by Violet Carson
I stood in the ladies toilet at Imperial Foods touching up my make-up after a long and tiring shift. This morning for the first time I’d gone to work wearing my curlers but as I had an appointment at the hair salon that afternoon decided not to remove them and go straight there. I’d worn an old floral headscarf tied under my chin on the way to work and had now replaced it with my hairnet for work. I couldn’t wait to have my hair done at the salon again. Sitting under the hairdryer with my curlers in was such a turn-on and I so wanted to look my best for my night out. But in the back of my mind was the constant nagging worry about the state of my insides, but I knew that I had to take the risk as Marj would not tolerate me letting Jack down. Although Marj seemed so friendly towards me I was beginning to think that maybe she was starting to dominate me in a similar but more slightly subtle way than Mark and Lucy. But what was I to know? I was just a cleaner and had to do what she said and take her advice.
Marj had confirmed Jack would be there in the evening, so I must maintain my role as the elderly divorcee and laugh at all his little jokes like some embarrassed schoolgirl. I hoped that Jack wouldn’t mind having to spend time with an incontinent old hag. I wondered, would he actually ask me out and I thought and where do two people in their 60s actually go on a date?
I got back from the hairdressers late in the afternoon and for once there were no gangs of teenagers or out of work good for nothings around. However, the dance music was still playing far too loudly somewhere down the hall. Again I found myself thinking who are these people and don’t they ever go out to work? I just couldn’t help thinking as the woman I’d become with a closed mind to anything that didn’t seem familiar to me or fit with my old-fashioned view of the world. I put on one of my predecessor’s slightly scratchy Sinatra records and started getting ready for my night out.
I knew that as per Marj’s instructions I needed to look my best and spent ages going through my wardrobe. I also constantly looked at myself in the mirror admiring my wonderful “granny” perm with its tight waves and new silver tint. I just loved the way it seemed to curve upwards off my forehead before the waves ended half way down my ears and just went to collar length at the back.
I spent an age going through my new wardrobe and I finally settled on an old fashioned floral dress that came to just below my knees that I’d wear with a beige cardigan and the 2” heels that were my smart shoes. I hoped that I wouldn’t have to wear the diapers, but knew that unfortunately in my current condition I just couldn’t risk going without them. I obviously also wore the hip pads that had become second nature to me now, but over the last few weeks had noticed a definite flabbiness around my waist and my upper thighs. Was this what I wanted to happen I asked myself. I didn’t have an answer for that yet but my diet of junk food and now heavy breakfast and lunch at the food plant were undoubtedly having an impact on my once firm figure. I touched up my make-up and fluffed out my perm, sprayed the cheap floral perfume very generously on my neck and over my hair and stared at myself one last time in the full-length mirror attached to the wardrobe door. I instantly felt the tingling between my legs that I had whenever I looked at the new me. This was absolutely crazy, but I was still completely hooked on this new creature I’d created for myself. I finally felt ready to go, not knowing whether I was turning a new page in my life or getting ready for some unspeakable horror ahead.
Walking down the stairs to leave my block of flats two black girls passed me sniggering and jokingly shouted after they’d past me:
“Granny’s got a date!”
The other responded with:
“Chantelle, that’s absolutely gross, you are disgusting, sorry Granny, don’t listen to her” as they clattered away on their heels giggling to themselves.
They obviously thought they were being rude but I was thrilled that I’d become so convincing as I made my way to bus stop. There was no getting away from it now. Whenever someone saw me in the street, at least assuming they didn’t spend too much time staring directly at me I was seen as faceless forgettable old woman. I was only noticed if someone wanted to poke fun at me. I certainly had become a downtrodden nobody and it had become an effort to think of myself as AJ. I really did think of myself as being Rose and less and less as if I was playing a role. Day by day this seemed less of an act and actually my real life and now having spent three days doing two jobs, it was starting to take on a familiar and very tiring routine. All I had to think of was getting out of the flat, getting to work and coming home afterwards with no thoughts of anything better or any escape from the mundane humdrum reality of the working woman. I was getting a strangely deep satisfaction from this new reality I’d created for myself. With those thoughts spinning through my mind I realized that I was now just across the road from my evening’s destination.
