- Text Size +

Author's Chapter Notes:

Part 1 Marianna in the Moated Grange- Millais


 

This had to be the most boring Wednesday morning of her life! It was even worse than the Lower Fifth year when she had suffered through science, geography and maths, all subjects she abhorred, on German day. Claire who identified herself as French by nature and British by nurture, felt that two languages were enough to force on anyone.

She put down her now empty glass and glanced at her watch. It was a large bodied man’s timepiece easy to read with an altered strap for her thin arm and showed her that it was only nine thirty. All she wanted was to receive her cheque and go. Yesterday she had overseen the putting up of the large canvasses that she had been commissioned to paint and had loads of fun mucking about with the guys detailed to help. She hated the paintings now and had been extra light hearted at getting them out of her way. She had been working double or even triple time, much to the detriment of all the other aspects of her life, to get them finished as soon as possible. To say she was not amused when told she would have to attend this ridiculous breakfast reception to receive her money was an understatement. She had spent the evening ranting about it to anyone she could get to listen.

Claire placed her hands on her hips and stretched her spine. Twisting her shoulders, she spotted the stuff-shirt chief of the company talking business standing under the canvas she had been told to call ‘Power’ but she thought of as ‘Boredom’. Thank goodness she had been offered a phenomenal amount of money for her work; enough to allow her to be choosy for many months if she was careful. Longer if she topped it up. She looked forward to being more selective. She had a momentary vision of some future art critic analysing these canvases and wondering what had induced her to produce such crap.

A waiter passed her and she helped herself to another glass from his tray but when she raised it towards her face she grimaced, sniffed it carefully and put it down on a nearby shelf. The first glass had been worthy of the rather ostentatiously displayed empty bottles placed round about but this smelled more like aerated, sugary, vinegar. Claire knew her Champagne and could not get this abomination away from her quickly enough.

Claire stretched again. Whatever had she worn high heels for? She knew, thinking about it. She had overheard Stuffshirt making a comment yesterday about the morbidity of women who wore black. Claire mostly worked in black jeans, black plimsolls and whatever dark top that came first to hand. It was at that moment she had decided to wear one of her special outfits this morning.

Claire loved colour. Especially she liked things bright and unusual on the occasions she wore it. Today she had carefully selected a short woollen dress she had got her sister to make for her. The Stuffshirt’s face when he saw her had made her gleeful and very satisfied. The dress was in cadmium orange and she had teamed it with bright viridian tights and enamelled belt. Then, as a little fuck you, added vivid magenta shoes and shoulder bag. She loved the effect but knew these people would think it wrong on so many levels. She checked her watch again. How much longer did she have to put up with this nonsense?

A short, grey haired woman with a sharp face and steely grey eyes came over to her. In her head Claire labelled this woman THE BOSS. Obviously the Stuffshirt’s personal assistant but Claire had soon deduced that this was the real power in the company. Probably this woman was the only one who knew everything and made it all run with absolute efficiency.

‘You look ready to leave,’ THE BOSS never wasted time for greetings or small talk.

‘Yes, I’m just waiting for…’

‘Your cheque. I’ve sent Nona to get it out of the safe. Come with me to finance, we’ll fetch it and then you can go.’

As she was shuttled along the corridors Claire asked, ‘Shouldn’t I have said farewell or something?’

‘Oh Miss Maynard, it would be a complete waste of time. He’s already forgotten you. When he gets around to remembering I’ll tell him you had another appointment. In here and then I’ll take you down to the exit. Thank-you Nona.’ THE BOSS took an envelope from the young woman and handed it to Claire, ‘Check it’s all in order, please and sign the receipt.’

Claire’s eyebrows raised when she read the amount and then stared at the woman.

‘I had a little bonus added as you finished ahead of schedule and,’ as she herded Claire into the lift, ‘For having to put up with His Highness.’

‘Thanks.’

A few minutes later Claire left the building, out into freedom and the fume laden air. She loved city living.

When she pushed into the carriage on the underground a young man stood up and indicated she could have his seat. She declined. ‘Please, take it,’ He said but he had picked the wrong person for his gallantry.

