Maybe the house doesn't look the same as the one I used to live in, maybe the windows were different, the chimney another shape but it reminds me of the house I remember. The house of my childhood processed through my memory takes on another vision, it has a life of its own- consequently it is no longer factual, it is fictional.
Photo: An image is processed through the memory to take on another vision
I'm hardly the first one to write Factual Fiction. And I'm not talking about films or books based on real events like "The Great Bank Robbery" or the various film titles on Pope Paul John II- they are not fictional. Nor am I talking about books or films that say any resemblance to real life people is purely accidental, they are fictional, even if based on fact.
Photo: The mind processes the factual and recreates it into a new
I am talking about events that have existed and have remained maybe or maybe not in our subconscious and we draw them out from the past to form a present image. It is this process of drawing out events from the past and recreate them in the present that I call the Factual Fictional process. It is factual because it draws out from life events that have occurred. It is fictional because, this bringing into focus a faded or not so faded image from the past is forming a new shape of that image, giving it a brand new reality, a life of its own.
Photo: Our mind draws out
events from the past, of which some, are more clear than others
Photo: Our mind draws out events from the past, of which some, are more clear than others
The mind draws
out an image from the past,
gives it a new reality,
a life of its own.
ROMANCE - Short Stories
ROMANCE - Short Stories
Index to stories
1. Crowns and Coronets
Crowns and Coronets
Crowns and Coronets
'There's no harm in it,'
Winifred voiced softly as she slipped into Lady Bracknell's maroon velvet, impeccably tailored, suit. `No harm at all.' She clipped the elaborate gold chain firmly around her neck and caressed proudly the shinning rubies encased in it. Then turning first one side then another she admired herself on the full length mirror.
Pity she had to slip the matching earrings, the soft mink hat and delicate suede shoes inside the expensive briefcase with the Bracknell's crest upon it that Lady Charlotte had given her for the course of her duties. Pity too, she thought, that she had to cover herself in her quite ordinary raincoat in order to leave the house.
`Ah, Winifred dear,' Lady Charlotte called as she met her young secretary in the hall. `I've asked Wilson to call a taxi for you.'
`Thank you, Lady Charlotte-' Winifred answered clutching her raincoat around her with the hope no tell-tale maroon velvet would show beneath it.
`Visiting your mother again?'
`Then do tell the driver when to return for you... rather inconvenient not having Robbins available.' Lady Charlotte moved her walking stick in front and placed both her hands on it. `Hopefully next week Robbins will be over his influenza and we can dispose of our own driver again.'
Winifred smiled, Lady Charlotte was such a thoughtful employer, and had treated Winifred more like a daughter than a secretary, playing bridge, having meals together. Even their social lives had mingled and Winifred had accompanied her employer most willingly to concerts, dinner parties, and the theatre. Winifred had studied Lady Charlotte in every detail and had learnt how to behave just like a lady herself. She had learnt from Lady Charlotte how to use the various cutlery on any occasion, and how to choose the correct glass, sip from it and hold it to perfection. She knew now the secrets of unfolding a napkin and exactly where to place it. It was things like that which now distinguished her from the rest of the secretaries that roamed around London, Winifred thought proudly.
`I'll walk to the bottom of the drive, Lady Charlotte. There's not much point in having a stranger come right up to the living quarters.' Winifred said deceitfully, alluding to Lady Charlotte's attachment to privacy, knowing full well that was not the reason Winifred didn't want the taxi to pick her up at the door.
She felt mean deceiving Lady Charlotte in this way, but Winifred found this opportunity irresistible. This time it was even better than all the other times she had impersonated her employer. On other occasions Robbins would drive her to Victoria station with the excuse of catching a train South where her mother lived. Naturally, Winifred had to wear her old shoes and raincoat in the car before she could change at the ‘Ladies ‘ in Victoria. And she longed for the chance of being driven from Bracknell Hall, all the way through London, as Lady Bracknell herself! Even though Lady Bracknell was older, she was the same height and build as Winifred, and from a distance no one could tell the difference.
