Image: Envy © by Iza-nagi
Mary Dowd Part 1
Mary Dowd saw she was getting new neighbours, and she couldn’t help but spy through the window as the removalists unpacked and carried their possessions into the house. She sat far enough back so as not to be obvious to anyone who ventured a glance her way.
Here were so many boxes marked kitchen and dining room, an impressive leather lounge and a bed head she immediately coveted.
The new neighbours were obviously well off, that was clear, and she looked around her humble abode and suddenly wished she’d insisted Ray had painted the lounge room before he left.
Ray’s departure for a much younger woman had crushed her since believing their marriage was solid and would last forever.
Out of shame, Mary had isolated herself inside the house.
She kept the front door locked, and the thought of having to front her new neighbours with all their perfect possessions and admit to failure in her marriage was too much to contemplate.
Then something caught her eye. An antique vase was removed from a box and placed on a stand near the side window. Immediately she felt that twang of jealousy as she had had one a long time ago. It had been given to her by her grandmother, and she’d treasured it up until the day Ray in a fit of anger had knocked it flying. She’d cried for days after. Thankfully her Grandmother was long dead by then, and she only had to shoulder the grief of her own disappointment.
But the sight of it brought back so many memories.
Then from the back of the truck came an unexpected item, a full-size harp, carefully carried into the house and she felt even more intimidated as her musical tastes were restricted to the Easy Listening radio station now playing in the background.
Over the morning as she watched she was aware of so many nice things disappearing into the house. She thought how it would be to have new things, not the worn out lounge, the dining room table and chairs that had had more repairs done than she cared to remember.
Even her cups and sauces had chips out of them. How could she possibly invite them in for afternoon tea with such a terrible kitchen to sit them in when theirs would be resplendent with Royal Doulton and what have you?
A knock on the door awoke her from her troubles.
She waited a few moments making sure she was dressed properly, buttons all in the right holes, hair in some semblance of order before she opened the door.
There stood a woman she assumed to be her new neighbour.
The woman was dressed to the nines and was, she surmised, about her age.
“Hello,” said the lady in front of her, “I’m Vera Winston- Jones. My husband and I have just moved in next door, and I was wondering, apart from introducing myself if you would have some sugar I might borrow. We have driven over this morning, and it’s been such a long day, we are both famished and somewhere in a box is our sugar, but I can’t lay a hand on it. Would you mind, ah, Mrs?
“Dowd, Mary Dowd. Of course, no trouble I’ll be right back,” said Mary seething inside, as she didn’t look a patch on Mrs Winston-Jones with her fancy double name. Even the cup she brought with her was flawless, spotlessly clean and looked like it had never been out its box.
She returned with the sugar and hurriedly saw Vera off saying she was about to go out, the Art Gallery Board meeting was on, and she was running late.
With Vera gone she sat back down and breathed a sigh of relief mixed with her own disappointment as she hated art and what possessed her to make a statement such as did was beyond her.
Vera Winston-Jones Part 1
Vera looked out the car window as she and her husband Ernest arrived in front of their new home.
This place was such a come down from the beach side mansion they had had to sell. Ernest stopped the car at the kerb, and they sat a moment, the silence between them was thick with resentment.
In the previous months through a series of scandals and poor investments, they had lost everything. Their luxury home was gone, their position in society and self-esteem shattered and Vera wanted nothing more than to hide and pretend it was all a bad dream.
Ernest had done some really dumb things the biggest in Vera’s eyes was having a fling with his secretary who dumped him once she realised there was no future for her hanging around a man fast becoming a big-time loser.
The humiliation had brought Vera undone. She believed she and Ernest had worked together to provide for themselves and their now grown children.
Now she felt worthless as if everything she stood for meant nothing. She’d moved out of the bedroom leaving her husband in no doubt as to how she felt about him and everything he had done to destroy her life.
The sale of their home, her pride and joy, had well and truly guttered her along with the realisation of the massive debts he had accumulated. So many of her possessions she’d had to sacrifice to help clear their debts.
Somehow they had scraped together enough to borrow to buy the house she now sat in front of. In the financial world, Ernest’s name was mud. His job prospects menial, at best. She’d berated him about their plight and told him to go out and find some sort of a job as she’d suffered enough humiliation without having to sell off the few precious things she was left with.
She never imagined herself as a suburban housewife but now she took in what it was they had sunk to. At least she thought it was a brick building as she surveyed the house next door, a drab weatherboard place with an over grown garden. Please, she thought don’t let me stoop to that. The garden at their new place was modest, but she’d decided manageable, and as they couldn’t now employ a gardener it was to be up to her to maintain it.
The removals van had backed into the driveway, and two grubby men in overalls had begun moving what was left of their lives into the house.
They weren’t quite destitute, but they weren’t far off it.
She went inside and watched as the men dumped boxes marked kitchen and dining room in their respective rooms. One box marked Nanna she opened and took from it a vase and placed it on a stand near the side window. She wanted it out of the box and in a place of safety. She’d worry about the exact location later. The vase was important to her, as it was a gift from her grandmother and the only heirloom she could keep from the auctioneer’s hammer.
Ernest was fussing about shifting boxes to bedrooms and stressing over the move as around him the removals men continued to dump boxes in any space they could find.
This house was not going to be big enough, and she began worrying about how was she going to cope amidst the clutter she saw growing by the second.
It was a three-bedroom house, small rooms, high ceilings; one bathroom and small closet she had thought would be best used as a linen press.
In the kitchen, she found a box-marked kitchen and opening it took out the kettle and plugged it in. Further searching discovered the tea and a few cups but no sugar.
Vera was in no mood for prolonged searching at that point and opened a box she knew held a new dinner set her daughter had given her the Christmas before.
She’d noticed movement over at her neighbours and so decided to go and ask if she could borrow some sugar. How the mighty have fallen, she thought as she took her cup in hand and knocked on her neighbour’s door.
