Bertram Lionel Winters was a very precise little man. And very correct. It was his one fear that those, very few, people with whom he became more than just an acquaintance would shorten his name to Bert. He could not possibly countenance being called Bert. He simply was not a Bert. Fortunately, no one had ever even considered abbreviating his name. Bertram was, very obviously, a Bertram.
“A place for everything, and everything in its place” was his abiding mantra. Nothing, but nothing was allowed to lie untidily on the sofa, or lurk on the kitchen windowsill. Papers were read at breakfast, then folded neatly and put in the magazine rack. At the end of the day, Bertram would pick up his cocoa mug, and the days paper, and dispose of his mug in the sink and the papers in the recycling bin.
Leonora, his wife, a wispy, downtrodden little woman would take her own mug and wash them both up, dry them with a tea towel, and then put the tea towel ready for washing in the basket in the utility room.
Leonora sometimes wondered what Bertram would do with a dishwasher, stacking dirty plates inside and then waiting for more to join them before turning the machine on. For Bertram was also of a very thrifty nature, and insisted on turning off lights that were not being used, thus plunging the hallway into darkness, and having to grope for the switch at bedtime. No one ever came to the door after six o’clock. Or if they did, they were ignored.
Every morning, Bertram ate two pieces of toast, taken from a sliced loaf, which he expected to last a week, with exactly one teaspoon of marmalade on each slice. He then put on his hat, and overcoat (winter) or light raincoat (summer) and set off to the local Barclays Bank, where he had worked since leaving school, and where he confidently expected to receive a retirement present in a few years time. He worked diligently and precisely at his desk, not being considered suitable for a post in which he came into contact with the public, with his desk top immaculate, and at 5.30 every day, he put his papers in order, and returned home.
Leonora meanwhile, having made sure he had left the house, relaxed somewhat, and cooked herself a good plate of porridge, from oats which her sister bought for her, and which she kept hidden in an old fashioned enamel bin labelled “Flour”. She poured more hot water into the teapot and had another cup of tea, and then set about the housework. Bertram, naturally, insisted on a sparkling clean house on his return. Leonora had got the work down to a fine art. She dashed round with the vacuum cleaner, shook the cushions, straightened the curtains, and then dusted all surfaces with a duster impregnated with “Pledge”. She had found that a house that faintly smelled of some sort of aromatic cleaner gave the impression of being surgically clean.
Bathroom and kitchen received the same treatment with a citrus smelling cleaner, and making sure that every single thing stood in its proper place, she untied her apron, and relaxed into her own world.
She had taken over the tiny third bedroom, which was over the hall and therefore faced the street and gave her a chance to see the world outside. This she called her “sewing room” explaining to Bertram that she could keep all her materials, equipment and bits and pieces in one place and not litter the sitting room. Bertram was quite happy about this and pleased that his wife had a hobby to keep her occupied. There was, of course, no question of Leonora resuming her career after their marriage.
But it wasn’t sewing that kept Leonora occupied, but knitting. She made knitted dolls, about eighteen inches high, and with knitted clothes she made for them. Both boy and girl dolls were cleverly and intricately made and would appeal to any small child. However, these dolls were not for small children. The pornographic dolls she made sold surprisingly well at a local shop selling brief, lacy undies and sex toys.
Leonora kept two or three dolls, suitable for children, and cutely pretty on display, so that Bertram, and any other visitors could see what she said she was making. She would also murmur something about selling in aid of a local charity, if asked. Which she rarely was.
Once a week Leonora would take a supply of dolls to the undie shop, which went by the name of “Suspenders” and pick up the money from the previous week’s sales. Cash, no questions asked. The shop had started to sell the dolls on-line, which meant rather more complicated financial transactions, but which proved to be a gold mine.
Leonora bought fresh materials at a little wool shop at the end of the High Street.
“We’ve got a new batch of that lovely shade of pink you were asking about last week”, Jenny, the owner of the shop, told her, “and a really nice shade of light brown you might be interested in. You did say you were making some coloured dolls, didn’t you?”
“That is just the shade I am looking for,” said Leonora, “And I’ll have some more of that lovely scarlet, and that very fine black.”
Afterwards, Leonora called at the Nationwide, and paid the balance into an account, which Bertram was totally ignorant of, and which Leonora intended to keep that way. By now she had amassed quite a large sum, which she was saving for purposes of her own.
At 5.0 pm Leonora tidied her work room and went downstairs to begin preparations for the evening meal, which Bertram expected at 6.30 prompt. He would have no truck with convenience foods, and liked plain, simple food unadorned with what he called “foreign muck”. So Leonora majored on grills, roasts and straightforward baking, and did these very well.
Bertram arrived home at 6.0pm precisely, having walked back from the Bank, and felt very superior to those condemned to stop/starting their cars along the congested High Street. A very dry sherry (not shared by Leonora) and he was ready for his lamb chop, or whatever Leonora had conjured up.
Chapter 2 (part 1)
One day Leonora decided she had had enough. Dinner was five minutes late, owing to the fact she had dropped the Brussels sprouts and spent several minutes chasing down the 12 sprouts (6 each) before putting them in the boiling water.
Bertram was incandescent. “I would have thought you could manage to produce a meal on time”, he fumed. “I don’t ask for much, just a little basic organisation on your part. Surely even you could manage to cook a simple meal on time?”
Leonora was still red-faced from retrieving sprouts from behind the fridge. However, “Yes, dear. Sorry dear. It won’t happen again” she said in her usual submissive manner. Inside she was thinking “Right, you arrogant, self-satisfied prat, let’s see how you get on by yourself”
The next day she made sure she had her birth certificate, bank card, together with a few necessary clothes and toiletries and set off towards the station. Leonora had had the foresight (for she was by no means stupid, merely abused) to open her account in her maiden name. As Leonora Margaret Brown she decided drop the Leonora, which she disliked, and become plain Margaret Brown.
She travelled to Eastbourne, a place she knew well from happy childhood holidays, and booked in for two weeks at a modest Guest House towards the back of the town.
© Gillian Peall