I finally entered the pub to see Marj and her husband Alf along with Beth and her husband and Jack. There was an all too obvious empty space next to him where I was clearly expected to sit. Everyone stood and gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek and when Jack did so, I felt him hold me for just that little bit too long. I struggled to maintain my composure and stay in character as Jack asked what I’d like to drink. I settled for a Gin and Tonic, that I resolved to drink as slowly as possible.
The evening went far better than I had expected, other than that I was clearly the centre of attention as far as Jack was concerned and I probably had a little too much to drink. At the end of the evening though, just as I was putting my coat on to leave Jack said:
“Rose what have you got planned for tomorrow?”
Before giving myself time to think of an excuse I replied:
“Nothing, I was probably just going to do some shopping”
“Oh great!” he said.
“You could do that in the morning and I could pick you up after lunch and we could go out for a drive”
I didn’t know what to say and didn’t really want him to come to my flat to get me, but before I could say anything Marj responded with.
“Oh Jack, that’s really sweet of you, Rose has told me how she spends far too much time on her own. I know she’d love to spend the afternoon with you, wouldn’t you Rose?”
I knew I had no option but to reply affirmatively.
“Jack I’d love to go out tomorrow afternoon, but you mustn’t believe too much of what Marj says, she’s such a tease. But going out somewhere tomorrow would be lovely” I said trying to sound as Rose-like as I could.
Could I pick you up at 2.30?”
“Of course” I replied.
“That’s really thoughtful of you”
I gave him my address and he gave me a farewell kiss that seemed to linger a little longer than necessary as he put his arm around my waist and I left, wondering what tomorrow would bring.
The next day I awoke early with a sense of relief that I hadn’t had to rush to the toilet in the night and wondered if I could risk going out today without my protective pants but thought for the time being it was better to play it safe.
I had a quick breakfast and then spent over an hour cleaning the flat like a school-girl cleaning her bedroom before her first boyfriend came around. I then set off to town with my shopping trolley to get some food and household essentials. I really couldn’t explain the thrill I got catching sight of myself in the mirror before leaving. I had my pink anorak on and beige trousers with the flat Velcro fastened brown shoes and with my headscarf and trolley looked exactly like my grandmother used to. My mother would be appalled at the way I looked but I was on cloud nine.
I pushed my trolley around the supermarket in a complete daze with my mind racing as to what I should wear for my afternoon date and what I would actually say to Jack over the course of an entire afternoon.. I was actually quite petrified of being found out and kept reminding myself of the story that Mark and Lucy had created for me, divorcee with two children who had long left home etc.
I then had a further worrying thought which was: I actually didn’t know if Marj had told Jack that I was a fraud and was it his chance to actually pick up a younger woman. With Marj’s sudden comments earlier in the week, I really didn’t know what to think and unless Jack said something to make me believe he knew, I would simply have to make sure I made no slip-ups and maintain my Rose persona 100%.
After getting home and then trying on virtually every item of clothing I now possessed, just as I was spraying myself with my “Chanel No.5” the doorbell rang.
“Typical man” I thought, ten minutes early.
With that I made my way across my small hall to let him in and await my fate.
I opened my front door to see Jack standing there very smartly dressed holding a bunch of flowers that looked as though they’d been bought cheaply at a garage forecourt shop and if they’d been a gift to my former self I’d have probably thrown them back at whoever have them to me. But times had changed I was no longer spoilt and could not afford to be too choosy.
I gave him my best Rose smile, hoping he wouldn’t catch too much of a sight of my now horribly stained teeth. I actually did catch myself thinking “Oh no, I’m such a mess he probably won’t fancy me!”
“Oh Jack, they’re lovely. You really shouldn’t have” I told him giving him a gentle kiss on the cheek.
“Do come in and take a seat whilst I put these in some water.”
“Rose you look simply lovely” he remarked
“Oh! Jack, you know full well that I look a mess, my days of looking lovely are long gone:”
I responded, actually feeling elated by his compliment whilst I headed into my kitchen to hunt for a vase.
There were numerous old vases scattered around the flat left by the old lady and as everything was gleaming as fitting for a professional cleaner, so I had no trouble in finding something suitable to put them in and I put the vase on the sideboard by my sitting room window.
I thought to myself what a nice thought it was of Jack and I found myself really warming to him. Marj had been right he really was a sweet kind-hearted old man. I just didn’t have the faintest idea of how I was going to handle this situation and I so didn’t want to hurt him.
“What have you got planned for our afternoon out?” I asked.
