Life With Mabel: The Complete Story

This is every episode of my recent fiction serial, compiled into one complete story.
It is a long read, at 24,200 words.

She was all in a fluster, as she knew she would be. Why had she agreed when Elsie suggested the day trip? It was an early start, and she wasn’t that bothered about Highclere Castle, even if it was the location where they filmed Downton Abbey. To tell the truth, she had only watched a bit of the first series before getting bored with it, but she daren’t tell Elsie that, as it was her all time favourite television programme.

It had to be said, the cost was very reasonable. Only forty-nine pounds, and that included admission, and a light lunch somewhere after. It was a three hour drive each way too, in what was described as a luxury air conditioned coach. Not that they would need airconditioning today. It was chilly enough for Mabel to make sure she had a thick cardigan in her shoulder bag.

Most of the group from the Pensioner’s Club were going, and Mabel hadn’t had the heart to say no. Nor a decent enough excuse. She had thought about saying she had a hospital appointment, but Elsie always went with her to those, so she would know it wasn’t true.

If only Reginald had still been alive. She could have used him as a reason not to go, considering how bad he was after the stroke.

They had to meet the coach in the town car park at eight. At least the car park was free all day, but Mabel so rarely drove anywhere these days. She had only bothered to learn to drive after Reg’s stroke, and although she passed on her third try, she was never very confident. Going to the shops or the hospital was about all she could manage, and she had to do that, like it or not.

It was alright for Elsie, her son Terry would drop her off. Workshy, he was. Still lived at home, and in his sixties. Never did anything, never had.

After checking the contents of her bag, and making sure everything in the bungalow was switched off, she went out to the garage. The best thing Reg had done before he died was having an automatic door installed for the garage. She could never have managed pulling up that old metal door.

When she turned the key in the Honda Jazz Reg had left her there was no starting noise, only a red light on the dial. Mabel knew nothing about cars, so she tried again. Just the same red light, and a faint clicking sound. With no time to mess around, she went back inside to ring a taxi.

“Sorry, all the cabs are out doing the school runs. We can fit you in after nine, if that helps”. She told the lady that was too late. What to do now? It was over three miles to the town car park, and with her hips that was too far to walk. Besides, she was eighty-one, and didn’t walk anywhere these days. It would take her too long, maybe two hours with stops to rest her hips. No chance she was going to do that.

Elsie had one of those mobile phones. She could ring her and explain. The number was in the book in the drawer under the telephone, and she misdialled it the first time. The second time there was just a beeping noise, and it cut off. She wondered if Elsie even had the bloody thing switched on.

Then she had a thought. Ring the coach company, and see it they could pick her up. It wasn’t too far out of the way. She got the Yellow Pages from the drawer, then realised she didn’t know the name of the company. Elsie had sorted all that.

On the clock in the hallway, it was ten past eight. She had missed the coach anyway, and she was sure Elsie would be furious, having to sit on her own.

Mabel smiled, then went into the kitchen to put the kettle on for a cup of tea.

She never liked Downton Abbey anyway.

Sitting with her cup of tea, Mabel did what she liked to do best.

Thinking about the past.

It was the year 2012 now, and she would soon reach the milestone of her eightieth birthday. Reginald would have been two years older, if the second stroke hadn’t taken him. He hadn’t just been her husband, but the only man she had ever really known. They used to say childhood sweethearts at one time, but Mabel knew they were not that. He had just been around, and the first boy to ever ask her out on a date.

You couldn’t say he was good-looking or fashionable, but then neither was she in her teens. Maybe it had been the war, that had aged people, no doubt. Not that Reg had to go into the forces, he was only fifteen when it ended. But he hadn’t been evacuated as she had, and the Blitz had made him grow up fast. When she got back to London from Wales, everything looked different. Although their house had survived the bombing, the area was unrecognisable.

She knew him from Primary School, and he lived in the next road to theirs. His older brother Colin had been killed early on, somewhere in a desert in North Africa. Reg didn’t like to talk about that though. He first spoke to her seriously outside the baker’s. She was going in as he was coming out. Only fourteen at the time, she was already working at the local cinema as an unsherette. She got to see all the new films, and wear a smart uniform too.

He was awkward at first.

“I see you are working at The Roxy now, Mabel? No point asking to take you to the pictures, but we could go to the boating lake in the park on one of your days off. If you like.”

People would describe Mabel as ‘Stout’. She looked older than fourteen, with a prominent bosom, and larger than average build. No boy had ever seemed to notice her, and when her friends started to become interested in boys, she avoided the subject. She knew what to say to him though, her parents had told her.

“You would have to ask my dad if you want to take me out. He’s funny about that sort of thing”. Reg nodded. “That’s fine by me, I will go round and speak to him later then”.

She had smiled as he walked away. Could she really have a boyfriend?

Her dad had approved. Reg Price came from a respectable family. They had lost a son in the war, and Reg had an apprenticeship on the railways as an engineer.The prospects were good, as far as he was concerned. “You could do a lot worse, Mabel”, he told her.

One week later, he had rowed her around the boating lake, bought her tea and cake in a cafe, and walked her home. The doorstep pause was awkward, but he didn’t try to kiss her. She was grateful for that, as she had never kissed anybody. “So, can I see you again next week, Mabel?” He sounded like he expected her to say no. She had practiced her reply, in case he asked. “Does that mean we are courting then?” He gave a rare wide smile. “S’pose it does”. Then he leaned forward and kissed her cheek.

Dad was reading the paper in the kitchen when she walked in. “Tell me. Did he behave himself?” He tried to sound stern, but couldn’t help a smile. Her mum gave him a friendly slap with a tea towel. “Come on now, Chalky. Leave the poor girl alone”.

Mabel went out in the back yard to use the toilet. She sat on the seat for a long time after, excited to remember her date, and still feeling Reg’s awkward kiss on her cheek.

Having a regular boyfriend made her think about her job. She worked at the cinema most evenings and weekends, and Reginald was usually home from work by six, only working during weekdays. She made up her mind to get a different job with regular hours, otherwise they were hardly going to get the chance to see each other.

Three weeks later, she was working as an assistant at Woolworth’s in the High Street. It was a short bus ride, and she only had to work every other Saturday.

Now that Mabel no longer worked at the cinema, she could enjoy being a customer instead. Her twice-weekly dates with Reg fell into a pleasant routine. He would pop round after work on a weekday, and they would just sit and chat in the parlour. Then he would join the family for dinner, before going home.

He mostly talked to dad about work, and dad would talk to him about saving money for when it was necessary. Mabel knew what her dad meant of course, saving for a place of their own, after the wedding. She had not long turned fifteen, so was still much too young, and Reg hadn’t even talked about getting engaged. But they were courting. It was accepted that they would marry in time.

It wasn’t long before Mabel started to wonder why Reg wasn’t very romantic. His idea of smooching was to press his lips ahainst hers, and leave them there. He never tried to feel her up, even though she wouldn’t have let him. But she liked to imagine he would try, at least once. When they went to watch films at the weekend, most young couples sat in the back row, lips glued together, ignoring the film.

She was sure that most of them wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about both the films that had been shown. Reg was content to sit in the circle, near the front. Tickets were more expensive than downstairs, and there was no chance of any kissing and cuddling without being seen from behind. She got used to it in the end, and he always bought her an ice cream during the intermission.

At work in Woolworth’s, the older women talked about sex a lot when they were together in the staff room. Most of the older ones didin’t seem to like it much, and moaned about their husbands still wanting it after so many years together. But some of the women, usually the type you least expected, would smile when they talked about it. Quite a few of them had been with many men, especially during the war. They weren’t embarrassed to discuss it either, not in the least bit ashamed.

Mabel knew enough. How you got in the family way if you weren’t careful. How you were a virgin until your wedding night, and how the man knew what to do. Her mum had told her after her first monthlies, even though she hadn’t wanted to hear it at the time and had a red face for hours afterwards. She had also warned her about what she called ‘giving it away too easy’. Mum’s words were seared into her brain.

“You might think you love him. You might think he will stick by you. But let him do it before a ring is on your finger, and mark my words he will be off as fast as if he had a rocket in his pants. He has to respect you, show some serious intentions. Even then, don’t go all the way. Come and talk to me when it happens, and I will tell you how to keep him happy”.

Thinking about that long chat with mum, Mabel came to the conclusion that Reg had probably never had a girlfriend before. Or maybe his dad had given him a similar talking-to? As her own dad was fond of saying, “The Prices are a respectable family”.

Given all that, there were still times when they sat together in the parlour that she wished Reg would act a bit more excited, and chance his arm for a feel. After all, they were still teenagers. If they didn’t try all that stuff now, when would they? She at least wanted to have to tell him no a couple of times before the wedding. And three years seemed a long time to wait to discover what it was going to feel like.

She couldn’t help but remember the times when she got frustrated with him. Blatantly showing her stocking tops when they were in the parlour, or hugging him tight when they kissed. Reg was either amazingly good at controlling himself or didn’t have a clue what to do, as he showed no reaction at all. There were a few times when she was determined to touch him, to see what happened. But with her parents probably listening at the kitchen table, she didn’t want to chance any dramas.

Her main worry was that he didn’t find her remotely attractive. But then why had he asked her out?

On Mabel’s sixteenth birthday, Reginald proposed officially. Unable to afford a new engagement ring he used his grandmother’s, with the blessing of his mum. He waited until they were alone in the parlour, and showed her the ring in its ancient box. No getting down on one knee, no talk of undying love, just a simple, “It’s my nan’s old ring. Will it do?”

It would do for Mabel, and she dragged him excitedly into the kitchen to show her mum and dad, and break the news. Dad shook his hand and said, “Welcome to the family, Reg”. Mum examined the ring in the box and was more practical. “It will need to be made bigger to fit your ring finger, love. I will take it to Jenkins’ in the High Street and get him to sort it”.

Further discussion settled on a decision to wait until she was eighteen. Reg had finished his apprenticeship and would be twenty. He would be earning good money by then, and had been excused National Service as he worked on the railways. Mum allowed herself to get excited.

“Just imagine, getting married in nineteen-fifty. A new decade with no war, and everything to look forward to. You are lucky young people, you really are”.

Then they went to see Reg’s parents, to make it offcial with them. Henry and Edna Price really liked Mabel, and both embraced her warmly. Edna nudged her, and winked. “Won’t be long before we hear the patter of tiny feet, eh? I’m so glad I survived the war to live to see grandchildren”. Mabel was nodding excitedly, but Reg had gone all red-faced.

Once Mister Jenkins had altered the ring, Mabel showed it off to her colleagues at Woolworth’s. The diamonds surrounding the central Ruby were only like sparkling dust, but the Ruby was a decent size. They said all the usual things.

“Ooh, so he’s making an honest woman of you”.

“Make sure you don’t get up the stick before the big day”.

“Now he will expect you to go all the way, mark my words”.

“Don’t rush into anything. You’ve got two years to change your mind”.

She happily ignored all that. She had Reg now, and her future was secure. No having to go to dances or hanging around the park at weekends to see if anyone chatted her up. No explaining why she didn’t have a boyfriend. Mabel had gone straight to the next stage. She had a fiancé. Now she had to get him into shape.

On the next trip to the cinema, she suggested they sit in the back row of the stalls. Reg was surprised. “You don’t get a very good view from there, and we always go in the circle”. She stuck to her guns. “Back row tonight, Reggie. It’s what I want”.

They were soon settled, along with all the other couples who claimed the back row for the same purpose. As soon as the lights went off and the film started, Mabel reached over and lifted Reg’s hand onto her leg. When he looked round at her, she kissed him passionately, almost climbing over the armrest as she did so. That seemed to work, and he didn’t push her away. So she moved his hand further up under her skirt, until she could feel it touching the top of her stocking. That was far enough for now.

Reg just left his hand there, so she kissed him again. Suddenly he stood up, whispering “I need the toilet”. While he was gone, Mabel looked along the row at the other couples. Most of the boys had their arms around the girl, and all were so close together, you couldn’t get a cigarette paper between them. When he came back, he sat with his arms folded, staring at the screen. She put her head on his soulder, but he made no effort to put his arm around her.

Walking back from the cinema later, she decided to ask him the question.

“What’s the matter, Reggie? Don’t you fancy me?” He looked angry, and stopped walking. “Course I do, I’m getting married to you, ain’t I? Just don’t see the need for all that other stuff yet. There will be time enough for that once we’re married. You’re not one of those easy girls, after all”.

It wasn’t really the answer she had hoped to hear, but she held his hand as they started walking again.

They got into a routine, and Mabel settled for planning the wedding to take her mind off of Reg’s lack of ardour. She was going to wear mum’s old wedding dress, which had been carefully stored in a box for years. A lady up the street was going to alter it to fit her, and only the veil would need to be bought, as the old one had become discoloured.

Dad knew the man who ran the Scout Hut, and they could have that for a reception after the service at St Cuthbert’s. The mums would make the food for the buffet with what they could scrape together, and both dads agreed to buy the beer and other drinks. Harry Price knew someone who had a black Humber car, and he would drive Mabel and her dad to the church with some white ribbons on the front. He said he would do it for the petrol money, and an invitation to the buffet after.

