A Man And His Castle

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A short story written by Tom Flanagan, published in Brenka Magazine in 1947. The plot follows Mr. Smith who wins the football pools, much to the delight of his wife. She changes his world and suddenly he becomes distant and absent, resuming his old habits and comforts at another address.

MR. SMITH was one of the Smiths that one meets every day on the 8.15 a.m. from Camden Town going to the office.  Bespectacled, bowler hatted, anaemic, he would push his way on to the train, read the paper while strap-hanging like a chimp in the zoo and then with the rest of the Smiths he would disembark into the city, hustling along the platform on his way to Twistle, Thistle and Twislethwaites, Attorneys-at-Law. There seated at his desk with his air of faded responsibility he would wrestle with facts and figures, keep the office boys busy and prevent the junior clerks from flirting with the typists.  As for the typists themselves, he regarded them with as much enthusiasm as he did an affidavit, a will or a bill of sale.  Plain or pretty, stodgy or winsome they were all the same to him and their sex appeal left him unmoved.  All day long he ploughed away with an occasional "Yes Mr. Twistle," "Immediately Mr. Thistle" or "Most certainly Mr. Thistlewaite" as the circumstances demanded.  And every week he picked up his salary of £4 10s. 6d. as head clerk and was duly grateful.  Every evening he caught the 5.15 p.m. back to his home in suburbia and after his evening meal, would settle down in his old arm chair, smoke his pipe and read the news.  On Thursday evening he would fill up his football points coupon, his only gamble in life and Friday morning he posted it on the way to the office. This was his routine for twenty years, it never varied.  Sometimes Mrs. Smith, a more ambitious personality, would try and urge him on to bigger things but he always funked it. Meek, mild and servile, she sometimes found him infuriating, but all her sallies and venomous barbs against his employers glanced unheeded off his coat of placidity, making even Mrs. Smith despair.

This state of affairs may have continued for another 20 years had Smith not won "the pool," Poor Smith!!  His only vice had found him out and like a bombshell he was richer by fifteen hundred pounds.

Fifteen hundred pounds! He was staggered; his whole life was altered. People rushed to congratulate him; shake his hand and then borrow a fiver.  He was suddenly a man of importance, but he could not rise to the occasion.  The stronger character of Mrs. Smith, however, stood the test and she emerged a tower of strength to protect him and his fifteen hundred.

"John," she said, "we will now be able to buy all those things that we have waited so long for." "Yes, dear," Smith said meekly.

Mrs. Smith grew more enthusiastic.

"We will trade in all this old furniture and get a modern suite and have tubular steel chairs for the kitchen.  John, you need a holiday, go to country for a couple of weeks and when you come back I'll give you a nice surprise." And because he always did as he was told, Smith went.

On returning from his vacation Smith was obsessed with petty worries. How were they managing at the office without him?  Had the blight got his potatoes?  Had Mrs. Smith watered his petunias?  Small worries - and a reflection of the smallness of his mind.  As he opened the garden gate he noticed that the garden was very neat and trim, in fact like a suburban park.  But horrors, his marigolds had gone and in their place were skinny looking geraniums.  His wife greeted him effusively in the little entrance hall, but instead of her printed cotton apron she now wore a smart two piece ensemble.

"Come and see the living room, John," she said when the first brief greetings were over, "it looks really smart."

"I got rid of all the old sticks of furniture, John," she explained" and bought this new suite. Very reasonable too.  A vast improvement don't you think?"

"Er yes," said Smith feeling a little sick.  "But where is my chair, dear?"

"Oh, that had to go too.  We couldn't possibly keep that, could we? It wouldn't match with anything."

"No, I suppose not," said Smith wearily. "But it was a very comfortable chair, you know, dear?"

"Nonsense," she snorted.

Smith's eyes wandered around the room and alighted on the two nude statuettes on the mantleshelf.

"Where are the two blue vases and the clock?," he enquired.

"Oh, John, don't be unreasonable," she replied. "I never did like them anyway."

"But they were a wedding present from Aunt Phoebe," he ventured.

"So what," came the reply.  "They were old fashioned. These nudes are the very latest.  Aren't they sweet, John?"