Mary Dowd looked startled when she opened the door, took her cup and returned with some sugar. Hesitant introductions made and Mary’s statement about the Art Gallery raised Vera’s eyebrows, as she didn’t know there was an Art Gallery in this part of town.
Truth be known Vera thought so much modern art was pretentious rubbish and she only attended openings with Ernest when it was in their business interests.
Returning to her house, eager for a cup of tea she wondered how she might cope in this house, this backwater and with a husband she now despised.
Mary Dowd Part 2
Mary awoke the next morning to the sound of hammering. It took her a moment to realise it was coming from the new neighbours.
‘New people, new sounds, new things to be irritated by,’ she thought as she got up to start her day.
From her kitchen window, she could see a man sawing pieces of timber, and her thoughts went to when she and Ray moved into the house and spent the first few weeks making things the way they wanted them.
Everything was good back then, they were young, in love and enjoyed being together and creating something that would be their’s after years of saving and paying rent to landlords who never seemed to care what state of disrepair they lived in.
But Ray grew tired of her was the reasoning she had behind the demise of their marriage. She realised one day she had developed a nagging aspect to her character, and she disliked that about herself, But if she wanted things done, she did have to keep asking, as Ray liked being sedentary when at home.
Age didn’t help either of them. Health became an issue like when Mary had a cancer scare. It was just after her fortieth birthday and feeling in her prime this shook her to her core.
She was lucky being able to shake free eventually from its clutches, but it came at a price. Ray grew more and more distant. He stopped showing any interest in her sexually, and so long as she had a meal for him each evening, he seemed content.
They no longer talked over their issues as they once had, Ray started to work longer hours and took on more work as his Plumbing business became more and more profitable.
At the time Mary thought Ray was doing all he could for her, as she was very much incapacitated while undergoing treatment.
Then one day she noticed a series of invoices for a Maggie Jupp and began to wonder how much work he was doing for her. Then she accidentally picked up his phone one day and found messages from her that were far more than those of a client.
Ray dismissed her fears as trivial, he said Mrs Jupp had a big house and needed a lot of work to re-plumb her place.
She trusted Ray, even though she could see their relationship was changing.
As she sat with her morning cuppa, she thought about him and what she missed. The winter mornings when she would snuggle into him soaking in his warmth. Their mornings at the kitchen table discussing the day ahead.
What she didn’t miss was Ray’s drinking. Around the time of her cancer he started to go to the pub after work, she’d be waiting for him to come home in need of his attention and he’d come in, and the abuse would start.
The next day he would be his normal self with no memory of the hurt he inflicted the night before. When she reminded him, he would be apologetic vowing to never drink again. That promise lasted until the end of the day.
It was during one of these drunken rages he broke her grandmother’s vase. He didn’t remember that either.
By the time she finished her breakfast the hammering had ceased, and a quiet descended over the neighbourhood. She looked out again and couldn’t see any sign of life. She imagined they would be occupied unpacking boxes and putting their precious stuff away in cabinets to show off how well off they were.
Suddenly the man reappeared. His appearance surprised Mary, as he wasn’t dressed as an executive as she imagined but rather over sized shorts, a polo shirt and sandals. He drove off in his car, which didn’t look very executive either.
Rinsing her breakfast plate, she began to wonder about the first impressions she had, of her new neighbours.
Vera Winston-Jones Part 2
Vera woke and paused to take in her new surroundings. There was light coming through the curtains against the window for her to assume it was the beginning of a new day.
As she rolled over in her bed, her new reality loomed over her. Her single bed was uncomfortable, her back was aching, but she had chosen to move into the smallest bedroom leaving Ernest the larger of the bedrooms. Also, the bedroom she chose had a bathroom adjacent, and to Vera that was important.
The room had a built-in wardrobe, enough room for her small dressing table, her bed and her good self.
Everything had been sacrificed so they could have what they had now. A three-bedroom house in the suburbs, a place where she hoped to be anonymous.
Immediately she could feel the resentment towards Ernest returning. It had been all his selfish fault, his poor business decisions, his fling with his secretary and now this, a penniless existence surviving on their meagre savings. She had no idea how long they might last as money matters had always been controlled by her husband. That she decided was a terrible mistake she’d made in trusting him, and she was sure it wasn’t going to happen in the future. Already she had taken charge of their finances, putting what little money and assets they had into her name.
She could hear movement in the house and knew Ernest after their hushed argument last night was up. He’d promised to put together some bookshelves for her before he went out job hunting. There were a few pieces of timber in the old garage at the back of the house he thought would do the job.
By the time Vera ventured out of bed and put her face on, appearances were important for Vera, no matter your circumstances, Ernest had constructed a sturdy set of shelves for her.
He was all ready to go out and dressed more casually than she’d seen him in such a long time. He said goodbye as she was switching on the kettle.
In recent times their only communication had been through argument. She found no reason to be civil to him but plenty of cause to be hostile.
She heard him drive off and realised she had the house to herself.
With a coffee in hand, she sat and looked out though the back window. Behind the house was a farm, stretching across an expanse of green to another road.
Vera thought the view was pleasant, at least something here might be bearable she thought.
She didn’t know how long she and Ernest might survive, but they were in no position to split when together they had nothing, divided it would be less than that.
Her mind turned to her neighbour Mary Dowd. A strange woman, seemingly meek and scared was her first impression. Hospitable enough but not in any warm, welcoming way. She wondered if all the residents in the street were the same?
From Vera’s first impressions there didn’t appear to be a Mr Dowd and Vera thought maybe it was possible to survive on your own. Though she did note that Mary Dowd didn’t appear to take much care of her appearance.
Vera spent her morning unpacking boxes, the kitchen firstly as she needed to get that organised, plus the items she needed for her room and bathroom. The rest she left either where they had been dumped by the removalists or in Ernest’s room.
