Thursday morning writers group and Liz gave the prompt....
I was going to write about my first silk dress when a memory from my early days as a teacher came to me...and after the first sentence the story arrived......
We lived on the top floor of an Edwardian house. A window looked out over the park opposite with it’s treelined walkways. It was a good district in the southern coastal town.
We were three girls, young women, professional workers.
Val the theatre nurse in the local hospital, Jill the fashion buyer for the big store in the middle of the town and me, teacher of a reception class of little ones in the old school up in the village on the top of the white cliffs.
Always laughter and friends, that’s my memory of the flat. Maybe at times too much laughter and too many friends marching up and down the stairs at all times of the day …and often the night.
Madame Durant lived below us. We were young and not inclined to tenderness in our observations. She was, at least to us, old and squat and rather hairy in places we women are not suppposed to be hairy.
She regularly complained bitterly about us to the landlord, probably the owner of the property. He came to see us to plead for mercy for Madame. He invited us to his home to chat to us about thoughtfulness. We had tea and cake and he smiled at us. We were young.
Madame Durant was a writer of love stories. Passionate, lustful, full blown love on every page. We wondered if there had ever been a Monsieur Durant. We gave him a title….Mr. D.O.Durant! Such is the cruelty of the young.
We had a friend who was basing much of his life on the philosophies written within the book by A..A.Milne….”Winnie the Pooh”
Often in an evening we gathered in the lounge, sprawling on sofas, prone on cushions laid out on the floor, chins tucked on to knees, balanced on the edge of chairs and listened while he read. He read the escapades of Pooh and Eyore, Ro and Kanga, and most of all Christopher Robin. Each character’s voice was matched to it’s personality. Squeak of Ro, depression of Eyore, sensibility of Christopher Robin. We laughed and cried with the wonderful renditions and stomped our delight on the floor. Poor Madame Durant. I cannot read it now without hearing Eyore’s mournful tones.
I was given the task of organising the décor in the flat. I embroidered seat covers, bought furniture from the local junk shops, made curtains for windows from best Robinson and Cleavers fabrics mum had brought over on one of her visits. It was my contribution to the general feel of the place. I looked for ways to decorate, but we had little money left over once the rent was paid. And we each had our weekly bus fare and lunches to think about, as well as all those little extras in a girl’s life. At twentyone my teacher's salary was £40 a month. It stretched quite nicely and there was always a bit there for Saturday morning coffee and cake in the southern coastal town .
I was in a finding-out mood when I decided to have a look into the little dark cupboard under the eaves. I went in headfirst,then body and then pulled in my long legs. No light switch in the cubby-hole, no torch in the flat, just feeling around with my hands to try and find anything interesting . As I think back I’m sure there could have been dead birds, mice or at the very least big hairy spiders!
But I found none of these. However tightly packed into the fartherest corner where roof and floor met was a roll of something soft. I grabbed it as best I could.
Without wanting to damage the contents, I eased my way back to the opening holding the roll of fabric carefully in my free hand. It was covered in dust and grime as was I. My knees were raw with crawling on the bare boards.
The roll of silk in my hands had writing on it and more than that it also had some design printed there. I laid it out flat on the hall rug and examined what I had found. A map of part of Europe. A square of silk as large as a man’s handkerchief, with the map of Germany printed on it. An airman’s escape map with escape routes marked clearly. Thin enough to be able to screw it up tight or fold it flat. Small enough to be hidden in the lining of a jacket or cached in the hollow heel of a boot. Still perfect, still usable. But who had been the owner of it?
Was it Madame Durant’s lover? Had he been a Frenchman in the resistance? Maybe an airman based in the airfield up on the cliffs where the school was. History hidden in a dark cupboard in an attic in an old house in a town on the south coast of England. A town looking over the Channel to France. On a fine day in good weather you felt you could almost throw a beach pebble and hit the far shore.
And Madame?.....is that why she wrote her stories of love and lust? I will never know after all these years later…
But the prompt…prompted me to go back there in my memories, into that cupboard and find treasure.
So much unknown in a rolled up map of rustling silk.