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