The Jumble Sale
Hector tipped a handful of liver salts into a grubby glass, and filled it with water from a peeling, green chrome tap. He gulped the contents down quickly, wishing he had taken his bi-focals off first as the fizzing liquid splattered over his face. He shuffled over to the towel rail and wiped his splashed lenses on a dry corner of his one and only towel.
When he could see again he squirted a length of tooth-paste onto his frazzled toothbrush and brushed his teeth vigorously; then indulged in a noisy rinsing, inordinately proud of the fact that those teeth were all his own. Once more he applied the soggy over-used towel.
He buttoned his shirt (ironed – he liked to look smart) and tucked it into ancient cavalry twill trousers. Bad sight deprived him of the ability to notice the spots and smears on his regimental tie – which was probably a blessing, he would not have liked what he saw. Hector smiled jauntily at himself as he passed his dressing-table mirror, patting his fragile wisps of hair. All-in-all he hadn’t worn too badly. He eyed his leathery neck with some disquiet, but at least he didn’t have a paunch. In fact, when he straightened up and lifted his chin he figured he looked very good indeed.
He turned to his sun-filled window, flung it open and breathed deeply. He loved his window and enjoyed every inch of it., squandering too much of his pension on a frequent window-cleaner. He had never bothered with the trivia of curtains, finding them an un-natural intrusion. To Hector, the sun, the birds, the trees, were all to be enjoyed, not semi-hidden by net or obliterated by dralon.
His rheumy eyes scanned the street; the green swathes of grass and flower-beds, and beyond, the river. He got his greatest pleasure, hearing, gazing, and musing on ‘his’ river. He was frequently aware that a flouncy curtain twitched. Hector would draw back, snorting with annoyance. What was that silly woman interested in today? Had she nothing better to do. She was forever snooping, and her presence outraged him. Every time he looked out of his window her curtain twitched. He liked looking out of his window. It was something important that he had to do.
He knew his room was unattractive and grubby, everything so worn and colourless. The window was his gallery, his avenue to colour, sparkle and movement. He was not lonely as long as he had his window. His daily enjoyment of this simple pleasure had been ruined six months ago when a furniture van arrived immediately across the street and disgorged Mrs Dulcie Bracewell, her numerous frilled possessions, a small, yappy dog, and an extremely ancient bicycle.
Hector saw the fussy pink curtains being hung, and was soon initiated into the daily habits of the heavily lip-sticked, voluble red-head across the road. He caught her watching him dress in the mornings and when he viewed the world from his window it was not now a private viewing.
Twice a day he donned his doggy cap, green corduroy jacket, immaculately polished shoes and left his castle. At nine o’clock he went to the market and collected a few necessities for his lunch and tea. On the way home he bought a paper; in bad weather he took it home to read, but on a nice day he would read it in the park and peruse the world’s events in the sun-shine; always on the same park bench.
At one o’clock Hector would enter The Rising Sun for a half pint of bitter, and half an hour’s conversation. He always sat on the same bar stool and always hung his cap on the same hook
It wasn’t long before his exits were noted and matched by a noisy exodus across the street which consisted of a series of complicated gyrations in the interest of sorting out two shopping bags, a bulging reticule, and a yapping dog dancing a jig on the end of an expanding lead.
Her "Yoo - hoo!” and animated hand-waving, flashing a dazzling array of be-jeweled rings, were hard to ignore completely. Hector’s acknowledgements were as brief as good manners would allow. He had never liked dogs, and hers was disturbingly noisy, without the wit to see that pulling on its lead was never going to get it anywhere any faster. Its persistence irritated him. He had never seen Dulcie Bracewell use the bicycle, but he did wonder where, in such a small flat, she could possibly keep it, and why.
He was convinced she wore a wig, and to his embarrassment couldn’t take his eyes off it whenever they met. One day the Newsagent told him a bit about her. He’d heard it from another of the ladies in the same flats, who had, apparently, heard it from Dulcie herself, always a chatter-box. The Newsagent said that Dulcie was a ‘good sort’, and added that the other ladies in the flats liked her very much. “Always so jolly” they had said. “Very interesting!” the Newsagent told Hector with a wink.
She had been what he called ‘a hoofer’ in her youth and had married a well-to-do young man during the war, who had, after fifty years of happy married life, died. They had never had any children so now she was alone – and – the Newsagent added with another wink - Dulcie had informed her neighbour that she had every intention of marrying again. She didn’t like living alone. She liked male attention, and anyway, she had always been brought a nice cup of early morning tea – and missed it. All that and almost eighty! Hector shook his head in disbelief. Once or twice Dulcie initiated a spirited conversation, but he was determined to keep himself to himself so gave her no encouragement, beyond good manners. He didn’t want to share anything with anybody.
That very morning as he’d left the house, those flouncy curtains had been bounced apart by a mauve-clad Dulcie, who flung open the sash window and leant out – so far out that a vast expanse of pink cleavage popped into view to Hector’s embarrasement.
“Come on you naughty boy! You haven’t been for your cup of tea yet!” Then – in a musical trill “I’m w-a-a-a-iting!”
