All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Copyright© 2016, 2017 Bronwen Welsh
A sequel to 'The Might-Have-Been Girl'
Chapter 49 Life is what happens while we make other plans
Unlike the last time I had seen Reggie, this time I knew exactly what I was going to wear for our special evening, so there was no time wasted in going through my wardrobe.
For a man, even getting ready for the day he intends to propose marriage is a fairly simple affair. He might go to the trouble of having his hair cut, and afterwards perhaps having a second shower or bath and maybe even a shave before he starts to get dressed. He will dress in regulation underwear and socks before putting on a freshy-ironed shirt. Next comes his suit trousers which should have been pressed. It's to be hoped that he wears a tie which matches the colour of his shirt, which in turn should be co-ordinated with his suit. Then he will put on his shoes which will be freshly polished, comb his hair, and now he is ready. The whole enterprise probably takes less than an hour.
As Reggie was driving down from Blackpool, I had promised him that I would be ready by six o'clock, so he could then have free use of the bathroom and my bedroom in order to get ready.
I need hardly mention that for a woman, the whole process of getting ready takes much longer than it does for a man and is infinitely more pleasurable. That day I went to my regular beauty salon. I had decided to wear my hair in a chignon but wanted a more glamorous style than I would normally achieve for myself. The proprietor Giselle and I were now old friends, so when she asked me if it was for a special occasion, I smiled as I replied.
“You know how superstitious we theatre folk are. Let's just say I have 'great expectations' for tonight,” I checked myself. “Come to think of it, after what happened to Miss Haversham, perhaps that was a bad choice of words.”
Giselle understood the reference and laughed “Well, am I allowed to wish you good luck?” she asked.
“Oh no!” I replied in mock horror. “That's terribly bad luck for theatre folk. Perhaps you should just say 'break a leg', that would be alright.”
As Giselle set about trimming and styling my hair, her assistant Judy worked on my nails. I could have done them myself of course, but why shouldn't I indulge myself on this day? After a very pleasant couple of hours there I left to a chorus of 'Break a leg!', and made my way down the street to my favourite lingerie boutique. There I bought three pairs of ten denier nylon holdup stockings. Being so fine there is always a chance of them laddering, so I would take a spare pair in my clutch bag. On this occasion I was not buying any lingerie as I had bought a beautiful set in French silk and lace a few months earlier which I had saved for a special occasion, and this was it.
My next destination was a local café where I ate a light lunch. If this all sounds very organised, well it was. Working in the theatre had taught me to plan my day in advance, and I made sure that I was never late. That is about the worst sin you can commit when the start of a performance relies on you being there on time.
Dale had gone to London to see Frank for the weekend. This was handy as it meant I had the flat to myself and could wander about dressed in next to nothing. I ran a warm bath and luxuriated in it for a while, taking care that my hair did not get wet. Then it was back to my bedroom, where my new white lingerie was laid out on the bed. It included a gorgeous silk slip with French lace around the hem and bust and felt wonderful against my skin. After putting it on, I slipped on a robe and sitting down at my dressing table, I began to apply my 'evening' makeup.
It was then that the phone rang. It was Reggie, just to let me know that he was well on the way and should be arriving in about forty-five minutes. It was then, seemingly as an afterthought that he mentioned that he was going to wear a dinner suit for our evening out.
He heard me gasp and said, “Does that make a difference?”
Men! How could I explain that it made all the difference in the world to my choice of dress? I knew he wouldn't understand, so I said “No, that's fine Reggie. I look forward to seeing you soon.”
As I finished my makeup I mentally went through my wardrobe and settled on the perfect gown. It was a lovely deep blue chiffon A-line floor length dress with a 'V' neck and applique three quarter sleeves. Best of all, it was almost the same colour as my original choice, and Reggie had never seen it before.
I finished my makeup and put on my stockings. They were so sheer that I was very careful as I drew them on. I have always enjoyed the sensual feeling of sheer nylon on silky-smooth legs. I had toyed with the idea of wearing a suspender belt, but instead decided to wear the sheer holdups with embroidered welts that I had bought earlier in the day. Finally I put on my chosen gown, and stepped into silver sandals with six inch heels. Fortunately, Reggie was quite a bit taller than me, so I could wear the highest heels I possessed.
