and flustered. Gordon leaves the house.
He comes back fifteen minutes later without the girls. Of course, he did not find them for they are in the other world with Meredith now.
“I didn’t find them.” He says to his sisters.
“Do we know where Sabrina lives?” Nancy asks her siblings.
“Ay, I think in number 155.” Luella says, getting up off her chair and going to the front door, evidently on her way to Sabrina’s house. Gordon goes with her and they leave the house once more. And of course the girls are not at Sabrina’s house, and now her mam is ill with worry too. Everyone assumes the worst because of Meredith’s eery unexplained disappearance.
When Gordon and Luella return they tell Nancy they think the girls are missing good and proper and that they should all go to the police station. The police interview them, take a statement, and go down to the local river just in case the girls have drowned themselves. And like Meredith’s disappearance, they find no bodies. They interview their register of kidnappers. They begin thorough investigations. They send out search dogs. They interview locals. They interview Father Gorley. Word spreads in the street that two more girls have gone missing and the police haven’t found any bodies. Mothers become worried for their children and stop them from going to school. Women stop leaving their babies in prams outside in the sun, opting to keep them indoors where they can see them. There must be a kidnapper, they all agree. The priest has no answers. The police have no answers. Why have three girls gone missing in Ealing Common?

And all the while Meredith, Sabrina and Pazora are happy in their new-found world, spending their days, skipping, drinking lemonade and eating homemade biscuits. They haven’t a care in the world, and the longer they are in this new world, the more their memories fade, and they begin to forget about their old lives. They do not worry about their families, or their teachers, or their classmates. They have each other and they are happy. And the strangers around them are kind and friendly.
There comes a time when they are asked if they would like to return to the old world. And Meredith and Sabrina say they are happy where they are however Pazora wouldn’t mind going back to her old world to live her old kind of life once more. And she is told she will begin again, from the beginning; from being a new baby. To this, she agrees. And she chooses a new family; a man and a woman who live in North Barnet who are having their first child. It’s a girl. And they are going to call her Eliza. And when baby Eliza is born with Pazora’s soul inside her, there are a few complications; Eliza is born feet first. Normally babies are born head first.
So, naturally the doctors and nurses start referring to her as the girl who entered the world upside in. And this nickname sticks. And Eliza’s new parents call her the same thing. And when she is four years old they tell her she was the girl who entered the world upside in. And she laughs. She thinks it’s funny. But she doesn’t really understand, does she?

The Goldrose School For Girls. A Fictional Textbook. “Magical Government: For those wishing to have careers in the ministry. By Eredemia Frouffly.”

Contents:
Chapters:
*Chapter One: Areas of Government and what they are for:
~ Schooling & Education
~ Healthcare
~ Magical Businesses
~ Broom Traffic & the Airways
~ Magical Building & Infrastructure
~ Realm Changing
~ Australian Magical Currency
~ Travelling Overseas
~ Products and Services
~ Law Enforcement
~ Judicial Ministry
~ Spell Reversals
~ Magic Rectification
~ Magic Allowance
~ Prohibited Items
~ Intertwined Ministries
*Chapter Two: Roles & Responsibilities in Government:
~Main Minister
~Assistant Minister
~Public Affairs Minister
~Judicial Minister
~Criminal Minister
~Education Minister
~Healthcare Minister
~Infrastructure Minister
~Magic Monitoring
~Spell Reversals Minister
~Airways Minister
~Flysports Minister
~Wilted Interactions Minister
*Chapter Three: Laws By Ministry:
~ Broom Traffic and Airways
~ Flysport Regulations
~ Flying Regulations
~ Wand Regulations
~ Spell-casting Regulations
~ Currency Regulations
~ Potion Regulations
~ Magic Regulations
~ Building Regulations
~ Disappearing Regulations
~ Charm Regulations
~ Business Regulations
*Chapter Four: Breaches in legislation, and its punishments:
~Judicial Ministry
~Criminal Ministry
~Punishments, penalties, and fines
*Chapter Five: Ministry locations and their portfolios:
~Canberra
~Melbourne
~Sydney
~Hobart

