Press­ing Mat­ters

New friends are made in this gen­tle com­plete story by Ly­dia Jones.

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

A feel-good story by Ly­dia Jones

SALLY loved iron­ing. There was some­thing about the smell of steam­ing rose wa­ter and clean pressed linen that just made her glad to be alive. So when the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket an­nounced its clo­sure, and with it the end of any re­quire­ment for Sally’s ser­vices as a cashier, iron­ing was the ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion.

“There are folks cry­ing out for some­one to do their iron­ing,” her hus­band, Colin, said. “And will­ing to pay good money, too.”

So her trusty lit­tle hatch­back was rein­sured as a busi­ness ve­hi­cle and Press­ing Mat­ters was born. Her com­puter-whizz son, Cal­lum, had set her up a web­site and even found some­one to print her busi­ness cards for free.

“Imag­ine,” she mar­velled to her post­mistress friend, Meg. “Beau­ti­ful busi­ness cards like these for noth­ing!”

“Proper pro­fes­sional, they are,” Meg said, pin­ning one up on her no­tice­board.

****

Sally had been stag­gered by the re­sponse. Ne­go­ti­at­ing the pot-holes in Mrs Wil­ber­force’s long, tree-lined drive, she re­flected she was a lucky woman to be liv­ing where so many peo­ple were too busy for iron­ing.

She had never been so happy. And for that rea­son she wanted ev­ery­one else to be, too.

Es­pe­cially poor, crotch­ety Mrs Wil­ber­force.

“It’s none of your busi­ness,” Colin was fond of say­ing. But he was only a man, af­ter all . . .

“Oh, Sally.” Mrs Wil­ber­force had a rest­ing ex­pres­sion of dis­plea­sure. “Put the iron­ing on the kitchen ta­ble, if you please.”

Sally did as she was told, though she hated it when Mrs Wil­ber­force wanted this: the lit­tle plas­tic cov­er­ings slid against each other un­til the care­fully pressed clothes ended in a jum­bled mess, and you could be cer­tain, if any creases were found, Mrs Wil­ber­force would com­plain.

Most cus­tomers re­ceived their iron­ing from Sally at the front door, but Mrs Wil­ber­force had made it clear from the be­gin­ning that de­liv­er­ies were to be around the back.

“Four silk blouses, two skirts and a linen table­cloth, yes?”

Mrs Wil­ber­force prof­fered the ex­act money at arm’s length as if the en­tire trans­ac­tion were dis­taste­ful to her. Sally took it, quash­ing an ab­surd in­stinct to curt­sey.

“I’ve left this week’s in a box by the Aga.”

“Thank you.” Sally lifted the box; its sides were still warm. “Same time next week, then.”

She let her­self out, ad­mir­ing the old house’s tim­ber beams and pat­terned brick­work. If those walls could talk, what tales they would tell!

It was hard to see how a woman who had as much as Mrs Wil­ber­force could be so mis­er­able most of the time.

ONE thing Sally missed about work­ing in the su­per­mar­ket was com­pan­ion­ship – cof­fees in the staff can­teen; chat­ter in the stock­room. Con­ver­sa­tions like those with Mrs Wil­ber­force were a poor sub­sti­tute. When­ever she had time, she’d call in for a catch-up with Meg in the post of­fice, but oth­er­wise any con­ver­sa­tion was with cus­tomers. For­tu­nately, many were happy to oblige.

Sally smiled as she drove into the mod­ern es­tate – Mrs Clark al­ways loved a chat.

“Ah, Sally, love. Come in.” Mrs Clark’s ro­tund fig­ure stood aside.

Ru­fus, the lit­tle rough-haired ter­rier, launched him­self at Sally’s plas­tic-cov­ered clothes, yelp­ing an ex­cited welcome and wag­ging his tail so fast it was a blur.

“Good boy. Get down, now, Ru­fus. I’m glad to see you, too.” Sally pat­ted the lit­tle dog’s head with her free hand.

“Drat­ted dog.” Mrs Clark tut­ted. “What­ever pos­sessed her to get him, I don’t know.”

“Her” was Mrs Clark’s daugh­ter-in-law, whose iron­ing Sally was de­liv­er­ing.

“Work­ing all the hours she does,” Mrs Clark said as she cleared a space for Sally, “she doesn’t even get time to see her own chil­dren. What was the point in hav­ing the poor lit­tle mites if you’re go­ing to be out all the time? That’s what I say.”

“Per­haps she feels they need the money,” Sally of­fered. “Things are dif­fer­ent now from when we were young, aren’t they?”

“Hmm.” Mrs Clark wasn’t con­vinced. “Ap­par­ently the dog is for the chil­dren.”

“It is nice for them to grow up with a pet.” Sally was all smil­ing ap­pease­ment.

