Just a Quiet Drink....

I had my instructions and they were ones I'd rather not have had. She was on the hunt, going to cast out tokens to the wider world and see who recognised the coin.

Early Friday evening, a not-quite-country pub in the outer commuter hinterland. The dumb youths with their sickly lagers and alcopops still at home squeezing their pimples, leaving the comfortable saloon bar to a more mature clientele. It was summer, so on the way across the car park the drizzle lightly spattering us was warm.

A few heads turned as we walked in and some lingered as she took off her hat - a man's tweedy country hat worn with that certain panache - and shook loose her long hair. At once a couple of men wandered over. I recognised one from the last time we dropped in for a drink. Not sure about the other. She slipped off her expensive waxed jacket and handed it to me, dismissively.

Eyes were also on me as I went and hung her coat up, but the message in them was different. My mac was still cool from the outside and the glossy blue PVC creaked slightly as I moved. The cheap matching plastic wellingtons made that bare leg slapping noise that most people last experience aged eight or nine.

When I returned she was already chatting, politely declining offers of drinks. With barely a glance in my direction she handed me a ten pound note "Get me a drink. You can get yourself a lemonade."

I rustled off to the bar to get the drinks. I knew what she wanted: it's always the same when we play. When the barman came back with the change his opinion of my intellect, already clearly mirrored in his face, dropped a few more points when I asked him for a receipt. Shaking his head at the antics of this strange woman he scribbled one on a bar chit.

Carrying the drinks on a tray in one hand and the change and receipt in the other I approached the jolly group chatting away together. After an interminable interval she deigned to recognise my presence and took her change, which she checked against the receipt. Very slowly and obviously, as if she expected it to be wrong. Her expression said it - ‘amazing, the idiot's got it right' as she slipped the change in her pocket, screwed up the receipt and tossed it on the tray.

After twenty minutes standing on the fringe of her party I was hot, bored and tired, but there's worse situations to be in. My mac was still buttoned up to the throat and tightly belted, as I had been instructed. I might be over hot, but at least my mac wasn't creaking so much now it was warm.

She sent me for another round of drinks - I was not permitted another but I had to get three others for some of her new acquaintances. The pints were full and heavy, slopping slightly in the tray. As I handed them round one ignored me as he took it, the others looked at me. I could read the incomprehension. After she went through the rigmarole with the change and the receipt again she picked up her drink. An expression of extreme distaste came over her face as she realised the bottom of the glass was dripping beer slops.

Everything was so controlled, moving on the borders of slow motion. From the curl of the lip as she looked at the dripping glass to her turning to me. The body language shouted ‘watch me, look at this.'

"You *stupid* girl!"

Only I saw the faint ghost of her smile as she slapped my face.

A blanket of silence descended on half the bar, those who'd missed it drawn by the open mouthed stares of those who hadn't.

"Well?" Her hand was lifted slightly, ready.

"Sorry, Ma'am," I croaked, dry mouthed, still grasping the tray.

She turned coolly to her little party, adopting a slightly surprised tone at their silent gaping. "She's only a domestic, you know."

She was looking around, beyond her immediate group. They were just window dressing. I could see her glance linger on a lone man in his early forties looking at us with an expressionless expression. He'd do. I could live with that choice.

She turned back to me. "Take your wretched coat off, girl!" she snapped. I put down the tray on a nearby table and reluctantly unbuttoned my mac and slipped it off. She glared at me with laughing eyes until I'd put my coat down, and then wiped the bottom of her glass on the shoulder of my dress. My plain black polycotton dress with the white trim around the sleeves. A waitresses dress from a catering supply store as it happens, but it passed well enough for the occasion.

"You just can't get adequate domestics now, can you?" The remark resonated beyond her group. "She's *supposed* to be a personal maid, but honestly, she's got no idea at all."

Mr Expressionless was wandering over even as one of her group was fading away. "Life is full of problems, eh?"

"The problem is attitude." I started at the sound of a woman's voice. She'd been out of my line of sight, close but hidden by a pillar. "So rare to get a maid with the right attitude. One must make the most of them when they come along."

Oh no, she was about fifty, close cropped iron grey hair and clearly conversant with our tokens. My dear lady was smiling, she knew a soul mate when she met one and I, I just felt a mite apprehensive.