At the bottom of a box marked ‘miscellaneous’, she found the sugar and her mind turned to her neighbour. Looking at the clock she saw it was close to morning teatime, she could return the sugar and take in the teacake she had bought on her way from her previous life.
Mary Dowd Part 3
Since the day Ray had left, Mary had organised her life around a schedule of events she tried to stick to. It was how she coped with the loneliness his absence imposed on her.
She spent her mornings tidying up the house, she’d never cope if Ray or anyone turned up and her house was not spit-polish clean.
If the day was sunny there was washing to hang, and the garden was always in need of her attention, though the hour or so she’d spend out there didn’t seem to be benefitting it.
Mary preferred when she was in the garden to find a spot where she could hide. Sometimes behind the hydrangeas, often in her fernery as her previous neighbours had a habit of finding her and wanting to discuss the most inane things like the fruit fly in their tomatoes or whether or not to use rose spray before or after the yearly prune.
Today she decided to sit in her front room, read, and watch for any activity from her new neighbour. Underneath it, all Mary was a curious woman and her new neighbours were a source of curiosity.
She took her seat beside the side window where she thought she could discretely keep an eye out for anything going on.
Her book was a memoir by an American author about her childhood abuse. The local librarian had suggested it as a few patrons had read and recommended it. Any book with the word ‘secret’ in the title intrigued her, and so far she had enjoyed the story, as troubling as it was.
There had been no movement next door since the man had left. She began to wonder about her new neighbour. She imagined that Mrs Vera Hyphenated would have the best furniture in which to store her expensive and beautiful ornaments, framed citations from Prime Ministers and trophies attesting to her skill in playing bridge and maybe even an accomplishment on the harp she had seen entering the house the day before. Mary’s mother had a beautiful china cabinet, which was destroyed one year when the flood went through her house. She had always admired it and hoped to acquire it when her mother died, but it was not to be.
There was so much of the past now lost, destroyed or simply forgotten and she wondered why time changed so much.
She looked up to see Mrs Hyphenated coming out her side door. To Mary’s horror, the woman turned left out of her drive and headed towards Mary’s front gate.
Mary immediately went into a panic and dropped her book, and rushed to her room. Knowing it could be a few seconds before the woman knocked on the door, she grabbed her brush and ran it through her hair. She checked herself in the mirror, quietly cursed herself for her lack of makeup, but truth be known she rarely used any nowadays. She looked at herself in the mirror and saw the age lines creeping across her brow, and the deepening rings under her eyes. Old age sucks she said to herself then checked to make sure she hadn’t slopped anything down her shirt while having breakfast. All seemed to be the best it could be.
She heard the knock on the door and upon opening it found her new neighbour standing there with her hands full.
Vera Winston-Jones Part 3
Vera with tea-cake and cup of sugar in hand made her way to Mary Dowd’s front gate. As she went though the gate squeaked in protest and she wondered if the gate and the Mary she had met yesterday were of a similar ilk.
The Mrs Dowd she met yesterday certainly appeared a fearful woman but sometimes thought Vera that could stem from a lack of confidence.
She stopped such thoughts at that moment. She’d lived a life of solitude for so long she was in no position to judge the behaviour of others.
Their beach side home was situated in a cul-de-sac off the beach thoroughfare, and so she had no neighbours. There were houses either side, but they were rented out on weekends and holidays by families who came and went without a greeting her way of any kind.
Her isolation had suited Ernest as he saw Vera as the wife he brought out on special occasions when he needed to appear in public with a woman on his arm, he thought made him look good.
He ignored her requests to be able to get out more telling her the yearly holiday to some exotic place he chose should be enough as he expected her to be at his beck and call.
But all that had changed now. She was determined to be her woman, living with Ernest was the means to an end, but she was now going to discover who Vera was and what she might achieve on her own.
Part of that determination was establishing a friend with her next-door neighbour, no matter how hard it might turn out to be.
Vera had never been all that observant in life. She tended to take things as they were, as she knew she didn’t have much control over what happened around her.
But standing at Mrs Dowd’s front door, she saw there was no bell to ring. In front of her was a fly screen door and behind that a solid looking front door. It looked old and heavy. It must be an old house she thought having no idea of what the age of a house meant only that when they replaced the door on the beach house, their choices were nothing as solid as this door appeared.
She knocked on the screen door hoping she would be heard. As she did, she was oblivious to the panic on the other side.
She heard footsteps, then the rattling of locks before the door opened and Mrs Dowd stood before her looking far less dishevelled than she did the day before.
Vera with a smile on her face stood before her, a cup of sugar in one hand and the teacake in the other.
“Good morning Mrs Dowd,” said Vera trying to sound confident and cheerful, “I wanted to come and say thank you for your hospitality yesterday.”
“Oh,” replied Mary, “that’s alight, glad I could help. And call me Mary. Are you settling in ok?”
“Oh yes thank you. And I’m Vera. There’s so much to do, and I thought I needed a break, and so I’d come over and say hello, return your kindness and share this tea cake.”
“Oh, that’s lovely. Do come in,” said Mary instantly regretting her invitation. Her mind was racing thinking over what she had done to the house to make it presentable. ‘Thank goodness,’ she thought, ‘I vacuumed earlier.’
Vera came in and as expected cast an eye over Mary’s house. It was a simple place, adequate furnishings and looking beyond where they were standing she could see a well-lit back room.
“Lovely place you have Mary,” remarked Vera not sure her’s was any better.
“Thank you, Vera. Since Ray, my husband, left I’ve not been able to do a lot to it, but its home and thankfully mine, ” said Mary determined to show Vera she was a woman of means.
Ernest Winston-Jones Part 1
Ernest was hanging by a finger over a drop that went a long way down. ‘This was it,’ he thought as rescue was out of the question.