Chapter One: Areas of Government and what they are for
Schooling and Education
The Schooling and Education Ministry represents, monitors, and looks after
The Goldrose School for Girls in Peach Blossom Lane, and the Meridian
School for Boys, in Dark Forest Cove. It also oversees the funding, (financial
and magical) of the many independent and privatised CATS (Certificates at
Tertiary Schools) students enrol into after year twelve. These schools were
founded in 1932 by Thistlethorn Goldrose, and his wife Bergamot Goldrose
(nee Dale). In 1996, the operations of the school were handed over to the
ministry as a government-operated ministry, because enrollments increased
beyond the threshold where individuals and/or partnerships are allowed to be
in full control of any kind of educational institution. Prior to this however, the
running and operations, and employment of staff, and enrollment of students
at both of these schools, was the sole responsibility of Bergamot and
Thistlethorn Goldrose, whom had a small team of staff coordinating alongside
themselves. These are the only two magical schools in Melbourne for students
aged five to eighteen. Magical parents can send their children to wilted
schools however it is extremely rare, and it is strongly advised against by the
ministry.
This ministry ensures students at primary, and secondary schools across
Melbourne, are all receiving the same kind of learning, the same curriculum,
and the necessary skills in their chosen CATS, to enter the workforce post
year-twelve. Only ten percent of Goldrose and Meridian graduates opt out of
further education after graduating.
It is by design that the staff selected to teach students at Goldrose and
Meridian are of the same gender as their students, to initiate bonding on a
professional but friendly basis. This is not to say that people of the opposite
sex are unprofessional or unfriendly toward one another, more that women
bond with women better, and men bond with men better, thus creating a more
cohesive and productive learning environment. Students are afterall
participants in the education sector for a large chunk of their lives; those
choosing to study multiple CATS, even more so.

Healthcare
This ministry controls and oversees the operations of the healthcare system in
Australia. Our healthcare system comprises all of the hospitals and doctors
patients visit throughout their lives. It also oversees nurses working in the
sickbays at Goldrose and Meridian for they are well-trained professionals who
have government and parental permission to administer physical and magical
spells and cures to any underage/legal-age student if need be. It is monitored
in such a way so that all students are spell-cast against chicken-pox, measles,
mumps, dipheria, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tetanus, and meningococcal, in
accordance with the Healthcare Ministry’s Healthcare Plan, which is reviewed
annually.

Magical Business
This ministry oversees that all business-owners in Peach Blossom Lane and
Dark Forest Cove run their businesses in accordance with the guidelines set by
the Magical Business ministry. These guidelines and rules are reviewed every
six months. There are many guidelines and rules shop-owners must abide by
and these will be outlined in Chapter Three: Laws By Ministry.

Broom Traffic and the airways
This ministry brainstorms and implements legislation for air-users – anyone
who is flying a broom. It also controls who can buy a broom, and the age one
must be in order to fly on a broom. It works closely with the Judicial Ministry
when deciding if certain criminals are allowed access to brooms or not. It
represents individuals caught up in air-crashes, and works closely with the
Judicial Ministry when a matter of damages and/or compensation is being
claimed by any potential injured parties. Air-crashes are very rare amongst the
general public, but unlike our wilted counterparts who have traffic lights for
their on-road vehicles, we do not have traffic signals in the air, for they would
cause more accidents instead of fewer. In the Flysporting arena however, air-
crashes are very common, due to the nature of Flysport itself, and many
professional flyers have been known to claim damages against one another
after suffering temporary injuries and illness, even if it has been corrected with
magic.

