Sunday, 7 February 2016

I shall awaken this blog from its long sleep to post an entry for the online course I'm doing with FutureLearn (run by the Open University).
The course is called "Start Writing Fiction". This piece is the beginning of a longer story. We are encouraged to concentrate on the story's characters, make them strong and interesting and have them drive the story.
The trigger for this was a few photographs of my grand and great grandparents taken towards the end of the 19th century.

On the shelf

Margaret looked up from the large bag of T-shirts and sweaters as Kayleigh hurried into the shop.
     ‘Oh, you’re early, dear.’
     ‘Well, you see, Margaret, I was going to ask . .’
     Margaret was still half-buried in the bin-bag.
     ‘Do you remember,’ her muffled voice said, ‘ that couple who bought those Victorian photos?  Well, they picked out some and re-donated the rest. Wasn’t that nice?’
     ‘Yes, but, Margaret, remember I said I was going out with the girls tonight. Do you mind if I go off early?’
     ‘That’s alright, just go when you’re ready. But you watch your drinking, m’lady. You know what that crowd are like.’
     Kayleigh laughed. ‘You’re worse than my mum. I bet when you were young, you were in a photo just like this. Look at it, the one you called “The Sad Little Chambermaid” – that’s you.’
     ‘I’m not that old, you cheeky thing. It was my granny who was in service. She used to tell me what a hard life it was. Things were so different then.’

‘I’ll be off now then, Margaret.’
     ‘Right, dear. I’ll see you in the morning. Oh, no, I still haven’t put those photographs on the top shelf. Would you mind, Kayleigh? You're taller than me. Yes, just as they are. We’ll make a proper display of them tomorrow.’
     Fifteen minutes later, Margaret locked the charity shop door, switched the lights off and turned the card to “Closed”. She went into the back shop. Time for a sit-down and a cup of tea before she left. There was no one now to hurry home for.
     The back shop was getting dark but it was still warm. Margaret closed her eyes.

She didn’t hear the whispers in the darkness.

‘Annie? It is you. My Annie. I knew you were there somewhere. ’
     ‘Mr James? Is that you? Where are you?’
     ‘Over here, my darling. In the big family portrait. Just behind Mama.’
     ‘Yes, I see you now. Behind  your Mama. Of course.’

     ‘Dear Annie, you’re not still blaming me? You knew we couldn’t go on as before. Not after Mama found . . . ‘     
     ‘After your Mama found us together in the summerhouse? We were just talking - but we were together. That mustn’t happen in the Cornwallis family.’
     ‘Annie, I did love you. Please believe me.’
     ‘Maybe you did, James. But not enough.’
     ‘Did you? . . . how was it? . . after?’
     ‘After I was sacked? What do you think? I had no references. I took whatever work I could get. I will not tell you what I had to do to get enough to live on. Then I opened a market stall in Petticoat Lane, selling secondhand clothes. Eventually I opened a proper dress shop. Before I retired I had three. 
     'No, James, I never married. You know, you could say you did me a favour. Do you remember the blue dress your mother wore that Christmas of 1902? I took a great delight in selling that to her. I still remember how it felt to put her money in my till. She didn’t recognize me.’

Margaret woke with a start. She had to stand on a chair to replace the family portrait, which seemed to have fallen. How strange, she thought; the “Little Chambermaid” somehow didn’t look as sad as she remembered.

(560 wds)    

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