`As you prefer,' Lady Charlotte said agreeing to Winifred's proposal. `Do have a nice day, my dear.' As Winifred waved, she moved down the drive as fast as she dared do without raising suspicion that she was desperate to arrive before the taxi did. One furtive glance outside the iron gates and Winifred breathed her longest sigh of relief yet. Hidden by the huge, sheltering oak, out came the elegant shoes, ruby earrings and mink hat, and with a few swift movements, in went the raincoat and flat shoes.
She had managed to close the briefcase just in time when a shimmering navy blue Mercedes stopped carefully beside her.
`Lady Bracknell?' the tall, driver said suddenly standing promptly in front of her. Winifred gazed at the young man's deep brown eyes and nodded. As he opened the car door the sleeve of his stylish grey suit slipped upwards revealing obviously expensive gold cuff-links. His head bent slightly towards her as she entered and for a moment Winifred wavered. What a cab driver! she thought feeling herself blush a little.
`Victoria Station, Ma'am?'
`Victoria Station...?' she repeated sheepishly whilst taking a quick glance in the rear mirror to ensure her fair hair was positioned neatly on her shoulders.
`Those were Wilson's instructions Ma'am.
`Ah, Wilson!' she said, suddenly remembering Lady Charlotte had asked the butler to order the taxi. `Poor Wilson, he probably misunderstood. No, I'm not going to Victoria Station.' She paused for a moment, where on earth could she go and feast on her new identity. `The Tate Gallery er...'
`Peter, you may call me Peter if you have no objections.' A bit too friendly she thought. Surnames were more fitting for a lady of her rank.
‘Surely, you possess a family name, do you not?’ she half snapped.
‘Smith’ he answered drily. ‘My surname is Smith.’
‘Quite a common name, is it not, Smith?’
‘It’s the only one I possess Ma’am.’
‘Indeed, it will have to do then, Smith.’
Truly, she didn't object, and under normal circumstances she would have lavished the name “Peter” on him. But as he was far too handsome to pass over any opportunity to get to know him better, she decided to do as he asked `There's a special exhibition of the Pre-Raphaelites that I am keen to see...erm ... Peter.'
`"Helen of Troy", or "The Lady of Shallot"?' He said without batting an eyelid that she had dropped the “Smith” bit.
‘”Helen of Troy”, or “The Lady of Shallot”...’ she mumbled. What on earth was he on about she thought mystified. Then it dawned on her, he was quoting the titles of the paintings.
`I'm not quite sure...,' she began unsteadily.
`At a rough guess, you look like a "Helen of Troy" type, fair hair, dreamy blue eyes, soft lips...' Could this man really be talking about her she wondered flattered. `But I bet you'd choose "The Lady of Shallot." He continued intrigued.
`Yes, yes, I think I would.' she agreed readily as it seemed the easiest option.
`Of course you would ma'am. It's unquestionable that you would choose only the real thing.'
Although she thought his speech a little flippant when considering whom he was talking to, she let it pass. She was far too concerned in getting herself out of that artistic tangle she had just, so foolishly, let herself into. Her knowledge on art was nothing to boast about and the Pre-Raphaelites were only vague reminiscences of her school days until a few days earlier when she saw the big boards full of languid ladies advertising the exhibition.
`Excuse me... Why do you say that I would only choose the real thing?' she ventured, thinking at this point, it was the only sensible thing to ask. He laughed, however not too audaciously.
`You would certainly not pass over a Hunt for an Evelyn de Morgan, now would you Ma'am?'
`No, of course not.' Winifred answered as casually as she could, hoping he was referring to Pre-Raphaelites painters as she had assumed. At least now, thanks to this unusual specimen of a taxi driver she remembered "The Lady of Shallot" was painted by Hunt, as faint memories of the history of art came back to her, she deducted, "Helen of Troy", had to have been painted by this lesser mortal Evelyn de Morgan, or whatever her name was.