Both sets of parents were happy for the newleyweds to live with them after the wedding, but Reg was against that. “We should have our own place, Mabel love. A fresh start without any mums and dads breathing down our necks”. As a result, he was saving hard, and evenings out were strictly limited to the cinema once a week. By contrast, Mabel spent most of the spare money she had after giving some to her mum for her keep. She bought new stockings, different lipsticks, and paid to have her hair done regularly too. Fortunately, Reg never questioned her extravagance.

Molly White was fond of saying to her daughter, “Mark my words, Mabel. That wedding will come round so fast, you’ll wonder where the time went”. After hearing that so many times, it sudenly came true. The wedding was only three weeks away, the dress had been made, and they had arranged for a plaster of Paris fake wedding cake to sit on top of the square fruit cake that was all they could make with rationing still on. It would look nice enough in the photos. Eric White was paying for everything, as custom decreed. He had dipped into his meagre savings to make sure his girl had a memorable day. Everyone called him Chalky, and he was a popular man in the borough.

The guest list had not been much of an issue. The Prices had a maiden aunt, the spinster sister of Harry. Other than that, there was a distant cousin who lived in Kidderminster who couldn’t make it as he had gout. Mabel had one uncle on her mum’s side who was a widower, and the two cousins that were his teenage children. They were coming, along with some of the girls from work, and the one bridesmaid. Lizzie was a girl Mabel knew from school, and she only asked her to be the bridesmaid because she couldn’t think of anyone else. Her dad said he would pay for Lizzie’s dress, seeing as he hadn’t had to fork out on a new one for Mabel.

One of mum’s friends was going to play the piano in the Scout Hut, so at least they could have a dance and a sing-song.

Reginald had asked his foreman at work to be the Best Man. He didn’t have any close friends his own age, and Norman was in his forties, married with three kids. So his lot had to be invited too. There was to be no honeymoon. Reg had paid the deposit on a one-bedroom flat in New Cross Road. It had a kitchenette, a small living room, and one bedroom. It was on the second floor of a house, and it would mean a longer bus journey for Mabel to get to work. He took the flat without even telling her about it saying, ‘It’ll do us for now, Mabel love”. At least it was furnished, so they wouldn’t need to buy much except bedding and some crockery.

As the big day approached, the weather turned. The forecast for the twenty-fourth of June was rain. Mabel tried not to worry about that. At least it was going to be warm.

She had her hair done the day before, and slept sitting upright. The man with the Humber car turned up early the next day to run the food to the Scout Hut, and collect the fake cake top from where they had hired it. His name was Dennis Elliot. He had been a Commando during the war, and had got married before leaving to land on D-Day. While he was fighting over there, his wife had been killed in a V2 rocket attack that destroyed where she worked. He had come back with medals, but as a widower. He was very chatty, and also very good looking.

He winked at Mabel. “You look like a million dollars, darling. So pretty”.

Reg had never said anything like that.

To say the wedding was not the best day of her life was an understatement. The vicar got her name wrong in the church, calling her Mary instead of Mabel. And he kept doing it, even when she corrected him. Norman had trouble getting the rings out of the top pocket of his suit, then dropped them. One rolled under the front pew and was eventually found after an embarrassed silence.

It was raining as they left so the confetti stuck to everything, and the photographer said he would take the photos in the Scout Hut instead. Reg was so nervous, she could feel his legs trembling in the back of Dennis’s car.

The reception just piled on the agony. Reg had no speech prepared, so just raised his beer and said, “A toast to my lovely bride”. Mabel’s dad rambled on with all the old stuff. “I’m not losing a daughter, but gaining a son”. “Mabel will be a good wife to Reg, just as she has been a good daughter to us”. He finally finished by lifting a glass and saying. “The happy couple”.

But neither of them looked very happy.

Once the food was served, the egg and cress sandwiches had been in the warm room for too long. The smell was like everyone in the room had farted, and it didn’t go away. The real wedding cake under the plaster fake tasted like suet pudding, as it had also got too hot in the stormy weather. It wasn’t until everyone had a few drinks inside them and the piano playing started that things livened up. Mabel was putting on false smiles for the photos, then Reg fumbled the cake cutting shot and knocked over the fake plaster one. It smashed into pieces on the wooden floor, and her dad groaned.

“There goes my cash deposit!”

In a very short time, Lizzie’s boyfriend had had far too much to drink, then spewed up all over her dress. She was so upset, she ran out of the hut crying, and didn’t come back.

When the dancing started, Reg was hopeless. He grabbed hold of Mabel while everyone was watching, then just walked around, making no attempt at dance steps. He stepped on her feet so many times, she was pleased when the song was over. After that, it seemed to stop being about their big day, and become a drinking contest. Even Edna Price was drinking so many Port and Lemons, Harry had to have a word with her when she fell over on the dance floor. Mabel’s mum was the only one who was sober, as she had been making tea in the little kitchen out the back, and that was all she had been drinking.

They had the hall until eleven, but it was traditional for the married couple to leave early. So by nine-thirty, people were suggesting they take their leave, and they spent thirty minutes saying goodbye to everyone, and thanking them for their presents that Mabel’s dad was in charge of taking home at some stage.

Mabel was so tired by then, she was pleased to get into the back of the Humber and take her new shoes off. Reg was as white as a sheet, and holding on to the key of their flat like it opened the case for the Crown Jewels.

As the car stopped in New Cross Road, Dennis winked at Reg. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do mate”. Reg slipped him a few quid and mumbled his thanks. As she got out of the car, she saw Dennis wink at her, and felt awkward. It was her wedding day, after all.

In the flat, it felt cold, but she wasn’t about to suggest lighting the fire. Mabel said to Reg, “Give me five minutes, then come into the bedroom”. Even with her new fake satin nightie, she felt cold. She was counting on Reg to warm her up. But he came in wearing some striped pyjamas, looking like a man about fifty. When he got into bed, he gave her a sloppy, beer-tasting kiss. After that, he lifted her nightdress and got between her legs.

She had expected it to hurt, her mum had told her it might hurt. But there was no pain, just a spongy feeling. Reg was moving on her like he was running a race. But if it was a race, it was only the hundred yards. Less than ten seconds later, he groaned, and turned over in bed.

“Night love”.

She lay awake for a good hour before giving in to sleep.

Was that it?

The first week of her marriage came as a shock to Mabel. There was a bathroom on each of the three floors in the house, but each one was shared by the three flats occupying the floor. Reg came home from work on the Monday with an enamel pot that was going to be used if they got taken short during the night, but the morning routine of getting washed and ready for work was chaotic. There always seemed to be someone using the bathroom, no matter what time she went to try to get in there. It was alright for Reg, who washed and shaved at the kitchen sink.

But Mabel wanted some privacy.

She was also expected to do everything. Washing, ironing, shopping, cooking, keeping the flat clean and tidy. Getting home from work after a long day on her feet, she had to get Reg’s dinner ready as he expected to eat it as soon as he got home. And she was not a natural cook. Despite helping her mum out on occasion, she never took much interest in the cooking process, and Reg soon got fed up of eggs and chips, or a chop and boiled potatoes. He expected some sort of afters too, and she had no idea how to make a jelly, or a steamed pudding.

Just seven days after becoming Mrs Price, she was exhausted.

Most evenings were spent listening to the radio, a wedding present from her parents. Reg would read the newspaper from cover to cover after his dinner, and didn’t have much to say unless it was about trains or train tracks. And it seemed his idea of married love was once a week on a Saturday night, with the lights out and not making any noise in case the neighbours heard. At least they still went to the cinema once a week, and Mabel lost herself in the glamour of the romantic dramas she loved to watch. No more sitting in the back row either.

Now they were married, it was back to the front row of the circle upstairs.

There was always the books. Reg liked to go to bed early, and reading in bed disturbed him. So Mabel would sit up late in an armchair, devouring the cheap romantic novels with their lurid covers. She imagined herself as the femme fatale, the irresistible heroine. And the private detective or caddish playboy would always look like Dennis in her mind.

Sundays were for visiting both sets of parents, on alternate weeks. At least they were guaranteed a slap-up meal in each house, and they both said how much they loved being married. Reg never complained about her cooking, and she never complained about the lack of romance in their life.

After a few months had passed, it dawned on Mabel that she was still having her monthlies. Reg’s weekly attentions did not seem to be bearing fruit, and it wasn’t as if they were using anything to stop her getting in the club. Children were expected, and it wouldn’t be long before someone mentioned that she hadn’t got pregnant yet. To try to hasten things along, she started going to bed early with Reg, and being sexually suggestive. He raised his eyebrows and looked at her like she was a two-bob prossie.

“On a Wednesday, love? Can’t you wait until Saturday, for God’s sake? What’s wrong with you? I’ve got to be up and out by half-five”.

Waiting until she could hear his low snoring, she would creep out into the living room and read one of her books.

Five months after the wedding, Dennis showed up at Woolworth’s one day. “Still here then, Mabel? You look really good, I like a girl in uniform. It’s pouring down outside, how about I give you a lift home? My car’s in the street behind the shop, I can wait until you close”. She knew she should say no, but she nodded instead. Then she blushed.

Nobody really knew what Dennis did for a living, but she had heard enough rumours to know it wasn’t strictly legal. He had a new Humber car, and there wasn’t anyone else she knew that had a car at all, even the men with good jobs. Harry Price had mentioned that he had a television set too. Mabel had never even seen one of those.

She touched up her lipstick and powder before leaving the staff room. Didn’t hurt to look your best when riding in a car.

Dennis was standing by the car smoking a cigarette when she got there. He flicked it into the kerb and opened the back door for her. “Lovely ladies travel in style, in the back”. He smiled as he said it, and she noticed his teeth were very white in the darkness.

It was warm and comfortable in the car, and she felt rather grand being driven home. But he wasn’t heading in the right direction. Mabel thought he must know a shortcut, so said nothing. When he turned into the gates of a bombed-out factory, she sat forward. “Where are you going, Dennis? This is the wrong way”. The car stopped in front of a big wall, and he turned and smiled. “Thought we could just stop and have a little talk, Mabel love. You won’t be home late, don’t worry. Why don’t I get in the back?”

Without waiting for a reply, he got in the back next to her. She had a good idea what was about to happen, but thought she should try to say something. “What do you want to talk about Dennis?” He grabbed her and kissed her. There was real passion in his kiss, and she could feel his strong arms gripping her. It was just like something from one of her books, but she pushed him away. “Steady on now. I’m a married woman. And you know that only too well. You took me to my wedding in this very car”.

He was so relaxed. “Okay, I don’t want to force myself on anyone. Tell me you don’t want it, and I will go back in the front and drive you home. Simple as that. It won’t be mentioned, and you will never see me again. Okay?” She tried to say she didn’t want it, but the words wouldn’t come out.

Because she did want it.

So she gave in to her feelings, leaned forward, and kissed him back.

When he was driving her home twenty minutes later, her face was still flushed, and her whole body was tingling. She realised that was what some of the women at work had been talking about, and it was the complete opposite of what Reg did. Dennis had controlled it all, but in exactly the way that Mabel had hoped a man always would. She had abandoned herself to him completely, just like the heroine in her new book had done in a similar situation.

For the first time in her life, she really felt like a woman.

Before they got close to her flat, the car was stuck in some traffic. Dennis leaned over from the front. “You were fantastic, Mabel. I want to see you again. Can we make it a regular thing? Maybe take a day off when Reg is at work, and I can come round. I will give you my phone number when I stop the car”.

She was impressed. He had his own phone at home too.

Unsure how to reply, she said, “Reginald must never find out. It would destroy both families”. Dennis just chuckled. “I’m not in the family-destroying business, honey. I just want some fun, and I reckon you do too. Tell me I’m wrong”.

Mabel could not tell him he was wrong.

Something else occurred to her. “You didn’t use a Johnny though. What happens if I get up the spout?” He laughed out loud. “You’re a married woman, Reg will think it is his, and if you do, we can carry on without worrying. That’s why married women are the best, no need for Johnnies. I will drop you across the road, in that side street. No need for Reg to chance seeing the car”. When the car stopped, he wrote his phone number on the page of a tiny notebook, and ripped it out to give to her.

“Keep that to yourself. But ring me soon, I am ready for as many sessions as you can manage. Don’t make me wait, honey”.

As she crossed the road, Mabel knew that she should feel bad. She had been easy, cheap, a bit of a slag. But in all honesty, she didn’t care. And she couldn’t wait for the next time.

To make sure Reg had something to eat when he got home, she walked all the way to the fish and chip shop. Two cod and chips was quite expensive, but what the hell.

She would tell Reg there was a till difference, and she had got off too late to go to the shops.

Two weeks after that time in his car, Mabel rang Dennis from a phone box on her way home from work. “I will go sick from work on Friday if you want to come round about ten”. He was non-committal. “Friday? Depends if anything comes up by then. If I’m not too busy I will be there”.