Just as he was about to let go a hand grabbed his wrist, and he found himself being pulled back up.
He looked up to see his rescuer was Vera.
‘This can’t be right,’ thought Ernest, ‘where did she come from and she’d never been strong enough.’
The shock of Vera’s face woke him, and he sat up in bed.
Then it came back to him. He was in trouble. Big trouble when it was Vera who was his saviour.
Today he had awoken to his first day in the new house. He lay in his bed remembering what had happened.
Everything had gone so well. His land purchase with the help of his mate on the council had gone through. The land from initial surveys indicated it was the site of an Aboriginal midden but Ernest and his friend had hushed it up, and all would have proceeded smoothly if a labourer on the site upon digging up Aboriginal stone tools had not told his mate from the local paper about what he’d found.
Before he knew it every heritage group for miles was involved, the local land council stepped in demanding an inquiry and the publicity surrounding the corruption involved proved his undoing.
On top of that when his business dealings were looked into he’d been caught out offering poor financial advice, and many of his clients had lost everything. There was a looming class action against him, and he knew it was the end of the road for him in the financial business. Added to that his secretary, with whom he had been having a raging affair, had resigned after Vera became aware of what he was up to.
As a result of the turmoil, he had to sell their beach side home along with their prized possessions such as his expensive car and furnishings and the extensive share portfolio he had built up.
The only money they had was a little Vera had put away and managed to hide from the auditors. With that, they had secured a loan to buy the house. For Ernest, the house meant some sense of future and security. But the descent into near penury weighed heavily on him.
For the first time in his married life, he was dependent on Vera.
She had not spoken to him for the past week, and he found himself very alone in the world.
She now held the financial reins and had made it clear to him that he would have to go out and find a job, ‘shovelling shit’ if he had to.
Her bluntness had surprised him, as Vera had always been so compliant to his wishes. After all, he had provided her with a life style she did enjoy, she didn’t have to work, and he took her on an overseas holiday each year.
He lay in bed thinking how his life had unravelled so much in the past six months. In his mind, he knew he had done the wrong thing over the Aboriginal site, but greed had got the better of him. That and the thrill of his affair with Madison.
She was a beautiful girl, had been his secretary for over a year before they became romantically involved. It had been so easy, late nights working together, their conversations which always led to their complaints about their current partners and after one trip out of town they found themselves at dinner and then afterwards in bed.
Ernest felt compelled to continue the affair. Madison was a keen and willing lover, she was everything Vera wasn’t.
In the background, he could hear the kettle boiling and made his way to the bathroom to ready himself for what most likely the first day of the rest of his life.
Ernest prided himself on his dress. He was a suit man, and his shirts were always ironed perfectly, though in recent days he’d learned to do it himself as Vera had told him her days as his maid were over.
But today was not a business day, today was a job-hunting day. He needed to look as humble as he could.
Ernest Winston -Jones Part 2
The morning started off in what was now a predictable way. Vera said nothing to him as he found himself some breakfast, a few bits of toast on which he spread some candied honey.
The night before they had had an argument about his financial dealings.
Vera was furious over what he had done, such that she said he was to get himself out first thing in the morning to find a job. She didn’t care what it was so long as it earned money they might survive on.
So feeling he didn’t have a leg to stand on and that Vera was now calling the shots, he planned to take himself off to find work.
The car he drove off in was a humbling experience in itself. A second hand Hyundai was all they could afford, and it was a well-used car. The seats were torn, the air-conditioner no longer worked and it had wind up windows, something Ernest felt more embarrassed about than anything else.
He decided to try the local Gonners Store, a huge rambling hardware store three blocks from where he was living. He had made up a small CV the night before and hoped the recruitment officer wasn’t a former client or for that matter read the papers.
He was shown into the office of the RH representative and given an application for employment form. It was the standard employment questionnaire, and he had to admit to being previously employed, and he decided his former job wasn’t something he could avoid what with internet searches so easy to conduct.
Eventually, he was ushered into the office of a young man who looked like he had just finished school.
The interview went well with the young man telling him he was recently married and he and his new wife were looking for some financial advice. Ernest reddened at the suggestion and quickly advised the young man he was no longer in that business and so might not be the right person to ask.
The conversation turned to the skills Ernest had, his past experience in sales and his ability to communicate. It was obvious to the young man that Ernest had excellent communication skills and experience and he made it known that the store was looking for an experienced man to work in their paint section.
At this suggestion, Ernest bent the truth slightly by implying he had renovated several houses in his time and knew a lot about paint, painting and colour selection.
In a matter of moments, Ernest had been employed and the necessary forms filled in.
There was one thing though the young man said, would Ernest be okay with his nametag calling him Ernie.
Ernest had been Ernest all his life, and he had bitten savagely at anyone who lessened his name to Ernie. But in this circumstance where he was now desperate, he agreed to the change.
The young man outlined to him that Ernie was a more colloquial name and people would feel more relaxed around a man called Ernie than Ernest. Added to that there was the fact that customers felt an older man offered them life experience, which was important when it came to matters of painting.
And so Ernie was brought into existence and went home buoyed by the fact he had found employment.
Vera was not there when he arrived home so he stowed his new Gonners uniform away thinking she’d be pleased he now had a job, he’d be out of her hair, and he wouldn’t have to face the humiliation of his name tag, at least until tomorrow.
Mary Dowd Part 4
Mary stood at the door watching Vera disappear up the path and back to her house. It had been a far more enjoyable morning than Mary anticipated.
Vera was not unlike herself. Once you stripped away the pearl necklace and matching ear-rings Vera was a very down to earth woman.
Once the pleasantries had been spoken, it was question time. How long had Mary lived there? What did she do with herself? How close were the shops? Was there a David Jones store nearby?
