by Sue Jackson


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Part One of
Making Waves

Paris Ghosts


Margaret spent her lunch hours patrolling the red light district of Soho, in order to pick up tips. It was a far cry from the confines of the convent; she felt freedom flood through her veins, and made businesslike comments in the reporters notebook that she carried in her handbag. She was filled with a sense of purpose, of promise on the horizon, and had no doubt that her ultimate future as madam of a (high class) brothel was assured.

Leaving the convent had caused a certain hue and cry amongst the nuns, who had Margaret labelled as a highly useful asset to their community. Her parents were equally perturbed, because they presumed she would return to live with them. Much though they loved their daughter, they felt it would now be a mistake to share the same roof: she had changed more than ever. But Margaret was determined to be independent, and stayed a dutiful week with her parents before finding rooms in a somewhat run down boarding house in Notting Hill Gate. The rent was cheap, however, and Margaret knew this was important. On advice from her friend Julia, she then registered with an employment agency near the tube station.

The interview was not an experience Margaret wanted to repeat; she had never been so humiliated. She was treated as an absolute imbecile and by some stupid brazen hussy with painted fingernails.(Margaret made a note of the hue of those nails,just in case.) "What are your skills?" the girl had asked her and Margaret wasn”t sure how to answer. Did praying count as a skill? She decided not,but embellished her achievements at turning the convent school around, making it profitable. Blue Nails looked at her for a moment and said "you can do filing then?" before making notes on her card.

By the end of the week, Margaret had a temporary booking in the library of a publishing company near Piccadilly Circus. She was to help the librarian with filing, press cuttings and general duties. It sounded so glamorous, Margaret felt quite a thrill. With money that her parents had insisted on giving her, she purchased a smart royal blue suit, several cream blouses with important frills at the front,and a black handbag large enough to carry her notebook. She then purchased two pairs of black court shoes with discreet heels and made an appointment with a hairdresser recommended by the lady in the shoe shop. This lady spoke with a rich, plummy voice that Margaret determined, one day,to emulate.

Flicking through the pages of Hair Monthly, Margaret was appalled at some of the hairstyles dyed, highlights, lowlights (whatever they were) all looked extraordinary. She disliked them allbut eventually decided on a bob. It would look smart and be easy to keep, she was assured. By the time she left, Margaret was surprised but pleased. She liked the way her hair emphasised the nape of her neck, gave an autocratic shape to her head. As she walked down the street, Margaret admired her sleek new look in every shop window. She was filled with an infinite wisdom way beyond her years as, smugly, she made her way home.

The temporary job involved sorting endless newspaper cuttings and filing them in the haphazard system set up in the tiny office. Margaret’s colleague, Joan, was overworked and subsequently bad-tempered, her mood only lifting after several drinks at lunchtime. Margaret was unused to the smell of alcohol on anyone’s breath and suffered the afternoons in silence. She was not asked to join the drinkers, instead she conducted her own research, observed the doorways of Soho with interest and sometimes bought a few bargain vegetables at Berwick Street Market.
By the end of the first week, Margaret had completely reorganised the office filing system. Joan was initially cross and surprised but soon realised the improvement. Margaret was therefore invited to the Friday evening drink after work, which she cautiously accepted and found herself in a dark, crowded pub off Shaftesbury Avenue. Not knowing what to drink, she ordered a gin, and found herself with a bitter tasting double portion which she drowned with tonic. Surreptitiously she glanced around to see what the journalists drank, and made a mental note: red wine, beer, lager and vodka.
The alcohol made her head spin a little, but lifted her spirits. The conversation revolved around work; Margaret was not expected to contribute. Instead she listened, answered the single question aimed at her, revealed nothing personal and at 7.30 she left the pub with Joan. The air outside was warm and muggy, the bright light confused her while her feet floated an inch above the pavement. She made her way home on the tube and lay on her bed with a growing sense of achievement. The temporary position, once she had proved herself to be capable, was "ongoing" according to her employment agency. Margaret decided that it suited her current circumstances, and from then on, every Friday she accompanied her colleagues to the pub where she increased her alcohol intake to three double vodkas per evening, but was careful not to say much about herself. By watching the other women in the office, she also revised her clothes a little, relaxed the starched shirts with softer, lower cut blouses, and sometimes omitted the suit jacket in favour of an M&S navy blue cardigan.