On Thursday afternoon, Mabel went to see the store manager before leaving for home. “I’ve got a bad tooth, and I’m going to the dentist tomorrow to get it taken out. I should be alright to come in next Monday of course”. The staff called him Old man Adams, and he was known to be very kind. He knew Mabel wasn’t a girl to take time off for no reason. “Okay, Mabel. Not to worry. Don’t forget to rinse your mouth with salty water afterwards”.

She told Reg a different story later that evening. “Got an awful bellyache, Reg love. Don’t think I’ll go in tomorrow. Old man Adams will be alright about it”. He was still reading the evening paper, and just grunted something in reply.

Friday morning Mabel was very nervous. She managed to get the bathroom to herself after the other tenants had gone to work, and took extra time to make herself nice and presentable. Unable to decide which of her two best dresses to wear, she picked the flowery one, and used a new lipstick that was poppy red. Once ten o’clock had passed she started to look out of the window, in case she didn’t hear Dennis knock.

It was over an hour later when she spotted his car, seeing it turn left across the road, and park near the corner. She hurried downstairs to open the door, not wanting anoyne else to let him in and know he was coming to see her. In her flat, he reached into his overcoat pocket to take out three pairs of nylons and a big bar of chocolate he had brought her. “Got anything strong to drink, love? A beer will do if you haven’t got any brandy”.

Mabel was embarrassed. “All I have is what’s left in a bottle of Port, Dennis. Sorry”. He took off his coat and threw it over the armchair. “Okay, that’ll have to do then, won’t it?” He swallowed the Port in one gulp, and grinned. “Shall we get on with it then? Lead the way to the bedroom”.

For the next two hours, he made her feel incredible. All sorts of stuff she hadn’t even known that men and women could do together, and at least three times too. It was so different to sex with Reg, Dennis was almost like another species to her. She reckoned he must have learned things from those girls in Europe when he was over there in the army. But once he decided it was over, he just got up and got dressed. “Well, must be off. Things to do, people to see, money to be earned. Ta-ta, Mabel love”.

He let himself out, and she could hear him whistling as he walked down the stairs. She allowed herself the luxury of lying there for another thirty minutes, thinking about what they had done. Then she got up, cleaned the make-up off of her face, changed the sheets on the bed, and put some everyday clothes on to go down to the shops and get Reg something for his dinner.

Deciding to treat her husband to some pork chops, she chatted to the butcher’s wife as the woman wrapped them up. Then on her way to the greengrocer, she stopped as she saw a Humber car drive past slowly in the other direction. But it wasn’t Dennis, the driver was wearing a chauffer’s uniform, and was years older.

Feeling gulty when Reg got home, she made a fuss of him, and gave him an extra chop. She was in a great mood, but still worried that someone might have seen Dennis come to the house. So she talked to Reg about his day as they ate, and even pretended to be interested in his story of how some bloke had nearly been hit by a shunting engine, until one of the others saw the danger and pulled him out of the way.

That night in bed as Reg was sleeping, she lay there in the dark wishing Dennis was next to her.

Of course, she wasn’t to know then that was the last time she would ever see Dennis Elliot.

When she hadn’t heard from Dennis in nearly two weeks, Mabel rang his house from a phone box in her lunch break. It just rang and rang. She tried again on the way home from work, and got the same thing. It upset her that he had had his way with her and was now ignoring her. But she was married to Reg, what could she do?

Then she didn’t get her monthlies. Reg was still doing what he did on Saturday nights, so she had no idea who might have got her pregnant. She confided in her mum, who told her to wait for twelve weeks, then go to see her doctor.

Sure enough, the doctor told her she was expecting.

Both families treated the news like nobody before had ever had a child. Reg was flushed with pride, and acted like some sort of fertile lover. On the plus side, he started to treat Mabel right for the first time. He looked after her, said he would do extra shifts at weekends, and that she should stop working at Woolworth’s soon. He still expected her to cook and clean though, casually mentioning that his mum would step in when she was fully pregnant.

Old Man Adams took the news well when she handed in her notice. “Come back once the baby is born, Mabel. I’m sure one of the grandmothers will look after it for you. You are a good worker, and I don’t want to lose you”.

Reg became obsessed with names. He chose Peter for a boy, and Susan for a girl. Mabel wasn’t consulted about the names, Reg seemed to think it was his place to choose. “You can pick the middle names, love. That’s only right”.

All Mabel could think of was Dennis. She was sure he was the father, and convinced he would want to know that. But no matter how many times she phoned him, he never answered.

Now working seven days a week, Reg was almost never at home until eight. The money was good, but Mabel was lonely. So she went to see her parents most days, but all they talked about was the baby, and Reg. She wanted to tell them that she felt ill a lot of the time, and so tired after cleaning the flat, shopping, and looking after Reg. But she knew better than to complain, as they thought Reg was a great husband.

Sometimes, she wanted to ask her dad about Dennis, but she was scared that they would ask why she cared what had happened to him.

By the time she was seven months pregnant, she finally found out.

Reg was reading the evening paper. He shook his head. “Well, who would have thought it? Remember that bloke Dennis who did our wedding car? They only found him dead in Kent. He had been shot three times in the head, and the car dumped in some marshes near Rochester. Serves him right for being a spiv and a a gangster, if you ask me”.

Mabel had to go in the bedroom to cry. She told Reg she had pains in her tummy, and had to convince him not to go and phone for an ambulance.

Two days after her due date, Reg took her into hospital in a taxi. It was almost midnight, and she was definitely in labour. Ten hours later, with Reg sitting in the waiting room, she gave birth to a little girl. He was so overwhelmed, he didn’t complain when she said she was calling her Denise. It seemed appropriate to Mabel, and he knew no better anyway.

It wasn’t that long before nurses and doctors were crowding around little Denise, and then they took her away somewhere. Reg hadn’t even had time to phone both sets of parents before a stern-faced doctor appeared on the Labour Ward. “I am sorry to tell you that baby Denise is suffering from some complications. We are going to have to take her over to Guy’s Hospital in an ambulance. Mum can accompany her of course”.

Neither of them asked any questions. In those days, you didn’t question a doctor.

Mabel turned to Reg. “You go home, love. You’ve got work tomorrow. We will be alright, and you can come and see us at Guy’s after work”. Reg kissed her on the cheek, nodded at the doctor, and took his leave.

After the transfer to Guy’s hospital, Mabel slept like a log. A nurse woke her up to tell her that her mum had come to visit her, and she couldn’t believe how long she had been asleep. Mum looked like she had been crying. “What’s going on with baby Denise, Mabel? Can I see her? Reg rang me at work to let us know. He has gone to work on the railway, but the poor bloke must be exhausted”. The nurse intervened.

“Baby is sleeping at the moment. She has been examined by specialist doctors, and they will be coming to talk to you soon. Would you like a cup of tea, Mabel?”

When the serious older doctor arrived about fifteen minutes later, his expression said it all. “Not good news I am afraid, Mrs Price. Little Denise must have had the umbilical cord around her neck before delivery. As a result, her brain was starved of oxygen for some considerable amount of time. She is alive, but suffering from serious brain damage. It will be highly unlikely that she will be able to see or hear, she may not be able to speak or make sounds, and her development will be far from normal, if she survives”.

He waited for a while as Mabel tried to take it all in. Mum started sobbing.

“You must understand the seriousness of the situation. Denise is unlikely to survive the week, and even if she does she will never be normal. Blind, deaf, mute, unable to feed herself, most likely unable to walk properly. She will be completely dependent on your care, every single moment she is alive.

Then Mabel started sobbing.

The nurse stepped forward and held Mabel’s hand. “You might want to think about getting her christened. That can be done by the hospital chaplain in the chapel here. You know, just in case”. Mabel nodded through her sobs. “Wait until Reg comes in to visit. I will talk to him then”. The doctor straightened up. “Do you have any questions for me before we bring Denise back, Mrs Price?” She had hundreds of questions, but couldn’t think of one to ask at that moment.

So she shook her head.

Denise was brought back in, wrapped in a little fluffy blanket. Molly White held her, her tears falling onto the tiny head. “But she looks so beautiful, Mabel. She looks like any normal baby I have ever seen”. The nurse suggested that Mabel feed her. “Put her to the breast, it will help with your milk”. Denise suckled happily, but her gaze was vacant, and she made no noise. No noise at all.

By the time Reg got in to visit, it was close to the end of visiting time. The nurse told him not to worry, she would ignore the rules for one evening. He looked worn out, but was eager to see and hold his little daughter. As he rocked her, his mother-in-law told him the bad news. Mabel was too upset to tell him herself. He acted strangely, not willing to accept it. “Well just look at her, she’s perfect. That doctor don’t know what he’s talking about, I reckon. Can’t we see another doctor? That one surely ain’t no good at his job”.

His bravado soon broke down, and he handed Denise to Mabel as the tears started. He rushed out of the side room, and they could hear him crying in the corridor. Reg wasn’t the sort of bloke to cry in front of women.

Once her visitors had gone, and Denise was sleeping in the little cot next to her bed, Mabel spoke to the nurse as she came in to do her checks.

“Can you arrange that Christening please? I think it’s going to be the best thing”.

On the Thursday afternoon, Denise wouldn’t take a feed. The milk just dribbled out of her mouth. When Reg came in that night, she told him about the Christening the next day. He looked very serious. “I will call in on Norman on my way home, tell him I won’t be in tomorrow”. Her in-laws and her parents came to the chapel on Friday afternoon. They were all crying as the Chaplain held the unresponsive baby in his arms and recited the service. Harry and Eric came forward as her godfathers, hardly able to speak for all the upset.

Reg sat with her next to her bed after the others went home. A nurse came in with a doctor just after eight that night, he examined Denise, and shook his head.

“Sorry to tell you, she has gone”.

Reg was patient. He waited six weeks before resuming the Saturday night conjugals. After the tearful funeral, Denise wasn’t mentioned. In those days, everyone was used to losing babies, even older children. It was just accepted as the way of things.

When she didn’t fall pregnant again, Mabel knew that it was Reg who was not able to father children. For his part, he never asked, and may have thought that her birth problems might be involved. It was something else that was never discussed, not even by her parents or the in-laws.

Something else came along to change their life. They were intending to electrify the railways on the lines through Cambridge to London, and Reg was offered a course to learn the system. He was going to be away for a month, staying at a bed and breakfast near Cambridge. Mabel had gone back to work long before then, ignoring the averted eyes of her colleagues, who never mentioned the baby.

When Reg came home, she had never seen him so excited.

“It’s the future, Mabel love. And you should see the area around Cambridge. Clean air, lots of countryside, and lovely small towns and villages. New Cross doesn’t compare, believe me. They have offered me a start on the first of the month. I will be based in Cambridge, and the pay rise is almost double what I get now. We can afford to live somewhere nice, even buy our own home. The prices there are half what they cost in London. There’s a lovely little town, Huntingdon. We can buy a place there for the same rent we pay for this awful place. And they have a Woolworth’s, so I reckon you could get a job there. I am going to buy a motorbike and sidecar to get to work. It will be cheaper than a car, and enough for us”.

Mabel had never heard of Huntingdon, so asked him how far it was. “Just seventy-seven miles from here, love. But another world. Your mum and dad can come up on the train if they want, it doesn’t take long. Even quicker once we get started on the electrification. Honest, Mabel, it’s lovely up there, you are going to love it. It’s only twenty miles from where I will be based, so less than half an hour on the motorbike”.

Not knowing what to say, she just nodded. Men made the decisions, and wives didn’t question them. So she was moving to Cambridgeshire, like it or not. And very soon too.

It was surprisingly easy to get a transfer to the Woolworth’s there. Her boss helped, as she knew he would. “They will be lucky to have you, Mabel. It’s much quieter there, and your experience will be invaluable. I’m so sorry to see you go, but I reckon it’s a good move for you, and I am sure you will be happy”. Her parents were also surprisingly positive, urging her to go with no regrets.

A month later, Reg came back from Cambridge on his new motorcycle and sidecar. He told her he had bought a two-bedroom house in Huntingdon, using up every pound of their savings. They would have to buy all the furniture, and everything else that made a home, but he had signed up for three years of hire purchase to cover everything. All they had to pack were their clothes, and he had paid one of his colleagues to take them up to the new house in his small van.

Every decision had been made for her. They would move there on a Saturday, and she would start work in the small town on the Monday. For Mabel, the worst part of it was having to sit on the back of the motorbike all the way.The sidecar was full of stuff they would need until Reg’s mate turned up on Sunday with their personal things. On the Friday, she said goodbye to her parents, acting as if she was going to Australia. Her dad just laughed.

“We will be up to see you, and now you have a spare room to put us up in. I hope Reg finds a decent pub in the town, one within walking distance”.

She couldn’t feel excited about a place she had never even seen. But she knew her life was going to change beyond recognition.

She had to admit, Reg had chosen well. The house was at the end of a small terrace, with room at the side for the motorbike, and a small front garden that had a painted wooden fence. Inside, the steep stairs led up from the hallway to the two bedrooms, and the bathroom that would once have been a smaller third bedroom. Because the conversion was very recent, the bath, toilet, and basin all looked brand new, and there was a gas Ascot to run hot water into the bath too. The seller had left the curtains and rugs behind, included in the price.

