38 - Discovering the DEAD Shop

 


 I had been feeling melancholy for the last few days and was dreamily watching the rain lashing against the window thinking about how life could be such a bitch. Stuff was going down everywhere. Cards cloned and finances flushed down the old crapper. My boss giving me a cardboard box to fill and a cheque for six months' pay without too much explanation. Paddling in the freezer puddle and chucking out rotting food. And the boys? Well, the boys, need I say more. Loud and rushing about. And the car? What a pile of old rusted junk. I was just thinking how pleasant it would be to be free of all this, to have a life of carefree abandon. Then, after a short spell of silent contemplation, with a shrug of resignation I abandoned my thoughts in exchange for the sanctuary of my bed.

 The Igglesons lived in the tall, rambling house on the corner adjacent to where the Art Deco style cinema used to be that was now the swankiest restaurant in town. The house was old and built of clay bricks that had no uniformity, the type of bricks that, years ago, were back yard made and fired in a make-shift kiln, giving a kind of hotchpotch appearance that although looking rather contorted were, nonetheless, kind of pleasing to the eye. It was widely considered the Igglesons were the sort of people who lived within an ideal world. A place where everything was assumed as wonderful and colourful and full of the most exciting things, where problems failed to penetrate and life had every single meaning. I imagined they would rise in the morning singing happy tunes and retire at night with thoughts of seagulls and golden sand and the luxuries of far off places.

 Mr Iggleston, Stan, was assumed to work somewhere doing something but no one knew where or what. Mrs Iggleston, Thelma, was assumed not to work although she left home at nine every morning wearing a smart outfit that would have suited someone of extreme wealth. The type who would be wearing a long string of pearls, certainly natural pearls, even though they were considered by some to be unlucky if worn before midday and huge diamond stud earrings and a natural fur collared coat even though it was thought against all modern wildlife protection principles. Contrary to popular belief I often thought that actually she might have worked maybe in some fashion house or boutique for the very posh or perhaps even for herself promoting the expensive things bought in those twee gift and sickly smelling candle shops from an upstairs office in one of the smart uptown office blocks. The thing was though that no one knew the truth of their situation. It was a mystery contained within an impenetrable fog.

 The Igglesons were part of our crowd, or so we thought, although they were never really with us so to speak. Actually it was abundantly clear that no one knew them at all. They were there at our functions with their stone faces and bolt on expressions, those early evening soirees that forced some that were ambivalent about their dress to don their best frocks and tailored suits. Black tie regalia even. Cocktails and champagne and canapes. Maud only drank gin on these occasions. I am sure it was as a result of her losing the beloved family patronymic that she exchanged for Jones. John, her husband, an extremely amiable person, loved her dearly and thought her amusing as she swayed around the place but he never picked her up when the haze finally reached her knees. That task, universally, was left to me and George who being a huge Scotsman had arms and legs and strength like an elephant and a huge ginger beard reaching to his chest and a tartan Tam o Shanter perched on buffed up curly ginger hair requiring only my guidance to pour her into the back of their pristine 1950’s Morris Mayflower that was a family heirloom and usually signalling the end of the evening's entertainment.

 The lavish gold trimmed invitation had arrived the week before the day the Igglesons hosted. It was January and cold and frosty and most people were hunkered into their warm sitting rooms eating hot crumpets dripping with butter and watching assorted TV. Along with the vast majority of friends we chit-chatted as we waited and froze on the doorstep, admiring the brickwork, while listening to the triple cuckoo response to the bell push. It was six thirty exactly when the door was opened and incidentally the exact time printed so precisely on the card. A tall, fully attired butler stood six steps back displaying amazing shiny white teeth and holding, without wavering, a silver salver with the exact number of full champagne flutes. A similarly fully attired maid with crisp, starched, frilly headband, a definite throwback and so incongruous in the modern age, took our coats and hats, scarves and gloves and with champagne in hand we were directed by the butler into the drawing room en masse.

 The Igglesons two boys were standing by the fire in perfectly ironed striped pyjamas, precisely creased trouser legs and all, hair slicked down with arm outstretched offering a manufactured handshake before regimentally walking upstairs to disappear without ever a peep. The logs on the fire were perfectly placed burning uniformly without smoke, soot or spit. Stan stood firmly and stiffly upright adorned with his plastic grin, in evening dress and multi-coloured bow tie expertly self knotted. Not one of those tacky clip-on jobs for him. A perfectly dry, very assuredly firm handshake accompanied by an insincere how are you slap on the back. Thelma, who I knew was about the same height as me, being projected six inches above her five foot ten by the slenderest of stilettos, stooped to air-kiss each cheek and said, “welcome,” for the twentieth time. She then glided effortlessly leaving a cold trail and small talking about nothing in particular and cunningly avoiding any question regarding their situation.

 At exactly eight forty five, the exact time on the invitation of course, the pristine butler appeared, flashed his splendid teeth, presented a miniature gong which he struck firmly twice. Immediately the pre-programmed Igglesons walked to the door to shake parting hands with thanks for coming. The gin had only seeped to Maud’s waist and she was still standing and coherent which signalled the evening appeared to be ending prematurely. This was a relief to me as George was away in the Highlands or some such, probably discovering the various sites of Macdonald victories that confirmed them as the dominant clan and I was dreading the sore back that would have resulted in the transportation of Maud. We left a sterile environment and no mistake. 