A final spritz of my favourite perfume and I was ready. I looked in my full-length mirror and did a little twirl. I was very pleased with the result of all my hard work. It had been worth it, and I was sure that Reggie would love what he saw.
My timing was perfect. Ten minutes after I walked into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, the doorbell rang. When I opened it, Reggie was standing on the doorstep wearing a dinner suit and holding a bunch of flowers in one hand. The look on his face was one I will never forget.
“Harriet!” he said or more properly gasped. “You look so, so....” His voice trailed away.
I smiled at him. “I look alright then?”
He found his voice “Alright? More than 'alright'. I'm just lost for words.”
“You'd better kiss me then,” I said.
“Won't I mess up your makeup?” he replied.
“Makeup is easily fixed,” I said, so he leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek.
“You look amazing,” he said, having finally found what he wanted to say.
“Thank you,” I replied. “And thank you for the flowers too, they are lovely. Please come in; I thought you were going to change here but it seems that you're ready to go. ”
I led him to the lounge room to sit down and gazed fondly at him.
“Reggie, you look so handsome! I'll have to keep a tight hold on you so that none of those glamorous theatre women try to steal you away from me.”
He laughed. “There's no risk of that.” He suddenly stood up and walked up to the chair where I was sitting, and sinking down onto one knee reached out to take my hand. “Darling Harriet, you know I've loved you for so many years and I'll continue to love you for the rest of my life. As soon as I am free to do so, will you please become my wife?”
I melted at his words. “Darling Reggie, you know that I love you too. Of course I will marry you as soon as we can.”
“I'm sorry I haven't got a ring to give you,” he said. “Can we go to a jewellers tomorrow and choose one together?”
“I'd love that,” I replied. “I had better only wear it in private until we can make the announcement, but from now on I will consider myself engaged, and you are my betrothed. Now I think you had better really kiss me.”
Reggie smiled and leaning forward our lips met and it was quite some time until they parted.
“Well I had better check my makeup after all, and then, shall we go to dinner?” I said.
The dinner that night at 'Oppos' was memorable. The waiters seemed particularly solicitous, as though they knew that this was a special night for Reggie and me. We ate and drank sparingly. To be honest I think we were both rather in awe of what we had just agreed upon. Admittedly, some people might say it was rather premature since Reggie was still officially married, but I'm sure both he and I knew that from the moment Sid's car had hit the tree, Sophie was no longer capable of being a wife or mother in any meaningful way. The medical staff at the hospital were quite convinced that there was no chance of her recovering which was why she was now in the nursing home.
We left the restaurant at about ten o'clock and drove back to the flat. Once we stepped inside the door we kissed again, something I'd been longing to do for the whole evening.
“Would you like a nightcap?” I asked
“Not really,” replied Reggie. “I think I've drunk enough for one evening.” He stood there hesitating before saying. “I think I'd better head back to the hotel”
“The hotel?” I said in surprise. “Do you mean you're not staying tonight?”
Reggie took my hands in his. “Darling Harriet, there's nothing I'd like better than to spend the night with you, but is the time right? Legally I'm still married, and I want you as my wife, not my mistress, so I booked a hotel room and that's where I changed.”
Now that I thought about it, I had been a little surprised that he appeared to have driven all the way from Blackpool in his dinner suit.
He continued: “ I confess that when I came here tonight I was sorely tempted to stay if you invited me to, but the more I think about it, I realise that I respect you too much to take advantage of your kindness. If anyone became aware that I stayed the night, that could ruin your reputation, and I could never forgive myself if I was the cause of that.”
I have to admit that for a moment I couldn't think of anything to say, and that's not usual for an actress. I was tempted to say 'To hell with my reputation', but he was right of course, so instead I said something completely different.
“Reggie I have always loved and respected you, and what you've just said makes me respect you even more. Once more you are thinking of me rather than yourself, so if this is what you wish to do, then of course I'm happy to go along with it.”