At the back, the old outside toilet was still there, and there was a little garden running down two strips separated by a path. The most amazing thing to Mabel was that over the back wall she could see no other houses. Close to the edge of the town, all she could see were trees. The lady next door came out to speak to her over the fence. “Hello, I’m Winnie. Would you like to come in for a cup of tea? You must have had a long journey”. They soon found out that Winnie was single, and had lived there with her old dad before he died. She was probably about twenty years older than them, as she seemed quite old-fashioned.

Mabel took to her immediately. There was a warmth about her.

Because the furniture wasn’t arriving until Monday afternoon, Reg had booked them in to a pub in the town for bed and breakfast. He had arranged to take Monday off, to get it all sorted while Mabel was at work. Winnie wouldn’t hear of it. “No need, no need at all. I have plenty of room, you can stay with me and save your money. Reg, why don’t you walk down and cancel the booking, tell them your plans have changed?” Mabel nodded at her husband, and he agreed to do that.

Winnie was very chatty. She said she worked as a nurse at the County Hospital, the main one in the town. “I do the Out-Patient clinic mostly now, just daytimes. But I worked shifts on the wards for years before that”. Mabel asked her if she was married. “No, never had time for that. Mum died when I was still at school, and I looked after my dad until he went. This must be a change for you from London, but I reckon you will like it here. It’s a friendly little town, and you will soon get to know everyone, working at Woolworth’s”.

Reg was gone for quite a while. When he got back, he was grinning. “They were nice as pie about cancelling. I had a couple of pints while I was there, and met some of the lads. One of them works on the railway too, but not where I will be. He’s a guard on the trains”. Winnie stood up. “How about a nice rabbit pie for dinner? It won’t take me long to get it ready, and I’ve got a lovely cabbage to go with it”. Mabel offered to help, but she wouldn’t hear of it. Reg looked tired. He wasn’t much of a drinker, and it had been a long day.

He had dozed off when Winnie came in from the kitchen. “Leave him, he’s okay. You can help me make up the bed in your room. It used to be mum and dad’s room, but the mattress is still good, and we can give the pillows a good plumping. Once we’ve done that, dinner will be almost ready and we can wake him up”. Her third room had also been converted to a bathroom, but longer ago. Everything in the house was spick and span, and Winnie was dressed very smartly, with immaculate hair and make-up. As they made up the bed, Mabel felt like she had always known her. They talked easily, and then sat on the bed as Mabel told her about what had happened to little Denise.

Holding her hand, Winnie was kind.

“That’s all in the past now, you have to look forward to a new life. I am so pleased you bought the house next door, as I think we are going to be firm friends, dear Mabel”.

There was something about the tone of her voice, and the way she was holding her hand. Mabel had only heard about women like that, and had never met one.

But she had to admit, she liked the feeling it gave her.

Her job at Woolworth’s was much more relaxed. She wasn’t going to have to work on Saturdays, as most of the staff were part-time, and that shift was covered. She was one of the few full-time staff there, and now she would get every weekend off. It was so quiet too, compared to where she had worked in London. If anything, she found herself getting a bit bored by mid-afternoon.

But Old Man Adams had been right, they valued her experience in London. The manager had only been there for a couple of years, and he seemed happy to let Mabel do a lot of supervisory roles that Adams would never have dreamed of. She mentioned it to Reg over dinner one night.

“If he keeps getting me to do half his job, I’m gonna ask to be made up to supervisor. Can’t see him saying no, he’s so lazy”.

Once the furniture had arrived and they had the place looking like home, life went on happily enough. Reg was getting home much later, having to ride his motorbike from Cambridge, and with the project being regarded as so important, he was working all day Saturday too. On top of his pay rise, he got overtime pay for Saturdays, so they were doing well financially. Just as well, as the payments for the furniture and the mortgage were a lot more than Mabel had expected. And now Reg was talking about changing the motorbike for a small car. The weather was getting him down, he said.

Winnie was happy to show her around. They went for walks along the river, and all over the small town. By the end of the first month, Mabel was confident that she knew her way around, and was on first-name terms with the local shopkeepers too. Reg had said he would take her into Cambridge one Sunday, but working late every night, and six days a week, he always complained about being too tired on Sundays.

So Winnie went there with her on the bus one Saturday. Mabel loved that trip, looking at all the shops, the old buildings, and the historic university colleges. Winnie brought a picnic lunch in a big bag, and they sat on the grass by the river and ate it.

With Reg not geting home until well after seven most nights, Mabel got used to eating alone, leaving his dinner on a low heat in the oven. Then he told her he would get fish and chips on Friday nights, so she took up Winnie’s invitation to eat with her before he got home. She had been right about them being firm friends. Mabel had come to adore spending time with her, and was impressed by seeing her in her nurse’s uniform, looking so smart.

One Sunday morning, Reg casually mentioned that he was going to look at a car. “They will take the motorbike in part exchange, give me a good price for it. Do you want to come and look at it with me? It’s at a dealer’s near Cambridge”. Mabel knew nothing about cars, other than Dennis’s Humber of course. She shook her head. “No need, Reg. If you want it so much, you will buy it, whatever I say”.

Sure enough, he came home in the car. It was a Ford Prefect with four doors, all shiny black. He was dancing around it like an excited child. Get your bag and keys, Mabel, we’re going for a ride”. He drove down the main road to St Ives, then back along the country lanes. “We can go on holiday in this next year, Mabel love. No need to freeze on the motorbike. I was thinking we could get a caravan on the coast in Norfolk. Hunstanton might be nice”.

As much as she wanted to be happy for him, Mabel had no interest in the car, and didn’t even want to think about how they could afford a holiday, the way Reg was spending money. She didn’t ask how much he had paid for the car, and he didn’t tell her. That suggested to her that he had paid too much for it, and there would be costly monthly payments. When they got home, she knocked on Winnie’s door to show her the car. Winnie winked at her. “Ooh, that’s lovely, Reg. You’ll have to let me come along for a ride out one Sunday. Mabel jumped at that.

“Yes, let’s take Winnie out next week. Me and her can sit in the back like classy ladies”.

Then she turned and winked back at her friend.

It was a long time coming, but Mabel had always known it was going to happen eventually.

On her birthday the following year, Winnie bought her friend an expensive gift. It was a dress watch on a bangle, not the sort you would wear every day, really fancy. And it was gold too. She gave it to Mabel in the kitchen, when Reg was still at work. Reg had left her a birthday card when he went to work that morning, just a small one with Happy Birthday written on the front, and a drawing of a country cottage. Inside, he had written ‘Have a happy birthday’. That was it. No present, and no fuss. Typical of Reg.

She was overwhelmed by Winnie’s present. A gold watch was beyond her dreams. “It’s too much, Win. You didn’t have to spend all that money on me”. Winnie stroked her face. “What else am I going to spend it on? My dad left me well provided for with insurance money, and I have the money from my job. You don’t need much when you’re on your own”.

Mabel hugged her, and kissed her on the cheek. But Winnie didn’t let go, turning to kiss her on the lips. A proper kiss.

Nothing was said. Putting the watch down on the table, she took Winnie’s hand and led her upstairs. She presumed Winnie would know what to do, and hoped she was right about that.

When it was all over, and only twenty minutes before Reg was due home, Mabel watched as Winnie got dressed. The older woman turned to her, a warm smile across her face. “I want you to know I love you, Mabel. I mean really love you”. Without having to even think about it, she replied. “I feel the same, but what can we do? I’m married”. Kissing her cheek, Winnie whispered softly. “We’ll work something out, leave it to me.”

Reg was soon home, and wondering why dinner wasn’t ready. “We’ve got sausages and mash, won’t take long. Winnie popped round to give me a present. Look, it’s a lovely watch, real gold too”. Giving it a cursory inspection, Reg snorted. “She must have more money than sense. I mean, when would you ever go somewhere posh enough to wear that? Might as well sell it, buy something useful”. She snatched it back. “I’ll never sell that watch, do you hear me, Reg Price? And you better not think about selling it behind my back, or there will be real trouble”.

They didn’t say much else to each other that night.

When Saturday night arrived, Reg made his usual move to climb over and get between her legs. Mabel was ready. “Not tonight, I’m feeling a bit sick”. With that, she turned over and pretended to go to sleep. He didn’t try again.

Perhaps if he had known that it was never going to happen again, he would have.

They settled into a routine that no longer involved the Saturday night sex. If Reg was annoyed, he didn’t say so. He was not a man to talk about such things, and Mabel suspected that he might have been relieved not to have to try to perform once a week. He did what a lot of men in such situations did, he found a hobby. The bloke who was a guard on the railway was called Clive and he suggested it one night at the pub. Fishing.

Never having fished, and knowing nothing at all about it, Reg soon became a dedicated fisherman. He loved to spend money, and now he had an excuse to buy more stuff. Rods, reels, waders, nets, hooks, and all sorts. And he had the car, for him and Clive to go all over to fishing places. Once he discovered that Mabel didn’t care where he went, he would set off with Clive every Saturday night for overnight fishing, not getting home until late on Sunday evenings.

That was fine with Mabel. “I’ll stop over at Winnie’s then. I don’t like being here on my own at night”. He had taken that without a murmur. There was some mumbling about fishing seasons, resulting in Reg telling her they would have to drive to the coast sometimes, for sea fishing. “Might be able to bring you back some mackerel to cook for dinner. In the rivers, we have to put them back”. She couldn’t care less about mackerel.

All she could think of was more time spent with Winnie.

Winifred Finch was the only child of doting parents. But they didn’t spoil her, and made sure she knew right from wrong and was never badly behaved. From her first day at school she decided she didn’t like boys. They were naughty, dirty, smelly, and annoying. So she made sure to sit next to Margaret, the girl with the wavy hair and dimples. If Shirley Temple had been English, she would have been Margaret. Confident, pretty, and as bright as a button too.

When they both went to the girl’s Grammar School, she stuck with Margaret. They became inseparable, and helped each other through the problems of puberty. By the age of thirteen, they had experimented during sleepovers, and Winnie was sure she had found her way in life. But Margaret’s dad was in the Air Force, based near Cambridge. They moved him during the war, and he was sent to Coastal Command, in Kent. Winnie cried for two whole days after she lost her best friend and sometime lover, and her parents had no idea how to comfort her.

Choosing a career in nursing was a lifesaver. They were crying out for nurses close to the end of the war, and she went away to train in Cambridge. Her world was full of women her age, and they shared dormitories, bathrooms, and secrets. Though she never saw Margaret again, she found others to crush on. But there was a real problem. They all talked about men. They wanted to get married to war heroes, and have lots of children. For some years, Winnie was desperately lonely.

Then she went to work at the County Hospital, and met the new matron, Miss Harrison. As soon as she saw her, she knew the older woman was looking at her in a particular way. A way that only women like her understood. It was surprisingly easy at that time. Two women friends were considered to be companions. They could spend holidays away together, see each other socially, go on day trips, and sleep at each other’s houses. Nobody seemed to think that was remotely unusual. They just assumed that the women would marry, when the right man came along. And there was a shortage of men, with so many killed in the war.

Those years with Barbara Harrison were the best years of her life. They kept up the pretence at work of course, but their free time was like paradise. Whenever Winnie became annoyed at their unspoken love, Barbara would calm her down, reassure her, make her feel so special. They could never take it to the next stage of course. Winnie’s mum had died, and there was no question that she would stay at home and look after her beloved father. But Barbara was welcome at her house, and if her dad suspected anything, he never once questioned her.

Then Barbara found a lump on her breast. The doctors investigated, but nothing could be done. The cancer had already spread to her liver and lungs, and the end came quickly. Winnie’s heart was so broken at the death of her one true love, she thought she would never recover. But soon after that her dad became ill, and she had to focus on caring for him, and living on memories.

That was her life until he died. Dedicated, caring, and selfless. By the time her next door neighbour died, and the house went up for sale, Winnie felt that she was due for some happiness.

Then when she met Mabel for the first time, she hoped she had found it again.

It was so easy to deal with Reg. He was obviously inexperienced, and had no idea about being married, or how to act with women. She had told Mabel she would work something out, and she did just that. Asking Reg to help her with a fuse box situation one evening, she discovered she was right. He was so easy to seduce, she didn’t even have to go all the way with him, which would have been her first time with a man.

He was breathing hard after that incident, and red in the face. “Please don’t tell Mabel, she would never forgive me”. Winnie assured him she would never tell Mabel. It would be their secret. But perhaps he could see his way clear to giving Mabel more freedom? She could stop over at her house more frequently, and they could go on trips together? Reg was nodding so fast, happy to accept any arrangement.

The next day, Winnie told Mabel, and they both laughed so hard, they couldn’t speak.

Once Reg had been sexually compromised by Winnie, life for Mabel became much more relaxed. He agreed with everything she said, and when she suggested he move into the spare room as sleeping next to him was disturbing her sleep, he said he would make up the spare bed himself. He also started to buy her small gifts. Nothing fancy, just an occasional box of chocolates, or small bunch of flowers, but he had never done that before.