“Well I thought we could drive to Hatfield House and look around the gardens” he suggested hopefully. Clearly having given it quite some thought and was obviously hoping I’d be delighted by the prospect.
“That would be lovely. I haven’t been there for years” I said.
“I used to go regularly with Gwyneth, she was my wife” he said
“But when she became ill we stopped going and I haven’t been back since she died”.
“Are you sure it won't make you sad” I asked, dreading the fact that he might get sentimental and I’d feel even worse about misleading him.
“No. Its time to move on. Its been five years since she died and its such a lovely place, I’m sure you’ll like it.”
“All right then let’s go!” I said feeling somewhat happier.
“Would you like some tea before we head off?”
No, thanks” said Jack “There’s a very nice café there and we could have some tea and cake there”
“Sounds perfect” said I.
“Let me just touch up my make-up and grab my coat: I responded.
“You look lovely just as you are” said Jack
“Jack, thank you, you really are such a charmer aren’t you?” I replied, secretly cringing inside.
I waddled over to the bathroom, checking that my padding and pants were all in place and hitched up my stockings before adding a touch of blusher and lipstick. I also couldn’t resist running my fingers through my curly perm that still made my spine tingle each time I saw it in a mirror.
Why hasn’t he commented on my hair, I asked myself. Followed by, I must actually be going mad to be thinking this and to be going out on a date with a man who’s possibly older than my father.
With that I slipped on my raincoat grabbed my plastic headscarf in case it rained and said
“Splendid” he replied leading me out of the flat towards his car and I noticed how he put his arm around mine as we walked down the stairs.
I hoped and preyed that no-one too threatening would approach us and thankfully we got to his car without any disturbance.
His car was a ten year old Ford that he obviously took great pride in, as it was freshly washed and polished. He then opened the passenger door for me and I thought to myself I don’t believe anyone has ever held a car door open for me in my entire life. He really is such a gentleman!
We drove on chattering away as I tried to make meaningless small talk as befitting a woman of my age not knowing if I was convincing or even if Marj had already told him all about me and he was seizing an opportunity to go out with a woman half his age.
We finally arrived at our destination, one of the finest country houses in southern England and after he carefully parked the car he got out first and raced around to the passenger door and held it open for me with one hand and held out his other hand for me to hold on to as I got out. It was actually not that easy to get out of the car wearing my slightly restrictive corset and the padding.
Any way as I stood up and carefully pushed my dress and coat down he locked the car and put his arm through mine and we headed off to see the gardens like an old married couple. He told me all about his family and I carried on with my falsehoods about mine, feeling like a complete shit for lying to him but also hoping I didn’t end up contradicting myself with my make believe family history.
He bought me tea and cakes in the café and we again chatted away.
“Rose I’m so glad I met you” he said, going on to say
“I had actually resigned myself to life as a widower and hadn’t ever expected to meet someone that I would want to spend time with again since Gwyneth passed away, but I so enjoy your company Rose I’d really do hope that we can spend more time together and get to know each other better”
I just didn’t know how to respond. He was a lovely man but this was my worst possible fear. I didn’t want to hurt him but I was lying to him and as much of an escape as this was from my old life, I had no plans to start a relationship with him. I could feel myself breaking out in a sweat beneath my make-up.
“Jack, I don’t know what to say” I stammered
“You are such a nice man, I’d be happy to have you as a friend and would certainly be happy to see you again” I commented.
“I hope we can be more than just friends Rose” he replied.
“Let’s wait and see what the future brings, it would be wrong to rush things” I said trying to sound as sincere as I could.
“Of course Rose, I don’t want to rush you” he responded, back-tracking slightly.
I could tell that I’d hurt his feelings but I needed to think things out very carefully before I got in too deep and managed to round things off by saying.
“Jack, thank you for taking me out this afternoon, its been so nice, I don’t know when I last had such an enjoyable afternoon.”
“Thank you for agreeing to come out with me’ he replied and said
“You don’t know how happy you’ve made me, its been such a great afternoon. Let’s do something next weekend. I’ll think of something and I’ll call you during the week. Is that agreed?”
I knew I had to say yes or run the risk of hurting his feelings further and risking Marj’s wrath so I replied.
“Of course Jack. I’d love to” and as we got up he kissed me on the lips. My first real kiss in almost four months! But I didn’t feel anything other than thinking poor lonely man, I mustn’t hurt him too much and then we headed back to the car for the drive home.