The International Writers Magazine: Matinee

Frederic and Millie
Alison Shaw

Frederic liked the look of Millie. She wasn’t half attractive for a woman of her age. A widow, so he’d heard and she already had three children, two of them almost grown up so she wouldn’t be wanting any more of those most likely. That’d suit Frederic very well. Yes, very well indeed thank you. Never did like the little beggars very much. No, a man in his position was looking for a different kind of wife. Somebody who’d know how to look after him. Be able to put a decent dinner on the table of an evening.

Frederic leant back in his chair. Across the waiting room, Millie attended to her work in the receptionists booth, a light from a small electric lamp picked out a clasp in her blonde wavy hair.
"Course, you don’t even always have to marry them these days," he mused. "I mean even the bloody King's been at it. That was a turn up for the books…Kept that bloody quiet didn’t they. Never thought he would have gone for an American though… Divorcée and all"

Frederic closed his eyes and his thoughts turned to Elsie, the young chambermaid at the hotel he’d been messing around with the last few months. He smiled and almost found himself drifting off for a moment as the heat from the open fire warmed his legs that winter afternoon.
"No, no, no, I’m done with all that nonsense," he thought, suddenly sitting up straight. "I’m 37 now and if I want to get the managers position I’m going to have to get myself a proper wife…Somebody a bit respectable… Somebody who knows how to behave herself. Someone I won’t be ashamed to show off to the boss."
"Mr Lane?" said Millie, lifting her head from her appointments ledger and looking towards him for the first time. "Doctor Jefferson is free now, room three."
Frederic grinned. "Ok fella, you might as well give it a go," he thought as he picked up his coat which he had carefully laid on the chair beside him. He took a small envelope from his pocket and as he passed by Millie’s desk he slipped it over the counter towards her giving her another smile and a wink as he did so. Then he disappeared down the corridor before she could say a word…

Millie looked at the letter in astonishment. She glanced over her shoulder to make sure Mrs Collins wasn’t watching and then she hurriedly opened the letter.

Frederic Lane, Assistant Manager,
Seaview Hotel, Grand Parade,

Dear Mrs Bailey,
I hope you don’t think me impertinent, but I’ll be most honoured
if you’ll accompany me to the cinema this Saturday afternoon. I’ll
be at the Embassy at three o’clock if you’d like to come. I’ll wait
for you in the foyer by the stairs to the circle, if you’d be so kind
as to meet me.

Yours Sincerely,
Frederic Lane

Millie’s face flushed with excitement. It was the third time he’d been into the surgery lately.. She’d felt sure he’d been watching her, but she hadn’t dreamed he’d been taking any sort of interest … She’d only got the job at the doctors six months ago. Before that she was scrubbing floors and taking in washing . Anything to try and feed the kids since John died. "Oh my God, what would I wear? I’ll have to tell him I can’t go. I’ve got nothing. I don’t want to embarrass him turning up looking shabby. He’s ever so smartly turned out. That overcoat looks brand new. The way he smiled at me… He could almost be Spanish with those eyes..He seems ever so sure of himself. Ever so tall and confident looking. They’ve got a proper ballroom and everything at that hotel. I’ve seen it through the windows. Oh my God, I can’t believe it."

The following Friday Frederic Lane had a particularly heavy night. The bar at the Seaview Hotel had closed at eleven o’clock as usual, and after making sure his staff had cleaned up properly and that the guests were all safely off to bed Frederic and Reggie the head porter had set up a poker table in his room. A couple of boys from the kitchens joined them at midnight and the four of them played until 5am. They’d gotten through a couple of bottles of scotch between them, not to mention the champagne that Fred had brought up from the bar. At one stage Frederic was up by almost two guineas but by the end of the night he had lost the lot, almost a months salary down the pan and he’d have to pay for the champagne too at some point, otherwise he’d get it in the neck from the boss.

Daylight flooded in through the open curtains and Frederic awoke with a blinding headache. He tossed and turned uncomfortably for a couple of hours and then finally got out of bed at midday but only to spit in the sink and use the toilet. Then he flaked back down on the bed again still fully clothed and began to snore.