Magical Building and Infrastructure
This ministry oversees the building (physical and magical) of all of the
dwellings and homes in our realm. The Planning Minister decides whether
certain buildings will be approved for building or not and bases his/her
findings/conclusions on drafts submitted to him/her by individuals wishing to
build. This includes building brick by brick in the physical manner, and also
building any dwellings in the magical manner – with wand. This ministry
oversaw the building of all of the shops in Peach Blossom Lane, and Dark
Forest Cove, and newly, the building of our community’s newest bank –
Felgamore’s. This ministry also just recently worked very closely with the
Magic Allowance Ministry a few weeks ago when it distributed extra
allowances of magic to all Bloomers and Rooks of legal age, residing in
Melbourne, to recreate their homes inside our realm whence the Magical
Ministry as a whole recently decided to close the doorways to the wilted
realm, infinitely. This was due to several disappearances the magical
community was objected to, involving two Goldrose women being kidnapped
by some wilted citizens in order to gain more information about our kind. It
was deemed safer, by all ministries at the Doorway Erasure Meeting held two
weeks ago now, to erase these doorways until further legislation is decided
upon and/or reviewed.

Realm Changing
Please note – This ministry has disbanded and all content from this chapter has
been magically erased by the Education Ministry. Please ask your teacher
questions about this ministry if you are genuinely curious.

Australian Magical Currency
Please note – This outline was once much more indepth as it outlined the
currency used by wilted and by ourselves, however since the erasure of the
doorways to the wilted realm, this outline now only explains magical currency
only. Any students curious and interested in knowing more about dollars and
cents should consult their teachers with their questions if they are genuinely
curious.
This ministry ensures Felgamore’s operates itself in accordance with the
guidelines set by the Magical Businesses Ministry, when the exchanging,
withdrawing, converting, changing, or the handing over of money occurs. In
times past, several bank tellers who worked at the former magical bank which was
called Hertils, were known to convert customers’ money incorrectly, and were
pocketing the difference in their own bank accounts. The Judicial Ministry
was involved in every case of this happening, and the offenders were either
fined or imprisoned for wrongful behaviour. This ministry also works closely
with the Judicial Ministry in surveilling young kids, and adolescents lest they
charm their money into displaying itself as a value higher than that it
physically is. There have been cases in the past where very clever twelve year
olds were caught by the Judicial Ministry for carrying on them one thousand
stroms when in actual fact, it was really only two stroms. This ministry
monitors wrong-doers closely. Spells associated with money-growing do exist,
but be warned if you try them – you will be fined and punished.

Travelling Overseas
Please note: this outline used to have more detail however no longer mentions
travelling overseas in the wilted realm, for it has become impossible, after the
Magical Ministry decided to close all doorways to the wilted realm a few
weeks ago. Bloomers and Rooks can still travel overseas by broom, and in
large parties, but they are confined to our realm.
This ministry ensures all travellers are accounted for wherever they go, and
that their personal belongings are accounted for and are returned to them lest
a spell turns awry. It is advised that everybody collects their physical
belongings from their overseas hotel rooms by hand, however, because we
have wands, many bloomers and rooks summon their suitcases and personal
items to themselves when overseas, and in the past, many travellers have been
caught out when their personal items have not completed the journey to their
owners and have become “lost in transportation”. Some items have ended up
in the wilted realm at various and random locales, whilst, sometimes, some
items did not move from their original spot at all. In the event you are
planning to go overseas anytime soon, this ministry advises that you do not
summon money, extra clothing, broomsticks, food, drinks, toiletries, or extra
equipment from one country to another, lest it becomes lost in transportation.
It is not always easy for this ministry to track down your lost items.

Products and Services
This ministry ensures that all food outlets and cafes and restaurats are selling
real food and beverages to the general public. It also ensures that clothing is
real clothing, furniture is real furniture, and feathers are real feathers. Because
of spells and wands, criminals in the past have been known to transform items
into items of lesser value, or of something entirely different, and consumers
have been horrified by their purchases when what they have bought has
transformed into its true self, a few hours after purchasing. In 1999 Mrs Wella
Sawdust bought a broom from an unnamed store in England, and after having
it in her possession for a few hours it turned into a wilted object she was
unable to, and had no desire to, own. This ministry strongly and closely
monitors all manufacturers, ensuring they are making physical goods, and that
the goods they are manufacturing are actually what retailers say they are. This
ministry also works closely with the Magical Business Ministry in
benchmarking the prices retailers can sell their goods for.