The weekend before Christmas, they drove down to visit both sets of parents. Nothing much was said about Winnie, or that he had moved into the spare room. They spent the time talking about how much they were enjoying living in the new house, and how good their jobs were. The new car impressed everyone, and they had an enjoyable day.

Winnie had a surprise. She had bought a television. Mabel and Reg had never seen one before, and were invited in to watch it one evening. They saw a variety show, and a classical concert, and Mabel was entranced. Reg didn’t seem so bothered. “Not as good as going to the flicks, I reckon. The screen’s too small”. Although there was a cinema in the town, they hadn’t been since moving there. Reg got home too late from work to make it worthwhile, as they would miss the start of the film. Mabel had asked Winnie to go with her, but she hadn’t been keen. “I’m not really bothered about films, Mabel love”.

But now Winnie had a television, they could spend evenings in watching it before going upstairs. Reg asked no questions about their relationship, even when his wife was stopping over at least two nights a week, supposedly in Winnie’s spare room. Mabel had the notion that Reg didn’t even know about women like her and Winnie, or what they did together. She always served up his dinner before leaving for Winnie’s, and he would look at his fishing magazines when she left.

There was no guilt on her mind. She had felt guilty about Dennis, but it was different with Winnie, as far as she was concerned. After all, she was a woman, not a fancy man like Dennis. And they were in love. Not that she would ever tell him that.

After Easter the following year, Mabel felt bold. She had been primed by Winnie, and marched into the manager’s office one morning before the shop opened for business. “I reckon I should be made a supervisor. The truth is I do more of your job than you do, and look after the shop floor most days. So what do you say?” He gave her a pained look. “Well it’s not up to me, Mabel. I would have to contact Head Office, and justify any promotion”. Standing her ground, she shrugged. “Well do that then”.

On the first of June, she was officially promoted.

The extra money came in handy of course, but it was the principle that really mattered to her. The rest of the staff were nice about it. They said things like “About time”, or “You deserve it”. Winnie opened a bottle of good Sherry that night, to toast her success. “You will be manager of that branch one day, sweetheart. Mark my words”. Mabel thought she was going too far there. Women were never branch managers. But it was nice to dream about it, over a large glass of sweet Sherry.

Reg came home one night, looking worried. “I have to go abroad, love. They are sending a team over to the Continent to look at overhead electrified railways. You could have knocked me down with a feather when they told me I was going. I’m gonna have to apply for a passport tomorrow. Three weeks, they said. Putting us up in hotels and everything. Even paying for our meals”. Mabel was kind to him. “I’m so pleased for you, Reg love. They must be recognising your hard work, and being sent abroad must mean they have better things in mind for you. Well done.”

She told Winnie that night as they were watching television. As she had expected, her lover was delighted. “Three weeks with no Reg? Wonderful! You can just move in here for the whole time he’s away”.

That was just what Mabel had hoped she would say.

With Reg packed off to Europe, Mabel and Winnie were free to experience the joys of living together full time. Sharing the cooking, cuddling on the sofa as they watched the television or listened to records, then finally ending up in bed together, swearing undying love after the time of passion.

By the first Thursday, Mabel was already wondering if they could possibly arrange it to move in permanently with her lover, and make Reg live on his own next door. She fantasised about leaving him dinners to warm up, and didn’t even bother to think of a reason to give him about why she would no longer be his proper wife. Winnie tried to calm her down.

“You must never do that. Reg can never know about us for sure. He can suspect what he likes, but I don’t think he has a clue, to be honest. Should you confront him with the truth, his world would crumble. And don’t forget about your parents, and his. They would never accept it. You can forget your job too, and mine. We would have to move away to a big city, and even then the stigma would follow us. Let’s leave things as they are for now. We have more freedom than most women like us can ever imagine in their wildest dreams”.

That made Mabel grumpy, but when she calmed down, she knew Winnie was right.

On the Thursday evening, she told Winnie she would calm down. “I reckon we can get him to let me stay over three nights a week at least, he’s always off fishing with Clive at the weekends anyway, so one extra night never hurts. But I will need more in time, and if that means moving away, even leaving Reg alone, I would definitely prefer that to keeping on pretending”. Winnie knew how to really calm her down, and did that in the way she knew Mabel liked best.

Friday morning was nice and sunny. Mabel was a bit miffed that the first week was almost over, but cheered up to know they had two more weeks of bliss. She turned up at work in a good mood, feeling bright and breezy. Fridays were a fairly busy day, and she was soon preoccupied with everything a supervisor had to do. It was one of those days that just flew by. No dramas, lots of sales and happy customers, and she could even forgive the manager for sitting in his office doing sod-all.

Just after four-thirty, there was a commotion in the High Street outside. Mabel wanted to see what was going on, but couldn’t leave the shop floor when it was near the end of trading. Ten minutes later, a customer came in, an older lady who shopped there almost every day. Before she even purchased anything, she spoke to the young salesgirl behind the counter.

“Oh, what a terrible thing. Some poor woman has been run over by a lorry. It doesn’t look good, they have covered her in a red blanket, right over her head too. But I could see she was wearing a nurse’s uniform before they covered her up. It was blue, and her black stockings were torn at the heel”.

Mabel felt the cold feeling in her insides. This was the time Winnie got home from work on the bus, and she wore a blue unifrom and black stockings. It had to be someone else, another nurse. But she didn’t know any other nurses, so was terrified it might be Winnie. Without thinking, she ran out of the shop, and along the High Street. She could see the lorry stopped in the road, causing problems for local traffic. And the police were there too, but the ambulance had already left. She ran up to one of the policeman.

“Can you tell me if it was Winnie Finch? She’s my best friend and neighbour, and she’s a nurse”. He shook his head. “I’m afraid we have no idea, madam. I can tell you the victim was female, aged in her forties, and wearing a nurse’s uniform. But other than that, I don’t know. If you can help, perhaps you can go to the County Hospital? They are taking her there”. Mabel nodded, then turned and started to walk back to Woolworth’s.

When she got outside the shoe shop, she fainted.

People rushed to help Mabel up, and without even taking time to thank them, she hurried into Woolworth’s. Grabbing her bag and coat, she went into the manager’s office without knocking. “Sorry, I have to go. My best friend has been knocked down, and I need to get up to the hospital”. Without waiting for a reply, she almost ran out of the shop.

By the time she got to the Casualty Department, she was out of breath, and panting hard. At the reception desk, she spoke very loudly, almost hysterical. “Winnie Finch. She was knocked down by a lorry. I have to see her. Is she okay? Where is she?” The nurse at the desk paused, giving her time to calm down. “Are you a relative?” Mabel was angry at the question, and felt it was wasting time.

“No, I’m her best friend. She hasn’t got any relatives. I live next door to her, my name is Mrs Mabel Price”. The nurse stood up and showed her into a small room. “Wait here please, have a seat. I will get one of the doctors to come and speak to you”. Mabel couldn’t sit, so she just stood staring at the door for what seemed like ages. It wasn’t a doctor who came in, but another nurse.

“Mrs Price, I am Matron. I am so sorry to tell you that your friend was dead on arrival, and her body has been taken to the mortuary. As you say she has no next of kin, it will be referred to the coroner for a post-mortem and an enquiry into the accident. I think the best thing you can do now is to go home”.

Walking home felt like a dream, and she had to keep stopping to make herself believe it was all real, and actually happening. It had been such an idyllic week, and it seemed impossible to consider that she would never see Winnie again. Before she got to the end of her street, she had to lean against a garden wall and sob uncontrollably. A woman coming down that street crossed over to the other side, probably thinking she was either mad or drunk.

That night she couldn’t eat. She stayed in her own house, terrified to use her key and go back into Winnie’s. Seeing her things in the house would make it even worse. There was nobody to talk to about it either. And even if there was, they would never understand why she could be so distraught about the death of a next-door neighbour. Mabel took some comfort in the fact that she didn’t have to go to work the next day. She could never have explained to her colleagues why she was so upset.

The other thing that made it worse was that she could have no involvement in what happened after. She would not be asked to attend the inquest, or told when and where it was. She would not be notified about any funeral arrangements, because she was not a relative. Winnie had been her life, and now she felt she no longer had a life. Even worse, she no longer had real love, or hope for the future.

There was some information in the local newspaper. They carried a short story about Winnie some time after the accident. There was a photo of a much younger Winnie in a wartime nurse’s uniform under the headline, ‘Much loved local nurse killed in tragic accident’. Mabel wondered where they had got the photo from, as she had never seen it.

Reg was back from the Continent, full of how great his trip had been. “I am going to be wearing a suit to work from now on, Mabel love. They have seconded me to the management team”. Mabel wanted to be happy for him, even though he hadn’t brought her back a single gift from his visits to three different countries. So she told him what had happened to Winnie, in part to explain her subdued mood.

She was annoyed when he looked relieved, mainly because she knew exactly why he did. “Oh, that’s terrible. Poor Winnie. Did you see it? I hope not, it must have been awful”.

Fortunately, he was happy to go back to sleeping in the spare room, and said he would walk down to the pub and have their pie and chips for dinner to save her having to cook.

Doing her best to get on with life, Mabel tried to throw herself into her work. That was easier said than done in a provincial branch of Woolworth’s that was only really busy late in the week. Reg was riding high in his job. They sent him on training courses around the country, and he even got to go back to London for a week. The company put him up in a hotel, but he took the opportunity to visit his parents, and Mabel’s mum and dad too.

That week he was away, Mabel received an official-looking letter. She almost never got letters, so sat looking at it for some time before she opened it. It was from a solicitor’s office in the town, Harrison and Colyer. Albert Colyer asked her to make an appointment to come and see him about ‘something to your advantage’. She read those four words over and over, wondering what they could mean. The next day at work, she used the manager’s office phone to ring him, but had to make the appointment with his secretary for after work the next day.

Mabel had never been inside such an office. It was like something from Victorian days; all dark wood, lots of books on shelves, and leather-covered chairs. Albert Colyer was smoking a pipe, and he was very welcoming. She declined his offer of tea, and sat quietly in the proffered chair as he skimmed over some papers on his desk. He seemed quite old, by her estimate. At least sixty-five.

“Well then, Mrs Price, I have some good news, news that you might not be expecting. I am handling the affairs of Nurse Finch, who was sadly killed in a traffic accident. It seems she had no remaining family, at least none that we can trace. So I am pleased to be able to inform you that she left everything to you”. He paused, consulting the paperwork. “Just to you, you alone, and not to include your husband Reginald. Is that a surprise to you?”

With her eyebrows almost touching her hairline, Mabel replied in a shaky voice.

“Really? Yes, that is a surprise. She was our next door neighbour, and my very good friend. She was very nice to me and my husband when we moved here from London. But she never spoke about leaving me stuff in her will”. Colyer smiled, and banged out his pipe in the large ashtray in front of him.

“Oh, it is much more than stuff, I assure you. Not only does it include the house, and all of its contents including a television and a new refrigerator, there is the handsome sum of almost two thousand pounds”. Mabel had to compose herself. “I might take that tea after all, Mister Colyer. With sugar if you have enough”. As she sipped her tea, Mabel tried to take it all in. They had paid less than four hundred for their house, and now they could pay off the mortgage. Then there was the value of Winnie’s house, if they decided to sell it. On top of that, the two thousand pounds was an absolute fortune, and would change their lives completely. But she already knew she would have to be firm with Reg, or he would try to spend it all.

There were some papers to sign, and Winnie knew she would have to open a bank account in her name to cash the cheque that was handed over. The solicitor could see that she was overwhelmed. “Take your time, there’s no rush. I recommend the Midland Bank. The manager is very reliable, knows his stuff”. After shaking his hand, Mabel left the office holding Winnie’s keys to her house, and the cheque for one thousand, nine hundred and seventy pounds. She had agreed to leave the deeds in safe keeping with Mr Colyer for now.

Before Reg got home at the end of the week, she sat as if in a dream. Winnie had secured her future, a sign of the true love they shared. The tears flowed, and she knew she could never have thanked her enough. Then she put her coat on and walked down to get fish and chips for dinner. When Reg arrived, she told him what had happened. He dropped a chip out of his mouth with the shock. Then Mabel brought him back to reality. “She left it all to me, Reg. Just me. She was very specific that none of it was for you”. He took that without complaint, but sat thinking for a moment.

“I can go and get her television though, can’t I? Nothing to stop us having that”.

Surprisingly, Reg loved the television. After previously dismissing it that night at Winnie’s house, he became an avid watcher. Mabel thought something had happened with Clive, as Reg stopped going fishing at weekends. When she asked Reg about it one day, she was surprised at his answer. “Well, I am junior management now. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t do for me to hang around with a train guard like Clive any longer”.

Although she had married him, Mabel found her husband very hard to like as a person.

She knew he was involved in modernisation of the main lines, but Beeching was slowly dismantling the more rural services, and closing down so many small stations. The railways were changing beyond recognition, and Reg was fully on board with the changes. He was a different man.

