My mother used to iron her tea towels. No, really. And her pants.
I thought that was daft but still, we’ve got standards.
She had a thing about whistling in the streets, too. And eating in public.
Walking along the road chewing was as bad as whistling. Not something ladies do.
And no lady ever took her purse out after six o’clock.
Whatever would she make of things now? She’s to pay her way, even stevens. And how’s that young lady supposed to get herself home I’d like to know. There’s no gentleman caller to ring the doorbell and walk out with her and see her safe home.
If he does see her home, well, he’ll expect to come in for coffee, and he won’t be expecting just a coffee.
Well, I’ve never been that sort of girl so, when he asked me for my telephone number, I hesitated. But then I thought, Marjory, you have to keep up with the times, you can’t expect to go courting if you don’t make yourself more available.
Mother would have been horrified.
So, when he telephoned me last week I said to him, ‘I think your conduct most ungentlemanly, Sir.’ I could tell he was shocked at that; the line went silent, and I could picture his mouth open, gaping. So I carried on.
‘I’m old fashioned about such matters, Mr Farrington. I took a risk giving you my telephone number but, after all, times are changing, and I thought you looked respectable.’
Well, to that, he could only apologize. He was indignant first though. ‘I am respectable,’ he said. But, really, how could he be?
Maybe nobody’s ever talked to him like that before. I couldn’t help wondering if he was simple, for all that he’s a surgeon, if he didn’t know how to behave towards a lady.
I’d been waiting for that ‘phone to ring for months and, all of a sudden, there he was, saying he was sorry he hadn’t called earlier, but that he’d been out of county for some time and what with this and that, he hadn’t been free to get in touch.
Not very honourable at all.
When I stopped expecting it to be him every time the telephone rang, I began to think he must have thought me rash, or easy, that I would just give out my number, like that, to any stranger that asked for it. That I was a modern woman, available to any man who asked, and no modesty at all. Served me right for my recklessness, and me thinking I was being enlightened, and up to date, when all I was doing was making myself look like a tramp.
He’d come into the bank last spring. We’d gone through a range of accounts and I’d left him with a pile of leaflets and what not to browse through at his leisure. He’d gone to the door, gone through it, and I was turning to attend to another gentleman when there he was, back in.
He looked hesitant, approached me again and said he was sorry, that it was cheeky of him but, he was often in the area, and would I mind very much if, next time he was down, he asked me out to dinner.
Well, I didn’t know what to say, or how to react. My face must have gone through all kinds of expressions in a moment. I had composed myself expecting more questions about investments and interest rates and I had to recompose my features, along with my comprehension, when I realized he was asking for something quite different.
I flushed quite pink, and stuttered a little. It was like getting the gears all wrong in the car and getting that awful grinding noise, only it was in my head. I had to smooth it over somehow, regain my composure, put my features into a different order.
He was watching my face going through its gymnastics and looking quite uncertain I thought. It endeared him to me, and I admired his pluck, so I took a breath and turned to get my business card from the drawer.
I think that must have been where I went wrong. I handed it to him with a bold smile, saying that would be very nice, Mr Farrington. But I think now that my pretence at ease with the situation was too convincing. I think he must have taken me for a woman who did this sort of thing all the time. When he never ‘phoned, that is. Why else would he take my number away home, and never call.
I’ve heard about men ‘who never call afterwards.’ How much worse must that be? I can only thank heaven I’ve never been THAT reckless.
Since Mother died I always used to think about ironing my tea towels but I resisted. I like ironing men’s shirts though. I used to iron Father’s and he always said they looked as fresh as if they’d come out of the packet. It used to feel as though I was ironing love into those shirts and, when he put them on, I felt he was taking a bit of that with him, into the world outside. With my shirts, and Mother’s packed lunch inside his bag, he went off to work taking a little bit of both of us with him, as if to keep him company through the day.
It would be nice to have a man of my own so I could iron his shirts.
While I was waiting for him to call, I wondered what it’d be like ironing shirts for Mr Farrington. I went over our conversation again and again, remembering the contortions my face went through when I realized he was looking at me in a romantic way, not in a business way, and how strange that had made me feel. I tried to picture his face and I couldn’t get it clear. I do recall it was a pleasant face, and he was a pleasant man. He seemed to have such lovely manners. I liked that.
