SHE ONLY WENT FOR A WALK
Paula closed the front door behind her and crossed the street. She had walked out of her home because when she woke up that morning she had seen her husband had erected a wooden pergola in the living-room. There were arches and pillars that stretched from the door over to the windows. She felt dismay as Jeremy was always saying he would do this kind of crazy thing, and then he did. Most people say they are going to do something, but lack of money or lack of courage prevents them from carrying out their plans. In Jeremy's case it was the exact opposite, saying and doing were synonymous to him.
Paula felt she
needed time to think and breathe. There was a small park not far
from her home which was empty during the week but at weekends and
holidays it was populated by families. The shouts and cries of
children were the background music that those childless had to
put up with when all they wanted to do was to have a quiet read
or chat. Those who fled from their homes because of irate spouses
just closed their eyes and tried to get some sort of a rest, they
didn't mind the children's noise it was easier to bear than the
whining tones of a man or woman berating them for not having done
something or other.
A roller skating rink was the perfect place for the local children to learn how to skate properly and the stone paths were for the skate boarding enthusiasts. Special jumps had been set up for the skateboarders to become quite polished in their acts. The smaller children had climbing frames which, once dominated, proved too easy and then they looked around for more difficult distractions.
Strange things happened in the park. Once a man was arrested for taking unsolicited photos and had to endure the looks and comments as he was taken away in a police car. The park people were from the area and knew each other superficially, so this gave a feeling of security to everyone, although the parents were still on their guard. Men with cameras, and men wearing raincoats were considered to be of doubtful character.
One part of the park was a small zoo. This was the place where anyone could find peace and quiet accompanied by the smells and noises of different residents. Paula liked going into the zoo, as the animals were few but with a fresh, shampooed appearance. Also there were plenty of trees and lawns with benches for the general public to sit on and enjoy the false atmosphere of being in the wild although living in the city. It was prohibited to feed the animals, and those who were keen to do so were limited to throwing bread to the ducks and swans. Some of the ducks had been donated by the neighbours when the ducks they had kept in their flats had grown too big and the once happy owners of such birds had got fed up with clearing up their excreta. The ducks seemed to prefer their new home to the previous one and took to the large pond like ducks to water. One bright spark had thrown some carp into the pond that were now taking it over from the other fish. Dogs were allowed in the park but were forbidden in the zoo. Paula strolled round the zoo and sat down on a bench for a while, wool-gathering. She hadn't made up her mind how to react to the pergola inside the house, this time it could hardly be called even eccentric, but something accursedly worse. Feeling a slight chill in the air she got up and moved towards the nearest exit which was on the opposite side to which she had entered.
Once a month Paula rinsed her hair, a custom she had begun years ago when the first silver ones had made their unwelcome appearance. Now in her fifties she did it out of necessity and not for whim. The colour of the rinse had changed during the years she had used it and she had become quite adventurous with what she put on her hair. On her way to the perfumery where she was a habitual shopper there was a coffee shop. The fresh air had made her a bit sleepy, she opened the door and entered into a world of the lovely smells of coffee and cakes and buns toasting. Paula sat down at a table in a corner and glanced at the menu already knowing what she was going to choose.
"Hello, Paula, haven't seen you in an age. How are you?" Paula ignored the menu to look up, and see an old girl friend, Lindsey. Once a long time ago they had been good friends but what with getting married and then having children they had simply had neither the time nor inclination to maintain their relationship.
Paula pulled up a chair for Lindsey, "Hello. Long time no see. Time for a coffee or something?"
Lindsey sat down on the chair that Paula had offered her, "Yes, I'd love to. Perhaps we'll be able to catch up a bit. Are you doing anything in particular or just passing the time?"
Paula gave the order to the waiter and then faced Lindsey, "I'm out for a walk and at the moment going to have a cup of coffee and a small cake. After, I'm going to buy a hair rinse, it's time it was renewed and there seem to be more silver ones every month or so. And you, how is your hair?" Paula sat and stared at Lindsey's hair as if searching for the age-betraying silver ones.
"My hair's all right, in fact I'm on my way to Valerie's to do her hair. She wants something special and is afraid to do it herself so she rang me up."
"Do you still do women's hair in your spare time?" Paula asked her old friend.
"Yes, it gets me out of the house and I enjoy it, meeting all my clientele. Like to accompany me to Valerie's ? I'm sure she'd love to see you after so many years."
The coffee had been
drunk and the two ladies went to a perfumery shop and bought
Paula's hair rinse. Lindsey persuaded her to change her usual
colour for something more daring. Paula liked the idea of a great
change in her appearance. "Where does Valerie live?" she
"Not far from here. It's possible you won't remember the road as you've been away for many years."
"I'll do my best to remember," answered Paula, who was trying to recognise any landmark.
The roads were all too similar and the houses, too. The whole area was just too boring for words. The houses were terraced and in front of each one was a pathetically small garden. Some of the houses had been divided into two flats, whereas others were still inhabited by one family.