Using some of Winnie’s money, they bought a nice refrigerator, and an expensive twin-tub washing machine. Both sets of parents were amazed, but also pleased for them. Then Reg came home one night with more news. “We are going to need a home phone, Mabel. Not a party line, neither. I have told work to arrange it, and they are going to sort it out for me. Mabel was miffed at not being consulted. “Are they going to pay the bill as well then?” Reg smirked. “Actually, they are. I can claim all work calls on my new expenses account”.

The other surprise was that Reg didn’t ask for any of the money. That concerned Mabel a bit, as she had been sure he would ask. So she decided to offer him an olive branch.

“If you want to buy a different car, Reg, I will get the cash out for you. Nothing too fancy, mind. No Jaguars or Humbers”. He couldn’t stop smiling. “Funny you should mention that, love. The place where I bought the Prefect has got a smashing Zephyr Six in stock, lovely cream colour. Only nine months old, almost no mileage, and it’s in mint condition. They are sure to give me a good part exchange on the Prefect. I will go and look at it on Saturday”.

He suddenly stood up, and leaned over to kiss her. It felt strange, as it had been so long since they had kissed. Then he said something unexpected.

“I’m happy for you to keep your money, love. And the money from selling Winnie’s house, if that’s what you decide to do. I really appreciate you thinking of me about the car, I really do. It won’t be too long before I am on very good money. I will be earning enough that you won’t even have to go to work if you don’t want to. You wait and see. By the time I’m thirty, I will be in top management”.

Mentioning Winnie’s house made her feel sad. She hadn’t had the heart to put it up for sale, as that somehow seemed disloyal to Winnie. Besides, house prices in the town were increasing steadily. Some people were moving out from North London, and commuting by train into the city every day. Mabel couldn’t imagine having to do such a journey, twice a day, five days a week. But the town was growing, there was no denying that. She spoke quietly when she answered Reg.

“Her house will have to be sold soon. I am paying the rates and standing utility charges for an empty house, that’s silly. But I just wish I could have some say about who buys it. I dread getting neighbours I don’t like. But I know I can’t do that. Give me a bit more time, and I will ask Mr Colyer about a good estate agent who won’t charge too much commission”.

Even a lot of money soon disappeared. By the end of the year, hundreds of pounds of Mabel’s inheritance had been spent. But Mr Colyer said Winnie’s house was worth a thousand pounds now, because of the commuters. Even with all the work that needed doing, he thought she should hold out for twelve hundred. He recommended Walker and Son to sell the house. “They will only charge you one percent commission, and they have a presence in London, Mrs Price. It’s the commuter market you should be looking at, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the house reached as much as fifteen hundred. Demand is high”.

On the third of August the following year, Mabel instructed Mr Walker to sell the house next door, and signed the contract.

Although she hadn’t noticed anyone viewing the house, Mabel received a call about an offer. Still not used to having a phone, it always made her jump when it rang. It was the younger Mr Walker. He had set the asking price at seventeen fifty, though Mabel thought that was outrageous. “Things have changed in the short time since you bought your house, Mrs Price. The property market is booming, and home ownership is all the rage, Yes, I know that’s too much, but it gives us room to accept lower offers”.

He sounded very cheery.

“We have a good offer, Mrs Price. The couple have a mortgage agreed, and the required cash deposit. They are professionals too. He is a teacher in Cambridge, and his wife is an accountant for a publishing company in London. They have asked for the curtains and all flooring to remain, and their offer is fifteen hundred. Non-negotiable, so they say. But I am happy to haggle, if you woud like me to”. Mabel didn’t want to get into that.

“Accept the offer, Mr Walker. That sounds very fair to me. The curtains and carpets and lino will remain, as well as all other fixtures and fittings”. He sounded very pleased. “I will give them the good news, and take the house off the market. Thanks for your good judgement”.

Some six weeks later, Mabel came home from work to see the removal men packing away next door. The sale had all gone smoothly, overseen by Mr Colyer. She had had to go to his office to sign some paperwork and hand over the keys, and he had advised her it would all go through officially on the day she saw the removal van. After giving them an hour to do whatever they were doing, she went and knocked on the door. The man who answered had a beard, needed a haircut, and was wearing corduroy trousers. She introduced herself as both the vendor, and his new next door neighbour. He was very friendly.

“Come in and meet my wife. My name is Simon, Simon Telfer, and my wife is Helen”. The woman who walked through from the kitchen was very thin. Mabel would have described her as ‘very skinny’. Her hair was very long, and her flowered dress had a pattern of yellow daisies on a dark green background. Reg would have called them Beatniks. They were almost certainly both older than her, but Mabel felt old in their company. Mabel asked if she could get them some tea, perhaps some biscuits too.

Helen was grinning. “Oh no, we don’t drink tea, and we don’t eat biscuits. They are all sugar and fat you know, Mabel”. Mabel thought they were posh, and a bit strange. What did you drink, if not tea? And who cared if biscuits were sugary? That’s what made them taste nice. So she told them about bin collection days, and where the good shops were in the town. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that they weren’t interested, so politely took her leave.

“Well, I am only next door, if you want to ask me anything. I work in Woolworth’s, so you might see me in there”.

Waiting for Reg to get home, Mabel was beginning to regret selling Winnie’s house. The new neighbours were nice enough, but it was clear they were not her sort of people.

Reg came in, smiling. “I see the people next door have got a foreign car, a Citroen. It’s parked right outside, so must be theirs. Left-hand drive too. Maybe they are French?” As he ate his sausage, eggs, and chips, Mabel told him about Simon and Helen. He shook his head. “A beard, you say? And corduroys? I reckon they are probably Beatniks. I bet they love poetry too. Oh well, let them get on with it, we could’ve got worse neighbours, even if they are not our sort of people”.

That night as Reg settled in front of the television, Mabel was still feeling sad. Winnie would not have wanted Beatniks to be living in her house, she was sure of that. In bed that night, she remembered those nights of passion and affection she had shared with Winnie, and secrely confessed to herself that she had been hoping for a housewife a lot like herself to buy the house next door.

But nothing was ever going to happen with Helen, she knew that for sure.

The Swinging Sixties passed Mabel by. Life with Reg had settled into a routine, and the new car had made trips down to see both sets of parents more comfortable. Reg had been right about doing well by the time he was thirty. Assitant Project Manager became Operations Manager, along with another big pay rise, and a company car, a Rover. Reg had to sell the Zephyr, but got a surprisingly good amount for it, which he duly gave to Mabel, as she had paid for it in the first place.

He discovered a new hobby too. With his fishing gear tucked away in the loft, he joined the golf club. “All the managerial types are members, Mabel love. It’s the ideal place to socialise with people of the same sort.” His increased pay meant he could afford the set of golf clubs and membership fees, though he had to pay someone to show him how to play it first. She accompanied him to a social evening there once, but the wives of the other men all looked down their noses at her. Probably because she worked in Woolworth’s, was her conclusion.

Simon and Helen still lived next door, though as expected, they had never become firm friends. But they did have a baby, a little girl they named Olivia. She was almost nine now, and she reminded Mabel of little Denise, and how grown up she would be. It wasn’t that the neighbours were not friendly, they just liked to live quietly. When Mabel had first told Helen about the best Butcher in town, she had laughed. “Butcher? Oh no, we don’t eat meat, we are vegetarian”. And they didn’t own a television either. When Reg ordered a modern replacement for Winnie’s old set, Mabel mentioned it to Helen. She was dismissive. “They don’t interest us, I’m afraid. We read books, or listen to music on the record player”.

Funny people, Mabel thought.

They still had that old French car too, and Simon drove it to work every day. Reg was amazed it was still running. “Has to be ancient now. You only have to listen to the racket it makes”. After Olivia was born, Helen gave up her job in London, and did part-time accounting for a company in the town. They dropped all the books off at her house, and collected them when she had finished. But it was a mark of just how little they knew about their neighbours that Mabel didn’t even know who she was working for.

With her fortieth birthday coming up, Mabel mainly sat alone waiting for Reg to get home, or when he was at the golf club. Her dad was ill, and her mum worn out looking after him. Harry Price had died the year before, dropped dead from a heart attack on his way to get the Sunday paper. They went down for the funeral, and Edna was remarkably chirpy. “It’s the way he would have wanted to go”. Not long after that, she went on a coach trip around the Italian lakes, flush with Harry’s insurance money. According to Reg, she had a fancy man now. He wasn’t happy about that. “Mum’s showing herself up. He’s only about fifty, they say. Don’t know what she’s thinking of”.

Other times, she wallowed in the fond memories of her short time with Winnie. The stolen kisses, the secret smiles, and those nights when they let go to passion. Reg wanted to take her to some restaurant in Cambridge for her fortieth. “It’s the bees knees, Mabel love. Derek told me the menu is in French, and everything”. Derek was Reg’s new pal at the golf club, married to Henrietta, the snootiest of the wives. He was retired, so she had no idea what him and Reg could have in common. She nipped the idea of that restaurant in the bud.

“Seeing as neither of us can speak French, and our favourite dinner is fish and chips, I can’t see the point of going to some fancy-pants place in Cambridge. Everyone will be looking at us, Reg. That’s not our sort of place”. His face flushed, and he got grumpy. “Maybe not your kind of place, but I’m managerial now, and I’ve been abroad. The waiter will tell us what the French means, I’m sure”. She wasn’t having it. “Well if Derek likes it so much, you take him. I ain’t going, and that’s an end to it”.

With that, she switched on the telly and ignored him for the rest of the evening.

Almost a month after her fortieth birthday, Mabel was in the office at work when one of the salesgirls came in. “Can you come out and see a customer, please? She wants to change a blouse, but it has been worn and is dirty. I told her no, so she asked to see my supervisor”.

The customer was standing at the back of the shop, still holding the blouse in question. Mabel guessed she was a little older than her, but she was smartly dressed, and wearing heavy make-up. She gave the woman her best smile. “How may I help you, Madam?” The blouse was pushed into her face. “I opened this yesterday to wear it for work, and the collar was all dirty. I couldn’t get back in with it yesterday, so I have brought it to return today”.

Mabel examined the garment, noting a dark line inside the collar indicating it had been worn more than once, or that it might have been made my some kind of make-up. But when she looked back at the woman, she was tongue tied. She was getting that look. The look that only women like Winnie and Mabel recognised. And that look made her heart beat faster, and completely changed what she had been about to say.

“Would you like to change it for a new one, or do you require a refund?”. The woman’s face softened. “Oh, a refund please. I am intending to go to the cinema on Friday evening. There’s a good film on and I want the money for my ticket and some ice cream”. Then she held out her hand, and gently squeezed Mabel’s arm.

“Thank you for being so kind”. Despite the obvious look of disapproval on the face of the salesgirl, she told her to arrange the refund. Then she stood watching as the woman left the shop with her money. If she looked back, that would confirm what she thought.

She looked back. And she winked too.

Before Reg left for work on Friday, Mabel stopped him as he picked up his briefcase. “I’m going to the pictures tonight, Reg. You get your fish and chips, I will have something later.” Reg was fine with that. “Okay, Mabel love. I might drive down to the golf club on my way home, have a bar snack there, and a few drinks with Derek”.

After work on Friday, Mabel went home and changed into something nice. She did her hair and make-up, and walked back into town. Outside the cinema, a small queue was forming for the evening performance. Sure enough, the woman was there, second in the line. She smiled when she saw Mabel, and called out to her. “Saved your place love, come up here”. After they had bought their tickets for the circle, the woman took her to one side of the auditorium doors.

“My name’s Elsie, Elsie Hughes. You okay to sit at the back of the circle, love?” Mabel nodded. “I’m Mabel, let’s sit anywhere you like”. When they got settled high up in the circle, there was nobody next to them. The closest people were sitting at least four rows in front. Mabel realised she didn’t even know what the film was, but she really didn’t care. Elsie leaned in close to her, whispering. “Thanks for helping me out with that blouse. I’ve been working as a part-time waitress for pin money, and didn’t have time to wash it. Sorry and all that, but I have a disabled son to keep, and I’m hard up. I was so glad it was you, I know we are the same, I saw it as soon as you came out from the back of the shop”.

They had their overcoats over their laps, and Elsie hardly waited for the film to start before sliding her hand up Mabel’s skirt. It felt like Winnie all over again. Mabel had waited for so long, she thought she might pass out with the pleasure. They had ice cream during the intermission, and when the film started again, Mabel returned the favour. By the time the film had finished, she couldn’t even remember what it was, or what had happened in the story.

Outside on the High Street, Elsie was direct. “I go this way. Can I come to yours another time? No good at my place, as my son is always around. What about you, can we make it happen”. Mabel was excited. “Sundays are good. My husband goes to the golf club at ten, and he rarely gets home until after dinner”.

Then she gave Elsie her address.

Elsie Hughes was not much like Winnie. She wasn’t one for sitting chatting, or watching television. Her style was to go straight up into the bedroom and get on with it. But she was much more experienced than Winnie, and Mabel was breathless after the tricks Elsie used on her. There wasn’t much of a pause before she wanted to start again, but long enough for Mabel to find out more about her.