Each woman had a story, and it surprised Mary when she glanced at the clock to see two hours had passed.
Despite the privileged life Vera had led underneath she was a woman damaged, with needs and desires the same as everyone else.
She was surprised by Vera’s attention to her answers. Mary had lived a solitary life, she didn’t mix all that well and Ray had made her life a nightmare with his demands and criticism. His leaving, had in fact, been a great relief for Mary.
With his drinking releasing his inner demons she had walked in fear of him for many years. Social outings were edged with trepidation less he drank too much, and in a social setting, he was not adverse to levelling criticism and sarcasm her way.
So often towards the end of their marriage, she had felt so belittled by him she would actively seek excuses not to go out with him.
This didn’t help as he used her excuses to further rage against her.
By this time unbeknownst to Mary, Ray had engaged in a full-on affair with Maggie Jupp, a client he had been doing a lot of plumbing work for.
When the time came, and he announced his intention to leave her he bombarded her with every fault he perceived she had.
She didn’t satisfy him, she was slovenly, she was the world’s worse cook, her dress sense was shocking, and an embarrassment and she’d let herself go such she’d become a millstone around his neck.
His life was one long, dull event thanks to her. As a result, once he was gone, she had retreated into the house finding little reason to go out and be recognised as the failed woman she was sure others saw her as.
Mary was aware that depression had descended upon her but had not sought any help being essentially too afraid to go out and admit failure to anyone.
So she stowed herself away, living a life of organised routine pretending she was okay and pushing all thoughts of her hurt from Ray out of her mind.
Vera had listened and now understood why Mary looked so challenged when she first knocked on her door.
To Vera, Mary was a step or two ahead of her even if Mary didn’t see herself as any sort of free woman.
Mary’s story had given Vera strength to tell her story as well.
Vera Winston-Jones Part 4
Vera returned home to find Ernest sitting at the breakfast bar, a coffee in one hand and a chocolate biscuit in the other.
He had that supercilious look on his face, one Vera had grown to despise in recent times.
He announced as she came into the kitchen that he had secured a job at the local Gonners store.
Vera looked at him and asked, “Doing what?”
“I’m on the paint counter, helping with the paint and assisting people with colour selection,” replied Ernest feeling he had, at last, managed to gain a foot hole in their waning relationship.
“But you know nothing about paint. You’ve never painted a thing in your life. So you conned your way into this job?”
“They were looking for an older man. They want to believe an older man can instil confidence in their customers.”
“Ernest you are unbelievable. You convinced them you knew something about paint? How?”
“I told them I had renovated several houses, and I have.”
“You engaged a builder every time, and I was the one who organised the painting. You’ll come undone again I can see it. I suppose the more they stroked your ego the further you went with it all?
With that, Ernest shut up realising he was on thin ice so took himself outside to finish his coffee.
Vera retreated to her room and thought about her morning with Mary. Mary had revealed far more than Vera expected, she was anticipating a quiet morning, some coffee and teacake and the exchange of pleasantries.
It was clear to her that Mary was after a friend, as was Vera, but it developed far quicker than Vera thought it might.
Mary’s revelations about Ray had struck a nerve with her. She too had been wronged but in a different way. Vera had always been aware of the precarious nature of her relationship with Ernest. He was a shallow man, driven in business to achieve and be better than the next guy. She was well aware of his propensity to walk over anyone in his way. She saw her role within the marriage to support him and provide him with a confidante. She had stroked his ego, been at his beck and call and had tried at every turn to be the devoted, attentive wife.
When things went bad, firstly the scandal focusing on his financial advise to his clients and if that wasn’t bad enough the news that he and his secretary had been having an affair had cut her to the quick.
Up until then, Vera had been sure she could ride out the scandal with her husband.
Now with the news of his deceit, she felt such a fool. She’d trusted him believing he was a part of the machine that made up their marriage.
She felt outraged and humiliated at the same time. She’d made so many special efforts to maintain the marriage, dressed to the nines to make him proud of her, organised dinners for him and clients, had prepared late night dinners for him when he’d worked late, had always been willing in bed to satisfy him.
They had everything they needed materially; it was as much a desire to love her husband and show him she did that motivated her.
It was a month before the news hit that she began to notice Ernest was distracted, he stopped talking to her, appeared moody most of the time, came home later each evening, ate very little and said he was tired and wanted to go to bed rather than spend any time with her.
She saw the loneliness descending on her and soon began to understand why she was feeling isolated in their marriage.
It was a dreadful time for her, and she was determined that from now on she would be holding the reins to the Winston-Jones carriage.
Mary Dowd Part 5
Mary woke the next morning feeling the best she had in a long time. Her mornings had been up until now a matter of facing up to another miserable day.
Even though she was relieved Ray had gone she missed the comfort of having someone in the house.
But yesterday Vera had come over, and their chat had been liberating. She hadn’t intended to blurt out her life story as she had, but something warm and understanding about Vera opened a door within her to tell her story.
She was feeling for the first time unburdened, and it wasn’t that Vera had any answers it was more she had listened.
In the end with cups of tea drunk and Vera’s teacake given a good shake, the two women parted, embracing each other to cement their friendship. Vera like herself had suffered in a marriage that was only a marriage in name. Like her, Vera had been humiliated by Ernest’s affair and betrayal.
Mary for the first time in a long time thought of her ordered day and decided for the first time in a long while that she didn’t need to stick to a routine. This was to be her morning. She’d do as she pleased as Vera had promised to call if and when Ernest went out and have her over to continue their chat from the day before.
Mary decided it was a good opportunity to bake.
So after a quick breakfast, she set to work baking muffins and her favourite honey ginger biscuits. After all, she wasn’t going to turn up at Vera’s with nothing to offer.
