Charity's mother had never been a very charitable woman. By naming her only daughter with the quality she herself lacked, Diana, Charity's mother, made sure she would get the best out of her daughter. During her childhood and youth, Charity was her mother's maid and carer. When Diana's husband had died, leaving her alone, her friends had asked her how she would cope, "I don't have to, I've got Charity. She'll look after me."
And Charity did look after her mother, and very well, too. The main goal in Charity's life was to make her mother happy, and no matter how much Diana got on her daughter's nerves, Charity never complained. When Charity had learned to drive a car, it was to chauffeur her mother around whenever and wherever Diana saw fit. Charity loved her car and driving it, and would have liked to go out with her friends to visit more interesting places than those that pleased her mother. Diana had been spoiled by her family, and then by her husband, and then by her daughter. Every day Diana spent a lot of time calling Charity to go and see to her needs.
One day when Diana had a terrible cold, Charity had called the doctor, who had been obliged to listen to Diana's ailments.
He stopped at the front door to say to Charity, "I don't think your mother has anything much wrong with her. You mustn't let her take over your life."
Charity answered, "My Mother has always been delicate, so now Father's gone, and I'm the only one who can care for her."
The doctor saw before him a young woman whose life was being drained from her before she had had time to live it. "Please ring if she gets worse. But from the look of her, the cemetery gates look a long way off. Goodbye." And the doctor walked down the path to his car, at the same time wondering what he could do for Charity.
Sasha was a very strong and attractive woman. She was in middle age but kept her long tresses blue-black. In her youth she had been a model and had turned heads wherever she went. Many people knew her face, but not her. Sasha had devoted her life to getting the best out of everything, yet in spite of all the success of her decorating business, she was rather bored. She complained that her workers didn't work hard enough and pushed herself to silly extremes. Every time a job wasn't done well, she did it, thus making more work for herself. It was in that way Sasha spent the best years of her life in work. There was no time for men, as they were seen to be a distraction away from her main aim, which was to make money. It was as if a spell had been put on her to make sure she never deviated from her destiny. Her home was as immaculate as she was. Although she lived in a small house, once inside the hallowed walls, the visitor was able to see that the owner was a person of exquisite taste, albeit rather flashy. The decoration would have been more suitable in a much more luxurious setting, but Sasha had no time to go searching for a new house or an apartment. The walls were lined with paintings and mirrors. The floors were skating rink shiny, and as pale. The furniture was also in light coloured brocade. One innovation she had installed was an indoor water display, where three spurts every so often shot up into the air. Sasha had had an extension put in and the fountains were placed there. All this had been paid for with a great sacrifice on Sasha's part. An Englishman's home is his castle, and so was Sasha's.
"Maria, please be careful when you clean the glassware, there were smudges on the glasses last week."
Maria, who had been with Sasha since the house had been purchased, knew how to respond to Sasha, and limited herself to, "Yes, Ma'am."
Meanwhile, Sasha went about her business, and Maria thought it would be a good thing if Sasha found herself a man.
Langdon was a businessman who had an art gallery. He was very well dressed, and was the older woman's idea of the perfect gentleman. His hair was of a silvery colour that many would call 'touched up', it was too good to be true. So was Langdon. Every day he left his home, that was as immaculate as he was, and walked to his gallery. On the way, he passed a flower and plant shop where he was presented with a rose every day. The lady who gave him the flower had been in love with him for so long that she had given up any hope he would ever see her other than the presenter of flowers. He was also given plants to decorate the gallery and his home. For the moment, even though he was no longer in the first flush of youth, Langdon carried on the same as he had always done. He was ungrateful for the details that the flower lady gave him, and simply didn't see her.
"Good morning. Here's your daily flower. I hope you like the colour," Coral, the flower lady, said.
"Thank you, Coral, very nice of you, I'm sure. Good morning, and have a nice day," Langdon said as he went on his way.
"I'll have a nice day now that I've seen you," Coral said.
"What a flatterer you are," Langdon said, laughing as he left her standing in the shop doorway.
Chauncey made clothes for gentlemen. He was a high-class tailor. The problem that Chauncey had, was that he could tell just by looking at someone's clothes if they were bespoke or not. Chauncey also sold shirts, ties, socks and knitted goods in his shop. Chauncey didn't enter the shop very much, leaving that work to the rest of his family. Chauncey's life was spent in the workrooms at the back, out of sight of the public.
It was on one of those days when destiny plays a crafty trick on unsuspecting people, that Sasha and Chauncey met for the first time. Sasha entered the shop during lunch time to purchase a shirt for her father. Chauncey was checking out some details on the computer. Chauncey had said that the staff in the shop could all go to lunch, as it didn't look as if there was going to be much business. Chauncey buzzed Sasha into the shop, but paid her no attention till his eyes lighted on her. "Good day, Ma'am. How may I help you?"