When I recalled his uncertainty, I thought of him as modest, and I liked that too. I felt, by instinct I suppose -, I had nothing much else to go on, that he was the kind of man who would hold a door open for me, pull out my chair when we went to sit down in the restaurant, and who would see me home, say goodnight on the doorstep, and maybe, if it had all gone well, ask to see me again. And I hoped I would want to say yes.
And here he was. A year later. A whole year. I had forgotten his face completely. Erased it. The only man to ask me out, well not out, but almost - for my number, so he COULD ask me out. It would have been a lot simpler if he had just asked me out to dinner in the first place instead of tip-toeing around like that and only taking my card, evading the real invitation, side-stepping refusal.
Had he seen something in my face that had put him off? Perhaps he was nervous and thought I looked displeased, or unwilling, before I looked in the desk drawer for the card.
I don’t know.
I only know that, when he telephoned, I was frosty. I had taken my disappointment and remoulded it into something cold and dignified.
Mr Farrington,’ I said. ‘I do hope that you didn’t make an incorrect assumption about me. I do hope that you didn’t think I am the sort of woman who freely gives out her personal details to any Tom, Dick, or Harry that asks for them.’
He assured me he did not.
I’m glad to hear it.’ I had drawn myself up straight and was talking to him with all the wounded dignity I could muster. But, here, my voice faltered, I admit.
I am very much afraid I was mistaken in making so free with you.’ I said. ‘Nothing of the sort has ever happened before, and I will certainly not make that mistake again.’
Well, he asked WHAT had never happened before. I wondered again if he was simple. But he sounded perplexed and asked what hadn’t I done before, given my number? And, it was strange that, because he sounded quite pleased.
I have never done any of that before.’ And here, I took another risk - I’ve got braver since Mother died. ‘I have never been ASKED for my number before,’ I said. ‘I have never GIVEN anyone my number before,’ and here I paused, ‘and I have never been STOOD UP before I had the chance to go out to dinner either.’
I could tell he was astonished. And I’m not sure if that was flattering or not -, that I hadn’t been asked before that is. I was re-assembling myself back into some sort of dignified, even haughty, grandeur – always useful when you’re on shaky ground, when, goodness what a surprise.
‘Miss Roper,’ he said. ‘I hate to imagine what you must think of me.’
When we met, when I called into the bank last year, when I saw you -. Well, I must say I was very taken with you.
I was very taken with you but-, but I was a married man, Miss Roper.’
Well, I caught my breath. I hadn’t thought of that. Great heavens. Was the man hoping to have an extra-marital affair? I flushed, with indignation this time. Thank goodness he didn’t ring after all. Whatever trouble would I have got myself into?
I left the bank and was about to walk away but I couldn’t. Something held me back. I had to turn around, take my courage in both hands, and ask you out. But of course I couldn’t.’
‘No, indeed,’ I said.
I have been trying to become free, Miss Roper. I will spare you the sordid details but -, I have been married for a long time, unhappily. My wife and I have lived separate lives for many years.’
I had no idea where this conversation was going. I held the telephone receiver and swallowed, still waiting. Did he now want a confessor?
I had hoped to become free quite soon. I had started divorce proceedings and I was sure to be free within a matter of weeks, and I planned to call you, to get to know you. I felt sure we could become friends.’
My breathing began to quicken. There was no doubt about it. This sounded quite feasible, and not at all dishonourable.
‘My wife became ill, Miss Roper. It was my duty to care for her, no matter what our history had made me feel. It was my duty as a man, and as a husband, to take care of her, and I have done that to the best of my ability.’
I am very sorry to hear it, Mr Farrington. I hope she is well recovered.’
But, my dear Miss Roper -,’ He sounded in agony. ‘My wife has now died.’
I could only blink in astonishment. When he had said ill, he had meant desperately ill.
Marjory -, if I may call you that? I am now free. I have been free for two months.’ He hesitated.
‘Will you forgive me, for not telephoning you as you had every right to expect? And will you please make every effort to understand that, had I telephoned you, I would have been treacherous, and indecent?
‘Oh, Mr Farrington,’ was all I could say. The poor man.
Gordon, please. Call me Gordon.’ I heard him take a deep breath. ‘I feel able to call you now -.’ He interrupted himself. ‘I wonder, Marjory, if you feel able to come out to dinner with me sometime, when I next come up to town?’
If he could have seen my face this time, it was going through all those fantastical somersaults all over again.
Indeed, Mr Farrington, I would be delighted.’