As the car neared London Bridge, Peter turned swiftly and glanced at her momentarily. `May I make a suggestion Ma'am?'
`Yes of course.' She blushed a little seeing his face again. A tuft of dark hair fell haphazardly across his forehead. `I've seen the exhibition and I would only be too happy to give you a guided tour. I'm an art enthusiast myself.' As he paused she sought desperately for an answer. She'd love to have him give her a guided tour! But then she thought how risky it would be, her knowledge on the matter was so thin, she would soon give the game away for sure. How dreadful it would be if he discovered she was a fake! For a moment she felt like tearing her velvet suit off and put on her shabby rain coat. She wanted to be herself, her real self again!
`Certainly Peter,' she said thinking of the risk she was taking, but on the other hand she couldn't bear to waste such an opportunity to be near him. `I should be delighted to have a guided tour.'
As they climbed the steps to the exhibitions rooms Peter occasionally placed his arm around her waist to guide her in the right direction, with a subtle “this way Ma’am” to justify his action. His touch was decidedly welcomed she thought. However would he be so charming, so attentive if he was escorting a mere secretary, she wondered with doubt. It was obvious he was impressed by her, but she was tormented because she was sure that impression would become obliterated if she were not "Lady Charlotte".
`The first room contains a collection of paintings by Dante Gabriel Rossetti,' Peter said as Winifred gazed at the languid, dreamy faced ladies of the painter. `Strangely enough the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were pledged to be true to nature, but as you can see from these dreamy looking ladies Rossetti was anything but realistic.' His arm lingered gently around her waist as he beckoned to take a closer look.
`Perhaps,' Winifred ventured,’ sharply moving away from him as if annoyed by the “liberties” he was taking, `Rossetti realized that we are all dreamers at one time or another, and therefore I suppose that, in itself is a reality.'
`At times we are not what we seem.' he said with a smile, placing his arms behind his back out of temptations way. How right he was, Winifred thought as she bit her lip nervously, praying he wasn't referring to her... sorely regretting she had made him put his arms behind his back.
But she needn’t have worried, his arms were back in the normal position again and the pressure of his hand became even stronger as he led her into the next room. This time she did nothing to stop him, Lady Bracknell or no Lady Bracknell. `And here is your Lady of Shallot by William Holden Hunt.' He proclaimed triumphantly. Winifred was not impressed. She wasn't keen on all those fussy details that surrounded the tall figure standing bare footed in profile wearing what seemed to Winifred the pink, gathered curtains of Lady Bracknell’s lounge.
`I suppose the woman's hair is the salient point of this painting,' Winifred offered as she looked at the woman's head bent slightly, revealing a flurry of hair flowing in the wrong direction, that is upwards towards the ceiling. `What did you say the Pre-Raphaelites were pledged to?' she asked seeking confirmation to her doubts.
`Truth to nature.'
`Hum... With hair flowing in the wrong direction? Incredible, quite incredible!' she uttered ambiguously, giving Peter the chance to draw his own conclusions on that remark. She noticed Peter smiling to himself as if he had suddenly found something quite humorous to ponder on.
After seeing "Helen of Troy" looking at herself in the mirror, which Winifred could find nothing to say about except that the hair, this time, was flowing in the right direction, they made their way out. Peter suggested some coffee. Winifred agreed willingly, she wanted to return to possessing some sense of normality again.
It seemed that not many people needed the services of the Gallery's cafeteria on a Tuesday morning and Peter escorted her to an empty table in the corner of the room. He held out the chair for her to sit down and stood impeccably behind it. In the past Winifred would have relished at such display of attention but now here with Peter, nothing seemed more nauseating.
`What are you doing?' she snapped, desperately wishing she had never started this whole facade.
‘Surely your Ladyship does not want to stand in the queue for coffee...’