How dare she! How dare that silly woman, ostentatiously batting those thick over-blacked eye-lashes, call him naughty. Naughty indeed – at his age. Naughty! – the word reached his soul. Clenching his teeth in fury, he tried to be good-mannered and waved to her in a jerky fashion, his jowls heaving into the vestige of a pained smile before he vanished, as quickly as he could, into the hubbub of the market.
Yesterday she had pounced on him in the green-grocers, as he was about to pay for his potatoes and bananas.
“Ooh! you naughty boy – you haven’t bought any greens. You must have greens – every day – nothing works otherwise – and I mean nothing!” She giggled.
“I don’t like greens.”
“I’ll cook them for you, then you’ll like them. I’m a very good cook. You must keep up your strength at your age.”
Hector was furious.
“I’m very good at looking after myself - and I don’t like greens. I never eat greens. I don’t need greens.”
He found himself annoyed beyond reasonable endurance, and that made him crosser than ever.
Two days later a dainty pot of buttery cabbage arrived on his door-step. He had to admit it was delicious, and it caused him much pain to have to tell Dulcie, on the return of her little pot, that he had enjoyed it; at the same time he tried to make it quite clear that he did not want any more.
“I think you are a very lonely man, Mr Parminter.” she simpered one day, as the wretched Pom-pom heaved and tugged on the end of his lead, wheezing in irrational discomfort. “You need a visitor or two to cheer you up.”
“I have lots of visitors.” he lied “And I don’t need cheering up.”
“Yes you do.” she persisted. “You don’t smile enough – that’s your trouble. You never smile. Take it from me, its bad for you. Tell you what! My little Pom-pom and I will visit you tomorrow for a nice cup of tea. How does that sound?”
“You can’t” he blurted. “You can’t - I’ve got friends coming.” He found he was shouting.
“Never mind.” said Dulcie, unconcerned. “Another time then. I shan’t take ‘no’ for an answer. ‘bye for now.” She coyly waved her fingers at him as the ever eager Pom-pom dragged her into the park.
Hector went straight into the pub, even though it was only eleven. Hector was in a panic. he had a horrible premonition that once that woman set foot in his little world all would be over. He’d never get rid of either her or her overpowering perfume, which made him sneeze.
He never had visitors. He didn’t want visitors. He certainly didn’t want Dulcie - and that went double for Pom-pom. He downed his half pint of bitter in two gulps and surprised the barman by ordering another. This departure from normal usually only happened on his Birthday and Christmas.
He sat in his usual corner thinking. A way must be found to make that noisy lady think he had plenty of visitors. he didn’t want to hurt her feelings any more than he wanted her company. Tricky. Very tricky!
Inspiration was not forthcoming, so eventually he picked up his paper and made his way thoughtfully home. It was by now half past twelve, and as he passed the church hall he found he had to push his way through a cheerful crowd of people leaving what the posteed as ‘The Blue Peter bring-and-buy. Everything under £1.’
He was absent-mindedly weaving through the children and push-chairs when his attention was caught by a little girl in bright red shorts, no front teeth and pig-tails.
“Mum – Mum!” she was shouting “Look what Billy and I got! Look Mum - and they were only 10p each!”
Jumping up and down with the excitement of her purchase, she brandished an enormous green straw hat with a floppy red rose anchored to one side. Beside her Billy stood, grinning from ear to ear, engulfed in an ancient, shiny bowler, balanced precariously on the bridge of his nose.
Hector stopped. In a flash the answer to his problem had arrived. Thanks to a little girl in pig-tails. He couldn’t believe his luck. His whole digestive system took a turn for the better.
Ten minutes later he was entering his lounge encumbered by a bulging black bin liner. In glee he decanted ten assorted hats onto his couch. A pink straw. Two men’s tweed. A loden with a feather. Three lady’s felt - with brim, and something the lady on the stall called a ‘cloche’. There was an important looking army cap with an unknown insignia and, finally, a comfortable breton beret that he had taken a fancy to. He hung that on a big brass hook, with his anorak, behind the door.
In front of the window overlooked by Dulcie stood a tall ladder-backed chair with a high rising deeply-buttoned cushion. It had a thick, flat top. Just what he needed. he knew she hadn’t believed him when he told her he had visitors. Well she would now! he felt smugly excited, and very pleased with himself. He rubbed his hands together in childish glee, chuckling at his cleverness.
The following afternoon Dulcie was being dragged home for a teensy-weensy bicky-wicky by the ever choking Pom-pom. As usual she glanced up at poor Mr Parminter’s window. That poor, sad, lonely man! She stopped in surprise. He actually did have a visitor. An army friend by the look of it. There he was sitting in the chair in front of the window. Well! Well!
Several weeks later she and Pom-pom were taking tea with Mr. Warren, down the road. \ Mr Parminter was a thing of the past. He didn’t need her company. He seemed to have so much of his own these days, including several ladies judging by those hats.
Try as she might - and she did - she never managed to see any of them arriving. Funny that!
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