Wednesday, 4 November 2009

I knew this would be hard to keep up

I really do want to upload some of my written stuff. Here's a short story. I'm sure you know that I own the copyright on all my work. If you wish to quote or use something, please ask for permission. You'll probably get it!

The Jacket

Florence was not usually bad-tempered. She had been married to Harry long enough to realize that she couldn't change him. He came from a family who believed that everything would come in useful one day. His parents' house had always been full of objects which had either been bought and hardly used, or borrowed and never returned to their rightful owners, or even stolen by Great Aunt Petal, who had a weakness for shop-lifting. Great Aunt Petal's objects were always kept well out of sight, but it was impossible not to bump into or fall over everything else in the house.
When Harry started going out with Florence, he told her that his family were in the antique business, which could have been true, but wasn’t. They spent all their spare time tracking down old clocks and china, books and pictures, coins and medals. She didn't know then that Harry's family home was already bursting at the seams, because Harry was a bit shy about taking her home for tea.
Then, one day, when Harry didn't appear at their usual place at the usual time, Florence decided not to go and look for him.
When she finally reached Harry's home after a long bus ride from one end of the town to the other, his family made her very welcome, leading her through the bric-a-brac into the parlour, where they offered her a very good cup of tea in a china cup with a gold rim. They were so charming that she almost forgot what she had come for. And she had no reason to think that the family income came from anything as staid as running a fish-shop. After all, the whole house smelt of beeswax.
Florence didn't mind wearing the ring Great Aunt Petal migth have been given by her soldier sweetheart before he went to the war and never came home. She forgave Harry for not telling her the truth about the fish shop. But she drew the line at hoarding rubbish, and that included Harry’s old clothes.
Only the day before had he refused for the tenth time to wear the smart new sports jacket Florence had bought him in favour of an ancient tweed jacket. An insurance man did not go round in rags.
"You should try to look smart, Harry," she had told him. "Your customers want to see a bright, smart insurance agent at their front door, not a tramp."
"Don't go on at me, Flo," Harry had replied. "I like this jacket, and if I like it then they'll have to like it, too."
Harry came home early that afternoon. The garden was looking awful and he had promised Florence that he would tidy it up. He chained Brutus, a short-haired, short-legged, cowardly creature with nothing to recommend it, to his kennel to stop him getting in the way, and started to work down the list of jobs his wife had given him to do.
While Harry was in the back garden singing as he went, Florence was in the bedroom turning out the wardrobe. Wednesday was the day Mrs Smith-Beecham from the charity shop called to see if there was anything she could take to sell, and Florence had made up her mind to get rid of the old jacket once and for all.
Florence had only just closed the front door behind Mrs Smith-Beecham, who came in for tea if she got the chance, but left quite quickly this time, because she was very pleased with what Florence had given her and didn't want her changing her mind, when Harry rushed in from the garden.
"I'd forgotten," he panted. "Golf Club annual meeting at six. Must get there early. My turn to move the tables and chairs. Are my brown shoes clean?"
Before Florence could stop him he had bounded up the stairs two at a time and she heard him fling open the door of the wardrobe.
Then she heard him muttering and cursing as he emptied its contents.
Then she heard him shout:
"Flo - ho? Flo - ho?" and when she didn't answer:
"Florence? Where are you? Where's my jacket? What have you done with my jacket?"
Florence climbed the stairs slowly, trying to decide how to break the news.
Harry was still rummaging, by now knee-deep in clothing. He was furious.
"It was here this morning and now it's gone. It hasn't got legs, Flo, so where is it? It can't have walked away all by itself."
Florence felt the heat rise in her cheeks.
"I.......I took it to Spotoff's, dear," she invented. "At least it'll be clean."
"Without asking me? When?"
"Just now, while you were in the garden. Didn't you hear me leave? I shouted 'goodbye'."
Harry believed her. Florence started to feel better.
"I suppose you were singing too loud, dear," she finished, uncrossing her fingers behind her back..
"Huh!" replied Harry. "Well, I suppose I'd better put the new one on."
"Yes, dear," said Florence. "And can you take old Brutus round the block before you go to the Golf Club? I'll tidy up in here while you're out."
Harry felt a bit guilty about the mess. He unchained Brutus, and off they went side by side down the road.
Harry was so busy thinking about where his old jacket could be that Brutus was able run off on a special mission. By the time Harry noticed that Brutus was missing, there was no sign of him, so he continued down the High Street looking in all the shop windows. He was dawdling. The story about the tables and chairs was not strictly true and Brutus would find his way home as usual. Florence would have forgotten that he was supposed to be taking Brutus out for a walk. She would probably be making jam, or pickles, or both. No matter that there were already about two hundred jars of jam and pickles in the pantry. They would never run out of jam or pickles.
When Harry reached the charity shop he stopped as usual to stare at the window display. To his astonishment, its centrepiece was a sports jacket identical to the one he thought he still had.
He couldn't resist entering the shop to get a closer look at it.
Then he couldn't resist trying it on, and when Mrs Smith-Beecham told him he looked charming, he couldn't resist asking her how much she wanted for it.
He was so delighted with his purchase that he emptied the pockets of the old (new) jacket and donated it to the charity there and then. He couldn't get over his luck, and forgetting all about the Golf Club, he hurried back home to show it to Florence, who was in the garden picking yet more gooseberries for yet more of her special sweet pickle.
"Flo-ho?" he called, as he approached the cottage. "Flo-ho, guess what I've got!"
She could not guess, of course, but she could tell by Harry's voice that he was very excited.
"What's the matter....?" she began. She looked up and broke off as she saw what Harry was wearing.
"Where did you get that jacket," she demanded.
"It's not what you think, Flo! I haven't been to the dry cleaners to collect it," said Harry.
Florence knew he hadn't, of course.
"I had this great stroke of luck while I was out with Brutus," Harry explained.
"Oh," said Florence. "He didn't tell me about that."
"What do you mean, didn’t tell you?" said Harry.
"Well, a dog looking just like Brutus came home all by himself a few minutes ago," she explained sarkily.
"Ah, yes, well......." Harry stuttered. "What do you think about this jacket, Flo? Isn't it the spitting image of the one you took to Spotoff''s?"
It was now Florence's turn to stutter "Where.....?."
".... did I get it. At the charity shop dear. A bargain, too! And now I'll always be able to wear one or the other," said Harry happily.
"One or the other?"
"In rotation. The one that's at the cleaner's and this one," finished Harry, triumphantly.
Florence searched frantically for a solution to what was becoming an extremely tricky situation for her.
"You don't need two jackets the same, Harry," she invented. "I'll take the other one straight from the cleaner's to the shelter for the homeless. There are so many people there needing jackets."
"I won't hear of it," protested Harry. "You'd better give me the cleaning-ticket before you do something stupid."

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