Law Enforcement
This ministry works closely with the Judicial Ministry in keeping law and
order in society, creating rules, setting boundaries, and making sure everyone
adheres to social norms, and laws. Criminals who break laws are surveilled by
law enforcement, and are then dealt with by the Judicial Ministry, which acts
very much like the court system the wilted population have adopted in their
form of government. We do not have a court system, or a government structure
known as a parliament, and we do not employ people who wear uniforms and
call them police officers. We do have people however who are known as the
MOB – the Monitors of Behaviour, and they can often be seen patrolling our
streets and our airways of a night time on their bright neon-green broomsticks.

Judicial Ministry
This ministry is very much-needed in our society and works closely with every
other ministry we have. This ministry acts like the “court-system” the wilted
realm have. This ministry are a collection of people based in Canberra,
Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart, who, alongside the MOB, punish, penalise,
fine, or de-magic criminals who perform criminal acts (physical and magical).
A criminal act is deemed to be any action or behaviour that goes against the
laws and legislations set out by the Law Enforcement Ministry. The Judicial
Ministry has a hierarchy of ministers who collaborate to
discuss/dissect/analyse/assess/review people’s crimes, punishments, and if
punishments are to be imprisoning of an individual, then, much like a wilted
judge, this ministry will invoke sentencing on that individual which will see
them detained and locked in a prison cell, wandless.

Spell Reversals
This ministry is responsible for going back in time and reversing certain spells,
charms, or magical actions that have caused injury to a person, or have caused
an unsavoury chain-reaction of incidents, that are unwanted by all persons
involved. This has been the most controversial ministry to date, with many
bloomers and rooks protesting for its disbandment, annually, because of many
people’s daily routines and activities having been adjusted by the ministry
without their consent, or prior approval, or even awareness. This ministry
decides how and when spell reversals will occur, and which states in Australia
are affected by a spell reversal. In elaborating, a spell-reversal can be as
small-scale as going back in time to one minute ago, and concerning only one
room full of people, or it can be as large-scale as going back twenty years ago,
and concerning the whole magical population worldwide. Spell-reversals are
common, but are looked at a last resort by every ministry concerned. Nobody
in our realm likes them, because of the inconvenience they cause, however the
Minister has decided that this ministry will continue to function as a ministry
because parts of society are bereft without its presence.

Magic Rectification
This ministry is in charge of controlling the results and effects of large, and
complex spells and charms that have gone horribly wrong. They rectify the
effects of the spell as best they can either by working alongside the Spell
Reversals Ministry, or by casting other spells to solve the issue. However, as
we all know, every spell has an outcome, and sometimes these spells have
additional outcomes. These additional outcomes are not always anticipated,
and therefore more spells are often needed to counteract these additional
outcomes.

Magic Allowance
This ministry is the crux of the whole magical realm that we live in. The
magical realm itself was created using a magical allowance that mirrors the
wilted realm. The sheer magnitude of magic involved to replicate an entire
world is actually dangerous in its execution and is the reason why we do not
have space travel in our realm. A limit was reached; to create a whole universe
with magic alone would put the magical world in a severe magic debt for at
least one million years. It is a debt we would never repay, causing magic to
fold in on itself and gradually over time become weaker in its strength. This
magic limitation is also the reason why we have no technology in our realm,
no insects in our realm, and only some of the animals belonging to the animal
kingdom.
This ministry is in charge of alloting magic to schools, families, hospitals,
businesses, and people. Like currency, there is only so much to go around.
There are even some countries in the world whose magic isn’t as strong as our
class of magic because it has degenerated in quality over time. These countries
are those whom are known as underdeveloped countries. With very little
physical money to go around, people have exhausted their resources of magic
to survive, to the point where they have lent magic from “magic banks”, and
have been unable to pay it back, putting their government into magic debt,
over and over again. In Australia such “magic banks” do not exist. We
currently have a very healthy and abundant magic economy. There have been
requests from struggling countries to borrow our magic, and thankfully, for our
economy’s sake, our government has denied them access to our supplies of
magic. This to those struggling countries may seem selfish, cruel and anti-
global, however, our country has itself at the heart of its concerns, naturally,
as does every country, and we have survived, economically because of it.