‘I have legs and I’m perfectly capable of using them.’ Then she turned slightly so she could ignore him. She was jubilant about the extra bonus. THE BOSS had been correct about the man she called His Highness. At first Claire had been very excited by the project, then the Stuffshirt had demanded a set of titles for the pieces. Claire had been offset but realised the freestyle she was using could be named anything. It was unlikely any of the people there would be versed in art theory and able to tell the difference. Then Stuffshirt had started to make colour suggestions and commenting on anything he thought was too soft or feminine. That was the moment Claire had sped up her work, only taking the odd week-end off to help with a collaborative work she was undertaking with Mum and Cecily.

She swished her glossy, straight black hair back and headed to the door, making a rude sign at the young man who had continued to stare at her after she refused his seat. She tottered up into daylight, again cursing her decision to wear heels. Her first stop was the bank and then she paused on the doorstep, where next? She was out of the loop. Either she could go to Bessie’s, the café where likeminded artistic or gay friends hung out, or Sam’s Gallery.

Soon she was sat on Sam’s sleek desk, a cup of tea warming her hands and gazing round at the, to her, revolting pictures on display.

‘So, when are you coming back to work for me?’ Sam leaned back in his chair and rested his feet on the desk.

‘I want to do some of my own stuff and see what else is out there. Perhaps at the beginning of next year if you’ve got no-one. Shall we say three days a week?’

‘Deal! I never had another worker like you.’

Claire kicked off her shoes, slid down from the desk and ambled over to a particularly nasty still life of a bunch of roses. ‘What is this junk? Not like you to allow this sort of thing on your precious walls.’

‘Amateur group,’ Sam drawled with distaste, ‘They pay well, and everything is sold to art blind friends and proud relatives. Nothing like being displayed in a gasp, proper gallery to inflate egos. I can’t afford blank walls, and this is always a quiet month.’

Claire moved on to look at a study of children playing on a beach, ‘My God! This lot look ready for the morgue!’

Sam snorted into his tea, ‘Rescue me then. Promise to fill a slot next October November.’

‘Sure, usual rates?’

‘Yep.’

‘Good. I’ve had some inspiration. Synaesthesia, symbiosis, solitude. In fact, a complete synchronicity of s’s. I must go. I want to cook something special for Paula tonight, I’ve been disgustingly neglectful the last six months. See you soon. Drop the paperwork to me and I’ll sign it quickly and get it back.’ She kissed him cheekily, knowing he hated it, pushed her feet back into her shoes and went to do her shopping.

She arrived home at last. Pushing the front door closed with a foot, a tin fell from her bag and crashed to the floor. The door to the downstairs flat opened.

‘Hi Claire, need a hand.’ A handsome young man was looking at her.

‘Thanks Jonathan. You haven’t got the kettle on have you? I’d kill for a cup of coffee.’

‘Five minutes.’

‘I’ll go change.’ She dashed up the stairs dumped her bags in the kitchen area and changed into her more normal jeans and jumper combo, leaving her morning outfit strewn across the bedroom.

‘I can’t stay long if I’m going to clear the flat and cook something special for Paula when she gets home.’

‘Must be a blue moon.’ Jonathan chuckled from the depths of his armchair.

‘Oh I do try. Not very often but I do.’

Jonathan and Claire had been best mates since she moved into the studio flat upstairs. He taught clarinet in the daytime and at night worked with various orchestras around the city so his time was as flexible as hers. This meant many night hours chatting about everything from their relationships, families, finances and so on. At least they had until Paula had come on the scene. Jonathan seemed to be unnecessarily cautious about Paula.

‘Got a new girlfriend yet?’

‘No,’ Jonathan turned away.

‘Never mind, I’m sure this dry spell will be over soon. It’s been months. We’ll have to take you out and see if we can help.’

‘No thanks,’ Jonathan stood up to put his cup in the sink, ‘It’s nearly a year since the last and you know full well that Paula won’t come out. I’ll find my own when I’m ready.’

‘But I hate the thought of you down here all on your own.’