“My dad was in the Air Force from the early days. He was a sergeant mechanic, so we got moved around a lot. I was born in Wales where my parents came from, but don’t remember it. I was still very young when we got moved to Lincolnshire, that’s where I went to school. Then when the war started, we were moved to Oakington, and that’s how I ended up in Cambridgeshire to start with. I always hated boys, rough and unattractive. But what could you do? back then there was no outlet for a girl like me, and I couldn’t exactly tell my parents I fancied girls. Reckon they would have locked me up”.

At that point, she stopped talking, and started the love-making all over again.

Mabel was thrilled, but exhausted when it was all over. Elsie didn’t seem satisfied, and stayed in bed chatting for a while. “I could only see one way out of it, getting pregnant, and having a man who had to marry me. But my mistake was choosing a Yank. He was keen enough to do the business, but when I told him I was expecting, he suddenly disappeared. I always thought he must have put in for a transfer back to the States. And he was probably married over there. But my mum knew I was up the duff, and wouldn’t hear of me trying to get rid of it. Terry was born in fifty-one, and mum took us in. Dad was already in hospital with lung cancer by then. Mum told him all those fags would kill him, and they did.”

She paused again, and Mabel knew what to expect. The woman was insatiable. Not a bad thing, after such a long dry spell.

Before she left for home, Elsie accepted a glass of Port in the living room, and continued her story.

“Once dad was gone, mum lived on his RAF pension, and a few cleaning jobs. I was working as a waitress wherever I could get a job, and between us we raised Terry as best we could. I tried looking for girlfriends, but it was bloody hard. Even the ones I knew were interested wouldn’t give in to their desires. I had to get buses into Cambridge to try my luck with the girl students at the colleges there. I had some good nights, but they were mostly bad. Mum had applied to the council for a three bed house, and they finaly offered us one here in Huntingdon when Terry started school. I managed to get full-time waitressing work at a hotel, and mum cared for Terry in the evenings. We are still there now, all these years later. Anyway, I had better go, Mabel. I wanted to say that I am glad we have found each other”.

Feeling worn out after three sessions, Mabel had a long bath. She was still soaking in it when Reg came home from the golf club.

“Mabel love, I have just had a good tip from a local councillor at the golf club. They are building some lovely three-bed bungalows in a cul-de-sac just up the road. We could buy one off-plan, no questions asked. It’s up to you, but I reckon we could get almost two grand for this house, and you wouldn’t need much more to buy one of those new builds. They are detached, and all have garages and a good sized garden. Two thousand seven hundred if we act now. What do you reckon, love? They might be more than three thousand if we wait until they are officially released”.

She shouted through the bathroom door.

“Tell them yes, Reg. I fancy a bungalow with a garage and good garden. By the time we sell this place, we won’t have that much more to find. I will give you the money for the deposit next week”.

Once he had gone back downstairs, she thought about her time with Elsie. And that made her tingle all over.

As she was drying herself in the bathroom, something occurred to Mabel. She had not been keeping up with the increase in house prices, but what Reg had said was the cost of the new house semed remarkably cheap to her. So she went downstairs in her dressing gown to speak to him about that.

He was eating a cheese and tomato sandwich sitting in his armchair, and reacted to Mabel’s question with a smile.

“Where’ve you been, Mabel love? Of course that’s not the total price. Houses are going up a lot, and that’s just the price for the building plot The finished bunglaow will double that, but our house is worth quite a bit too, and we can get a small mortgage for the difference, pay it off over fifteen years”. Mabel hadn’t been expecting to have a mortgage in her forties, but the idea of that new bungalow in the nice part of town really appealed to her.

“Okay, Reg. As long as the payments are reasonable, let’s do it. I will be coming to the solicitor to make sure my name goes on the deeds though”. Reg looked a bit hurt that she had said that, but he was so keen to improve his status in the town, he let that go. “I will see my builder friend at the golf club next week, get it all sorted. You can talk to Mr Walker and get our house on the market once we know the completion date of the build”.

While he was in such a good mood, Mabel added something.

“By the way, I have a nice new friend, Elsie Hughes. I met her at the cinema the other day, and we are going to be good friends, I’m sure. And before you complain, I can tell you she is not your sort of person. She works as a waitress, and has a son. But she’s not married”. Reg actually looked relieved. “That’s nice for you, Mabel love. You can get out and about a bit now, be good for you to have some company”.

The next few months were good ones for Mabel. She saw Elsie most Sundays, and they went to the cinema at least once a week too, whatever was showing. Her and Reg paid visits to the building site, and were able to choose the kitchen units, and the configuration of the bungalow to their own taste. Or Mabel’s taste at least, as Reg had little say in her decisions. They saved some money by having the garage attached to the house instead of being separate, and chose a wrap-around garden instead of a large one at the back.

She was getting used to the differences between Elsie and Winnie. There wasn’t the same affection, and never any mention of love, but the rest was far better, and more satisfying. People started to accept them as mature friends. The women at work asked Mabel what her and Elsie had done over the weekend, and she finally met Elsie’s mum and son. She couldn’t take to the boy though. He was spoiled rotten, and despite being in his late teens, he didn’t do any work.

Elsie made excuses for him, saying he had nervous problems, or his weight affected his ability to do certain jobs. Mabel could see through the lazy young man, but kept her opinions to herself. Reg met Elsie one day too, when she was invited round before the move to the new house. He seemed to be afraid of her, and made an excuse to go and see Derek about something.

Not long after, their house was sold, for much more than they had expected. The mortgage was going to be very small on the new bungalow, and easily affordable with Reg’s last pay rise. They got a moving date, and ordered some new furniture. Mabel was happy. A nice new home, a new lover, and everything going smoothly with Reg.

Then just before they were due to move, Mabel received bad news from London, and Reg received news he didn’t like.

Her dad had died, and the same week, her mum had a stroke. Reg got a wedding invitation as his mum was marrying her fancy man. Their world was turned upside down overnight, and they had to take time off to go to her dad’s funeral. With her mum unable to cope alone, they were going to have to put her into an old people’s home, or Mabel would have to take her in. Reg refused to attend his mum’s wedding, cutting off all ties with her. Mabel was sad, and not only because her dad had died. It was awful to see her mum in such a state. She couldn’t speak, couldn’t walk properly, and would need round the clock care.

Everything had been going so well too.

As it turned out, Molly White made the decision for her daughter. Unable to speak, she was still able to write, so when Mabel told her she was going to take her to live with them in Huntingdon, she made a writing motion with her hand. Reg handed her a pen and opened his diary at the back for her to write on. The message was clear.

‘Not your house. Your life. Not mine. Home is OK’. Mabel asked her outright. “So you would sooner go into the care home than live with us, mum?” Molly nodded vigorously, and managed a crooked smile to confirm her wishes.

As Reg drove them home that evening, Mabel had to admit to being overwhelmingly relieved. Having to care for her mum for however long she lived was not a prospect she had been relishing, but she would have done that had the decision gone the other way. Reg was obviously happy too. “I wil drive you down to see her whenever you want, Mabel. Promise”.

So the move went ahead, and she felt rather grand in the spanking new bungalow. Reg employed a local company to do the painting and wallpapering before the carpets went down, owned by another one of his golf club friends who gave him a good price. She took a week’s holiday from Woolworth’s to get it all arranged as she wanted, then Elsie came round as usual on the Sunday, keen to christen the new bed in Mabel’s room.

Elsie also had some ideas to discuss, mainly about trips and holidays. “I was thinking we could go on some coach trips, Mabel. Nobody thinks anything of two women friends sharing a room, and I have seen some advertised for nice spots in Yorkshire, or Devon if you prefer. They are not expensive, and I can pay my way”. One good thing about Elsie, even though she knew Reg and Mabel were well off, she never once asked for a penny from her friend, or expected her to pay more than half for anything they did. “And next summer I thought we could get a caravan in Scarborough for a week. Reg won’t object, and we can spend some extra time together with no work or distractions”.

By the end of the month, they had a coach trip to Devon to look forward to, and had booked a caravan for the following summer, within walking distance of the beach at Scarborough.

But Mabel couldn’t go on the coach trip to Devon, because her mum died two days before. Elsie understood, but went anyway. “No point wasting two tickets”. Mabel and Reg had to pay for the cremation and service, and drive down to South London on the day. They were the only mourners, along with an African woman who worked at the care home. She had only come along in case nobody was there to see mum off. Mabel cried a bit on the drive home. She wasn’t really crying for her mum, but because all she had left in the world now was Reg and Elsie.

Still, she now had Scarborough to look forward to.

Molly White had left her daughter some life insurance money. It was only one thousand pounds, but must have seemed a lot to her. She had paid the insurance man every week at the doorstep, and he had ticked off the payments in her little book. Other than the money, there were some framed photos that were boxed up by the home. She agreed to pay to have them posted to her. In the box was her mum’s wedding ring, a rolled-gold bracelet that dad had given her the day they got married, the four photos, and mum’s false teeth.

Sitting looking in the box made Mabel sob loudly. That was the sum of her mum’s entire life, right there. Reg felt sorry for her. “Don’t bother cooking tonight, Mabel love. I will go and get us fish and chips. Why don’t you have a glass of Port? Make it a large one”. She had two large ones before he got back with their dinner.

After they had eaten, Mabel poured her third large Port.

“I’m not ending up like mum, Reg. Not never, I tell you. I won’t end up like that”.

The week in Scarborough went well. The caravan was very nice, and considering they only needed one bed, very roomy too. They walked along the seafront, played Bingo, went to the cinema the only afternoon it rained, and spent most of the rest of the time in bed. Elsie really was up for it. Mabel couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t been. On the way home on the coach, Elsie had come to a decision.

“Once my mum has gone, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t stop over at mine sometimes. Terry won’t care, all he does is watch telly anyway. And with mum being diagnosed last month, it’s not going to be too long”. Mabel was confused. Elsie hadn’t mentioned anything about her mum all week, so she asked her what was up. “Colon cancer. She left it too late, so they say it’s inoperable. Won’t be long before she has to go in for terminal care, so she tells me”. Mabel nodded. Elsie was a hard woman, and showed no emotion at all.

Elsie’s mum lasted six weeks, most of that spent in hospital. Mabel went to the funeral out of respect, even though she had only met the old girl once. They had a few drinks in a pub after, and Terry and Elsie were both speculating about the insurance money. Mabel listened in, but didn’t comment. “Mum told me it is ten grand, Terry. That’s enough for your driving lessons, and getting you a small car. You’ll have to run me around though, no saying you’re too busy watching your programmes”.

Not long after that, Terry got his car. It was only a four-door Fiesta though, and a few years old too. Elsie wasn’t about to spend too much money on him, seeing as he had never worked. And Elsie got a full-time job, working in the baker’s five days a week from eight until four. She was able to give up the waitressing, and was better off than she had been in years. As for Terry, he still played the system. If there was an illness, he had it, whether physical or psychological. When they tried to cut his benefits, he claimed to be depressed and suicidal. After he spent a week in a psychiatric hospital in Cambridge, the authorities gave up on him and resumed his benefits. They even paid Elsie some money to be his carer, which stunned Mabel.

But the sleepovers at Elsie’s really made a difference. No worries about Reg coming home unexpectedly, and Terry didn’t seem to care less that they both slept in the same room. All he did was to watch telly and eat. It must have been obvious to a blind man what they were up to, but Terry was so made up about his car and resumed benefits, he never once mentioned it. And Reg didn’t care either. He had been made secretary of the golf club, and was hoping to become chairman soon. It was all he ever talked about, despite Derek having developed Angina, so no longer bothering to go to the club. Reg had a new best friend, Malcolm. Malcolm was single, and lived with his widower dad. Whenever she stayed over at Elsie’s, Reg and Malcolm seemed to have something planned too.

He made chairman two years later, greatly helped by Malcolm. “I’ve got my own car park space, reserved for the chairman. Can you believe that, Mabel love?” It seemed to her that it had become less about playing golf, and more about small town politics. But that same year he was promoted again. The railways were changing, and Reg was ahead of the game. They made him Operations Manager for the whole of Eastern England, and his salary doubled. “We have never been so well off, Mabel love. You sure you want to keep on working?”

Mabel was sure she didn’t. She had enough years in for a decent pension, and there were so many rumours about Woolworth’s closing down their operation in Britain. So she grabbed at his offer. “If you’re sure, Reg? Okay, I will hand in my month’s notice tomorrow”. They said they were sorry to see her go, and the manager told her that the pension would not be released until she reached sixty. But she resigned anyway

She took Elsie with her to her leaving party. Reg was staying overnight in Norfolk, for work.

Mabel soon settled into the new life of a housewife. Not having to hold down a full time job, she found her everyday chores quite pleasant, for the first time ever. The purchase of some cookbooks even saw her experimenting with some new dishes for dinner, many of which were not to Reg’s taste.