Prohibited Items
This ministry is in charge of monitoring the general public for items that are
marked in Australia as being prohibited. That includes any ingredient that can
be used in a potion to make a hallucinogenic substance, or any kind of
substance that would have a negative effect on the longterm cognition and
mindset of any bloomer or rook. Drugs in the magical realm are absolutely
illegal, and heavy punishments are given to those who are caught by the MOB
with drugs in their possession. Spellbooks including black spells are also
prohibited inside the magic realm, and anyone found to have a black
spellbook in their possession will be punished in a very heavy way. Black
wands which are being sold on the black market are also prohibited, and
anyone with a black wand in their home will be imprisoned, with a sentence
being determined by the severity of the spells cast by that wand.

Intertwined Ministry
This ministry is a behind-the-scenes kind of ministry that the public know very
little about, and that is because it is purely a ministry that was created to serve
all the other ministries and to act as a go-between in terms of communications
and resources. Without this ministry, all the other ministries would still be in
the dark about what each sector is working on at any given time. Most of the
time, all of the ministries must collaborate on new laws and legislations
anyway, so this ministry is crucial to the smooth-running of law-
implementation, and of that, timeliness, cost-effectiveness, and relevance. This
ministry is everyone else’s secretary per se.

To Be Continued…

The Goldrose School for Girls. Ch 11. Ages 16+

When Raina and I arrive home, there is a letter on the kitchen bench waiting for me.

“That just arrived.” Mum says, pouring herself a cup of tea with the pot on the stove.

I open the letter. It is from my manager. She wants to see me as soon as possible.

I tell Mum and Raina I have to go into work and then I disappear, leaving the letter face up on the kitchen bench.

When I arrive inside my office, I walk out of it and literally bump into my manager Tilly Bark, who is shocked and then relieved. “Good. I’m glad you’re here. Let’s talk in my office.” She says, and I know exactly what this is about.

“So it has been brought to my attention that you were involved in the consumption of prohibited substances earlier today…” she says, sipping tea from a china teacup. My teacup sits in front of me but I’m too nervous to take a single sip.

“Okay. I won’t lie. Yes, I was.” I say, looking at the floor.

“Saffra – you’re an adult. You’re a bloomer! You work for the ministry! You know how these things are monitored. Why would you go and do something so stupid?” Tilly isn’t much older than me, and I like her a lot, and even though her question stems from the fact that I have done something wrong, I really don’t like it.

“I don’t know what to tell you. I miss Melbourne. Taking mushrooms is the only way I can visit it anymore.” I say.

“We all miss Melbourne, but taking mushrooms is seriously not the answer.” She says.

“Have you ever had any?” I ask.

“No, I haven’t. I know better.” She says.

“Gee, thanks.” I mumble.

“Come on. Our world isn’t that different. The streets look the same. The shops. Surely it isn’t worth risking your job to see the old world?” Her brows go up. She reminds of someone who’s like fifty years old, instead of twenty five.

“No, you’re right, it isn’t worth it. But I’ve been taking mushrooms since I was seventeen and I haven’t been caught before.” I say.

“I guess the magical surveillance department are doing their jobs a whole lot more thoroughly these days then.”

“I guess so.”

“Take this as your first warning. If you get a second warning in regards to prohibited substances or prohibited anything, you’re gone.”

“I understand.” I say.

“Good. Seriously, though. Don’t do anything else. Your job pays so well. And you have a good reputation here. People like you. Don’t jeopardise that!”

She smiles at me. I return the smile and then leave, disappearing off home.

Raina and Mum are still sitting at the kitchen bench where I left them not all that long ago, when I reappear in the kitchen beside the marble bench.

“Tilly was okay. It wasn’t that bad. I wasn’t fired thank goodness. I got a warning. One more warning though and then I’m out.” I say, magically pouring some coke zero into a glass with my wand.