On the other side of town Millie Bailey was getting ready for the date. She’d spent the last three evenings making a dress from a Butterick pattern she’d borrowed from her sister Ida. The two of them had gone to the market on Wednesday and bought a yard and a half of printed rayon. The fabric had a rose print with a green leaf detail so she’d be able to wear her light green coat over the top of it. It was December, a bit cold for a summer coat, but she could borrow some gloves and it’d be better than wearing the old black coat that John had bought for her. It must be ten years old now and was getting awfully shabby.

As Millie and Ida sewed that Friday evening a special broadcast came on the radio. King Edward V111 was giving his farewell address to the nation saying how he could no longer bear the weight of his responsibilities without the support of the woman he loved.
"I can’t believe it," said Millie. He’s only gone and done it. He’s leaving us. They’ve forced him out, that’s what it is. Why couldn’t they just let him marry her? Bloody hypocrites. What’s going to happen now? And all this stuff going on in Germany too. God knows where it’s all heading to Ida."

In her agitation she pricked herself with the needle causing a little drop of blood to fall on the dress. Ida went and got a cloth and the two of them sat in silence for a few minutes contemplating the unsettling news and the dreaded possibility of another war.

By Saturday morning Millie was shaking with nerves. Ida had taken the children out for the day and Millie was doing her best to get herself ready. She knew it was only a first date, she but she couldn’t help thinking ahead, wondering how it might turn out, dreaming that it might be the start of a whole new future for her. It had been so hard since John died. She’d felt so alone having to bring the kids up by herself. Eight years she’d been struggling. And now Frederic had come along completely out of nowhere. She hadn’t even dreamed she was going to meet anyone else, let alone somebody as nice as him. He seemed like a really decent man. A real gentleman. And such a good job too. She could hardly believe her luck.
Frederic rolled over in bed. Somebody was knocking at his door, loudly and insistently.
"What the hell d’you want? Go away!" yelled Frederic angrily.
"Fred! Fred!" came a shrill female voice. "Come on, Fred, get up, will you. We’re all going to the pub for lunch. Hair of the dog!"
The door opened and Elsie Fitch burst in. "Come on Fred, come and have a pint of Guiness. You’ll feel loads better."
"Sod off and leave me alone," said Fred. "I don’t want you in here, d’you hear me?"
"But Fred," said Elsie. "I’ve been looking forward to me day off. I thought we was going to spend some time together."
"Why would I want to do that?" said Frederic. "Go on, get out. You’re getting on my nerves Elsie. I don’t want you hanging around me anymore."
"Aw, come on Fred. It’s just yer hangover. You’ll feel much better later…"
Frederic got up from his bed, his face red with anger. He grabbed Elsie by the shoulders and screamed violently in her face.
"I won’t tell you again Elsie. I want you out of here. Do you hear me? I don’t want to see you anymore. Have you got that ? D’you understand me?"
He pushed her roughly towards the doorway and out into the corridor and slammed the door.

Millie Bailey left the house at twenty to three. She didn’t want to be late but she didn’t want to be too early either. It had stopped raining and she was feeling happy, optimistic for the first time in years. She felt good in her new dress. She had washed her hair and set it into waves and was wearing a little green pill box hat that she had bought for a wedding a couple of years ago. She hoped it wasn’t too much, just for the cinema you know. She didn’t want to be looking too done up, not on the first date.

Frederic splashed his face with icy water from the tap and looked at himself in the mirror. "You bloody fool" he said to himself. "You’ve got to stop doing this to yourself. You’re ruining your guts. The doctor’s told you plenty of times. Why can’t you listen to him?"

The freezing water and the smell of carbolic soap seemed to sober him. He took out his best suit and a fresh shirt from the wardrobe. He oiled down his hair, splashed on some cologne and set off at a brisk pace along the seafront towards the cinema.

Millie was coming around the corner just as he arrived. She cut quite a striking figure against the blue of the sky as the wind from the sea blew her dress and she had to hold on to her hat. Frederic took a deep breath of salty air and watched as she approached. His bad mood seemed to ease and to his surprise he found himself feeling quite taken with her. Maybe it wasn’t going to be such a bad day after all. His large brown eyes framed with thick black lashes came to life and he flashed her a charming smile.
"You look lovely Mrs Bailey. Absolutely lovely," he said holding out his arm towards her. "I’m so glad you could make it. Come far have you ? Clark Gable OK for you ? Come on, my lovely, let's get into the warm."

© Alison Shaw December 2006
ali at

Ali is studying for her Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Portsmouth and is an accomplished singer and lyricist with The Cranes

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