 I was in the barbers talking to Smithy who possessed no hair cutting skill but maintained an excellent outward confidence that instilled into his customers an assurance of competence before he butchered away ending usually in the finely clipped number one cut that was his speciality. Stan entered with his two boys who sat upright, next to each other, without a glance or a word. I suspected he had not been before and was tempted to warn of the only available style. But refrained. Choosing the most comfy chair as though he had a natural instinct for comfiness Stan proceeded to nominate hairs to be clipped and after about forty minutes the result was a perfect trim. He paid in cash, the exact amount, and no thought of a tip which caused a glance and shrug from Smithy. He then left with only a, “hello,” to me and without a thing out of place or hair clipping in sight. His two boys behind and like obedient robots followed him down the street with not a hop, skip or jump.

 It was Alice’s fixing day. She had said, “darling, you need a day to fix all the things that urgently need fixing while the boys are out of the way at school,” and I am coming out of the hardware store armed with all the essentials. I see Thelma walking along the other side of the street. It is just after nine. Her gait was very upright and her top half was barely moving and her hips swayed slightly as she placed one foot in front of the other kind of modelesque in style. Her right elbow was bent and tucked into her side with her forearm extended slightly out and slightly up, hand drooped limply and a dainty, grey clip-bag hanging by its short strap from her wrist. Intrigued, I decided to follow her. We walked for about twenty minutes, so for about a mile I would think. She stopped outside a double fronted shop with two bay windows. I had not noticed this shop before with its frosted glass with big, bold, golden capitals in the centre of each window the letters DEAD. Then I noticed in small letters underneath, “Diction, Etiquette and Decorum,” and underneath that in even smaller letters, “Lessons for All.” Thelma opened the door with a ding and went inside. Within a few minutes she had been followed by a string of what could only be described as clones. There were similar clones stretched along the pavement all heading for the shop, which I thought very odd.

 Then I saw Stan and the two boys on the pavement standing in line looking at me and I noticed they were all wearing the same grey, tailored suit with a waistcoat and grey silk tie. Coming into view was a line of similarly attired men and boys. Stan stared at me for a few seconds with a look that suggested I had uncovered some clandestine operation. He and the boys then turned and went into the shop through the dinging bell door to be swallowed up by a dark gloom to continue their education to be perfect people to create the perfect world.

 Disturbed by creaking floorboards my dream was slowly becoming a pile of disjointed memories as I became vaguely aware. Half awake I imagined intruders stealing along the corridor to our bedroom. The bedroom door was open about one foot and I stared with bleary eyes at the gap expecting to see a dark silhouette against the lighter grey of the hallway. But my wake up alarm coincided with the heating firing up at six thirty and, as it was Saturday, the alarm was not set and I knew it was the expanding pipes under the floor confirming the time. I could hear the boys stirring. They shared a room out of choice and would be collecting together their beans and when they were full would descend screaming upon us in their scruffily creased dinosaur pyjamas and with sleep worn hair demanding pancakes with honey and lemon because it was the weekend.

 Waiting for that onslaught I continued my earlier daydream - the one about life’s bitchiness and the seemingly futile nature of it all. Would it be nice - a carefree but perhaps sterile life with cloned people? Who knows. What is sure though is that when I come home on a warm and sunny evening and go through the side gate into the back garden and see Alice on her hands and knees on the lawn edge weeding or pruning or picking leaves from the lettuce she has planted amongst the roses and she looks up and with a casual wipe across her brow smiles through her hard work glow with her dishevelled blond hair loosely tied back in a bunch, with a blue ribbon, and she looks so sexy she makes my heart swell with pride and love.

 The impromptu get-togethers with our friends - very casual affairs full of humorous banter and fun and laughter. And Maud who is not a lush but one of the most lovely people you would ever meet who has never been drunk except one time at New Year when gin got the better of her and she insisted on dancing with me by the blazing open fire when no one else was dancing. Standing on my feet, making me waltz when I did not know how, hanging, suspended with arms around my neck, giggling and John, her husband, who is definitely very amiable, falling over with laughter. And their car is a BMW.

 The cinema is still there of course, the neighbourhood having no need for the fine dining “experience”. Proper food is what we all want. As for the bricks - well who heard of a wonky brick house anyway? Smithy, a most excellent barber, a chubby man with one of those round always smiling faces and a pleasure to have cut my hair. The convoluted conversations worth every penny of the keep the change tip. And all his chairs are comfy. The florist with the marvellous array of sweet smells that is actually in the DEAD shop and all the eclectically clad pedestrians strolling in the sunshine. Then there are our boys. Two scalawags for sure but so full of excitement and imagination. I realise their energy infuses me, filling me with a constant source of vitality, giving my life a real meaning.

 I know she is awake but Alice pretends to sleep as the boys fly through the door, bouncing between us and exuberantly non-stop talking but she wakes with a start, laughingly grabbing both of them into her arms and looks me full in the face as though she might have an inclination of where I have been that night. And George the Scotsman? I do not know where he came from. All I know is that there will be no idealistic claptrap for me. No sir, not a bit of it. I just want to live in the real world with all its problems and faults and as happily as possible. The golden sandy beach and seagulls and far off places are a great idea but they can be had anytime, funds permitting, but if they cannot, then they will certainly be the only part of my dream that I would ever consider retaining.

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