“You were lucky. Raina is jobless. Your mother is going to kill you when she finds out.” Mum says, looking at Raina.

“She seriously will. I don’t know what I’m going to do for work now. I won’t work in the ministry again. Ever. And all because I was trying to reverse the stuff you did!” Raina is glaring at me.

“Hey – don’t blame me. I had no idea that woman could enter our realm. It wasn’t my fault okay?” I say, standing up for myself.

“Whatever.” Raina gets up from her bar stool and trudges upstairs – clearly pissed off with me, and not in the mood to be reasoned with.

“It was your lack of judgement that lost her her job honey.” Mum says.

“Yeah well, she was the one who got me onto eating the mushrooms in the first place. So if she wants to blame anyone, she should just blame herself.”

“That was years ago, when you were in highschool. Before you had ministry jobs. You have a good steady job now. Don’t lose it because of some adolescent hobby.”

“Mum! Eating mushrooms is the only way I can see Melbourne.”

“Oh… is that why you do it?” Mum asks, curious.

“Yes, these days, that is the main reason why I still eat them. I miss the old world.” I say.

“But honey, with all the building and reworking the ministry have been doing over the past three years, our realm looks more like Melbourne than ever before.” Mum is trying to console me.

“It does, and they are doing an awesome job with the rebuilds, but it’s still not identical is it? Where’s Bridge Road? The CBD? Lygon Street? The Emporium? Collins Street? Chapel Street? Chadstone Shopping Centre? The State Library? The Westgate Bridge? The beach? We have like zero beaches here! Who has zero beaches anywhere? Oh, wait a minute – we do!”

“Saffra, you’re behaving like a small child.” Mum says.

“I’m pissed off.”

“Well, I’m sorry about that. Just be grateful for what you do have. There are bloomers and rooks who have it far worse than you.”

“So you keep telling me. But if they have never had any of those places they are none the wiser. I grew up shopping everywhere. And now? Now – I can only shop in two locations, and always at the same bloody shops. How is that fair?”

“Life isn’t meant to be fair.” Mum says, getting up and rinsing her teacup out with her wand.

“What is it meant to be then?” I ask.

“Life is meant to be fun, and enjoyed. Learn to enjoy what we have, and forget about the things we no longer have. If you are concerned, write a letter to the planning minister about your concerns for more shopping areas.” Mum disappears and I’m left sitting in the kitchen alone. Farley and Briar sensing my loneliness, jump onto the top of the bench and dither under my chin and around my hands that are placed down flat on the marble surface.

“Thanks for trying to cheer me up.” I say, sliding my hand over Farley’s back and down his tail, and then doing the same thing to Briar until I hear them purring.

“Where is everyone?” Aunty Alyssum asks, her wand escorting plastic shopping bags through the kitchen and landing them on the kitchen bench in front of me.

“Raina is pissed off, and has gone upstairs, and Mum, I have no idea.” I say.

“What’s wrong with Raina?” Aunty Alyssum asks.

“She was fired because of the spell reversal.”

“Really? I thought that if her manager met Susannah, the wilted lady, then everything would be okay?” Aunty Alyssum is concerned.

“That’s what we thought as well, but in the end it was a matter of her job or his, and he wanted to keep his, so she had to go.”

“Just like that?” Aunty Alyssum is annoyed.

“Just like that.” I say, clicking my fingers.

“That’s bordering on unfair dismissal.”

“Well, Aunty Lyss, she broke the law. I mean, she did a spell reversal without her boss’s permission or authorisation. We all know we can’t do that.” I say.

“She was trying to cover up your mistakes.” Aunty Alyssum is staring at me.

“I know. Don’t get me wrong. I’m totally grateful for that. I’m glad she tried. We had no idea this would happen. I wish that woman never followed me. But I can’t change any of it, can I?”

“No, you can’t. Would be good if you could though. Should I go up and see her?”

“No. Just leave her. She will be okay.” I say, sending my glass into the metal sink so that my wand can rinse it under the running water.