`That's precisely what I do want. I am quite capable of fetching my own coffee, and sit on a chair without any help from someone else.' Her true colours were now coming to the surface, but she didn't care. In fact she wanted him to have a taste of her real self. `And what is more,' she concluded, `I don't want you waiting on me hand and foot, thank you!' Peter stood back in silence half grinning to himself as if her display of temper had given him endless pleasure.
`After you,' he said as he let her go forward.
Coffee had never tasted so bitter-sweet before. Here was this incredible taxi driver, with adoring eyes sitting opposite her... a fake Lady Charlotte! She cursed the moment she had took off her raincoat and stopped being Winifred. She could feel Peter wanting to get closer to her and holding back. Yet she continued to torment herself with the doubt that had she been the plain secretary, Peter would hardly find her fascinating. During the drive back to Bracknell Hall, the sense of remorse seemed to explode in her. This would probably be the last time she would see Peter. Even asking for his cab phone number would be pointless since he had met her as Lady Charlotte and in his eyes that is who she would have to remain. She vowed that she would never be Lady Charlotte again, not with Peter, not with anyone! By her own foolishness she had lost the chance of ever knowing if that kind, superior specimen of a male that she had become so attracted to could ever like her for herself.
She had been so immersed in her thoughts that only too late did she notice the gates of the drive open. Winifred panicked. Where on earth could she take off her mink hat, put on her raincoat and change her shoes without Peter or Lady Charlotte seeing her?
The car stopped at the main entrance. As she stepped out, her heart thundering, she remembered the side door.
`I'll go in the back,' she said quickly. `I don't want to bother Wilson.' As she slipped away, his arm brushed against her body. Although she desperately wanted to, she didn't dare look back and darted to the side of the building where she was able to slip up to her room unseen.
As she took off Lady Bracknell’s clothes and put on a warm sweater and jeans she breathed deeply. Suddenly she felt an immense relief in being herself again. She made her way downstairs to the lounge to greet Lady Charlotte with a sense of regret and bitterness at having lost Peter... weighing down her spirits.
Downhearted she turned the handle to the lounge. Lady Charlotte was sitting in the armchair facing the door. Someone was sitting in the chair opposite. `I'm sorry Lady Charlotte, I didn't know you had visitors.' Winifred apologised, not being able to see who was sitting in the chair with his back facing her.
`Don't go Winifred,' Lady Charlotte beckoned. `There's someone I want you to meet.' The man in the armchair stood up.
`Peter!' Winifred gasped as he turned
`Winifred, this is my grandson Peter Lawson.' Lady Charlotte said with some sort of twinkle in her eye. `But it seems you already know each other?'
`Indeed, we do...” Peter said to his aunt and then turning towards Winifred with a glow of complicity said, ‘After you practically disappeared,' he held out his hand to her,’ I didn't have the chance to ask you if I could see you again, so I came in to see my aunt.'
He knew, he knew I wasn't Lady Charlotte! Winifred thought in desperation... `Actually, I have a confession to make,' Peter began...
`You have a confession...? Winifred interrupted.
`I'm not really a cab driver. And as you can see my name is not Smith either. I asked my aunt if I could replace Robbins so I could have a chance to get to know you.' Winifred blushed with happiness. `Will you forgive me for all this deceit?' he added in all earnest.
`Forgive you... but...?' Winifred mumbled incredulous. Peter winked and beckoned her not to say anymore.
`Her day off is Tuesday.' Lady Charlotte volunteered as Peter held Winifred's hand tightly.
`And I'm also free every evening after six.' Winifred whispered blissfully.
It was Monday evening and Grace Wilson knew that Father Henderson would soon be knocking on her door.
"You will of course be organising the Grocery Stall as usual?" He would say.
Normally, Grace would accept. But this time, Grace was resolved to refuse. She wouldn't be available for the Parish Fayre, at least not for the Grocery Stall. Grace had other plans.