Every now and then, as she lay in bed, she contemplated the idea of sex. In the office she found her gaze inevitably drawn to men’s crotches, felt a pink flush stain her cheeks and quickly looked down at her desk. As a nun she had been familiar with "the body of Christ", but no-one had prepared her for the body of man. She wondered how other people managed and what exactly they did. Margaret’s human biology was hazy, bordering on non-existent as she rummaged in her brain for school descriptions of the sexual act. In the end she found a copy of "The Joy of Sex" in a charity shop, paid the £2.50 required with a burning face and took it home hidden inside two Superdrug carrier bags. In the safety of her room she studied it carefully, telling herself it was necessary research, but her brain struggled with the fact that people apparently performed such strange actions, often in excruciatingly uncomfortable positions, for enjoyment. And it must be so messy. She comforted herself that in her forthcoming business she wouldn’t actually have to take part, but would supervise, when the time came.Margaret kept a close eye on her bank balance, and hoarded her pay checks jealously. She didn’t smoke, drank her three vodkas on Friday evenings only, and spent the weekends reading and discovering London, particularly Soho, on foot. Sometimes she would visit a museum and treat herself to tea and cakes in the museum tea shop, where she would fantasise about her future. Her knowledge of the doorways selling sex was growing and she memorised the girls faces carefully. She made no friends, but was content by herself and usually preferred her own company.When she had amassed the princely sum of one hundred pounds, Margaret felt it was time to set the wheels in motion. She had seen a notice in the library about a company that gave free advice on setting up in business, so she made an appointment with an advisor in her lunch hour one day.

The Small Business Unit consisted of a tiny top floor office containing sparse furniture and a thin, young grey bearded man with an earnest expression. He had a nervous twitch in his left eye which Margaret found disconcerting, but she sat, straight-backed and listened while he talked. He introduced himself as Jeremy, and outlined what the Small Business Unit could offer those wanting to set up on their own. He could help with a business plan, Jeremy told her, would advise on advertising and marketing, and would help with a budget for the first year. They would work out what rent she could afford on a property, whether Margaret would be eligible for any grants, and whether she was thinking of employing any staff. Perhaps she would benefit from computer training?

Margaret listened, her heart sinking slowly. She hadn’t thought about advertising and marketing, the tax man and computers. She tried not to look at the long grey sinewy hairs protruding from Jeremy’s nose and ears, and itched to twitch them out. She pulled herself together was word of mouth not good enough for her business? As for business cards, the payphone in Soho Square was covered in them.
"What sort of business are you considering?" Jeremy leaned towards her, exuding a faint but definite smell of stale sweat.
"I’d rather not say at the moment." Margaret’s reply was prim as she gave a brisk smile, edged her chair backwards. "Thank you so much for your help" she took the proffered leaflets, Jeremy’s business card and promised to be in touch, then walked down the narrow stairs, her head full of conflicting ideas. Disgruntled, she made her way back to work, and that evening accompanied the others to the pub with a brewing fit of pique. She now knew that her dream would take longer to realise than she had hoped, and for the first time in her life she set out to seek comfort in the demon drink.By Margaret’s fourth double vodka, her disappointment at the afternoon’s interview had sailed away amongst bubbles of tonic. Richard, the deputy editor of the magazine was being pleasantly attentive and her self esteem soared. By 8pm the other journalists and Joan had departed, leaving Margaret and Richard sitting thigh-to-thigh on a small window seat in the pub. Margaret enjoyed the floaty feeling, even though something had happened to her eyesight; she couldn’t focus properly. Richard’s hand strayed up the outside of her blue skirt, dallied around where her knickers began, and Margaret froze. He turned her face towards his so she could smell his pungent scent of Bass mixed with twenty Marlboro. His eyes were bloodshot beams zooming into her soul. She closed her eyes and waited. Nothing happened. She opened one eye to see Richard stumbling towards the telephone at the back of the pub. He returned, a few minutes later, and smiled. "How about dinner?" he asked with a slight slur. "Nice Italian round the corner", and pulled Margaret towards him. This time he kissed her wetly, she felt a dribble run down her chin and wondered what to do. His left hand had somehow nipped inside her blouse and was squeezing her lacy cupped bra with great enthusiasm. Margaret pulled back suddenly, horrified at the explosion of strange sensations erupting in her body.

"Er no, thank you," she gasped, scrabbling for her bag. "I think I’d better go now" and, trying to tuck in her blouse, she staggered out of the pub and into the evening sunlight.

The weekend dragged in an agony of embarrassment, shame and indignation. She had never consumed so much alcohol in her life: never again would she let herself lose control. And to think that she had let a man kiss her! She shuddered, her vodka headache crashing between her eyes. By Saturday evening, however, she was aware of a sneaking feeling that she tried hard to suppress. Part of her had shamefully enjoyed the terrifying emotions brought about by Richard’s persistent hands. She opened "The Joy of Sex" and pored over it for several hours, exploring the idea that parachuted into her thoughts. That night she lay in bed thinking of Richard’s smoky stubble pressed against her face, thought evil thoughts, and delighted in them.

By Monday morning, Margaret was filled with her usual resolve. She had purchased two short skirts on Sunday, a selection of clinging t-shirts and a pair of strappy sandals that showed off her slender ankles and gave her more height. She would have her own business, but if she could use men to get there quicker, she would. Why climb the ladder of success when you can just open your legs? Margaret stood admiring herself in the ladies toilet, practised a wink at herself in the mirror and set forth to do business.

© Sue Jackson 2000

This is trhe second part on a new novel in the making by Sue Jackson.
if you'd like to read about Margaret's first steps, go here


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