Martin was dreaming about church bells. It took his brain some time to work out that it was the chimes of his doorbell, sounding behind the front door. As he wasn’t expecting any parcels, and never got any visitors, he turned over in bed, and waited for it to stop. But it didn’t. If only his landlord had bothered to install one of those entryphone systems, he could have picked up the handset and just shouted “Go Away!”. Eventually, he had no alternative but to roll out of bed, and go down and answer the door.
As he was only wearing boxer shorts, he peered around the frame keeping a firm hold on the door, just in case. The woman outside was smartly dressed, very attractive, and probably a good ten years younger than him, he estimated. Perhaps she was lost, was all he could think of. “Martin, let me in, we have to talk”. That voice was vaguely familiar. Real London, but not rough. Not well-spoken either. It was a vaguely familiar voice, but he couldn’t place the face. “Sorry, you are?” It was hard to maintain any dignity wearing your underpants, as well as a morning-face that looked like it needed ironing, and hair sticking up like a cockatoo’s feathers. But he did his best.
She shook her head, exasperated. “It’s me, for God’s sake. Pamela. Open the door”. Realisation swept over him, like the chilly surf off a beach in Cornwall. It served to wake him up too. “How did you find me?” He kept the door half-closed. “Believe me, it wasn’t easy. Are you going to let me in or what?” He pulled the door open, not bothering to excuse his attire, or being undressed at close to eleven in the morning. Pamela brushed past him, and started up the stairs. Despite the strange situation, Martin couldn’t help but look up her skirt, and an admiring grin spread across his face, as she gained a few steps ahead of him. In his dingy flat, he showed no sign of feeling uncomfortable about the mess. Pamela stood stiffly, looking around. To her, it seemed as if someone much older lived there. An old man’s flat. He stepped into the bedroom without excusing himself, and returned wearing a dressing gown, one pocket all but ripped off.
The old Martin took charge. “Well Pam, long time no see, as they say. You’re looking gorgeous, a sight for sore eyes. So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit? Would you like a coffee?” He extended an arm to the small armchair, the only seat in the room not covered by paperwork, or clothing in need of a wash. She perched awkwardly, not wanting to sully her clothes on the greasy furniture. “No coffee for me, thank you. I have something to tell you, and knowing you, you’re not going to like it”. Martin leaned against the wobbly breakfast bar, arms folded, and adopting what he thought of as his George Clooney grin. “Well then, pray tell, lovely lady”. Pam took a deep breath, wondering what she had ever seen in that man, and how the stupid way he talked had once sounded so charming to her.
Pamela Murray had worked at the same stockbroker’s office as Martin. She had been a clerk-typist, and he had been one of the players, some said the best. He was at the top of his game, and was unlikely to ever notice the young woman who sometimes walked in with documents that needed to be signed. She thought he was lovely, so well dressed, always immaculate, and with that funny way of talking, like people in old films. She was not much past twenty, and he was a gorgeous thirty-something. But she had been wrong. He had noticed her, but wasn’t about to let on. He asked about her around the office, Single, living with her parents, one of the quiet ones. Perfect.
On the first of December, he suddenly appeared at her desk. All smiles. “Pamela, isn’t it? I was wondering, are you going to the Christmas Party on the sixteenth? Should be good, and the best bit is that the firm pays for everything”. He sat on the corner of her desk, peering over to blatantly look down the top of her dress. She watched him doing it, and found she didn’t mind at all. “Oh yes, I will be there. I have been looking forward to it all year” It was a half-truth, as she previously had no intention of going. But now Martin had shown such an obvious interest, she had changed her mind completely. He was a real catch.
The party hadn’t gone how she had expected. Martin waved to her from another table as she walked in with Moira, the office supervisor. But he hadn’t come over to talk to her, and she had been stuck next to Moira all evening. Wearing a paper hat, and nibbling turkey, she had tried to stop herself constantly looking over to his table, but failed. They seemed to be having all the fun over there, guffawing with laughter, and ordering countless bottles of champagne. After leaving most of an incredibly dry mince pie, she decided to call it a night, and stood up, taking her coat from the back of the chair. Seemed like the hold-up stockings, and a new dress costing over a hundred pounds, had both failed to work. He was there by the door as she struggled with the coat. “Don’t tell me you’re leaving, beautiful lady? No, no, no. Pas du tout. We are going on, as they say in social circles. The night is yet young, my dear girl. Here, take my arm”. He swept her out of the restaurant, flamboyantly flagging down a passing taxi. Ten minutes later, they were enjoying champagne in an exclusive nightclub. Everyone seemed to know Martin, and he kept introducing her as ‘The Divine Fenella’, winking at her every time.
When he suggested a nightcap at his luxury flat on the riverside, she wasn’t about to say no. He was everything she thought he would be. The perfect lover, strong, attentive, exciting. Much later, almost morning, he escorted her to the taxi he had called to take her home. And it was paid for too, on his account. But the following Monday at work, he walked past her as if he didn’t know who she was. Leaving her smiling stupidly in the corridor, as he pressed the button for the lift. After that, he barely acknowledged her. Gossip around the office was that he was seeing the daughter of one of the partners, climbing up the ladder of success over the body of a willing posh girl. When she missed her period, she took the test with a sinking feeling inside. She knew it would be positive. And it was.
She looked across the room, despising the shabby man, and his stupid grin. Reaching into her shoulder bag, she produced a brown envelope. From inside, she took a large photograph of a young girl dressed in a school uniform. Martin shrugged. Pamela moved her arm so he could see the photo more clearly. “Her name is Daisy, and she’s almost ten now. My parents used to help me financially, but my Dad died three months ago, and now we can’t manage. I reckon it’s your turn to step up now. I haven’t asked you for a penny so far, but you are going to have to start paying up, or I will take you to court. And don’t even ask if she’s yours, I can request a DNA test through the lawyers if you want proof. Martin kept his cool. Waving an arm around the flat, he shook his head. “You can see my circumstances, Pamela dear. I fear you left it too late. You missed the boat, darling girl. I’m flat broke”. She stood up, placing the photo back in her bag, leaving the envelope on the arm of the chair. “As I expected. Court it is then”. She opened the door to leave, then turned, her face softening for a moment.
“I really liked you, you know. But you treated me like some sort of decoration, like one of those shiny baubles Mum hangs on the tree at Christmas”. With that, she walked out.
Martin didn’t bother to follow. Instead, he smirked, and spoke out loud. “Parting is such sweet sorrow, and all that…”. Suddenly, a thought made him stop. He literally ran over to the small table, and read the page still in the typewriter. He found the line that had jumped into his mind. ‘treated women as little more than baubles to decorate his daily life. Like the shiny things his Mum would hang on the tree, at Christmas’.
A shiver ran down his back, and he had to sit down.