“But it’s me who ends up see­ing to him! I’m not say­ing he isn’t a dear lit­tle dog.” Mrs Clark stroked be­hind the ter­rier’s ears; he gazed ador­ingly back at her. “But in­stead of go­ing straight to pick up lit­tle Lucy from nurs­ery, I now have to come all the way up here first to take Ru­fus for a walk, and sit with him a while. It takes up a huge chunk of my day, I don’t mind telling you, and my hus­band isn’t best pleased.” Mrs Clark smiled. “Lis­ten to me prat­tling. I’m sorry. How are you, Sally?”

“Oh, I’m grand.” Sally beamed. “I’ve just driven down that lovely long road of Mrs Wil­ber­force’s. It al­ways makes me feel like part of a Jane Austen movie, with the tree-lined av­enue and the big house at the end.”

“I don’t sup­pose you get much out of her. That woman is as sour as a squeezed le­mon. No won­der her hus­band di­vorced her – ran off with another woman, they say. And then the son em­i­grated to Aus­tralia.”

“Poor thing,” Sally said. “She must be lonely.”

“I shouldn’t think so, she’s al­ways out. Trea­surer of church funds; Chair­man of the History So­ci­ety; Friends of the Mu­seum Com­mit­tee. You name it, she’s on it.”

Sally thought about her cosy din­ners with Colin each night and Sun­day lunches with Cal­lum and her daugh­ter, Gemma. “It wouldn’t be my cup of tea.” “Speak­ing of which, do you fancy one?” “Sorry, Mrs C – must get on.” She would save tea for Mr Simp­son.

****

De­liv­er­ing to Mrs Parry never failed to make Sally smile, mainly be­cause the lady did it so of­ten her­self – her face fold­ing into a thou­sand creases so that she looked like an an­i­mated road map. “How are you to­day, Mrs Parry?” “Great.” Crin­kle, crin­kle, went the face. “I’m just off out with my ram­bling club. We call our­selves ‘Ex­plor­ers Of The Third Age’.” She chuck­led. “Fab­u­lous flat walks – even folk in wheel­chairs can come. Peo­ple bring their dogs; it’s mar­vel­lous fun!” “Dogs?” Sally was im­me­di­ately alert. “Yes. So lovely.” Mrs Parry sighed. “I wanted to get a dog when my Harry passed on, but my daugh­ter said the re­spon­si­bil­ity would be too much.”

“Re­ally?” Sally’s brain was now buzzing with pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“I feel so em­bar­rassed about hav­ing some­one else to do my iron­ing. I’m re­ally quite ca­pa­ble, but Mon­ica says –”

“You should spend your time en­joy­ing your leisure,” Sally supplied quickly.

Much as she ad­mired Mrs Parry’s in­de­pen­dent spirit, she didn’t want to lose a cus­tomer!

SHE al­ways saved Mr Simp­son till last. He was a lovely, lonely wi­d­ower and Sally’s iron­ing ser­vice pro­vided him with com­pany and con­ver­sa­tion as well as pressed shirts. She al­ways ac­cepted a cup of tea.

“I must say you keep a very tidy house.” Sally nod­ded ap­prov­ingly as she laid his iron­ing over the back of a sofa.

“Thank you. Of course, it’s a bit mod­ern for my taste. Give me an an­cient build­ing any time, but my wife al­ways said they were too much like hard work to keep clean. Given the choice I’d have gone for a lovely tim­ber-framed place my­self.” “Like Mrs Wil­ber­force’s house?” “Noth­ing so grand, but that is a lovely build­ing. I had some­thing to do with the plans when they ren­o­vated the place. Of course it was the hus­band I dealt with – a dif­fi­cult man. Ap­par­ently the ideas were hers, and very sen­si­tive to the lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment they were, too.

“But then, she’s al­ways lived in the area so she has a feel for the place, I sup­pose. I used to work with listed build­ings con­sent and plan­ning in the coun­cil.”

“I didn’t know that.” Sally sipped her tea thought­fully.

“Yes. Thirty years. I saw some amaz­ing old places, I can tell you; learned lots of lo­cal history, too.”

“How in­ter­est­ing . . .”

****

“Don’t you dare even think about it,” Colin said when she told him later what she had learned that day. “But, Colin –” “Sally, I’ve told you be­fore.” “Yes, but it’s sad, don’t you think? Peo­ple liv­ing cheek by jowl and not even know­ing how happy they could make each other; how they could help one another.” Colin gave her his mock-stern look. “What I think is that you shouldn’t go med­dling in other folk’s busi­ness. You’re sup­posed to de­liver their iron­ing, not try to solve their prob­lems.”

“I’m not try­ing to solve their prob­lems, but, well, if I could some­how engi­neer a . . . com­ing to­gether, then they might solve their own.”

