I was sorely tempted to take this week off, or to give you a snippet from Viridian System Book 2. But Chuck Wendig had challenged people last week to give him an awesome title, from which he selected ten for us to choose from – and I couldn’t resist this one. It’s 1000 words, and I fear I have been influenced too much by reading Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests.
Jeremy Pocket and the See-Through Wall
Jeremy Pocket was a tailor, and a very good one at that.
Jeremy was also a gentleman’s assistant. When a gentleman came in for a suit, I would do all the sales guff, line, fit, quality, style and pattern, then once he’d made a decision, Jeremy would take all the measurements. Jeremy was very thorough, as he was with the cutting and stitching, and marking up when the gentlemen came for his visit.
It was a strange arrangement, since I was paid less than him, and I was the tailoring consultant. Yet he did all the skilled work, so I reckoned it was fair. ‘A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, and no fussing about titles,’ my mother used to say.
I was puzzled by the tips the gentlemen slipped him, but I knew better than to ask.
At that time we closed for lunch, and on Thursdays we would go together to the Lyons Corner House. It was always busy, so we used to share a table. Then my girl, Margaret, who worked in the next street in a lady’s couturier, arrived, and we’d squeeze her on the table as well, very cosy.
One day, she brought her friend. She was a looker, all right. Margaret, was sweet, and tidy, and just my type, not too blousy. Gladys was a looker, and she knew it. In a ladies’ outfitters, you need someone glamorous to wear their top styles as they were meant to be worn. Gladys was very nice, though, not loud, in fact very soft spoken. Whenever she spoke to Jeremy I couldn’t hear her. That suited Jeremy as he had to bend his head to her mouth to listen to her, and he always preferred a soft-spoken woman. I wondered whether Gladys had fallen for him because he made so much extra in tips.
Our lunches continued for well over a year. Gladys would pay for her and Margaret’s meal, and Jeremy would pay for ours. I protested that he was treating me too often, but he said he got more tips than me, so it was only fair. I mentioned this to Margaret one summer evening when we’d gone to the park to listen to the band in the bandstand. She said Gladys got more tips than her, too. She’d also said Thursdays were her treat to compensate.
I wondered aloud why the pair of them got tips, I mean, they were only measuring the clients, assisting them with the fit of the garment.
Margaret gave me an old-fashioned look. “I think you ought to watch him a little closer, and find out what he’s up to.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, have you ever noticed that our shops back onto one another?”
I had not. On the next slow day I realised what she meant. Not only were the shops back to back, but the two fitting rooms shared their wall. When Jeremy popped out for a newspaper, I nipped in to inspect them.
Each had two mirrors, one on the side and one at the back, so a gentleman could see how a suit looked from two angles at once. On the day I inspected them, the light was off in the corner one, and knowing they were all the same, I stepped into the larger lit one. The curtain hung clear of the back wall mirror, and I childishly pulled some faces at myself. I thought I heard a woman giggle, a curious sound through the wall of a gentleman’s outfitters, but nevertheless a giggle, almost as if they could see my silly faces.
I shrugged at my fancy, heard the shop door open, and went through to greet the customer. Shortly afterwards Jeremy came back, and took the customer through to his fitting.
While they were engaged, another customer came in, requesting to speak to Jeremy most urgently. Of course, I explained he was with a customer and would be with him very soon, would he care to take a seat, or perhaps look at some new Italian cloth that had arrived this week?
He did not. Would I fetch Mr Pocket at once?
I sighed, and stepped towards the fitting room. I knocked on the door, of course, and called “Mr Pocket! I’m sorry to disturb you, but…”
The lights went on in the corner fitting room and Mr Pocket emerged, tape measure in one hand, and smoothing his hair with the other. I couldn’t imagine why the light had been out, but with customers in the store, I could hardly question him there and then.
“I’ll see to this, you just return to your desk,” he said to me.
I did, and the customer came out of the fitting room, passed Mr Pocket and the newcomer, saying, ‘same time next week, then, Mr Pocket,’ to which Jeremy agreed. Then Mr Pocket took the other customer through for his fitting.
This seemed highly irregular. I had not spoken to the customer about anything to do with an order. I decided to protest. I went through the fitting room door, and into the corner fitting room, where the lights were off once more. I hesitated, of course. I mean, what were two adult males doing in a dark fitting room?
Mr Pocket heard me coming, and was ready to silence me, grabbing me from behind as I stepped forward. He had no need, for the sight of the two ladies in the cubicle of the couturier, one in advanced stage of disrobement, silenced me more thoroughly than any method of his own.
The explanation that followed, when the customers were gone, raised my concerns over the morality of his enterprise. But when Margaret, my sweet Margaret, told me to hold my qualms and allow her to make a little extra on the side for our wedding day, I decided to go along with it. After all, it was only a see-through wall. Wasn’t it?
(c) J M Pett 2016