Once there was a slip of paper, folded into four. It sat in the pocket of a heavy green overcoat.
Dorothy hurriedly fastens the large buttons on her heavy green overcoat. The click of the lock signals a release. She slams the front door of the detached house.
Dorothy flinches as she eases the white turtle neck jumper over her head, and down the contours of her shoulders and back. She picks up the black stirrup pants from the bedroom floor and sits back onto the bed. He turns towards her; opens his eyes before drifting back to sleep.
The kitchen welcomes him with the smell of freshly cooked: eggs, bacon, baked beans, and fried bread. One place set; one napkin, Daily Mirror, one cup and saucer.
Dorothy is on her knees scrapping a mixture of smashed plate, eggs, bacon, baked beans, fried bread and blood into a dustpan.
She holds her breath as he dips the fried bread into the yolk of the egg, he pauses: “Perfect, now why couldn’t you do that the first time?”
She pours the tea as he swallows his last mouthful of breakfast; removes the plate and places the cup and saucer before him. Her grip intense on the plate – as he slurps the tea she closes her eyes – waiting “Spot on.”
A silent sigh as the plate sinks beneath the Fairy bubbles. She watches as the grease floats to the top. If allowed to smile, she would at this image, as it impersonates her underlying feelings.
The chink of his china cup alerts her to be swift. A neatly wrapped package swops places with the china cup and saucer. He picks up the greaseproof paper package, held together with string and smells it: “Salmon?”
Dorothy nods. She hands him his flask of tea. He places the flask on the table; unwraps the neat package to reveal two perfect white triangles. In silence he selects one triangle; peels the bread apart, exposing the pink flesh. He rises to his feet; takes four deliberate steps towards Dorothy. He throws the triangles at the toes of her suede boots and places the heel of his black Oxford shoe onto the pink flesh and twists: hissing through clenched teeth; “It’s Monday.” A fine shower of spittle shocks her eyes. He turns around hesitates glances at the clock, puts on his collar and leaves.
“Ladies it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to Mrs Darby our speaker this evening and judge for the best scones competition.” Dorothy stands up. “Thank you, madam chair…my talk this evening; ‘Life as a vicar’s wife.’
“In third place Mrs Blackburn, in second place Mrs Smith’s cherry scones and in first place Mrs Green.”
“Thank you, Mrs Darby, a delightful talk and I hope you will join us for tea and scones.”
She closes the front door and leans against it. A shard of light glows under the parlour door, her body is frozen with dread, a moment to realise. She hangs her green coat next to the black overcoat with the velvet collar and goes to make a pot of tea.
He grabs her wrist as she sets the tray down, his eyes seeking what is not there. Once released she sits down and drinks her tea. The mantle clock chimes ten, Dorothy clears away the cups and goes to bed to wait.
Dorothy waits in the Little Blue Café on the high street staring out of the window, she thinks to herself, what secrets are the people that pass by hiding. Gentlemen hurrying along in their over coats and trilbies; are they kind to their girlfriends or wives? Young ladies laughing and chatting rushing to work; are they truly happy?
The waitress brings, her toasted teacake and milky coffee. “I thought it was you, it is isn’t it…Mrs Darby?…you probably don’t remember me, I bet you meet loads of real ladies being married to a vicar and all…”
Dorothy recalls that evening of course she remembers her, it’s the cherry scone lady; Mrs Smith who should have won first prize if she wasn’t the vicar’s wife and it wasn’t the WI.
She remembers, she remembers him coming up the stairs, his dark shadow over her and then she felt the heaviness of his darkness.
Mrs Smith orders herself tea and toast and tells Dorothy about little Billy and his verrucas and Nellie and her nits. Then she stops and asks: “So, how are you?” No one has asked Dorothy this for so long it takes her breath away. She finishes her coffee and starts to talk.
Mrs Smith listens, she does not try to make Dorothy feel better, she is not shocked. Dorothy knows she is not alone. Mrs Smith has lived the same life. She understands the fear that stops her fighting back, keeps her in check. Mrs Smith does not question; she writes her name and address on a slip of paper and carefully folds it into four. She takes hold of Dorothy’s hand; pressing the paper into her palm. Mrs Smith pays her bill and leaves.
Dorothy hurriedly fastens the large buttons on her heavy green overcoat. The click of the lock signals a release. She slams the front door of the detached house; hesitates, then runs towards the Underground Station. She takes the Northern Line not knowing where she is going.
She slides her hand into her coat pocket; pulls out the slip of paper – unfolds it and reads the address. Dorothy steps from the train at Warren Street.
Sally Shaw is a full-time MA Creative Writing student at the University of Leicester. She writes short stories and poetry, gains inspiration from old photographs, history, and is inspired by writers Sandra Cisneros and Liz Berry. Her short prose, A School Photograph, has been published online by NEWMAG. She worked as a nurse for 33 years and lives in North Warwickshire with her partner, three Pekin Bantams and Bob the dog.