by Alyson Faye
The mill town of Saltaire heaved with tourists, bargaining at street bazaars, eating chilli tacos and hot dogs in the bunting-laden streets, sinking pints outside Titus Salts bar and posing by the stone lions, arms draped around carved manes. A kite snagged in a tree, a child cried and inside the dim, cool innards of the Victoria Road antiques shop, Lou found a piece of her family, residing in a box.
Newly single, she’d been renting in the village for a handful of months, had barely unpacked the boxes, unable to face the solitariness of the task, epitomised daily by the use of one mug.
The street fair, the defiant music and the smells of the food had tempted her outside, into the warm May sunshine. The neighbour’s cat, a black and white, with a trompe l’ oil eye patch, wove around her ankles, purring with passion.
Victoria Street was like a gaudy whore, all front and buxom, in glittery clothes. Lou relished the transformation, and bought a latte-to-go, before wandering down to the river and the florid-painted barge which sold ‘the best ice cream on the water’. The swans, ever so haughty, stalked the tourists. Lou much preferred the waddling, quacking ducks. They seemed friendlier and easier to please.
On the return walk she stopped at the antiques shop, Kat’s Curios, though who the titular Kat had been, remained a mystery. At the door a life-size, cerise-lipped, Betty Boop winked at Lou, and a stainless steel dog bowl glinted in the sunshine.
Lou nodded ‘hi’ to the regular lady at the till, and began to browse. The street sounds faded, the air was cooler; she was alone in her head.
Sepia images of Bradford, the Dales, the moors,
the Brontes, Haworth – riffled past her fingers, dust motes flew upwards,
whilst clusters of monochrome faces peered at her. Men in flat caps, with
luxuriant moustaches, tweed jackets, outside pubs; women tied up in aprons, on
bicycles, in yards heaped with laundry, in the mills. There were ladies
corseted into elaborate Edwardian gowns, posing arm-in-arm, under hats as large
as trays. There were amateur dramatic groups posing on stages, theatre
settings . . . Lou paused, went back,
double-checked the face, took a deep breath
and mouthed the name printed below the image: Edith Van Morris, Actress, 1923.
Lou handed over the three £1 coins in a daze, its price, and wandered home, clutching the card. The eye-patched pirate cat greeted her.
Inside, in a box labelled, ‘Family Albums’, Lou dug down and unearthed one of cream faded linen, passed down from her mother’s mother.
Lou remembered scraps of gossip drip-fed by her mother :- of a scandal, rumours of a baby born out of wedlock, somewhat improbably a rich Lord, a lost career, a hasty marriage, alcoholism, decline, and the family’s deep-felt shame. It had been a tale from another era, ancient history and nothing to do with Lou, or her fierce ambition to be an actress.
This ambition had led to a hard-won drama degree, driven her through the highs and lows of touring, studded with fallow periods of ‘resting’, when waitressing had paid the bills. How, only in the last year, she’d given up on her dream and got a ‘a proper job’ in an office. But that concession hadn’t saved her long-term relationship.
Lou sat, running her fingers over the faded postcard, ‘Grandma?’ she whispered.This version of Edith didn’t look as though she’d ever give in or give up. Family lore said otherwise. ‘Was Oliver the love of your life?’
The album resting on her knee Lou leafed through the vellum pages, watching the years leap forward. There, she’d found her! At a post-war family picnic in Halifax, the still-lovely face shaded by a hat, but it was the same woman - her grandmother, now Mrs Edith Lomax. The face had the same high cheekbones, the wide lips, but her eyes were dulled, a little vacant.
Edith’s husband, Dickie Lomax, sat beside her; florid and fat, proprietorial arm resting on his wife’s leg, cigar in mouth. Children of various ages and heights, including Lou’s mother, just a chubby toddler, sprawled, lay or knelt around the couple, alongside Lomax’s brother, wife and offspring.
‘Happy families,’ Lou murmured.
She pinned the two photographs of the contrasting Ediths on the cork board. Twenty-plus years apart; a chasm between them. A life loved; a life lost.
Lou caught a glimpse of her own face in the mirror, recognising now the same planes in the cheekbones and flare of the lips; the shared DNA leaping out.
Lou flicked on the kettle, and picked up the ‘To Do’ jotter. Reactivate acting ad in ‘Spotlight’, she scrawled in neon pink marker.
She wrote six more words on the whiteboard, before she busied herself chopping up vegetables and peeling potatoes for supper. She took the trouble to lay the table, putting flowers in a vase. Supper for one was just fine, in fact it was perfect.
Above her, on the board, in block red capitals - TELL EDITH’S STORY.
Beneath that in smaller writing :- Adopt a cat.
About the author
Alyson lives in the UK with her family. She works as a tutor/editor. Her short fiction has been published on the Horror Tree, in The Casket of Fictional Delights and here on CafeLit amongst others and in many anthologies.
She is often to be found on the moor with her dog, Roxy.