I wasn't really of course. I had been looking forward to falling into bed with him and spending a night with very little sleep. I couldn't help thinking that Reggie was a better person than me, certainly a more thoughtful one.
“I did mean what I said about us buying you a ring tomorrow,” he said. “Is that alright?”
“Of course it is, Reggie. I'll see you in the morning,” I replied.
After one more lingering kiss, we said goodnight and I watched him from the doorway as he got into his car and drove away. Then I went to my bedroom, undressed, took off my makeup, put on my nightgown and went to bed. I didn't cry, although I was tempted to howl with rage. Instead I remembered that saying “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.” My last thoughts before drifting off to sleep was that at least we would be going to a jeweller the following day to cement our relationship by choosing a ring.
Morning came and I got up early, the disappointment of the previous evening, if not totally forgotten, at least diminished enough to ignore. I was eating my breakfast, don't laugh but it was 'soft boiled egg and 'solders'' as Stella called it, when my phone began to ring, it was Reggie. I wondered if he was going to beg forgiveness for not staying with me for the night, but the moment I heard his voice, it was so solemn that I realised that it must be something else entirely.
“Harriet, did I wake you?” he said.
“No, I'm having breakfast, Reggie. What is it, has something happened?”
“Mildred just phoned me. It's Sophie, she's dead.”
“Dead?” I echoed him. “But how, when?”
“I didn't tell you yesterday; it was our day and I didn't want to spoil it by talking about her, but she contracted pneumonia about a week ago. The doctor came and put her on antibiotics and a respirator. I confess I did wonder if it wasn't better to let nature take its course, but it wasn't my decision to make. Anyway, when I called in to see her after a day or so it seemed that she was improving.
“The nursing home has only a couple of staff on at night, and they check the patients every couple of hours if they seem stable. Apparently she seemed fine at about four o'clock, but when the day shift came on at six o'clock and a nurse checked her, she had dislodged the respirator somehow and she wasn't breathing. They called the doctor of course but she couldn't be revived.”
“I see,” I said while in my mind I was saying 'You know what this means Reggie? You're not married any more.” Then I felt ashamed of such thoughts.
“The thing is, Harriet, Mildred was wondering if I could come back to Blackpool today to deal with things. She knows I came to visit you, and I really did want to choose a ring with you today...” His voice trailed off.
'Dammit Sophie, even when you're dead, you're still interfering in our lives,' I thought and shocked myself with such uncharitable thoughts. I decided that I must let Reggie off the hook he was so obviously on and wriggling. I could afford to be magnanimous.
“Then you must go back to Blackpool, Reggie; Mildred is relying on you. We can choose a ring the next time you come to Stratford”
Reggie was no actor, and the relief in his voice was palpable. “Thank you so much, Harriet, you're an angel, I don't deserve you.”
I managed a laugh. “Of course you do Reggie. All this will be over soon and then we will have time for ourselves.”
“There's one more thing Harriet. Sophie was registered as an organ donor, so I've asked the nursing home to let the donor registry know. I don't know if it's too late to take any organs, but they should have the opportunity if they can.”
I was stunned. Having thought of Sophie as the 'wicked witch' for so long, it now seemed that she was capable of doing something good for her fellow man after all.
' We are not wholly bad or good' wrote Dylan Thomas and how true that was.
Reggie has something more on his mind. “You know I'm only just coming to terms with what this means, Harriet, I'm not married anymore.”
“That's right Reggie, but you do have some commitments at present, so go back to Blackpool and deal with them,” I said, taking care that there was no sign of resentment in my voice.
“I will Harriet. I love you,” he said.
“I love you too Reggie,” I replied.
After I put the phone down, I stared into space for some time. I wondered what had really happened. Had Sophie dislodged the respirator without even knowing that she'd done it, or was it possible that in a rare moment of lucidity and realising her situation, she had somehow deliberately removed it in order to die? We would never know of course, but I supposed that it wasn't an impossible scenario.
To be continued
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Louise Anne in proofreading the text and giving me a great deal of useful advice about modern-day Britain to incorporate in the story, also Julia Phillips for picking up my punctuation errors and any typos Louise or I missed. I'm very grateful to them both.
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