"Perhaps another time." Mr Expressionless knew when he'd been pipped at the post but settled for the consolation prize of a smile and a nod and returned to his seat. The rest of the group began to drift away too, the language beyond their limited comprehension.

"I think you need to freshen up for a few minutes."

I clumped off towards the ladies past a row of staring eyes, feeling more of an idiot in my dress and wellingtons than I had constricted in my mac. I sat and brooded for a few minutes before returning.

They both turned to stare at me as I came back.

"Put your mac on, girl, we'll be going in a minute."

Could I possibly hope that might just be her and me? Or was it going to be a threesome? Did I really need to wonder, seeing them chatting amiably together.

I stood there, buttoned up and tight belted again for another ten minutes before she snapped her fingers at me. "Coat!"

I trailed out behind them, waiting to see what she'd got in store.

As soon as we were outside she turned to me with a self satisfied smile. "This is Miss Lydia. Apparently she has some experience in instilling the right attitude into mere domestics and she's going to share her experience with us. Isn't that good of her....girl."

Her tongue was so far in her cheek that I was surprised she could speak clearly, but Lydia seemed oblivious to her tone.

"I'm going to give Lydia a lift. Meet us by the post office in the village in 15 minutes." And without a second glance at me they drove off.

I clumped off in the thickening drizzle to walk the mile or so to the village. It took me a good twenty minutes to get there and her car was already pulled up and waiting. As soon as I got close she started up and pulled away, taking a left turn a couple of hundred yards up the road. I hurried after the car and this cat and mouse was repeated until I saw the it pull into driveway of a small detached house towards the far edge of the village.

By the time I stumbled up to the door I was hot and flushed, which contrasted unpleasantly with a trickle of drizzle which had been running down my neck for the previous few minutes. Also my feet were sore.

I was still steaming when Lydia answered the door, eventually. She just looked at me coldly and said "Get round to the kitchen door. Domestics don't come in at the front." And slammed the door in my face. I gritted my teeth and stamped around to the back of the house.

Inside, I could see them sitting and talking. They pointedly ignored me when I knocked at the door and left me standing in the rain for several more minutes. At last the door was opened and I was admitted.

"So sorry to keep you waiting, Darling, we were having such an interesting chat," she murmured as I dripped my way in. And then more loudly "Get in here and stand there!"

She leaned back against the table and smiled her special smile. "Apparently Miss Lydia is quite experienced in dealing with slovenly girls. She's been giving me some very useful tips. I'm only sorry we can't stay, but there really isn't time."

My relief was immense, in contrast to Lydia, who looked distinctly disappointed.

Madam returned to her conversation. "I wasn't too sure about slapping her face, though" she said artfully. "Do you approve of that?"

Lydia perked up. "It's essential if she's to know her place. Come here, Girl!"

I moved over to Lydia warily.

"What's your Mistress's favourite scent, Girl?"

I was still framing the answer, which is of course that it depends on the time and the occasion, when she slapped my face.

"Answer me , girl!"

"What is it?"

"Are you stupid?"

"Answer me!"

Each short phrase was punctuated with a slap. Not a full blooded jilted-woman-slaps-ex-lover sort of slap: just a fingers across the cheek, pay-attention-you-menial sort of slap, delivered with the force of lukewarm but audible applause. It was the repetition that was stunning. It simply robbed me of my ability to respond rationally and reduced me to the sort of slack jawed idiocy she was slapping me for in the first place: so I ended up just standing there in resentful silence burning red to the roots of my hair.

Lydia turned to my dear Lady and said "You see, it keeps them in their place." And just to rub it in she turned back to me. "Has that given you a better appreciation of where you stand , girl?"

I almost choked on the words, but I managed to mutter "Yes, Madam."

Her Ladyship was smiling more sweetly than ever. "Yes, I see what you mean, Lydia. And you think corporal punishment is in order too? I've never felt quite able to do much in that line."

"Watch your nose," I muttered under my breath.

Lydia hissed "are you going to let her get away with that?"

There was an achingly long pause before she replied, "No, of course not, but we really have no time now - much as she deserves to pay for that remark."

I allowed myself a little smile of triumph at Lydia's evident frustration as we left - via the front door - and I settled back down in the car. Madam waved to Lydia as we left, and called out "I'll be in touch about a date........."

- - - - - RRW

 

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