With the biscuits and muffins made she boiled the kettle and made herself a coffee. By now the muffins were cooled, and she wanted to try one to see if they were as tasty as always. She’d mixed apple and raspberry into her muffins, and they melted in her mouth. Her one trait Ray had praised was her baking skills.
Thinking of that sent her mind back to when he left. She didn’t know she was capable of such anger and resentment, it seethed and bubbled inside of her, and as he drove off, oblivious to her pain, she plotted revenge.
It was a spur of the moment thing. In one corner of the yard was a small rose patch Ray had planted when they first moved in. It was a symbol, he said, of their love and commitment.
Taking a spade from the tool shed, she dug up every single rose and cast them into the green waste bin. Never mind the possibility of the thorns pricking and scratching her, with her gardening gloves on she worked at a frenzied pace fearful of thinking too much about what she was doing as she dug each offending rose from the ground.
With the roses gone she smoothed over the plot as if nothing had ever been there and thought a good healthy hydrangea would be just the thing to take her mind from what was there.
Apart from her attention to the roses the rest of the garden had pretty much gone to rack and ruin. Mary had grand plans in her head, and unfortunately, that’s where they stayed. She’d sit out in the garden, under the wisteria trellis, on an old garden seat, and think about it, but couldn’t bring herself to act.
‘Just another aspect of my depressive life,’ she would think to herself.
Her phone woke her from her thoughts, and she answered to find Vera giggling and offering her an invitation to come over.
Vera Winston-Jones Part 5
Vera met Mary at her front door sporting the biggest of grins.
She took Mary in and invited her to sit in the sunroom while she made the tea. Mary carrying her mornings baking did so eagerly awaiting Vera’s news. Big grins usually meant big news in Mary’s estimation.
“You wouldn’t believe what I saw this morning,” said Vera setting down the teapot and two cups which Mary immediately saw were not Royal Doulton.
“Goodness,” replied Mary, “ something has certainly tickled your fancy.”
Vera was having trouble stifling her giggles and finally managed to settle herself enough to tell Mary the reason.
“I came out to get my breakfast, and there was Ernest dressed ready for work. He had on his uniform; he’s gone to work at Gonners just down the street. Apparently, he talked them into giving him a job on the paint counter as he made out he knew about paint. The only thing he knows about paint is, it comes in a tin, and you put it on with a brush.
But that’s not why I was laughing. On his chest was his nametag. Only it didn’t say Ernest, it said Ernie.
Now when you meet Ernest, and I’m sure you will at some unlucky stage, you’ll discover that he is very much an Ernest. In fact, up until now, he would yell at anyone who dared to call him Ernie. He believed Ernest gave him a sense of superiority and class. Yes, Mary very much up himself.
He told me Gonners wanted to have him known as Ernie as it was much less formal than Ernest and Ernie was more a name people might connect with and feel more confident when receiving advice.
Oh, how I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he tries to give out advice.”
“Well,” said Mary, “I can see why you are finding all this so humorous. But I can see too that for Ernest it must be humiliating as well.”
“Oh Mary, please don’t feel sorry for him. He deceived not only me but also every client he had each of who trusted him completely. He’s not only destroyed their lives but mine as well. He deserves every indignity.”
Mary could see Vera’s point and sipped on her tea looking around the room. She spotted the vase she had seen when Vera had moved in. She got up and wandered across the room to have a closer inspection.
It was a beautiful piece so like the one Ray had smashed. The only difference was the roses on Vera’s vase were a beautiful mauve where her’s had been pink.
“I had one very similar,” said Mary, “my grandmother left it for me. It was the only memento of her I had until Ray smashed it.”
Mary went silent as she felt the tears building up in her eyes and Vera came and stood beside her, placed an arm around her shoulder and gave her a cuddle which made Mary feel less conspicuous.
“This one was from my grandmother too,” said Vera, “they were obvious very popular once.”
“It’s beautiful,” replied a teary Mary.
“Well, I doubt Ernest even knows its here, to be honest. When we had to sell up, I buried in my suitcase when the auctioneers came. There was no way his folly was going to cost me my only connection with my grandmother.”
“A wise move Vera, when Ray smashed mine I had no idea he would do that as he knew how precious it was to me. He dismissed it as sentimental rubbish. I don’t really think I’ve recovered from that. Men can be so cruel.”
“They can indeed,” agreed Vera before inviting Mary to return to the sunroom where a fresh pot of tea awaited them.
Vera Winston-Jones Part 6
When Ernest left for work earlier that morning, Vera had sat over her coffee aware that later in the morning Mary would be coming over. With Ernest out of the house and now employed at the local Gonners store Vera was going to have her mornings to herself. She was glad that the day was to be hers. Ernest had driven her crazy the night before telling her he had to learn the layout of the store so should he be asked where buckets might be found he could direct the customer to aisle 42. He had the store layout spread on the dining room table and spend hours studying it and getting her to ask questions about where she might find any product she could think of.
Now he was gone it was time for her to reflect on what had happened in the recent past and how their lives had changed so drastically.
Ernest had been caught giving bad advice to clients who wanted to invest in the property market. He encouraged people to invest in properties he owned, and when the property market crashed the investments, he said he had made for his clients crashed along with it.
He was exposed as a dodgy businessman, and the papers were not backward in saying so. How he avoided gaol was more a miracle than good planning or defence counsel.
Once he was exposed, he had one option only, and that was to sell up and attempt to make restitution.
The upheaval to Vera was all but unbearable.
Their lives changed forever.
What little money they did have was in accounts in Vera’s name and that money they were lucky to keep.
So the Winston-Jones’ went from beach side living to suburban living with no friends and very little in financial security.
Had Ernest not been able to make financial restitution there was every chance he would have ended up locked up. She knew he would not have survived gaol.
She remembered the son of an aged Aunt who spent a lot of time in gaol. She recalled her mother taking her to see her sister and the boy in question after a long stint behind bars was home living with his mother.