"Ugh," he grunted "and Aunt Nellie's photo," he asked.  "Did you get rid of that too?  And those pictures of the highland cattle?"

"Really John, you are impossible," she exploded.  "These new pictures are hand painted and neat.  They look smart, not like those archaic monstrosities we used to have."

"I liked them," he imposed meekly as she stormed out and into the kitchen.

As day succeeded day John Smith realised just how much his life had changed.  The homely card game of rummy was superseded by bridge and his wife's tea parties became a nightmare.  No longer could he relax in his easy chair, read the paper and smoke his pipe.  Every moment he sat awaiting that "Really John....." which heralded each reprimand.  "Really John, throw that evil smelling pipe away.  Have some consideration for the visitors." And so on.  Even the double bed which they had slept so snugly through the wintry nights had been replaced with trim, twin beds.  He tried to protest but in vain. "Really John, it is much more hygienic," she said.

Soon Mrs. Smith found her husband had to work much more frequently than of yore.  At first she welcomed it because "John was such a bore", but when the phone rang regularly each evening at five and his voice came over, "Sorry dear, but I'll be late tonight.  Don't wait up for me," she became suspicious.  One night he did not come home at all. "I missed the last train and slept at a friend's," he said.

Lying in bed one night with John still absent, she sought the reason for his sudden interest in work.  Or was he lying to her.  Well, that question could be answered quickly enough.  She slipped out of her bed and rang the office.  The caretaker answered the phone.  "No ma'am, Mr. Smith isn't here.  Left at 5 o' clock he did, as usual. He always leaves at 5 p.m. 'Ope there's nothing wrong ma'am." "No there's nothing wrong," she assured him.  Back in bed she sought the answer to this riddle.  John lying to her after 25 years of married life.  John deceiving her, being unfaithful to her - yes, that was the answer, he was unfaithful, he had another woman, some young coquette, some harlot after his money, but Mrs. Smith wasn't licked.  Oh no, not Mary Smith.  "Faithful wife I've been for 25 years," she sobbed to herself.  "Darned his socks, cooked his food and worked my fingers to the bone for him I have.  I'll teach him to run around with a hussy and deceive me."

When Smith crept upstairs, shoes in hand after midnight and crawled soundlessly into bed, she smiled to herself.  She was wise to his game now.  Mr. Smith caught the 8.15 a.m. train as usual the next morning and Mrs. Smith the 9.15 a.m.  She knew her way around the city and soon entered a block of buildings.  On the fourth floor she stood outside a door bearing the legend "Brown and Browning - Private Detectives.  All manner of investigations undertaken."  She knocked and went in and was soon ushered into the presence of the great Mr. Brown.  Mr. Brown was sympathetic and kind.

"It happens every day," he said sadly.  "But we'll find out who this woman is and where she stays."

"Let me know when you find them," she said.  "I'll go down myself and catch them red-handed.  I'll teach her to ruin my happiness. After 25 years too," she sobbed as she left.

At 5.30 p.m. that evening Smith rang up to say he was working late and at 6.30 p.m. Brown was on the phone.  "We've run him to earth," he said, "37a Charlotte Street.  It's a boarding house." Mrs. Smith called a taxi and was on her way. 37a Charlotte Street was an old fashioned four storey house which had seen better days.  The housekeeper came in response to Mrs. Smith's ringing.  "Yes, Mr. Smith is here," she said.  "Harmless soul he is too, keeps to himself and minds his own business, I'll call him for you." "No, you won't," said Mrs. Smith furiously.  "I'll call him," and was on her way up the rickety stairs.  On the top floor was a room bearing a card "J. Smith." Now for it.  She wrenched the handle and threw open the door.

Seated in his old armchair reading the paper was John Smith, looking happy and contented with his feet perched on the hob.  His "filthy" pipe billowed forth vile smelling smoke and through the mist she saw the pictures of the Highland cattle and Aunt Nellie's photo holding pride of place.  The tense silence was broken only by the loud ticking of Aunt Phoebe's clock, hurling defiance from its position on the mantleshelf with those two atrocious blue vases standing sentry beside it.

"Hello dear," said Smith mildly, "welcome home."

Submitted: November 03, 2014

© Copyright 2021 Tom Flanagan. All rights reserved.

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