“So what happened with your job?” She asks me, sending the groceries into the pantry and the toilet and bathroom itsems up the stairs.

“I got a warning.”

“Good. Let that be a warning to you then. No more illegal substances. Throw anything else you have away.”

“I will.” I say, and go upstairs, to do just that.

I find the mushrooms and once I am back downstairs in the kitchen, I throw them in the bin. That was the last of them. I won’t be buying any more. My mushroom days are over.

The OA

The OA is brilliant. I have not seen anything like it before now. It deals with life, death, and dying over and over again, in a way that is impossibly unreal but possibly real. 

Brit Marling’s character Prairie Johnson is a little left of centre; somewhat spiritual. In the way she dresses, in the way she looks, and in the way she speaks. She is strange but intriguing, and at times comes across loopy – but viewers can’t help but want to follow her on her journey. Her narrative is a story inside a story, and the series unfolds during present day, however spends much of its time reflecting on Prairie’s past seven years. And it is these seven years that the whole plot is based on.

Prairie is kidnapped by a scientist called HAP, who is played by Jason Isaacs, and is held captive in his basement in a glass cage for seven years along with three other people. HAP – an abbreviated name for their captor, is suave, charming, endearing, intelligent and charismatic. He hooks you in and has you listening to his every word. Until, like Prairie, we wish we weren’t so naive, and we hadn’t listened to his every charming word. Who would think such a kind, and charming man could be capable of abducting four human beings, and then holding them illegally and against their will in his underground basement? I certainly did not see THAT coming at all.

But that is what he does. Because all of his subjects have one thing in common – they have all had near-death experiences – deathly experiences that have seen them all come back to life with beautiful talents and skills they did not possess before they died. And HAP has the machinery and resources to force these poor human beings to die time amd time again with one sole purpose in mind – to listen to their soundscapes as they die and once they have died. He wants to know where they go when they die – and what happens to them in the small interim between their forced drowning and their reawakening. He drowns them all many times over, and each time they all come back to life. Whilst the series does not go into detail about the processes and ingredients in his scientific experiment, it does show us that they are each gassed in their glass chambers before they are wheel-chaired away into an experiment room, which if I am honest looks like the cockpit of some sort of spaceship. 

And the crux of these grand experiments is that the characters being held captive – along with Prairie – devise a way in which they can be present in their own experiments by remaining conscious, and not succumbing to the effects of the fluffy white gas that is pumped into their glassrooms at whim. 

In The OA death is mysterious, beautiful, picturesque, and mystifying. Death looks a whole lot like our solar system or the Milky Way Galaxy. Death is a whole galaxy of brightly-shining stars that keep us company on our journey between this life and the next. The death and rebirth scenes in The OA walk the paths of reincarnation somewhat whilst leading viewers to believe that the near-death experiences people have in the real world probably have some credibility in them if we just opened our minds and tried to think about worlds beyond our own. 

The OA encourages me to abandon my scepticism for so many existential themes and concepts that as human beings we will never be able to get answers for. I am not religious. I am a tiny bit spiritual. And I know the themes in this show are built upon tiers of fictional ideas, but these fictional ideas are not so firmly embedded in pure fantasy – if we thought about this show’s themes, long and hard enough, we would find some truth in them.

We may find some truth in the themes in 100 years time when technology has evolved and the human consciousness along with it. We may find the answers we seek about life and death when humanity reaches a spiritual plateau and we can traverse the multiple dimensions The OA creatively suggests the earth is susceptible to. None of that could happen. Or all of it might. None of us will know. Because by then, we will all be dead. Or traversing some higher dimension where we are dead but exist as something so much more than a body and a soul. 

The OA is food for thought. It gets you thinking. It gets you watching and contemplating. It is an obscure, unconventional, mystical expression of existential theorising, and I just could not stop watching. Eight episodes was not enough for my desire for fictional knowledge. Or fact based fiction. However you want to look at it, the plot and the storyline are intriguing, addictive and absolutely satisfying watching. Five stars to The OA. A rare gem in an afterlife of galactical stars that reawakens the soul and nourishes the mind.