A Short Story by
© Carole Hayman 2009
The Page of Wands
Winter Warfleet was kept going by conventions of pigeon fanciers and depressed shoe leather salesmen. They would meet in the breakfast room and engage each other over poached eggs in discussion of the rigors of their respective trades, murmuring over the foreign imports and the depth of the recession.
‘Polish’ said a divisional head with disgust looking at the boots of a pigeon fancier’s wife, ‘We can’t be expected to compete with those prices.’ The wife, Peggy, folded her feet hastily away under the table. She’d had no idea.. had bought the boots for their unusual style.. now felt thoroughly guilty.
Teddy Forbes who ran the B & B bustled in with more coffee, shouting over his shoulder to an aged dependent who presided over the uncertain Aga to, ‘Turn that bacon down Mother!’ The other night Peggy had seen him take the part of Gertrude in an avant-garde production of Hamlet by the Warfleet and Wemborough Little Theatre Group. But the highs of these conventions were few. True Ken had won a prize with Cleopatra the Third and now her eggs were worth a fortune, dealers came from France and Germany to buy them, but one more night spinning out a warming gin and tonic in a bar full of check jacketed fanciers was more than she could bear.
Above the Delphinium Superior Tearooms Rumer Petulengro prepared for her afternoon of clairvoyancy. She did Tuesdays and Saturdays when the wig boutique where she worked was closed. She also did communication with the spirit world and psychic healing on Wednesdays. The proceeds went to charity, fulfilling her need to, as she put it, ‘Give something back’. Having excellent communication with the temporal world also, she held her sessions in a pub, understanding that her clients liked a drink and a fag whilst they chatted with the dead. Many of them came for both wigs and spiritual guidance. They were mostly gentlemen of a certain age who wanted to be told their futures held something more than galloping alopecia.
Left to her own devices that afternoon whilst Ken was back at the Winter Gardens locked into barter in the stench of feathers and bird droppings, Peggy wandered the streets of the little town alone. Along the prom she saw boarded up shop fronts and cafes advertising souvenirs and seafood platters. The pier was deserted save for a couple of fishermen. Even the bait and tackle shop was shut. Turning into a little side street she spotted the welcoming sign of the Delphinium tearooms, ‘Open all day and all weathers’. She didn’t notice Rumer Petulengro’s poster until she was entering the cafe. ‘Do you have problems? Pressures? Emotional or financial worries? Come and see what the future holds. £10-00 including tea and crystal ball readings’.
May, the proprietess, delivered a cream tea and a slip of paper to the table. The paper was a flyer for Rumer and further invited the reader to, ‘Come upstairs and touch the stars. Miraculous revelations.’ Peggy’s curiosity was stirred. She looked at her watch, Ken would be engrossed for hours yet..
As she mounted the stairs, she had a sudden unexpected attack of anxiety. She noticed the worn orange stair carpet and creaky banisters. There was a smell of chips and gravy. Rumer Petulengro was comforting however, with her nice nanny smile, short butch haircut and reassuring lack of makeup, except for blood-red finger nails. There was little of the caravan here, Rumer looked more like someone who might give blanket baths to geriatrics.
‘Now then Peggy,’ began Rumer with easy familiarity, as she made a practised spread of the cards, ‘are there any particular problems you want to share with me?’
‘I’m not sure,’ began Peggy hesitantly, ‘there’s nothing.. actually.. particular.. or wrong.. really.. it’s just..’ She stopped overcome with a wave of guilt at her disloyalty to Ken.
‘A general feeling of dissatisfaction?’ pressed Rumer, her eye on the clock.
‘Y..es..ss. Well I’m bored is what it boils down to.’
Now Rumer had a handle and swiftly began to shuffle and interpret the tarot pictures. She pointed out that Peggy’s marriage had gone stale – perhaps the lack of children? That she had few interests of her own and needed to develop them. Did the names Tony or Timmy mean anything?
Peggy shook her head.
‘Well they’re trying to get through,’ insisted Rumer. ‘I’ll leave it with you.’
