Sunday 19 November 2023

Sunday Serial: The Story Weaver and Other Tales by Sally Zigmond, POSTCARDS FROM LILA. homemade lemonade


I'm taking liberties, I know, Dear, telephoning you at your office. Only, I'm bored. Why? Because I'm having to sit here resting my poor, swollen ankles, watching the what I think is the sea recede to infinity. I should be well into the latest adventures of Millie Wagstaff. But the silly girl has clammed up on me and ink dries up in my Parker for want of inspiration. I've even switched to a pencil but it's no use. It's too hot for baby, me, my pen or Millie Wagstaff. I could take a stroll along the pier seeking ideas. Doctor Williams said it would do me good but it’s too hot, I’m as big as a whale—or an airship—and don’t want to frighten the donkeys. You’re laughing at me, Will Marchmont. I can hear it in your voice. But it’s the dreaded Lila who’s put me in mind of airships.

                        Yes, another postcard! That’s at least one a day since Llangollen. Not content with disturbing my solitude among the mountains, desperately scribbling undisturbed to finish off Millie Wagstaff and the Sinister Suffragette, I live in fear that she’ll seek me out here in Southend, too. So let’s hope this heatwave continues. If it’s too hot for her to move an inch, as she complains, so she’ll hardly make it to Southend. Mind you, she’d find anywhere too hot for her this summer, given her size. I know, I know. Catty. Unworthy of the young wife of an up-and-coming merchant banker or even Pauline Marchmont, celebrated authoress of the Millie Wagstaff Mysteries.

            Then again, I don’t see why I have to be sympathetic to a woman who tells me she has a medical reason for her enormous bulk and then never stops eating. You wouldn’t believe how many cream-cakes she demolished in Llangollen.

            Sorry, I'm nattering on. I can see you sighing and desperately pretending to be listening to one of your tedious banking associates in case Sir Frederick happens to pop in your office. Yes, I know I shouldn’t telephone you at work, darling—I take it London is even hotter than here—but I have so very little to distract me in Southend. My only entertainment is the sight of my fellow guests setting off to the beach or the pier; the ladies twirling bright parasols and shoring off their nineteen-inch waists; the men with boaters atop shiny red faces and peeling noses thinking they’re the bee’s knees rather than music-hall comics.  Don’t you just love the British on holiday? Only, where's the sea? It's called Southend-on-Sea, for heaven's sake but the tide goes out for miles and I can't be bothered to go and dip my boiling toes in it.

                        Crabby? Sorry, darling, but you’d be crabby, too, waiting for baby while he kicks all day and night trying to escape. Mind you, the sea-air must be doing me some good. I managed bacon and eggs this morning! (Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn into Lila! I’m too vain.) But I’d rather be in beautiful Llangollen, with you, this time, and not a seaside guest-house trying desperately to keep out of everyone's way and their questions about baby and what names we've chosen and if we want a boy. It's hardly scintillating conversation. And I miss you, too, darling boy. You will be able to take some leave this year, won’t you? I am desperate to exorcise the memories of that woman. I’m terrified she’ll pop out from behind every ice-cream parlour or tea shop with her “Coo-ee, dear!” and her “Not ‘arfs”.

                        Yes, I know she means well and there’s no harm in her but I wish she hadn’t made a beeline for me that first day in Wales. All I did was take pity on her and invite her to my breakfast table my very first day because the other ladies seemed not to want to talk to her. I now know why, of course, but the damage is done. She wouldn’t leave me alone after that. I feel I'll be stuck with her forever and her postcards.

            Yes, I said. Another postcard. Not just two. You’re not listening, darling. She sends one every day. Six, so far. And she will keep calling me Poppy. I was foolish enough to blurt out your pet name for me but made it clear she should call me Pauline. But would she take the hint? She never listens to anyone else but herself.

            According to her latest missive—if I can make any sense of it at all—someone called Percy is being impossible and hasn’t telephoned. And that Agnes (wife, sister, mother – who cares?  I'd lost interest and was thinking of Millie) was forever staring out of the window, and I quote—“looking for airships I should think.” I expect this Agnes couldn’t bear listening to Lila a moment longer than two minutes like everyone else. Even her sons have gone as far away from her as is humanly possible until they learn how to build sky-rockets. She says her “big boy,” David, who went to live in South Africa (or was it South America?) is the spit of you. Lord above! As if. She only saw you briefly when you came to collect me from Llangollen in the Wolseley. And the younger son, Jack, had gone to ‘seek his fortune’ in Canada where he married a Red Indian squaw! She’s lost her appetite because of it—or so she says. The sale of cream cakes in Watford must have plummeted in that case. Have you read about it in The Times?

            Don’t you dare miaow me, Will Marchmont!

            You’re right. But there is something about that woman that gets under my skin. It’s all my own fault—as ever. I shouldn’t have given her this address, but at least once I go home, she won’t know where I am, so I shall be free.

            Yes, you’re right again. (That’s why I adore you, you know!) I shall miss her in a strange sort of way. I suppose it’s because I have nothing else to distract me since Millie refuses to co-operate. Did I tell you my publisher telephoned me yesterday – actually telephoned –  a thing never heard of from an old-fashioned gentleman such as him – with his copperplate script – asking when he could expect Millie's latest adventure? I'm keeping Hardcastle Brothers afloat single-handedly, as it is. I bluffed and blustered and said he wasn’t to worry. That caused a stir in the boarding house over breakfast I can tell you. How they whispered over their bacon.

            But, yes, I am worried about not writing. My mind is blank. Perhaps I should invite Lila here to explain why Percy is impossible, why he didn’t telephone and what’s that about a bank book (I can’t decipher her scribbles.) Do you reckon Agnes has a Balkan lover who pilots an airship and she is waiting for him to appear in the sky to drop secret documents through her window? And what was the reason for Jack’s silence for over three years? Was he in prison, the Foreign Legion, or prospecting for gold in Canada ..?

            Will Marchmont, you are a genius! That’s it. Millie Wagstaff is off to the Yukon on the scent of a Balkan airship pilot who’s stolen government secrets. Mr Hardcastle’s going to be so pleased with me. I’d better get scribbling so I can finish this wretched novel  before baby arrives—or the sea laps at my feet. Whichever is sooner.

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