He was a strange, withdrawn man. He sat in the corner of the room making no conversation and looking out the window onto the train tracks below. She remembered her Aunt saying what a mess he was, and she didn’t know what was to become of him. A week later her mother announced that her cousin had taken his life, on the train tracks below his mother’s house.
Vera looked around the house she now had to live in. It wasn’t a patch on the beach house, but in some ways it was perfect, it was what Ernest deserved having deceived so many people. For Vera it represented a hiding place, she could feel safe here in the suburbs, away from prying eyes and newspaper reporters who had parked outside their beach house for weeks on end recording their every movement.
She had a good feeling about Mary in that she felt she could talk to her as she’d ascertained early on that Mary had her fair share of secrets too.
Ernest Winston-Jones Part 3
On his drive to work that morning Ernest also reflected on how his life had changed.
He had woken to find himself once again, alone in the bed. He and Vera had had many raised voice arguments since his fall from financial grace resulting in him sleeping alone.
His reality was one he didn’t know how to deal with. Vera had insisted he find a job to save them from total financial ruin and he knew he was lucky to get the job at Gonners. It never occurred to him at the time that his undoing would impact on his wife. For so long he had taken her for granted knowing she would be there when he returned home each evening, that she would be on his arm at social occasions always affording him that air of respectability. Vera had looked after the house and garden leaving him to do whatever he wanted, and he had done just that.
He too was surprised he had managed to stay out of gaol. His willingness to make restitution had saved him. He knew he’d never make it in gaol, men like him became the toys of the powerful and that indignity would have been his end.
He shuddered at the thought of what might have been.
His business life had been successful, the beach house was a symbol of his standing and prestige, and now that was gone he was in his own eyes not only a social and financial pariah but also, a nobody.
Success had driven him, one business venture after another resulted in profits and profits built his ego to the point of thinking he could make no errors of judgement.
But his last business exercise of investing in a huge block of apartments in an area where there already was a glut on the market proved his undoing. Investors wanted returns, and when they didn’t come, they wanted answers.
Ernest had been sure the market would pick up.
By the time he realised it wasn’t, it was too late. There were inquiries into his business practices, the banks began to call in his loans, and some investors had begun law suites against him.
His business went to the wall, he owed millions, he declared bankruptcy, and it was time to face the music of humiliation
Vera upon discovering the extent of his debt and deceit moved physically away from him within the home.
She would have nothing to do with him but stayed in the marriage knowing alone she would not survive, but together they at least stood a chance.
He found himself in the employee car park at Gonners and awoke to his reality.
He attached his humiliating Ernie badge and headed in to start work on the paint counter.
Ernest Winston-Jones Part 4
Ernest breathed a sigh of relief that afternoon as he sat in his car at the end of a day that had been far harder than he imagined.
He hurriedly removed his badge and stuck it in his top pocket. Being ‘Ernie’ was going to take some time and several times during the day he realised people were addressing him and he’d failed to respond.
Initially, he thought: How hard is it to sell paint?
What he hadn’t reckoned on was dealing with people.
In his past business, he had dealt with people who had money and most had some intelligence. At the paint counter, he was confronted with people who couldn’t choose which shade of white they wanted, had no idea of applying paint, didn’t know the difference between sheen and flat paint and were more than happy for him to make their decisions.
As it was, he still didn’t know the location of other areas of the store and often had to consult his shop guide to point customers in the right direction, though one man had returned to tell him his directions sucked.
On top of all that, he had been on his feet all day, and his lunch break was only thirty minutes. Sitting in the car was a relief, his feet hurt, his back ached, and he was feeling very hungry.
Now there was going home to a wife who held him in contempt. Vera had stopped cooking him dinner, preferring to make her own and leave him to his own devices. His limited knowledge of the kitchen had led him to finding every takeaway shop within the suburb.
His mind drifted to his workdays when his secretary, Madison had been a warm and vibrant companion at the end of a long day.
They sort of fell into each other. At least so Ernest thought.
Madison was affectionate, enjoyed spending time with him. She flattered his ego in ways Vera had once but no longer. While he had needs, it appeared to him Vera didn’t.
They hadn’t had sex in years and apart from snuggling up to him on a cold winters morning, Vera had been content to leave their affection to those few moments.
Madison satisfied his physical needs.
In the office, she flirted with him during the day, accepted his gifts and never backed away from his offers of going away with him on ‘business’ trips.
That was until he ran into trouble. Once it became clear he was not going to provide for her in the financial ways he had she was gone. Left him a curt note of resignation, disappeared and completely cut him out of her life.
He sat and reflected on all that had been. In his mind, the voice of his mother echoed the old phrase: “There’s no fool like an old fool.”
He had made his bed, and now he had to lie in it.
Mary Dowd Part 6
Mary enjoyed being married. Her mother had told her about the expectations a young bride should bring to a marriage.
Always have the housework completed before your husband comes home and always look your best for him. Have dinner ready and be accommodating. Mary wasn’t sure what accommodating meant but she learned quickly.
She made it her goal to have everything ready, she’d change her day clothes into something clean and tidy and make sure her hair was brushed and tied up.
The sound of his work truck pulling into the drive always set her heart a flutter. Even though Ray might be covered in mud from digging drains she loved the sound of his boots on the veranda and the sound of him dragging them off and dumping them on the floorboards.
She always greeted him with a smile and cheery hello, as her mother had said making your man feel welcomed home was important in letting him know you were happy to see him.
In the first few weeks of their marriage Ray was more than happy to be home.
They would embrace and kiss as young lovers with Ray running his hands over her body, lifting her skirt and all the while Mary could feel his excitement. Ray would lift Mary onto the kitchen table pull off her underwear and have his way with her.
