I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Oughties. Worth a damn? No. 7

NOTE: End now rewritten

The Suit (Short story, 985 words)

Once this street had accommodated urban peasants. Now the house doors had been painted in gloss colours, painted and re-painted. Gentrified.

A woman answered Farquhar’s knock, her face blotched with crying. Farquhar said, “You’re troubled. I’ll leave.”

The woman’s puffy eyes focused on his shabbiness. “You’re troubled too. Is it money?”

Farquhar smiled. “I was looking for clothing. The nights are parky. Old clothes, anything.”

The woman paused. “You need an anorak. My husband doesn’t have one. He works in a bank.” Her lip trembled. “Worked.”

“I don’t want to worry…”

“Just suits,” she said.

“Anything.”

She was back quickly, holding a charcoal-grey pin-stripe on a hanger, the dry-cleaner’s plastic still in place. Also a black roll-neck pullover. She giggled. “I was thinking collar and tie. Do men still wear ties? The pullover’s better. And cash.” She giggled again, the tears very close. “It usually helps.”

The door closed and he had a twenty-pound note in his hand.

In The Cut he bought scissors costing 99 p and a cracked hand mirror reduced to 50 p. They wouldn’t let him sit down in the café where he'd spent £1.50 on chips so he ate them watching the Thames slide by, burdened by the suit and pullover, being careful with his greasy fingers.

The next morning he crossed the river dressed in the suit and wearing his older garments hidden by the new pullover. Southwark library offered an accessible, well-equipped set of toilets; also a notice in which “mendicants” appeared twice. He went in unchallenged.

By wetting his hair first he was able trim the ragged edge overhanging his jacket collar, flushing the cuttings down the plughole. Last night’s tentative hacking had improved the contours of his beard. In a couple more days it would almost be stylish.

Upright and confident he entered the warmth of the reading room to take over a virgin copy of The Times. Two hours passed without harassment and even when it arrived the tone was deferential. Farquhar spoke cheerfully: “I'd arranged to meet a friend here but he seems terribly late. I suppose you’ll need to kick me out.” It was daring to take that line but it had the desired effect. The librarian, or whoever, glanced embarrassed at his watch and said, “Let’s say another half-hour.”

A watery sun had raised the temperature by the time Farquhar left the library and this time the café allowed him to eat his chips seated, the queue bustling about him.

That afternoon a discarded Financial Times gave him an idea. Tucking it under his arm he entered an HSBC branch determined to press his new persona to the limit. The interior looked like an amusement arcade – a dozen machines but nobody who resembled a bank employee. He occupied one of two vestigial chairs, shaking out the FT and starting to read one of the inner pages. Half an hour elapsed before he was cautiously approached.

“I’m enquiring about a loan,” he said loudly.

“Has someone seen you?”

“A young chap.”

“Did you, er, catch his name?”

“I fear I didn’t. Young.” As if experiencing a vision, Farquhar smiled seraphically. “He wore a suit.”

Forty minutes of centrally heated warmth ensued before two bank minions escorted Farquhar from the building, neither of them certain they were doing the right thing. “You do have those application forms don’t you,” said one anxiously. “Come in and see us when you want to open an account.”

It was dark now and Farquhar was tired, if not thermally exhausted. He circled the Festival Hall bar overlooking the Thames until he found a glass with an inch of red wine left. With that as justification he pulled over a bar stool and started to read a James Paterson paperback carefully shrouded in the FT. It was not exactly comfortable but he was isolated from the light flickering on the river and the sensations that went with that inhuman beauty.

At seven-fifteen the bar started to empty as most made their way to the concert hall. The suit continued to protect him but he was now more exposed to scrutiny. From time to time he remembered to look up and glance around, as if waiting for someone.

The next time he did so he’d been joined at the table by a woman about his own age, fifties. Her ankle-length astrakhan coat looked expensive.She shrugged as their eyes met. “Have you been mislaid by someone? As I have?”

“You could say that.”

“Someone who has the tickets?” she said.

“I certainly don’t have them.”

“No concert tonight, then?” She had a voice that might be described as educated, as if her punctuation were audible.

“Not for me at least,” he said

“Are you prepared to talk?”

“Quite prepared.”

“And yet…” she said.

So, despite everything he didn't look entirely plausible. “Honestly, I'd like to talk,” he said.

“I still feel I’m intruding.”

He sighed. “Not at all. But I should warn you, there is a degree of deception. You’d be talking to the suit.”

She took this in her stride. “You aren’t who you appear to be?”

He considered the odd, evasive day he'd just spent. "Let's say I don't live up to the suit."

"Does that matter?" she asked.

"Not really. I can be an affable talker."

She nodded. “I had that impression. God knows why. How do I come over?"

He glanced again; noticed her trim hair, her careful make-up. Only one thing stood out. “That's an expensive coat.”

"Too expensive?"

Perhaps. But did it matter? He shook his head. "Just expensive. It does you proud."

“I live with your suit; you live with my coat," she suggested

"A fair swap. But I'm squeamish about doing a blood oath."

It made her laugh. He added.“That person with the tickets?"