Never in her life had she had a man! Being the Nursery Teacher at St Juvenal's Primary and living with her widowed mother, did not help to find one either. Nor did the habitual navy blue skirts, white blouses and flat shoes enhance the situation. She was in effect quite plain, pale skinned, uninteresting features, monotonous eyes and mousy coloured hair. But all this was going to change, and the change was going to take place right there, at the Parish Fayre.
Grace knew precisely the man she wanted. She had seen him shortly after Father Henderson's arrival to the Parish. This is Michael, Michael Henderson my brother." Father Henderson had said to her mother behind the Grocery Stall at the Parish Fayre two years ago. Grace was too busy serving and missed out on the introductions.
"He's a doctor temporarily serving in the African missions."
"Just like our St Juvenal, he was an African physician, wasn't he?" Grace heard her mother say and then saw Michael raise his eyebrows:
`I wouldn't go as far as that Mrs Wilson," Grace heard the doctor say jovially. "I'm just a plain, secular doctor doing my stint at the missions."
The word `secular' rang like jubilant music in Grace's ears. He wasn't a priest. That meant only one thing to Grace, he could get married! She was inwardly delirious with joy.
Much to her disappointment, Father Henderson only too quickly whisked Michael off to the next stall where Sally, her nursery nurse ran the tombola. A far more fascinating stall, no doubt, Grace thought helplessly, and so was the assistant, long blonde hair, lively blue eyes and juicy welcoming lips...
Michael lingered there much longer, Grace noticed enviously. But how could anyone blame him? She argued. What kind of attraction could a tin of baked beans or processed peas have for a man of his calibre? She would have fretted about Sally too, if Grace hadn't known that Sally was very much engaged and spoken for. A girl like that; cute outgoing and sweet, couldn't possibly be free, Grace thought with a sigh of relief. However there was room to change one’s mind, no doubt Grace fretted.
Still, Grace did feel dismal at being so easily overlooked and ignored. Michael had probably not even noticed that there was another body behind the Grocery Stall! That was why, ever since Father Henderson had announced that Michael would be back for the Parish Fayre that year, she had been planning very solidly indeed.
Michael may have slipped through her fingers last time, she thought. The fact that he may not have even known of her existence, was naturally of no consolation to her at all. But this time, there was no way he was going to escape her, no way he could possibly avoid her. This time she was going to make sure he would be within close quarters, touching distance, eye to eye, and what's more, it was going to be he and she on their own, totally alone. This time she would get her chance, or at least she was sure to guarantee that the chance was going to be there.
It was the `Fortune Telling Stall', or rather `Tent' that was going to make it happen. It would all take place inside that tent! She had planned it down to the last detail.
Reluctantly, Grace had to enlist someone to help her. Her choice fell on Sally, the soul of discretion and besides, working with her on a daily basis, Grace felt it was easier to control the situation.
Finally, the knock on the door came. Father Henderson sat in an armchair in front of her.
"You are the last stall holder on my list, and I almost didn't come, since you won't be in Town for the Fayre."
"That's right Father," she said, making sure she was looking at him straight in the eyes, a sign of honesty, as they say. "An old school friend of mine is getting married on Saturday 21st. And as she lives in the South, I need to leave on Friday evening, straight after school."
"What a pity!" He said fumbling through his papers.
"Yes, will be away all that week-end."
"Ah, here it is," he said pulling out a sheet from his folder. "A map of the Fayre..." She leaned across with interest. "Here is the Gift Stall..." He pointed to a square on the north-east side of the map. "The Piety Stall, and the Grocery Stall next to it..." Grace cringed at the word grocery. "The Tombola... Ah yes, here's something completely new, The Fortune Telling Stall, right opposite the Grocery!"
"Stall!" She cried horrified, she wasn’t really feigning surprise since she wasn’t expecting it to be a stall. "A Fortune Telling Stall!. Are you sure Father?"
"I did have doubts myself, but Sally convinced me. After all it is to raise funds for the Church."
"Yes Father, but a Fortune Telling... Stall?"