“Don’t do en­gi­neer­ing of any sort, Sally. You’re not cer­tain they could help each other, any of them. Leave well alone.”

“I sup­pose . . .”

Months passed. Sally ac­quired new clients – a fam­ily of Asian doc­tors; a cou­ple of young broth­ers shar­ing a house but not much house­work.

She still thought of­ten about how her cus­tomers might come to­gether for their mu­tual ben­e­fit, but per­haps Colin was right. It wasn’t her busi­ness. Was it?

S****

ally, I for­got you were com­ing.” Mrs Clark was red faced and flus­tered. “I’ve just come to col­lect some things for lit­tle Lucy. The nurs­ery phoned: she’s fallen and they think she might have frac­tured some­thing so I’ve to go to the hos­pi­tal. Her mother’s in a meet­ing at work and can’t be reached, of course.” Ru­fus bounced up at Sally’s bags. “I don’t know what I’m go­ing to do with him. I’m afraid a walk is out of the ques­tion and good­ness knows how long we’ll be at the hos­pi­tal. It’s not fair to leave him alone so long, but there’s no choice and . . .”

“Mrs Clark, you get off now. If you

Some of Sally’s cus­tomers had prob­lems and didn’t know how to solve them. Maybe Fate needed a help­ing hand?

leave me to lock up I think I might have a so­lu­tion. I just need to make a tele­phone call.”

“So, you see, I was right all along,” she said to Colin that evening as they tucked into a chicken curry recipe her doc­tor clients had given her. “It’s all set­tled. Mrs Parry is go­ing to take Ru­fus out for a walk ev­ery weekday lunchtime and take him back to her house for the af­ter­noon un­til the fam­ily re­turn home.

“The Clarks are happy be­cause their faith­ful hound has com­pany; Mrs Clark is happy be­cause now she only needs to pick Lucy up from nurs­ery and can spend more time with her hus­band; Mrs Parry is happy be­cause she has the dog she al­ways wanted; her daugh­ter is happy be­cause Mrs Parry gets to hand Ru­fus back to his own­ers each evening and he isn’t a full-time re­spon­si­bil­ity for her mother!” She paused for breath.

“Sally, if you get any more smug I might have to throw this glass of wine in your face!” Colin teased.

“You’ll do no such thing.” She gig­gled. “What a waste of wine.”

Colin shook his head in amused ex­as­per­a­tion.

“Oh, yes, and on my way back I called in at the post of­fice to see Meg, and she had some very in­ter­est­ing things to say . . .”

“Don’t!” Colin held up mock­ing palms. “Please don’t spill the se­crets of the postof­fice coven. You’re in­cor­ri­gi­ble, both of you.”

“We just want folk to be happy. What­ever’s wrong with that?”

I****

’M so sorry, Mr Simp­son. I haven’t time for a cup of tea to­day.” Sally saw sur­prise and hurt flicker for a sec­ond be­fore Mr Simp­son smoth­ered it with a mask of po­lite­ness.

“Ev­ery­thing is such a rush with the new clients I’ve got,” she ex­plained, try­ing not to no­tice the two china mugs stand­ing wait­ing by the ket­tle.

“Of course.” He smiled a bit too broadly. “I quite un­der­stand. You are so very busy and I wouldn’t want –”

“Not that all my clients aren’t im­por­tant to me, of course,” Sally gushed, want­ing to take away his dis­ap­point­ment but de­ter­mined to stick to the plan.

“It’s f ine,” he said in a small voice that told her it wasn’t. “See you next time, then.” Sally took the new bag of shirts to be ironed and waved cheer­ily, feel­ing like the worst kind of traitor.

That night sleep eluded her. Star­ing at cracks on the bed­room ceil­ing while Colin snored gen­tly be­side her, Sally was haunted by Mr Simp­son’s crest­fallen face.

It had been hor­ri­ble to up­set him, and if she and Meg were to suc­ceed it would not be the last time she’d have to do it.

It was for his own good, af­ter all.

****

Such beau­ti­ful qual­ity shirts Mr Simp­son had, Sally thought, in­hal­ing a cloud of scented steam ris­ing from her iron­ing board. You could tell a lot about folk from their clothes, and Mr Simp­son’s shirts told her he’d had an im­por­tant job at the coun­cil. Even in re­tire­ment he prided him­self on his ap­pear­ance: you could see from the way he dressed just to sit on his sofa and drink tea.

Cruel, that’s what it was: his wife dy­ing like that just af­ter he’d re­tired.

Some­times Fate was cruel and some­times Fate could be your friend, like it had been for Mrs Parry, Mrs Clark and Ru­fus. The dog-mind­ing ar­range­ment was still keep­ing ev­ery­body happy.