At last she pointed to a card of ‘significance’. The Page of Wands. Young, fair, handsome. ‘Do you know this man? she queried.
Peggy thought, ‘The boy who comes to help with the pigeons is fair, but he’s called Dan and I wouldn’t call him handsome.’
Rumer pursed her lips. ‘Think about it, it could be you haven’t meet him yet, but he’s definitely waiting for you.’
Peggy’s heart began to beat faster. Who was this page, this young consort. Blond.. Ken was dark – balding in fact.. Handsome.. no one could accuse Ken of that with his heavy Real Ale drinking belly..
‘Why not come to my session tomorrow?’ suggested Rumer, pushing a card with the address of the pub, The Admiral Nelson, at her. ‘You never know. Your destiny might be in the snug at seven thirty.’
Peggy told herself all the next day that she wouldn’t be keeping her date with destiny. She was moved to tears by the sight of Ken in the shower. ‘Pity,’ she thought, ‘that’s what keeps people together.’ She even picked up his discarded underpants quite fondly. But later, when he proposed the pigeon fancier’s dinner at the Grand, she realised that she’d had every intention of visiting The Admiral Nelson.
She dressed with great care that evening. Ken, coming in from the bar thought she had changed her mind and was coming with him. But, ‘No love’, she said, ‘You go. You’ll have a better time without me.’
He looked relieved, then said in a tone of concern, ‘Will you be alright?’ Without waiting for her answer he went on, ‘I’ll be done tomorrow. We’ll have a couple of days in Canterbury.’
‘Maybe,’ thought Peggy, smiling to herself, ‘that depends on my destiny.’
The Admiral Nelson was crowed and smoky. Peggy pushed her way through a group of bikers and another of office girls in skimpy skirts ‘til she saw the word ‘snug’ above a sepia glass door. Opening it she confronted a circle of Warfleet’s psychic travellers with Rumer in their centre.
‘Come and join us,’ called Rumer, momentarily lifting her healing hands from Laurel Hopcraft’s neck tension. ‘It’s Peggy isn’t it?’
Peggy nodded, a lump in her throat. A slow blush had risen in her face and she hardly dared look around her. Seats were shuffled and she was invited to sit between Daryl Willoughby and May Clark, whom she recognised from the Delphinium Tearooms. A man leaned over and asked her if she’d like a drink and as he brought it to her she lifted her eyes for the first time. She was deeply disappointed at what she saw. A room full of ageing greying men and women, baggily dressed and unromantic looking.
The turnout that night consisted, had Peggy known it, of Mabel Wickes trying to contact her dead mother, Arthur Mobberly ditto, Mrs Fenella Pepper the vicar’s wife, who was frantically interested in the occult and attended against her husband’s wishes, Marsha Snelgrove, who was theatrical, Evelyn Antrobus from the kindergarten, Teddy Forbes, looking for consolation after his latest disaster of the heart, and Jim Bacon the man who had bought her the drink, who ran the High Street shoe shop and whose wife had run off and left him. One thing was clear, there was not a young blond Page of Wands amongst them.
Rumer was inviting Peggy to take the chair. ‘Are there any areas you’d like to have hands on?’
Still thinking of her missing Page, Peggy blushed again and could hardly answer.. It was so long since Ken had.. But no, she must concentrate, Rumer was telling her. ‘Focus on the painful spot, put all your energies into it.’
A hush fell on the gathering as all willed Rumer to search out and find the damaged part. She located, accurately enough, a well known nobble in Peggy’s spine and massaged until a pleasing heat surged down Peggy’s body.
Jim Bacon had brought her a second drink, and whilst Laurel Hopcraft communicated (through the chair) with her dead dog, Rudyard, he began in a low voice to tell Peggy his history. He’d been married thirty five years, ‘Same as me’ exclaimed Peggy, last year his wife had left him, ‘How awful’, said Peggy, ‘after all those years. Why ever did she do it?’
‘Went off with a pigeon fancier,’ said Jim with disgust, ‘I wouldn’t mind, but she’s always hated animals.’