"As imaginary as the one you refused to talk about."

He nodded. “I might run to two coffees.”

She pointed to the glass with its inch of wine. “That would be less namby-pamby.”



End was rewritten in response to reader reactions

15 comments:

marja-leena said...

I really like this short story, Roderick. It is good as is but it also has possibilities for a longer sotry for my curiosity is now piqued as to what might happen next.

PS your comment at my blog came through with flying colours! Thanks for the visit.

Blonde Two said...

Agree absolutely - what a beautifully crafted story. Although I think he was a tad too quick to mention the box, all had been so subtle until then.

Curiosity rampant about before and after this little scene.

Ellena said...

Love it and impressed by your survival skills.

Roderick Robinson said...

M-L: Next time I'll try and think of something to say instead of merely filling a blank space with words.

The aim with short stories (novels, blog posts, handwritten letters, ransom notes, graffiti, applications for driving licences, complaints to one's MP, etc) is to leave the reader wanting more. So I'm glad this story met this requirement at least.

B2: Well spotted. For reasons now absorbed by the ether I decided to limit my posted short stories to just less than 1000 words. In this case the limit was a shade too Procrustean. I should have devised an ending withut another character, based on the idea that attracted me to the tale in the first place - the transformative power of clothing.

OK, I give in, hoist by my own petard. Your final sentence is beyond me. But then my comments on Blondes Walking haven't exactly been models of transparency.

Ellena: At age 78 survival is all that matters. Glad you're surviving too.

mike M said...

I liked (love) all but the ending...it seemed too abrupt, the woman character too superficially described. The coat is not hers? Borrowed? Stolen? The jump to drink seems an easy, if somewhat suggestive "out". I too wanted more at the end of such a great development.It's desolate in the end. Maybe more of a suggestion as to where this unique encounter might lead? Where did her coat come from? Where did she come from? What does she look like?.....You've succeeded at least in that everyone wants MORE.

Ellena said...

Me again. Comments here are as interesting as the story you wrote.
I reread and looked for a way to better it. Yes, I did.
The only thing I can say is that
the 'Scotches' were one detail too many for my liking.
Did I miss why he is in the streets? If I did not then I don't need to know what got her
there. I thought it was just about clothes making the man.
I'd better go into hiding now.

Ellena said...

man referring to mankind

Roderick Robinson said...

ALL: Your welcome points are attended to in the following post.

Joe Hyam said...

A hint of a moral here. I like stories with morals as long as they are not too obvious. This one is fun too.

The Crow said...

Yesterday when I read it, I liked the ending - fitted the mood of the story, I thought, if a bit dark.

Today, rewritten ending, there is hope for both, their character belying their circumstances, their hard luck situations.

They cam across as good, if unfortunate, people in both stories. The ingredient that changed the mood, the colors, the possibilities, was hope.

Well done, both, Robbie.

Natalie D'Arbeloff said...

Really good. Attention-absorbing. I wanted more but felt I could supply more myself, just as you expect/encourage readers to do. For ex: the tear-stained woman who gives him the suit I saw as having just found out two disasters: 1: her husband is having an affair. 2: his fiddling with accounts has been found out by the bank where he works. So she's happy to hand the hobo his clothes, metaphorically kicking husband out on the street.
The transformation-by-suit is a brilliant idea with
infinite possibilities. So is the meeting with the coated stranger. In an improbable twist, she might even be the mistress of the cheating banker who is not going to turn up for his date with her that night because he's helping police with their enquiries.

mike M said...

I'm afraid I found the revision extremely confusing (speaker identity problems, and I'm completely puzzled by the lone line "I have") I liked the first one better. Maybe it was so good I just didn't want it to end. I liked the mystery of the coat not being "hers", in contrast to the suit, which is "his"... clearly given to him. I'm going to continue the first version in my head.....she asks about his wine. He recognizes her aroma.

Roderick Robinson said...

The Crow: There's ambiguity and ambiguity. In terms of the plot I felt I hadn't justified her appearance. As you see others didn't feel the ending worked. Hence the changes. But as I say no one's an expert. It's yours to react to. To do what you like with. Turn them into Dorothy and the Tin Man if you like.

Natalie: Let no one tell you you lack imagination. In fact the finished version of the story (either of them) turns out to be unnecessary in your case. All you needed was the seven-line summary included in The Suit: Could Do Better.

MikeM: I've scattered some "he/she saids" in. Also tweaked things here and there. Always hard to judge when one's nose is buried in the text. "I have" completely escaped me as I worked against another deadline - the imminent appearance of my evening meal. I'm pleased you liked either version, which one doesn't really matter. They were yours to react to. Obviously I had some ties to Version One but there seemed to be a consensus against it. Judging the level of ambiguity is the hardest job of all.

The Crow said...

Then, lucky me. I had two stories to consider, ponder over and carry to conclusions of my own design.

As I wrote above, well done. Both.

mike M said...

Great improvement....just having the dialog work easily gives my brain more time to explore the nuance...and leaves me with the final ambiguity, which I am savoring: which is she calling namby-pamby, the wine or the coffee? Love it.