“What’s that flavour, Mabel love?” His face was screwed up as he spoke. “Garlic, Reg. It’s good for you, and adds something to a normal casserole”. He held up a spoon to show her what was on it. “I don’t think these peas are cooked properly, love. And they have gone a funny colour too”. She shook her head. “They are chickpeas, Reg. Good roughage”. To be fair to him, he carried on eating. But she wasn’t surprised to hear him making a cheese and pickle sandwich after she had gone to bed.

Reg’s job took him away from home more and more, with frequent overnight trips to attend meetings, mainly in London. He still refused to have anything to do with his mum, so stayed in hotels arranged by the railway. On those nights, Elsie would stop over. They would listen to records and drink Port, sometimes they even danced together. The occasional coach trips were more Elsie’s thing. Mabel wasn’t so keen on visiting stately homes, but she enjoyed the seaside trips, and the ones where they stopped overnight. They went back to Scarborough the next summer, and it was even better than the first time.

It seemed her and Reg had worked out a pretty good way of living apart together, with nobody apparently suspecting it was all a sham. He never asked her about Elsie, and she didn’t mention Malcolm. Then one day Reg announced him and Malcolm were going on a golfing holiday. Two weeks in Florida. Mabel was stunned. “All the way to America? Are you going on a liner?” He chuckled. “Course, not. We are flying. Gonna get a taxi from here down to Gatwick Airport, and fly on Panam”.

While he was away, Elsie moved in for the whole two weeks. She had to go to work still, but came home every evening and they sat and ate dinner like a real couple. Elsie was not so fond of garlic either, as it turned out. “I can’t eat this, darling. It’s got a funny smell”. After that, Mabel cooked her traditional food.

The years slipped by, each one much the same as the one before. It shocked Mabel when Reg started to talk about retirement. “I might as well go at fifty-five in a couple of years, Mabel love. The pension is bigger if I wait until I’m sixty, but we can manage well enough either way”. The last thing she wanted was for Reg to be around the house all day. Hopefully, he would just spend more time at the golf club, but you never knew. She gave it a few days, then broached the subject.

“Been thinking, Reg. I don’t get my Woolworth pension until I’m sixty, nor my State Pension until then neither. So why don’t you wait until you’re sixty, get that bigger pension? At least that way if anything happens to you, I will be alright. And you should increase our life insurances too, just in case”. Reg nodded. Okay, whatever you say, love. Though the house will be paid off soon, and we ain’t got nobody to leave any money to”. She smiled. “We’ve got each other to leave it to. When we’re both gone, I don’t care what happens to the money”.

Elsie was seven years older than Mabel, so she got her State Pension and retired when Mabel was fifty-three. With no intention of carrying on working in the baker’s, Elsie became a daily visitor to Mabel’s house. She would get Terry to drop her off after Reg had left for work, and then collect her in the late afternoon if Reg was due back, or stop overnight if he was away working. They were happy times, with the women completely relaxed in each other’s company, living something of their fantasy where they were always together. Some days, they didn’t even bother to get dressed again, after the first time in the bedroom. Mabel joked that they were like those Hippes in America, wandering around in the buff.

She tried not to think about Reg’s impending retirement.

That was going to change everything.

Mabel didn’t go to Reg’s retirement party, as it was held at his head office in London. It would all be work people, and she didn’t know any of them anyway. Instead, she sat at home wondering what it was going to be like, having him at home every day. He got back late, in a taxi. They had given him a swanky new set of golf clubs as a leaving present, and had all signed a huge card that had got bent up on the train home. He went straight up to bed, the worse the wear for a day of drinking.

As it turned out, her fears were groundless. Reg had plans, most of them involving the golf club. He was going to oversee a lot of renovations to the buildings, and bring the club up to date to attract more members. By the end of his first week of retirement, he was at the club more or less full-time, seven days a week. Greatly relieved, Mabel was able to carry on as normal. Reg even employed a part-time gardner to take care of the outside jobs.

The next ten years seemed to fly by. For her and Elsie, the trips continued, and the occasional holidays too. Though their sex life tailed off, as they both got older. More like sisters now, they spent most of their free time together. When all the work had been completed at the golf club, Reg was off on golfing holidays. Scotland, Florida again, and Spain. He even talked about part-ownership of a flat on a golf course in Spain, which he said he might buy with Malcolm. Mabel encouraged him to go ahead with that, as he mentioned they woud be there for at least six weeks every year.

He was away to look at properties in Spain, when Mabel got a call one evening. It was Malcolm on the phone. He never rang her.

“I’m sorry to tell you that Reg had a bad turn in the hotel this afternoon. They got a doctor in to see him, and he sent him to hospital in an amubulance. I’m phoning from the hospital now, I’m afraid it’s a stroke. He is conscious, but he can’t speak properly, or move his right arm. I will ring you again tomorrow and let you know the progress”.

She was thinking about her mum. After a long silence, she thanked Malcolm for calling, then rang Elsie to tell her. Elsie voiced her fears. “That means you’ll be looking after him, darling. Doesn’t sound good, does it?”

When Reg got home almost a week later, he looked like a different person. He could only speak what sounded like babbling. He dragged his right leg, and had limited use of his right arm. Malcolm brought him home in a taxi. “Here is all the paperwork from the Spanish hospital, Mabel. Your doctor here will have to make an appointment for Reg to be seen in hospital in Cambridge. Let me know if I can help”. He handed her a business card with his number on it. She had to get Reg undressed, and help him into bed. Then she sat wondering how she was ever going to cope with an invalid to look after.

Elsie turned up the next morning with a full shopping bag. She had bought a plastic cup with a spout, a plastic device for Reg to use to pee into, some disposable gloves, and a big plastic bib that was washable. “I’ve been to that disability shop in town, Mabel. You are gonna need all sorts of stuff. Reg won’t be able to hold a cup properly, and he’s not about to manage keep going to the toilet without waking you up. There’s a phone number on the receipt, they said they can send someone round to fit bars for him to hold on to, and a seat that goes under the shower. Don’t worry about the money, I paid for these things”.

She stayed for a cup of tea and a piece of Manor House cake, then popped into Reg’s room to say hello before Terry came to collect her. Lowering her voice to a whisper, she spoke to Mabel in the hallway. “He doesn’t look good, does he? No more golf club for him. And you had better think about driving lessons now. He won’t be driving you anywhere ever again, that’s for sure”.

For what seemed like ages, Mabel sat staring at the receipt, wondering whether to ring the disability shop. But when she heard some incomprehensible yelling from Reg’s room, she realised it was time to start looking after him.

What else could she do? He was her husband.

Managing life with Reg gave Mabel so much to do. They had to go to the bank to arrange for her to get a power of attorney, so she could pay the bills and draw money from his account. Getting into and out of taxis was a mission, and the smallest journey started to wear her out. The disability shop was a godsend though. After a couple of phone calls and one trip to the shop, they had soon sorted out so much. There were rails around the house and next to the toilet, a ramp at the front to cover the two steps, and a new recliner chair for Reg that was electrically operated.

Later on, they got a commode chair to leave in his room so he didn’t have to keep going along the corridor to the toilet, and then had the bathroom converted into a shower-only wet room with a seat and rails for Reg. Then a grab bar was fixed to the ceiling over his bed, so Mabel didn’t have to keep hauling him in and out. It all came at a price of course, and it was lucky that Reg had got a rather large lump sum on top of his monthly pension. Money wasn’t a worry, even though everything else was. The best thing they suggested in the shop was a device that Reg could use to talk. As soon as Mabel saw that demonstrated, she bought one.

Reg could type into the small machine, using his left hand. When he had typed what he wanted to say, he pressed a button, and the machine spoke to Mabel. It had a voice a bit like a serious robot, but having it made such a difference. Using that device, he told her to sell his car, learn to drive, and get something smaller that would suit her. He recommended a Honda for reliability. First things first, she had to apply for a driving licence by visiting the Post Office. When that came, she contacted one of the local driving schools. It had never entered her head to learn to drive, but the alternative was relying on taxis all the time.

Meanwhile, her relationship with Elsie was going downhill fast. She couldn’t leave Reg on his own for too long, and Elsie felt uncomfortable about doing anything with Reg in the house. Elsie was her usual tough self. “We can keep in touch by phone, but let me know when you think you can go on some trips, or stop over at my place”.

Ricky was the driving instructor assigned to teach her. But after six lessons in his Ford Focus, it was very obvious that Mabel would never understand how to use a manual gearbox, and keep her eyes on the road at the same time. He recommended she went for an automatic-only licence, and he also recommended a different instructor. It was much better with Elaine. She was very patient, and Mabel soon got used to the automatic car. “It’s like a bumper car at the funfair”, she told an unconvinced Elaine. After failing her test twice for the approach to roundabouts, Elaine took her out for a two-hour lesson before her third test, and spent almost all of it going around roundabouts.

She was as pleased as punch when she passed, though she didn’t confide her lack of confidence to Elaine, or Reg. He was delighted though, and used his machine to tell her to contact the Honda dealer. They brought a car to the house, and agreed to take Reg’s two year-old Mercedes in part-exchange. It was too big for her, even though it was automatic. Reg did most of the deal using his machine, and because the Mercedes was worth a lot of money, they didn’t have much more to pay. Reg paid for it, and typed into his machine. ‘A present for you, Mabel love’. Three days later, a brand new Honda Jazz automatic arrived, in a nice shade of metallic blue.

Not long after that, Reg typed that she should contact a company he knew, and get an automatic garage door to replace the old one. It would make life easier for Mabel, and it wasn’t as if they couldn’t afford it.

Mabel’s first trip in the new car was to the Doctor, to collect Reg’s prescription from the pharmacy. While she was out, she went to see Elsie. But Elsie wasn’t interested in the new car. She whispered to Mabel in the kitchen.

“Let’s go to my room. It’s been a long while”. Terry was watching television.

Although she never really had the confidence to travel far outside the county, Mabel soon got used to driving her new car. She took Reg to the hospital for his check-ups, got her shopping from the supermarket on the edge of town, and occasionally took Elsie for a half-day trip when the weather was nice.

Reg had a few visitors at first, mainly pals from the golf club. But Malcolm never came back after that day he brought Reg home from Spain. After a while, Reg didn’t want any visitors, telling Mabel he could see the pity in their eyes. Besides, it was hard work using his machine to have a conversation for more than a few minutes.

Having established a routine, Mabel would wake Reg around eight, empty his commode, and help him into the shower. Once he was dressed, she was usually exhausted, and would make some breakfast before they just sat in front of the TV before she went out wherever she had to go. He couldn’t really be left for more than half a day, as he couldn’t make himself any hot drinks or something to eat. And Mabel had her own problems. Arthritis in her knees and back was making life difficult, so much so that Reg suggested she pay someone to come in and do his care routine.

She agreed to look into that on the Monday following, but on Saturday morning she found him dead in bed when she went to wake him up.

Sitting in the living room, Mabel wondered what to do. He was obviously dead, as his body was cold. Should she ring the doctor? The Police? An ambulance perhaps? In the end, she rang 999 and asked for the police. “My husband is dead. I just found him in bed”. They sent an ambulance anyway, and a young man told her he had been gone too long so they couldn’t do anything. As they were talking, the police turned up. Mabel made them all a cup of tea, and as the kettle boiled, she was wondering why she hadn’t cried.

He was taken away by the undertakers, and they said they would talk to his doctor. Cause of death was given as a second stroke, and the body was released for the funeral with no need for a post-mortem. The golf club hosted the wake and paid for it too, and the crematorium was packed with Reg’s friends from the club. Mabel sat with Elsie, thinking about how she still hadn’t cried.

After that, Elsie more or less took over her life. She went with her to the doctor’s, or the hospital, and accompanied her on the trips to the supermarket too. There was no sex any longer though. That had all stopped while she had been forced to stay at home and look after Reg. But they still went everywhere together, including the regular coach trips to places Elsie was keen to see. Mabel didn’t mind too much. It was company for her, and it wasn’t as if she had any other friends or family to spend time with.

Still, she had been grateful for the car breaking down that morning, and not having to go to Downton Abbey. Her knees hurt too much if she was walking around for too long. Sitting with her cup of tea, she opened a packet of Fig Rolls, and ate four of them before her programme finished. Then she switched over to watch the early news, expecting Elsie to ring at any minute to moan at her for not going on the coach trip.

It didn’t register at first, so she had to watch the bulletin again, when it all got repeated fifteen minutes later. Coach crash. Four dead, six injured. It had been returning to Huntingdon with a pensioner’s group, after they had visited Highclere Castle. That was the coach she would have been on, the one that Elsie had actually been on. No mistake.

Then the phone rang. Mabel smiled. That would be Elsie, using her mobile phone to tell her she was alright.

But it was Terry, and he sounded upset. “My Mum’s dead, Mabel. Killed in a coach crash. The police came round to tell me, and I had to go to the hospital in Cambridge to identify her. I don’t know what to do, Mabel”. She hung up without saying anything, and went back to sit down.

Suddenly, tears flowed down her cheek, and she reached for a tissue from the box on the side table.

But she wasn’t crying for Elsie, she was crying for herself.

Because now she was completely alone.

The End.

9 thoughts on “Life With Mabel: The Complete Story

All comments welcome

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.