Sasha answered, "Good morning. I'm looking for a shirt for my father. It's a birthday present. If I may, I'd like to look around."
Chauncey, rather stunned by Sasha's appearance, said, "If you aren't in a hurry, I'll help you as soon as I've finished."
Sasha said, "All right," and walked over to the area where there were shirts, some folded up, and others hanging on rails and with coordinating sweaters. Sasha wasn't in a hurry, she liked to take her time when out shopping. In Sasha's life everything was an investment, and not thrown around.
Chauncey finished up on the computer and walked up to Sasha, "Have you ever been in here before?"
"Yes, I have, but I've never seen you before. Have you worked here long?" Sasha asked the amused Chauncey.
"Yes, this is my business. What's the name above the front door?"
"Chauncey's Fine Tailoring," Sasha said.
"I'm Chauncey, but as I do the tailoring, my life is spent in the workroom at the back."
Sasha laughed and said, "How many people have ever seen you? The clients probably think that Chauncey is dead, and doesn't exist. Do you enjoy being such a mystery man?"
"I'm not so mysterious, my regular clients know who I am. Let's see about a shirt for your father," Chauncey said, guiding her towards the shelves with cellophane-wrapped shirts. "Have you any idea of the colour your father would wear? After all, you don't want to spend good money for him to say he doesn't like the shade or tone."
"He likes pale colours. He's rather traditional in his taste."
The rest of the staff began arriving back and new customers too, while Chauncey and Sasha were talking about shirts. One of the clients who entered was Langdon, who wished to buy matching socks and tie. He saw Chauncey talking to Sasha, and stared at the rather exotic looking lady and took in her appearance, which gained his instant approval. Langdon also watched as Sasha and Chauncey went to the cash desk where she paid for the shirt. As soon as Sasha had left the shop, Langford went directly to Chauncey and said, "Who's that woman?"
"Do you recognize her?" Chauncey asked.
Langdon decided to lie. "Yes, I do. I must have met her at some antiques fair or other."
"This is her card, her name is Sasha Leon, and she has a decorating business. Perhaps that's where you met?"
Langdon wrote the address of Sasha's business, paid for his socks and ties, and left the shop after bidding farewell to Chauncey, who was anxious to be back inside his workroom.
There were days when it seemed to Charity that she could do nothing right. Diana's fractious voice was getting on her nerves. Charity lived up to her name and was very good, yet even so, a good person can get sick and tired of being unappreciated.
Charity's decline into a depression was not at the beginning noticeable to anyone, not even to herself. It was as if a great fog had descended upon her head, which at times got her to think she might end up killing her mother. The situation got worse and worse, till the doctor saw that Charity was going under, thanks to the constant pressure from her mother. One day Charity had rushed out of the house and tried to throw herself under a bus. The shouting of the bus driver didn't do anything to wake her up as to what was actually going on inside her head. That evening Charity left her mother alone in the house and went to see the doctor.
"I feel very bad about everything, but I don't think I can carry on any longer. My life is a total mess, with my mother always finding fault with most things. She really is unappreciative of all I do for her. I'm not sure whether I'm in the menopause, but I get very dizzy at times."
"Please, roll up your sleeve. I'd like to take your blood pressure," the doctor said, as he attached the apparatus to her arm. The doctor stared at it and told her, "Your blood pressure is very low. You need to rest and boost it up again. Meanwhile I'll give you some tablets, and look for a place in an old people's residence for her."
Charity sat stunned on hearing the doctor's words, "My mother won't go to one of those places, and anyway we can't afford it. We'd have to sell the house."
"Whose house is it exactly?" the doctor asked.
"My father left it to both of us. Neither of us can sell it without the consent of the other one."
"Well, meantime you try to get better and I'll see what I can do. You have to look after yourself as well as your mother. I'll see you in a week's time. Good morning."
Charity went to the chemist and picked up her medicine. She then went home to find her mother wearing a grim look on her face, "Where've you been? You know I can't be left alone for very long. Supposing I had an accident when I'm on my own?" Charity's mother said complainingly.
"I'm not well myself, so I went to see the doctor."
Diana wasn't in a sympathetic mood, "I like that! You're not well, and how about me. What do you think I go through every day? Now you're back you can get my dinner ready, and no more talk about how ill you feel. There's only one person ill in this house - and that's me!"
Charity felt very mixed emotions, and none of them were very pleasant. She hoped the doctor would come up with a place for her mother to reside in soon.