Peggy felt bound to admit that she was married to one of the despised, before Jim said anything too dreadful. But as it turned out he had nothing against pigeon fanciers in general, just the way these winter conventions disrupted the life of Warfleet.
‘They come here for a week and it’s all glamour and excitement.. Drinks, dinners, dances. Marie worked in the Winter Gardens bar you see, she had plenty of opportunity.’
Peggy did see. She wondered if even now Ken was chatting up an eager middle-aged barmaid.
‘You’re left so flat when they go,’ Jim was saying, ‘Marie would get awfully depressed. Warfleet’s not an exciting town..’
‘And nor are you, poor dear,’ Peggy was thinking, though Jim had a nice face, hazel eyes and a kindly expression. She felt strangely close to him. She could imagine evenings by the fire. Winter walks. A companionship she’d not shared for years. Ken was like Jim’s Marie, he liked the nights in the bar, the shouting and singing, the eight course dinners ending in maudlin stories and cigar smoke. She wondered if she could ever leave him.
As the evening drew to a close Peggy felt very bonded. She was sad that she wouldn’t see the group again. That tomorrow she’d be leaving. As Jim helped her on with her coat and asked her which way she was walking, she’d quite forgotten the Page of Wands and her earlier anticipation.
The damp night air was refreshing on her cheeks after the smoky pub. Jim had stopped to talk to an acquaintance in the bar, Peggy stood outside as ones and twos from the meeting passed her, nodding goodbye. Rumer was still inside with a large re-energising whisky. Slowly Peggy began to cross the cobbled forecourt to a little alley. Jim could catch her up, there was only one road back to the hotel. As she turned into the alley she heard the pub door slam and footsteps coming quickly behind her.
‘Jim,’ she thought, and smiled.
Suddenly she was thumped hard in the area Rumer’s hands had massaged. Winded, she fell forward to her knees, and felt her bag snatched from under her arm. She looked up, astonished, and had a swift glimpse of the blond good looking youth as he pushed her, hard into the wall. He grinned, without malice, before legging it away, his trainers smacking lightly on the cobbles. Now, as he disappeared, Peggy at last cried out, and Jim appeared quickly at the end of the alley.
‘The Page of wands’ Peggy stammered out.. ‘The Page of Wands.. he found me..’
A little later, after Peggy had been given brandy and the police had been called, Jim asked her what she’d been talking about.
‘Oh,’ said Peggy, embarrassed, ‘Rumer and my cards.. she mentioned a youth..’
‘That was no Page of Wands’ said Rumer tartly, ‘that was Warren Peabody from the council estate. I saw him go out after you.’
Peggy knew differently, but she said nothing. Shortly her taxi arrived and Jim insisted taking her home in it. He paid and led her to the hotel door.
‘It’s not the money’ she was saying ‘it’s the house keys and everything, all that bother, Ken’ll be furious with me..’
‘Peggy,’ said Jim urgently, ‘I’ve no right to say this.. I hardly know you.. but I feel.. I feel.. so drawn to you..’
Peggy looked at him in alarm. Had destiny not finished with her?
‘Don’t go in,’ Jim was saying, ‘come home with me.’
Peggy laughed nervously, ‘Jim I’m married. We’re going for a couple of days in Canterbury.’
‘I never would have said anything if all this hadn’t happened’ pressed Jim, ‘but somehow it’s brought it to a head. I know it’s sudden, but I mean it.’
A great wave of wretchedness broke over Peggy. She saw ahead the whole horror of changing partners. Getting used to new bathroom habits, varicose veins, family problems, financial.. No, no, she didn’t have the energy. She felt seasick and leaned against Jim who caught her to him and kissed her passionately on the lips. Heat surged again through Peggy’s body. She was aware of Jim’s hands, healing hands, getting to where the pain was. And suddenly she understood. The Page of Wands had shown her the way, had given her this last chance in life. This was her destiny, she and Jim. It wasn’t as though she didn’t know the shoe trade.
As Rumer remarked to May as they threw rice over Peggy and Jim the following year, ‘I knew we’d be seeing more of her. To defy the cards would be foolish.’