A short story by me, as published today in the West Country regional newspaper The Western Morning News.
If asked to describe Mavis Middleton, you’d be hard pushed to say more than, ‘She’s a mousey sort of woman’, because that’s the perfect description of Mavis and in her fifty nine years no-one’s ever noticed much about her at all. George, her husband, wooed and married her to get his hands on her father’s business and from the day Mavis’s father died, George has barely uttered a civil word to her. He keeps a roof over her head and makes her a monthly allowance which covers the cost of their food and very little else . With careful budgeting, she manages to clothe herself from the stores at the cheaper end of town. She cuts her own hair and has never been able to afford a colour. George, on the other hand, has appearances to keep up and is partial to a nice bit of cashmere and a well cut suit with a five button cuff, preferably from the Mayfair Tailors which, as you might guess, resides some way from the cheap end of town.
George has always made it clear that he didn’t want Mavis working outside the home and have people thinking that her husband couldn’t provide for her. He’s a complicated man, thinks Mavis. She cooks, she cleans, she gardens, and she lives a life of quiet frustration.
“George never thought it the right time for the business and then it was just too late,” explains Mavis if anyone ever asks whether they have children. It doesn’t happen often because she rarely meets anyone with whom she’d have that kind of conversation. They have never taken a holiday together, though George takes a short golfing break in the Algarve each spring and autumn . “Business need,” he tells her. “Networking.”
Mavis has never met any of his colleagues and never accompanies George to the annual dinner or Christmas parties though she suspects that other wives might be invited along by their husbands.
“More Premium bonds,” announces George at dinner, apropos of nothing. “ Sort it out, will you?” It’s not really a question. He tells her that they’ll have to be bought in her name since he already has the maximum permitted.
The cheque is made out to her and is sitting on the breakfast table the next morning. She banks it and is tempted to divert a hundred or so to get herself a decent winter coat, but she does the right thing and writes out her own cheque to pay for the bonds. The fact that she has an account of her own it not, as one might imagine, to benefit herself, but rather so that George can ‘arrange his finances to the best advantage,’or so he tells her. This seems to consist of the random moving of money in and out of the account. She suspects that it may have something to do with the money laundering that she has heard about in the news.
The letter from the Premium Bonds arrives several months later. It is one of Mavis’s bonds that has won – Mavis’s bond in Mavis’s name. Try proving otherwise thinks Mavis as she stares at the contents.
The kindly young man in the library helps her to set up an email account and she sends her first ever email in response to a job advert she found in The Lady whilst at the dentist. Two weeks later George arrives home to an empty house. No waiting cup of tea, no dinner, no wife. She has left a note in which she tells him that she will not be returning. Everyone has their tipping point.
In the small coffee shop in a sleepy Devon town, the new waitress who lives in the flat above seems pleasant enough, but if asked to describe her, you’d be hard pushed to say more than, ‘She’s a mousey sort of woman’. There’s not much else to notice about her except perhaps the subtle highlights in her hair and the small smile of satisfaction that plays around her mouth.