“That was a good day’s work,” Sally said aloud to her iron­ing board.

But some­times Fate needed a help­ing hand.

****

“Tea?” Mr Simp­son’s po­lite mask didn’t quite dis­guise the hope that still hov­ered in his eyes.

This would be Sally’s third re­fusal. “I’m sor –” “No, no. Quite all right. I un­der­stand.”

He turned away. Sally took a breath: it was now or never.

“Ac­tu­ally, I was go­ing to ask if you could pos­si­bly do me a favour.”

THERE was a def­i­nite and dis­con­cert­ing flut­ter­ing some­where in­side An­gela Wil­ber­force’s chest. Through the spy-hole in her front door she could see the fine, up­right fig­ure of the smartly dressed man she some­times saw in the post off ice.

That chat­ter­ing post­mistress had told her he was a wi­d­ower called Mr Simp­son and that he lived in one of those rather so­phis­ti­cated, split-level mod­ern houses over­look­ing the river.

The woman had pro­vided a plethora of in­for­ma­tion about his back­ground and in­ter­ests. Although in­trigued, An­gela had won­dered at the time how the woman knew so much, when he seemed such a nice, re­served gen­tle­man.

She didn’t re­mem­ber Sa­muel Simp­son as hav­ing been par­tic­u­larly out­go­ing. Of course, it was all ter­ri­bly long ago, be­fore her par­ents had taken her out of the lo­cal school where she’d been happy and sent her to that ex­pen­sive in­sti­tu­tion they’d thought would bet­ter pre­pare her for be­ing the wife of some­one like Per­ci­val Wil­ber­force.

Per­ci­val, with his high-fly­ing gov­ern­ment po­si­tion, his money, his charm . . . and his com­pletely faith­less smile.

Sa­muel Simp­son had been in the year above her. She couldn’t say they had had any kind of re­la­tion­ship; there hadn’t been time for that. But there had been lots of looks and blushes.

Even now An­gela could still re­mem­ber the bub­bling feel­ing she’d had when she’d caught him star­ing at her in the din­ner queue, and the look of dis­ap­point­ment in his eyes when he learned she wasn’t re­turn­ing next term.

“I’m go­ing to a bet­ter school,” she’d said, par­rot­ing her par­ents’ words. He’d looked as though she had struck him. To make up for it she’d kissed him and then run away be­fore he could re­cover from his as­ton­ish­ment.

Af­ter that she’d seen him once or twice in the hol­i­days, but they hadn’t spo­ken. She sup­posed he had got over her and moved on to some­one else. He had al­ways been a very good-look­ing boy.

An­gela sighed. He ob­vi­ously didn’t re­mem­ber her. What a good job that gos­sip of a post­mistress didn’t know the truth!

But now, here he was on her front doorstep, bran­dish­ing iron­ing for all to see! Sally was al­ways so dis­creet, bring­ing it around the back so that An­gela’s smart com­mit­tee friends wouldn’t wit­ness her shame­ful in­abil­ity to cope. Rheuma­tism had a lot to an­swer for.

An­gela peeked again. She had to ad­mit Sa­muel Simp­son had aroused the kind of in­ter­est she’d long ago deemed her­self in­ca­pable of.

When she’d nod­ded to him in the post of­fice she had felt her mouth beam­ing, and had been so grat­i­fied by his re­turn­ing smile that she’d been forced to con­cen­trate on the no­tice­board to sup­press a blush.

Just for a sec­ond she’d won­dered whether it was pos­si­ble he had re­mem­bered her, af­ter all, and then she’d chided her­self for be­ing silly.

She squared her shoul­ders, breathed steadily and opened the door. “Hello, An­gela.” “Hello, Sa­muel.” She was aware of a long un­fa­mil­iar soft­ness in her voice.

“I’ve, er, I think we share the same iron­ing lady.”

He looked en­dear­ingly em­bar­rassed.

“I’m afraid she was rather busy. Asked me if I’d . . .”

He was re­gard­ing her with a mix­ture of con­fu­sion and ad­mi­ra­tion. Her chest flut­tered again.

“Do come in.” An­gela Wil­ber­force was noth­ing if not hos­pitable. “Per­haps you’d like a cup of tea.”

From the seat of her car, hid­den be­hind an out­crop of shrubs, Sally watched the door close on the two of them and couldn’t stop smil­ing.

When Meg had told her about Mr Simp­son’s stolen glances of ad­mi­ra­tion in the post of­fice and about how Mrs Wil­ber­force smiled at him in a gen­tle way never be­fore wit­nessed by Meg’s counter, Sally had started to plan.

And now, with Meg’s help, it had all come to­gether beau­ti­fully.

She couldn’t wait to tell Colin.

She hated up­set­ting Mr Simp­son, but it was for his own good

The End.

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