‘I’m fine Claire. I’ve loads of work recently, so my time is full. I still see most of my mates though, even if you are too busy.’

‘That commission is over, so I’ve got time now too. I got to go.’ A distant clock could be heard striking the hour. ‘I want everything to be perfect. See ya.’ She headed towards the door, ‘Hang on, that cottage that belonged to your aunt? The one in Bucks. Is it still empty?’

‘Yes. Do you want to borrow it for the week-end? You’d better take the key now.’

‘Thanks,’ Claire caught the keys thrown at her, blew a kiss and departed.

At six-fifteen on the dot, Claire lit the candle on the dining table and opened the wine. She had cleared, cleaned and scrubbed the whole flat between cooking. Then taken a shower and dressed as seductively as she could. All her art things were packed away. She had put fresh linen on the bed, a box of Paula’s favourite chocolates on the bedside and an arrangement of exotic flowers graced the dressing table.

Claire heard the footsteps and hastily poured the wine, ready to hand it over as the door swung open.

‘Claire! Whatever?’

‘I’m making up to you.’

Paula pushed Claire’s hand holding the wine glass away. ‘I can’t. You should have warned me.’

‘Then it wouldn’t have been a surprise. Don’t you like it?’

‘Yes. Yes. It’s wonderful but I can’t. I promised I’d go out with my…some friends tonight. I’ve only come back to change. He…My lift is waiting for me. I’m so sorry.’

‘Oh.’ Claire smiled and turned away to switch on the light and hide her disappointment. ‘You’d better hurry then. I’ll put this away or find someone else who needs feeding.’

‘Good idea. I really am truly sorry. If I had known.’

‘Never mind. I’ll cook it again while we’re away.’

‘What?’

‘Surprise week-end. You’re off from Friday, aren’t you?’

‘Well yes but I offered to go in and help with the stocktake on Saturday. Look we can discuss this later.’ She went into the bedroom and Claire, not knowing what else to do, stirred her boiling pans.

Paula returned wearing a new dress and fancy shoes. Unusually she had put on make-up and left her shoulder length hair loose. ‘It smells of sandalwood in there. It’s so lovely. I’m sorry. I’ll be late so don’t wait up.’ She was gone before Claire could cross the room to kiss her.

Claire put the wine back in the fridge and turned off the cooker. She grabbed her glass and went to look out of the window. She watched Paula totter down the mews and climb into the passenger seat of a waiting car. Claire jumped at the noise of a knock on the door and Jonathan put his head round it. ‘I saw Paula leaving. You alright?’

‘Yeah. It’s my fault. I didn’t think she might have other plans.’ She swallowed the rest of her wine. ‘It’s nice. She never used to have friends. Stop looking so concerned. I’m fine. And you can take your keys back.’ She held them out, ‘She’s working.’

‘Why don’t you come out with me tonight? I’m about to leave. You can sit backstage or if you wear something dark you can lurk in the wings. Better than moping around here all by yourself. You’ve got until I’ve fought this bowtie into submission and put on my jacket so hurry.’ He closed the door behind him.

Claire stood still for a few seconds, muttered ‘Oh stuff it!’ She flew into the bedroom and changed.

On the tube she asked her impeccably dressed companion, ‘What are you playing tonight?’

‘It’s for a half-term kids thing. Some children’s tv bod is narrating Peter and the Wolf and then we’re performing some of the carnival of the animals by Saint-Saens. Half the audience will go to sleep, half constantly talk and half rustle sweet wrappers while thinking “Oh God! Not this again.”’

Claire laughed, ‘You can’t have three halves. I’ve brought my sketch book, so I can make a study of you being a cat, a cuckoo or something.’

‘If I want three halves, I’ll have them. Anyway, our part will be over by the main interval and you can take me home and feed me afterwards.’

‘Sounds like a deal.’ Claire’s evening was beginning to look so much brighter.


 

 

Chapter End Notes:

Edited to remove interrobang. I'm sad because I love interrobangs and now I've got to take them away.




Enter the security code shown below:
Note: You may submit either a rating or a review or both.