Langdon was one of those people who are so involved in themselves they never see others with clear eyes. Sasha had caused an impact on Langdon that he was unable to understand. Her flamboyant appearance was a delight to his eyes, and he wanted to know more about her. Was she married? Did she have children? Langdon went from one idea to another until he walked into her shop. Sasha was with a client, and they were examining cloth for a job the customer wanted done on some furniture. The woman eventually left, and Langdon introduced himself to Sasha, "I'm Langdon Lewis, you were in Chauncey's the other day when I went in."
Sasha remembered the white hair vaguely, and said, "Yes, I knew someone had come into the shop when I was paying, but I didn't take any notice. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Would you care to have a drink with me, or would you prefer lunch, or dinner?" Langdon asked her.
Sasha didn't have many offers from men, and when she did they were invariably to do with business. "We could have lunch now, if that's OK with you. I have to be back to oversee some work that has to be finished today."
"I saw a small place as I was coming here, will that do for you?"
"That'll be just fine. I'll get my coat," and Sasha went and got her coat and handbag.
That was the first of many lunches and dinners. Sasha visited Langdon's gallery and he was impressed by her knowledge of paintings. When he had dinner at her house he was amazed at the decoration. For Langdon, Sasha represented a magical person, one that tends only to live in fairy tales. Everything about her was so exotic and in flamboyant taste, which appealed to his imagination. Sasha felt the same about Langdon. She thought that he was the perfect man. The two together made a couple that attracted attention wherever they went.
Chauncey viewed life through his clients' orders. If they needed a dinner suit then somehow or other he discovered all about the important dinner they were going to. When it was a morning suit, then it was about the wedding to be attended. Chauncey was expensive and his clients were important. Every night when the shop was shut up for the night, Chauncey went home and had dinner with his arthritic wife, who never tired of hearing the day's stories. During the day there was help in the house, but in the evening Chauncey and Serena, his wife, had the house to themselves. It was then that Chauncey related to Serena anything he thought would be of interest to her. He told her about Langdon being interested in Sasha. The two elderly people made a bet on the outcome of them getting together.
"One thing's for sure, Serena, they would make a striking couple"
"If you say so, Chauncey," Serena agreed.
The doctor rang up Charity on her mobile, so that Diana wouldn't ask her who had rung. "Charity, how are you? Can you come and see me this evening at half past eight?"
"Yes, I suppose so, although Mother doesn't like to be left alone for very long. Why so late?"
"My last patient leaves just before that time, so I considered it to be all right for us to speak."
Charity stared at the phone and said, "Well, all right. See you at half past eight, then."
At half past eight on the dot, Charity entered the doctor's surgery. The nurse rang a bell and told her to go into his office. The doctor was sitting behind his desk and he gestured for her to sit down.
"Good evening, Charity. How do you feel after two weeks of medication?"
"I feel a bit sleepy at times, and my mother is aware of it. So far, I've not said anything about the conversation we had."
The doctor leant back and studied Charity's face. She was still looking far too worn out for his liking. "You'll be pleased to know I've found a residence that will suit your mother a treat. They do everything for the residents, and there are nurses and doctors. Your mother will be well attended to there. What do you think? Have you given the situation much thought since we last spoke?" the doctor asked anxiously.
Charity was a little taken aback and yet relieved at the same time, as the doctor had taken the responsibility out of her hands. She sat and smiled at him, and saw him as a lifeguard saving her from what was turning into an impossible existence for her.
"Do we get a chance to see the residence beforehand? I'd rather make sure it's OK before leaving my mother in a strange place. She's not going to agree to this without putting up a fight, you know that, don't you?"
"Yes, I do. But you are in a desperate state, and that's more than a valid reason for letting others, professionally qualified, look after her till you are better. That's the way I see it," the doctor told her.
"When shall we see the residence?" asked Charity.
"This weekend, either Saturday or Sunday. You choose," the doctor said.
"I'll leave that decision up to my mother, and don't be surprised if she refuses to go."
"Very well. This weekend," the doctor agreed.
Coral had the shock of her life when Langdon walked into her shop one afternoon and ordered a varied display of flowers and a beautiful bouquet. He said to her, "Coral, I'm getting engaged on Saturday evening, and the flowers are to decorate the venue where we are to celebrate the grand occasion. I've chosen you to make up the floral arrangements, as you are the best, and I know you'll do a great job. Here's the card of the hotel. Thank you in anticipation." Langdon informed Coral, and he left her, to go home.
Coral was shattered, and felt a complete idiot after all the years she had spent longing for him to have a decent conversation with her. Now, for the first time he had noticed her as a business woman that he needed, not for herself but for her work. Coral was anxious to know who Langdon was going to marry, but that was unimportant, the worst thing was he wasn't going to marry her.
