Without pausing in her stride, Dolores eased her jacket off her shoulders, dropped it into a skip as she passed and headed for the station. It was never one of her favourites and the blood stains on the cuffs refused to budge, no matter what she did with them. It was better off in the skip. She wouldn’t have to concern herself with it any more.
The warm, summer wind blew along the platform as she waited for her train. She felt the subtle caress against her skin through her thin, cotton blouse. She smiled, remembering the rough feel of the towel underneath her back earlier when she lay sunbathing by Mr Robinson’s pool.
He preferred her to sunbathe topless. He said it gave him pleasure to watch her pale skin turn pink in the gentle heat. Who was she to deny an old man a simple pleasure? It wasn’t as if he had many pleasures these days, confined to his wheelchair since the end of the war.
He was a sweet old man and he paid her well for visiting him twice a week to take down his memoirs. They would spend an hour or so “working” in the morning. He would tell stories and she would record them in her shorthand notebook.
Then Mrs Martin, the housekeeper, would bring in their coffee served in Royal Albert china coffee cups. Crisp, brown sugar lumps nestled in their bowl, while silver tongs waited for her touch, her gentle squeeze as she picked them up, one by one and held them on the side of the cup until they slid silently into the smooth brown liquid.
“Will you be mother, Dolores?” Mr Robinson asked hopefully each morning.
“One lump or two?”
His eyes twinkled, “You know I need three to keep up with a sweet thing like you, my dear.”
It was his little joke and she didn’t mind pleasing him with her smile as she handed him the cup and saucer, watching to make sure he didn’t spill anything as he negotiated the space between his wheelchair and the small table by his side.
He would doze after his coffee, lulled into slumber by the rhythmic clatter of the typewriter keys as she transferred his stories onto the printed page. She read them through when she was checking for mistakes, inspired by the strength of the pictures he painted with his words.
She knew he wanted to publish them one day. It was sad he wouldn’t live long enough to see his dream come true.
As the grandfather clock in the corner struck one, Mrs Martin would enter and lay the table for their lunch. She was an excellent cook, always surprising them with imaginative dainties and fresh, seasonal produce.
Nothing fancy, mind you, Mr Robinson didn’t approve of anything “fancy”, but somehow Mrs Martin managed to indulge her love of Italy and France, disguising it with vegetables and herbs grown in the garden and meat from young Mr Robinson’s farm. If it were home grown, it couldn’t possibly be anything “foreign”!
If the weather was nice, they would eat outside, lingering over their coffee to “aid digestion”. Sometimes Mr Robinson would persuade her to sunbathe for him, finishing off with a short dip in his magnificent pool.
The afternoon would take the same pattern as the morning - stories until 3.30pm when Mrs Martin would serve afternoon tea, more typing and then she would collect her things together and bid him farewell.
“Don’t speak to any strange men, Dolores,” he would tell her, his eyes crinkling at the edges. “It’s a dangerous world out there and I’m not as young as I was to be able to protect you.”
“Don’t worry, Mr Robinson,” she would reassure him, planting a single kiss on the top of his bald patch as she made her farewells. “No-one is going to trouble me – not when I tell them I have a black belt in karate.”
He would smile and let her go, patting her hand as she said goodbye.
A young man rushed up the platform towards her waving her jacket.
“I saw your jacket in the skip and thought you must have dropped it by mistake.”
She shook her head.
“I’m not Dolores, Mr Robinson, my name is Sophie. Your father insisted on calling me Dolores and I didn’t like to make a fuss. I’m afraid you’re mistaken about the jacket. I don’t need it any more. Classic Fifties Haute Couture isn’t really necessary in modern offices. It helped your father to remember, which is why I wore them.”
“Oh.” The young man was at a loss for words. “You’re not coming back any more?”
“What would I do, now your father’s not there?”
“Tuesdays and Thursdays won’t be the same without you.” His strong hands scrunched the collar of her jacket as he twisted them together.
She smiled sadly. He looked so like his father, she wanted to take him in her arms and tell him everything would be alright.
“Look, how about if I wanted a secretary to type up my stories?”
“How much would you pay me?”
“How much do you charge?”
“£30,000 a year plus three paid holidays to Europe and the Far East for two people.”
“You don’t think I want to go on my own, do you?”
“Oh err no, I suppose you don’t.” He blushed.
“When would you like me to start?”
“Would next Tuesday be acceptable?”
“Very,” she said, smiling at him.
Just then her train pulled into the station and she got in, jostling against other evening commuters. She saw him standing on the platform, still holding her jacket. She waved and saw him straighten to wave back.
She would enjoy working for young Mr Robinson. It was all part of his father’s plan. His youngest son needed someone sensible to look after him and she’d agreed, just before the final heart attack took him, the light slowly fading from his eyes as she screamed for help. He’d fallen against the glass table, cutting his head, his blood spattering the arm of her jacket.
She’d never really liked that jacket and now she would never have to wear it ever again.