"Well, it's not exactly a stall... In actual fact, it's a tent." She tried to hide her sense of relief by remaining motionless but was jubilant Father Henderson had agreed to a tent, she had to have a tent. How else could she confine Michael with her, alone?
"You do know of course," Father Henderson continued, "that Sally is replacing you on the Grocery Stall?"
"Yes, it was very kind of her to offer."
"And of course she is also supplying the Fortune Teller. Yes, an authentic Gypsy, I believe." Grace continued to remain motionless, keeping her eyes firmly fixed on Father Henderson's.
"She has supplied me with a photo." He fumbled through his papers again. "A little rather audacious for our parishioners, don't you think?" He asked, passing the photo of herself transfigured as a flimsy clad Gypsy, with all right anatomy in prominent display.
"Hum..." Grace said smiling: "Yes, rather tempting. Still, it is for charity!"
Indeed, it was for love! She thought to herself, even if not totally inspired by universal charity! "Carmen, that is, this black haired, sun-tanned young lady," the priest explained, "is going to supply us with huge posters of herself to pin outside the tent." He briskly placed the photo back inside the folder. "I do hope the Bishop is not going to call in. He may not approve of such display of sensuality. Those lips are rather carnal, and those breasts, legs... well..."
Grace continued to smile unperturbed, no one had ever seen her breasts and legs beneath those castigated white blouses and school marm skirts before nor saw her lips so lavishly painted. She was quite pleased with herself at the successful transformation. If she had managed to disquiet Father Henderson, the brother could hardly remain indifferent.
Saturday 21st finally arrived! Grace, together with all her props, posters, crystal ball, black wig, transparent clothing, kerchief and make-up had spent the night at Sally's.
"Now, don't forget," Grace admonished Sally. "As soon as Michael comes to the Grocery Stall, make sure he notices the tent."
"He's not likely to miss it, is he?"
"You never know Sally, some men need a little pushing. Take the individual approach. Tell him he must meet a personal friend of yours!"
"Don't worry Grace, he can't possibly not go there of his own accord!"
"Just in case... I'm not leaving anything to chance, this time.
Grace's heart pounded as peering through a slit in the tent she saw Michael approach the Grocery Stall. He was even better looking than the last time she saw him. Yes, that was certainly her man! And soon, soon, he'd be there inside that tent!
Michael obviously recognized her mother, and certainly remembered Sally. Grace could hear them talking. Michael was telling them about the missions in Africa. As he was about to leave, he looked around himself carefully, but showed no sign of venturing towards the Fortune Teller. "Now Sally! Now! Go on, get him in here..." Grace cried urgently beneath her breath.
"Oh really, a personal friend, is she?" Grace heard Michael say as Sally told him about `Carmen'. "Very attractive indeed. However, I'd rather not pay a visit, if you don't mind. Not my type at all." Suddenly Grace panicked.
"But you must..." She heard Sally cry. "It will be an unforgettable experience!" Michael shook his head:
"No man eater is going to put her teeth in my flesh!" He said laughing but quite determined.
"Not even for charity?" Grace could hear the urgency in Sally's voice, which however, was nothing compared to the desperation Grace herself felt.
"No!" Michael said conclusively.
Just as he was about to go, Michael turned to Grace's mother: "Your daughter's not here this year, Mrs Wilson?" Grace's mother shook her head. "Just my luck!" He said disappointed. "I did so hope to see her. You see, Mrs Wilson, I've never forgotten her face, her delicate skin and soft dancing eyes."
"She's down South for the weekend." Grace's mother said, not knowing otherwise.
"What a pity! I would have liked to have had dinner with her this evening. The only chance I had, I'm leaving tomorrow!"
A shiver of dismay ran through Grace's body as she clutched the seductive shawl tighter around her shoulders. Much as she wanted to, she couldn’t simply jump out from the tent there and then in that attire- she had caused herself enough harm as it is. She just had to hold on tight until the Fayre was over- it was either that or say that the wedding she had gone to had been cancelled and she had caught an early train home!
© Eva Ulian