Valerie had fallen on hard times after two broken marriages and being unemployed. She now dwelt in the upstairs flat of a house. Lindsey rang the bell and was answered by the sound of the door unlocking and the door opening. The staircase was separated from the downstairs part by a wall, the front door being common to both flats. The women walked carefully up the stairs and rang the bell on the door at the top. This time the door was opened by someone from inside. Lindsey said, "Valerie, it's me, Lindsey. Look who I met on my way here."
Paula was caught unawares on seeing Valerie as she was at the moment. The last time they had met, Valerie had had a splendid job with a handsome husband, and not a care in the world. The woman who stood there before them was colourless and worn out.
Nevertheless, she managed to smile at them. "How lovely to see you both together. Paula, you look really well. Life doesn't seem to have treated you too badly."
Paula smiled and said, "I can't complain," at the same time thinking what an idiot, how did she get into this muddle.
They all went into the small flat, which was in quite a messy state. "Please sit down over here," said Valerie, taking a pile of ironing from the sofa into another room, which Paula guessed was the bedroom. She tried not to associate this Valerie with the one she used to be.
They went into the bathroom. Lindsey opened her bag and took out a box containing: a tube of colouring cream, a small bottle of developing emulsion for demi-permanent hair colouring, black rubber gloves, a sachet of hair mask with oil, and a booklet with instructions.
Valerie sat down on a chair in front of the bathroom mirror. Lindsey covered Valerie's shoulders with a black plastic cape. Paula sat down on a stool to watch. Lindsey parted Valerie's hair in two and then poured the mixture into the special brush. She gently stroked Valerie's hair from under the ears down to the ends, taking it very gently in her hands. When it was completed and washed and dried, Valerie had the top of her hair dark blonde and the lower half lighter blonde. Valerie was overjoyed with the change in her look.
"That's an interesting way of colouring the hair. Now I know why you suggested I buy the same one, but in a darker shade. It doesn't look too hard to do," Paula said to her friends.
"It isn't. This is for women to do at home and by themselves, I'm convinced you'll find it makes a difference to your appearance." Lindsey commented.
"Are you going out some place?" Paula asked Valerie.
"Not really, just to a pub a short drive from here. I like to look my best if I can. You never know, I might find myself another man," Valerie replied.
"What an optimist, after two failed marriages to be willing to try again," Lindsey said.
As they were passing through the living-room on their way to the front door, Valerie threw some papers onto the poor looking fire, which burst into flames at once. Paula wondered what was on the papers that Valerie didn't want anyone to see.
Once in the street,
Valerie waved at them from the doorway and closed it quickly.
"What happened to her that she's been married twice?" Paula asked
"Valerie had that fantastic job which was the envy of everyone, but she put it first and her first husband objected because there was no home life and then, of course, no children. He found comfort in another's arms and now has what he never had with Valerie. The second husband was on the rebound from the first, and he never stood a chance against the job. He went off, too. Then she lost her job some years ago and has been going down financially ever since. She has jobs, but they're not what she was used to. Valerie will be moving soon, she told me the last time we met. She has the idea of living in a smaller town in the country where she can begin from zero," Lindsey explained.
"It won't be easy, after so long out of a good job and at her age. I wouldn't fancy it, I must say," Paula rejoined. "Look, I have to go home now it's getting a bit late. I'm glad we met up and that we went to see Valerie. "Bye," Paula waved to Lindsey as they parted company.
Paula got lost a few
times on her way back home and had to ask for help from various
people. There was little traffic due to the hour and the
district. She felt that she had been walking for a very long time
when she saw her house. Before entering she spied through the
living-room window and saw that the pergola had gone. She
unlocked the front door and went in, her husband Jeremy was
standing in the centre of the living-room.
"What's happened to the pergola?" Paula asked him.
"It wasn't the best day to have set it up, with all the guests who are coming to our daughter Nita and Albert's engagement party tonight. Don't worry about the pergola, it'll soon be up again."
There was a ring at the front door, Paula went to see who it was. There was a young man standing at the door with a box of food in his hands. "Who are you and what is that?" Paula asked.
Before the delivery boy could answer, Jeremy said, "It's an Indian takeaway, Albert likes it."
He paid the boy and closed the door.
"Who is Albert to say what is eaten in this house? He isn't married to our dear daughter yet, and if I have my way he never will be," Paula spat out.
The dining- room was
full of family members who were seated round the table. The smell
of Indian food, which was nauseous to Paula's fine nose, was
being dished out.
"You can't have any of this food, Albert, or you'll put on weight. I'll make you a salad if you're hungry," Paula said.
"No, no! You mustn't put on weight, or you won't get into your morning suit on our wedding day, and then you'll have to have liposuction!" Nita said, laughing at her fiancé's discomfort.
Soon, everyone was
laughing, and in the end, Albert had no alternative but to join