This is the eighth part of a fiction serial, in 1560 words.
February 1957. Maureen Hall adds to her collection.
Don Hall had an easy war, compared to many. Including his older brother, who had been killed at El Alamein. He had been conscripted late on, and ended up being trained to operate a crane at Plymouth docks. The flap was on for a big invasion, and boats needed to be loaded. His poor military aptitude had not really improved during basic training and he ended up in the Pioneers; loading trucks, and digging ditches or trenches. But they had taught him to operate digger machinery and cranes, and that stood him in good stead when it was all over.
His brother Frank had got engaged to Maureen in late nineteen-forty, not long after he joined up, and before he left for service overseas. After Frank got killed, she was always around the house. She would pop in for a cup of tea, or come over for lunch on a Sunday. Don got used to her, and though she was four years older, she had a rather childish way about her. Once he was established at the works, he talked to her about their future, and she readily agreed to marry him. It was a small affair, as it usually was for working people back then. They moved into a small house, and Maureen carried on working as a typist at the Town Hall. Nobody thought it was strange that he had married his brother’s girlfriend. Most considered it to be a good deed.
When little Reggie came along, Maureen turned out to be a natural mother. Don liked to see her so happy with the baby, and reassured himself that he had made a good choice. Then one night, Maureen looked worried. She came downstairs to tell him that the baby was very hot. “He’s too hot, Don. I think he should see a doctor, love”. Don walked up to Mr Wilkins’ house. He had a phone, and was happy to let Don use it to ring the doctor. They had an anxious wait, with little Reggie screaming the place down, and a tearful Maureen sponging her son’s body with cold water. Old Doctor Baxter was a dour Scot, but he knew his business. As he drove off to arrange an ambulance, and emergency admission to the city’s Children’s Hospital, his face was grim. “Scarlet Fever, I’m afraid, Mr Hall. He’s critically ill, that’s the truth of it”.
Reggie didn’t even make it through the weekend.
Maureen cried for almost a month, and it was five weeks before she could face returning to work. Don had given up trying to console her, and kept up a manly resolve with his workmates. Someone had to keep earning, and he would let his wife recover in her own time.
She had been back at work for three weeks when she brought home the first doll. Maureen asked Don to make a shelf, and to fit it across one end of the living room, just high enough for her to be able to reach. After that, she generally bought one a month, often sending off advertisement coupons that she saw in women’s magazines. When Sandra up the street started to run a mail-order catalogue, Maureen ordered some much more expensive dolls, as she was able to pay it off in small weekly amounts over the whole year. After a couple of years had passed, the shelf was full, and she was on at him to build another one just underneath it. He had tried to talk to her about maybe having another baby, but she refused to discuss it. Doctor Baxter had put her on pills for her nerves, and she didn’t cope well with any confrontation.
It wasn’t the money that annoyed him. He earned well, and Maureen had enough from her Town Hall job to buy what she liked. He just thought it was childish for a grown woman to have a collection of dressed-up dolls, and to give them all names. He often wondered if she talked to them, when he wasn’t around. Still, he knew what she was like when he married her. As his Dad would have said, ‘you made your bed, now you have to lie in it’.
He started to save up for a car instead. He had his eye on a used Ford Anglia, in a local dealership. It was a bit pricey at close to three hundred, but once he had the deposit, he would be sure to qualify for a loan for the rest. He was fed up cycling to work, and having to get a train for any short holiday they managed to take. He put away some of his wages every week, hiding the ten-shilling notes in an old cigar box where he kept an assortment of nails.
He talked to Maureen about the car, and she agreed to cut back on her spending on dolls. Christmas was quiet, and Don was content enough, anticipating that car in the new year. By the middle of February, he counted up the contents of the box. He needed twenty-five for the deposit, and luckily the car was still for sale. All the ten-shilling notes were spilled out onto the candlewick bedspread, and he counted them excitedly. Twenty-three pounds and ten shillings. By the beginning of March he would have enough. The next day, he went and had another chat with the car salesman, asking him to let him know if anyone else showed interest. “I will be back with the deposit, first week of March. That’s guaranteed”.
It took a few days before Don noticed the new doll on the top shelf. It was in pride of place in the centre, resplendent in a red hood with blonde hair cascading out of it. It was certainly better-looking than most of the other dolls that his wife had collected, but he didn’t much like the way it seemed to stare at him. When Maureen got back from the shops, he didn’t mention it to her, reluctant to start an argument. He did think it was unusual that she hadn’t spoken to him about the doll though. She usually made a big deal out of what she called, ‘introducing her husband’.
On payday, he hurried home to add the two ten-shilling notes to his box. Retrieving it from the hiding place on top of a kitchen cupboard, he pulled the notes from the brown pay envelope, keen to get them tucked away before Maureen got in from work. Opening the box, he gasped at what he saw. A few assorted tacks and nails, but no money. He reached up and ran his hand around the dust on top of the cupboard, a sinking feeling already telling him that the money could not have just fallen out of a closed box. He picked it up, and walked through to the living room. Sitting stone-faced in his armchair, he stared at the hallway, waiting to hear her key in the door.
The voice made him jump, and he looked around the room. It was his brother Frank’s voice, no mistaking that.
“Don old mate, she really took you for a mug. She knew about your box all along, and was just waiting until you had enough. Enough for her to buy me”. Don turned in the direction of the voice, and stood up, walking over to the shelf. “I always new she was a bit simple, but I never thought she would splash out over twenty-three quid of your cash on a stupid doll. I reckon that Jerry did me a favour, when he shot me in Egypt”. The voice was definitely coming from the doll. And it was undeniably Frank’s voice. Don put his face close to the cupid lips, and Frank’s voice grew quieter. “I hope you’re not going to let the silly cow get away with it, I really do”.
The sound of the door closing snapped him out of it, and as his wife walked into the room, he turned, the box falling from his hands onto the carpet. Maureen’s face turned bright red. “Er, hello, love. I meant to talk to you about that. It was an absolute bargain, it’s an antique you see”. His hands were around her throat before she could say any more. Behind him, he could hear Frank chuckling. “That’s it, Don old mate. Give her what for”. Maureen’s hands opened, and she dropped her string shopping bag and handbag as she reached up to try to pull Don’s hands from around her neck. But he was too strong for her, and he soon felt her body slump in his grasp.
It was already dark, but Don could see well enough to dig the trench in his back garden. He was good at digging trenches, and had dug many in pitch darkness in the past. When it was deep enough, he went back inside and lifted Maureen’s body in his strong arms. By the time she was covered up, he was getting hungry, and went back in to wash his hands, and make himself a fried egg sandwich. As he ate that, he looked up at the now silent doll, and allowed himself a satisfied grin.
He knew a bloke at work who would buy that.