Coral and her workers set to it, and made the most wonderful displays and huge baskets of flowers. The bouquet for Sasha was also huge and colourful. Coral, although disappointed with Langdon, made the bouquet as if it were for her. She had realized too late that her hopes had been dashed but she wasn't bitter, not then anyway - that would come later.
Chauncey was thrilled when Langdon went to see him about his wedding clothes and those of his best man. The three men spent a long time in choosing the cloth for their morning suits and the matching ties, shirts, shoes, and socks. That night Chauncey told Serena that Langdon and Sasha were to be married. Serena said, "The wedding will be spectacular from what you've said about her. They're neither of them young, are they? Better late than never, I suppose." Serena sat back in her armchair and laughed to herself. Chauncey was content to see her in such a good mood, as he knew she suffered so much pain.
"Chauncey, we'll have to see this wedding. It'll be quite a show with Langdon and Sasha in their wedding finery," Serena smiled in anticipation.
Charity and her mother, Diana, were at the residence on the following Saturday morning. The doctor had made it clear to the registrar that Diana might prove awkward. Charity knew that the doctor would absent himself from the occasion for reasons of his own. He didn't want anyone to think he might be involved with Charity, other than as her doctor.
Diana had made several scenes when she knew that she was going to visit a residence. "Mother, I've got a deep depression and I need a rest, and that's how it is. I just can't carry on in the same way. As it is, I'm taking medication to help me get from one day to the next, but it isn't a cure all. I need much more than medicine if I'm to get better. That's why I came up with the idea of your staying here till I can be with you again."
Diana looked aghast at her daughter's words, "How are we to pay for all this?"
Charity breathed deeply, and said, "We'll have to sell the house. It's far too big for us two, and I can't manage it any more. We ought to have more help. The house should bring us in enough money to downsize, and live more comfortably. What do you think?"
"What do I think? I think you've lost your head. I refuse to live in a smaller house or a flat, not after having lived in such a lovely house for so long. I can't imagine what your father would say on hearing your words."
"It doesn't matter what he would say, he's not here to have to live with it," Charity said, being careful not to say 'live with you'.
The registrar came and greeted them, and said, "Let me show you round. The house is rather large and the gardens are well looked after." She took hold of Diana's wheelchair and pushed it away from Charity, saying as she did so, "We shan't be long. There's a café for visitors, if you'd like to make use of it."
Charity took the registrar's advice and went to the café. She felt both sad and bad, but glad that she had done something about her mother, although she knew it would be temporary, till she was out of her depression.
The wedding day between Sasha and Langdon came round, and the church was exaggeratedly decorated with flowers. Coral had pulled out all the stops, as a last act of devotion to Langdon who would be leaving her life for ever. Coral finished her work inside the church, and then waited outside with all the other busybodies to see the bridegroom, and then the bride, arrive. Chauncey and Serena were there too, but they knew nothing of Coral, nor she of them.
Langdon was handsomer than ever, and Chauncey was happy to see how the gallery owner wore the morning suit he had delightedly made for him. Serena said, "He wouldn't look so good if he had used another tailor. Chauncey, you really should have brought some of your business cards to hand around to try and drum up some business."
Chauncey said, to placate Serena, "I'm sure that Langdon will do that if anyone's interested."
Sasha's arrival at the church was a cause of sighing by the women, envious of her long white dress that made her look as if she were floating on a cloud. Coral, who had made the bouquet and the beautiful headdress was so jealous that she left, worried that she might do or say something stupid.
After Sasha's entrance into the church, the crowd disappeared.
Charity didn't have to worry about her mother liking the residence, as her mother obligingly died of a heart attack during the week following the visit to the residence. The doctors at the hospital said that she had had an aneurysm and that she hadn't suffered. The problem was that she had never done any exercise for years, and that she had lost a lot of her physical faculties.
Charity sold the house, and suddenly felt as if the blinkers had fallen from her eyes, and saw her life as it must have seemed to others, that she was sleepwalking in life, that nothing had ever touched her. Now Charity was on the verge of a new life. Her life! And nothing was going to stop her.
Not long after Langdon and Sasha had got married, and Coral was making plans to move, a runaway car ploughed into her flower and plant centre. Coral was mildly injured, and woke up from the anaesthetic a little angry for having delayed her departure from the centre. Langdon had moved away on his marriage, and would never find out about the car accident, and certainly not about the torch that Coral had carried for him.
It was while she was recuperating in hospital that Coral woke up to the reality that her hopes for anything with Langdon had definitely gone for good. She was in charge of her life again, after years of selfless devotion to a man who only saw her as a flower-grower instead of a woman.
Langdon and Sasha had the biggest upheaval in their lives when they realized that they had to get down to sharing their lives with each other, and live in the real world.