For Mary his aggression and desire was the most stimulating experience she could imagine. She wasn’t all that satisfied by the sex more so Ray’s desire and manner. He was rough, uncompromising and she loved every minute of it, as she believed it showed how much he desired her.
Once finished he would go off to the bathroom, shower and reappear in his pyjamas, Ray she discovered loved to dress in is night attire before dinner.
Mary would straighten her clothes never sure what she was supposed to do or say as Ray disappeared into the bathroom.
For Mary the sex wasn’t what she expected it to be. She knew very little about the workings of her own body, her knowledge of sex was, that it was something men and women did. Ray seemed to enjoy it but it left her wondering if what they did was all there was to it.
With Ray now showering, Mary retired to the kitchen to finalise her preparation for their dinner.
Vera Winston-Jones Part 7
When Vera Winston was fifteen, her parents suggested she leave school and take up a position at Miss MacLeod’s Millinery Store in the High Street.
Vera didn’t like school and much preferred to spend her days reading books and imagining the fantasies they contained to be within her scope of experience.
Her parents aware their daughter lived with her head in the clouds hoped the experience of a job and having to deal with the real world might prepare their daughter for marriage at some future date.
Marriage was important to her parents. They were continually suggesting the names of boys, boys from families they hoped who would be suitable for their daughter to marry. They didn’t want Vera to end up an old maid and living in the back room as they aged and still felt responsible for her.
She worked at Miss MacLeod’s for a few years before deciding to go to the technical college and do a bookkeeping course. From there she found employment at a real estate business, which was where she met Ernest Jones.
Like her, Ernest was starting out in the business and was determined to do well.
Vera liked Ernest as she could see the drive in him to succeed and the real estate business was a tough one. But Ernest had the gift of the gab, and he exercised it on Vera who fell well and truly for him.
Her parents were over the moon with excitement when she announced she had a boyfriend and one with prospects. Ernest was able to win them over, and before long the two became a well-known item within the business.
Vera became obsessed with her appearance. When the two were going out, she’d spend hours making herself look the best she could.
She and Ernest complemented each other and Ernest liked that Vera was happy to go along with whatever he said and he often said a lot.
Ernest believing he was a man on the way up left the real estate company and started his own business in Property Development. At the time there was a real boom happening in property with people wanting to invest in housing, and as a result, he was very much the ideal man in that situation.
On her twenty-third birthday, he proposed to her, and they married the following October. To cement the deal they combined their respective names, Ernest suggesting a hyphenated surname came with added prestige.
They were able to buy a small cottage in an older suburb, but Ernest told her he had ambitions to buy a bigger and better house somewhere near the beach, a house he told her to demonstrate to everyone their success.
Within ten years he had the house he wanted. Not only that but a wife who looked good with him, was smart enough to be conversant in social situations and who encouraged him in his pursuit of materialism.
They enjoyed a healthy lifestyle, they ate well, travelled frequently and had a circle of friends whose company they enjoyed and who had gone along with Ernest and his investment plans and who found themselves benefiting as well.
It was a good life all round. Vera was happy not to work, to manage the house, and prepare dinners for Ernest and his clients when required. He told her she didn’t need to work, as he would provide her with everything she requested. And he did, their house was an example of everything modern, every appliance was top of the range, their furnishings also were updated as new and more expensive items came on the market.
Vera found within her neighbourhood a small circle of women with whom she could meet and socialise. Like her they were the wives of successful businessmen.
It was such an idyllic lifestyle; she never thought it would all come to an end.
Mary Dowd Part 7
Meals for Mary Dowd were symbols of her love for Ray. Each night she prepared dinner with as much diligence as she could. He was a meat and three veg guy, so Mary worked with the help of a cookbook her mother had given her.
Each night she looked for Ray’s approval. It thrilled her to think she could prepare dinner for her man and experience the joy of his approval.
But as time went on Mary, who clung to all semblances of approval from Ray fell into the trap of repeating the same process each day. Readying herself, receiving Ray’s sex and preparing his dinner.
In hindsight, she knew it was a fault within her of wanting to please him and not thinking of her own needs. As long as Ray was happy, all was good in the world, no matter how annoying it was becoming to her.
Every so often Ray would suggest some variation, make mention of a meal his mother once cooked, of something he saw at the shop during his lunch break and Mary would dutifully follow looking up a curry recipe or a new pasta dish he had mentioned.
Ray’s experience of food did surprise her, as he seemed to be far more observant than she ever gave him credit for.
One day he announced he had won a tender to install the plumbing for a new hotel being built in a distant town and it would mean him having to stay away for the week.
Mary liked that Ray was a diligent worker; always submitting quotes for jobs and was in her mind in great demand. The phone rang at all hours of the evening, and he had set up an office in the spare room to deal with all things business.
The week he went away was terrible for Mary. Each day crawled by, and even though they spoke to each other each evening, she missed him terribly. She was overjoyed when he came home on Friday evening; she was ready, the dinner prepared and fussed over him the entire night.
Ray was somewhat distant upon his return, and Mary worried she had done something wrong to have him appear that way.
When she did ask him he said he was tired, he had worked long hours during the week, it had been back-breaking work digging in clay, and his accommodation had been disappointing. After dinner, he showered and went to bed leaving Mary to her own devices, and unhappy Ray had not fussed over her.
The next day after sleeping late Ray announced that the Jupp’s who lived in a large palatial house on the hill had asked if he would do some work for them. Ray took on the job as it was an ongoing one, the Jupp’s were very private and insisted Ray only work when they were home which meant he would work there in the evenings.
For Mary this meant reorganising her evenings, meals were much later, and it meant a late night for her as well as Ray being exhausted from working all day and then at the Jupps, often until nine o’clock at night.
With Ray working such long hours and attracting a lot of money she and Ray were able to put down a deposit on a small house in suburbia.
Mary was excited that they would have their own house and looked forward to moving in and making the house their own.