A Round Window - fiction except and sketch


This is an excerpt from a short story A Round Window - the protagonist, Martha, finds herself in the company of strangers, invited into a stranger's cottage. I made a gouache painting in a sketchbook, illustrating Miss Brakerfield's mantlepiece with figurines. The complete story will be published later this year in my short story collection Crayon Poems.

*
Not wishing to argue, intrigued by this invitation, Martha followed through a small path, with overhanging roses making early buds, through a gate into a small courtyard. Miss Brakerfield lived in one of the red tiled cottages. Her kitchen was small and dark. She led the way through into a dim pink room, switched on table lamps, shoved a pile of newspapers into the fireplace. She commanded her visitors to sit. 

‘I shall put the kettle on and all that. Won’t be long!’ Miss Brakerfield said and hobbled back through to the kitchen, Opheus following and snapping at her ankles. ‘Yes, yes, lunch time is not for at least another forty-five minutes young man!’

‘She’s a little eccentric,’ Jacky said, sitting in his duffle coat and slippers. A bit of apron poked from his coat. ‘But she’s been kind. And makes a decent cup of tea. You could do with a cup, I’m sure. She used to be a school teacher, of course.’

Martha nodded. ‘It’s very kind of her -’

‘She mentioned Sydney. So I might as well tell you, Sydney was my - partner, I suppose you might as well say. We lived together for forty-five years. He was a painter.’ Martha nodded. She watched Jacky’s face crumpling slightly and hoped he might not start to cry. ‘He was my life. A cliche, I suppose. Anyone can believe what they like.’

‘I’m widowed,’ Martha said, suddenly, lying. She did not know why she lied. Why would these people need to know, anyway. She was divorced and childless, and alone. In a way I might as well be, she decided, I might as well be a widow. 

‘I have little interest in art myself,’ Jacky continued, ‘It just happened to be what Syd did. If he worked on the railways then he would have done that. I worked in the civil service. One of us had to have a steady job. Well, that was then. Now I have so much to do. So much sorting. It’s been three years and I still sort things every day. So I suppose, when I saw you this morning, I thought: here’s a chance to get away from it for a moment. You seemed - a little forlorn and I suppose, in a rather strange way I felt uplifted by seeing you. Someone else without a smile.’

‘Looking - forlorn? I’m not sure I was.’

Martha looked about the room, the curvaceous furniture, clusters of black and white family photographs in silver frames. Crocheted blankets, a basket with a needlepoint project and bright pink wools, daffodils on the windowsill, a dark, bulky landscape painting above the tiny fireplace. It was like being inside a doll’s house. She wished to note it all down, mentally, to sketch later.

Miss Brakerfield appeared with a tray of tea things. She was a short, round woman and wore tightly fitting clothes, seamed stockings. She poured tea and talked, without directing her speech to anyone, staring at a spot on the wall. So-and-so and how dreadful things were, how delighted she was at how dreadful things were for certain people, oh and how lovely the weather was last year but not this.

Jacky, mouth full of biscuit, began to laugh. ‘He-gh-my-my dear - I just remembered, I still have my slippers on!’ He looked down at his feet, his sodden pale green slippers.

Miss Brakerfield shook her head. ‘Jacky, I haven’t a blessed clue what you are on about. Oh,’ she said and looked out of her small front window to see something. ‘That’s the postwoman, I need to have a word with her!’ She left the room and went to the door.

‘This may take some time, we may have to just tip-toes out,’ Jacky whispered.

But Martha was overwhelmed by a curiosity to look about the cottage. She realised now she had not been into a stranger’s house for many, many years. Perhaps this was why every detail about the place fascinated her. She wanted to sketch the details, as quickly as possible. The dainty blue painted figurines on the mantelpiece looked one-of-a-kind, objects made by someone with only so much talent.  Perhaps Miss Brakerfield had made them in a pottery evening class? The only thing she did not like was the large, overbearing landscape above. When Jacky explained ‘that’s one of Syd’s’, she could not pretend to be impressed and instead asked what Sydney’s full name had been, so that she might look up his work. 

‘Sydney James Alexander Rhodes. But in later life he simply signed everything Syd. He was an outsider. He had few artworld friends. I doubt you’ll find much about him on the computer,’ Jacky said and sniffed and stood and looked out of the window. ‘That poor postwoman.’

**

end of excerpt - all rights reserved (c) Cathy Cullis 2020

Thank you for reading!

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