Clear Skies

This short was written based on a first sentence prompt. Consider leaving a comment when you finish.

Clear Skies

Mrs. Heathington-Findlay-Grieves was very disappointed with her new parasol; very disappointed indeed. It was a smart yellow parasol with a beautiful blue and red floral print, but no matter how hard she shook it, it just would not work.

The ribs rattled, the fabric rustled, and Mrs. Heathington-Findlay-Grieves murmured, “Oh bother.”

She looked up and down the street, seeing people up and about during the noon day hour. They were stepping into and out of a myriad of little delis, cafes, and boutiques, and when Mrs. Heathington-Findlay-Grieves looked up–the sky clear where once it would have been filled tiny black spots floating around–she had to shield her eyes from the glaring sun.

Just her luck that her parasol would fail on the one cloudless London day.

Nevertheless, Mrs. Heathington-Findlay-Grieves was undaunted, for she had spotted Many Rhodes. It was a clothing store she occasionally visited, run by a lovely Cypriot husband and wife called Zafer and Georgia. She enjoyed talking with them more than she did browsing the fabrics, but there was more to it than idle shopping. The store kept the pair busy all day, and they had a young boy that needed looking after. They had already asked her to watch him twice. With any luck, they’d do it again.

But today was no day for chatter, nor for shopping. Today Many Rhodes gave Mrs. Heathington-Findlay-Grieves her bearings. She was on Green Lanes at least–one of the busiest shopping streets in north London–but not at the right spot. She realized she would have quite a walk, and would doubtless be late.

Mrs. Heathington-Findlay-Grieves sighed, bundled up her parasol, and began walking. She drew down her bonnet to shield her eyes, and a gentle breeze offered relief from the brilliant noonday sun.

She no longer lived in Haringey, but Mrs. Heathington-Findlay-Grieves still considered Green Lanes a great part of her life. She remembered walking down this street when she was a child, her hand in her mother’s, marvelling at the then chiefly English businesses. Mother would go to Keeper’s every Sunday after church to buy the weekly, and then to Chisolm’s Bakery for a fresh baked scone and afternoon tea.

Mother had smiled back in those days, but as more and more of them had come to her England she had grown dour and bitter. Mrs. Heathington-Findlay-Grieves couldn’t remember the last time they had walked here together. She loved her mother dearly, of course, but she personally liked the changes. The Greeks, the Turks, the Kurds, and the Jamaicans, they all brought new life to the area, and so much colour and music.

Mother would have called her a silly little girl for it, Mrs. Heathington-Findlay-Grieves was certain, but she knew things wouldn’t ever be the same again, so what was the point in fretting over it?

She stopped a moment to fan herself. She ran a finger under her high collar and was alarmed to find she was sweating in a most unladylike manner. Once more she glared at the defective parasol in her hand, the one with the beautiful print and the shoddy build, nasty words nearly on her lips.

She spotted Bindely Towers across the street, and the moment passed. She waited with the other pedestrians–an elderly Irish couple, a young student in a scandalously short skirt, and three dark skinned men chatting in some incomprehensible language–and then crossed when the light indicated.

Bindley Towers was a small hotel built in Victoria’s time, and it’s lowest floor was dedicated to a simply charming tea room. It had a red carpet, small round tables with white cloths upon them, and high backed wooden chairs of some dark wood with golden cushions. And, most importantly, it was air conditioned.

Mrs. Heathington-Findlay-Grieves took a moment to stand under the entryway vent, savouring the cold air against her skin. When she looked around the entire room was dark, far too dark. Her eyes were still adjusted from the blazing outdoor sun.

“Milly?” came a voice, and Mrs. Heathington-Findlay-Grieves saw her old friend Heather Thornington rising from one of the tables. She was heavy set and short, with a round face and red cheeks, and her keen brown hair–still brown, mind, not a grey to be found–was bunned up on top. “Oh Milly, I was beginning to worry. What happened, dear?”

Mildred–Mrs. Heathington-Findlay-Grieves–embraced her friend, and each kissed the other’s cheek.

“Goodness,” said Heather, “you’re so warm.”

“Oh, Heather,” said Mildred, “I’m so sorry I’m late. It’s just this, this–” and she shook both her head and her parasol. Heather looked at the tool with its yellow fabric and smart print and nodded.

“Come dear,” she said, wrapping her arm in her considerably taller friend’s. “Let’s sit you down. We’ll have tea.”

“You don’t mind?” Mildred asked as she sat. “I know our time was set for nearly an hour ago.”

Heather shook her head, smiling sadly and looking down at her chubby fingers. Her eyes glanced up her friend. “I’ve nowhere to be, dear.”

Mildred made a sympathetic face and put her hand on Heather’s. “I thought you had a lead down in Camden?” she asked.

“I did,” Heather said. “But… well, there’s a new day care opened up.”

Mildred tsked with disdain. “I don’t understand those places,” she said. “They cram all those poor children into one place, like, like, well, monkeys in a zoo.”

Heather laughed, a jolly chuckle that reddened her cheeks even more, and Mildred giggled too. Then the all the joy faded from Heather’s face, and she leaned in. “You know the worst of it?” she asked, barely more than whispering.

“Dear, what?”

“I heard that Liddy’s running it,” Heather said.

Mildred’s eyes widened. “Lydia Benningham-McWroughtly?” she asked.

Heather nodded.

“Goodness!” Mildred said. “But she’s one of us!”

Heather sighed and then shrugged. “The times are tough, I guess. Money’s harder and harder to come by, and not just for us mind. Parents can’t afford nannies any more, and so they send their children to, well, to zoos.

“But all that’s depressing, isn’t it? What’s new in your life, dear?”

Mildred rolled her eyes and nodded towards her parasol. Heather giggled again.

“Oh,” she said, “you’ve just no luck, no luck at all.”

“It’s the third one in as many weeks,” Mildred said, picking up the defective object. She traced a beautiful white daisy surrounded by green leaves with her finger.

“You should get one of these,” Heather said, putting her own grey parasol on the table. That was it, just grey. A bland rain cloud lying on the table.

“Oh, please,” Mildred said, “it’s such an eye sore!”

“It works,” Heather said, shrugging.

“It’s so utilitarian.”

“I’ve had no trouble with it.”

“But mine’s so pretty! Just look at these flowers… and this yellow is so subtle.”

“It’s a tool, dear. It doesn’t matter what it looks like so long as it works.”

“Oh,” said Mildred, “what a philistine.”

They both giggled again.

“Look at these ribs,” Mildred said, running her finger along the grey fabric. “They have far too much curve. It looks almost like an umbrella.”

“Actually,” Heather said, “it is an umbrella, dear.”

“Oh, that’s just not proper.”

“Maybe not,” Heather said, “but it works, and that’s all what I need. And let’s be honest, there’s more rain than sun in this city.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Mildred said, “but it’s just not proper. It’s not the way we used to do it.”

“Times change,” Heather said, shrugging.

They sat in silence for a moment, and then the old grandfather clock in the tea room of Bindley Towers rang out.

“Goodness,” said Mildred, “is it one already? I’m so sorry, dear, but I have to get going.”

“You have a lead?” Heather asked.

“Yes, a lovely couple in Redbridge,” Mildred said, rising. “And I expect I’ll be late even if I manage to get a taxi.”

“Milly,” said Heather, and when her friend looked at her, Heather held out her grey umbrella. “Take it.”

Mildred scrunched up her nose. “I couldn’t…”

“Please,” said Heather, “I insist. It really is reliable, and given how scarce work is you can’t afford to be late.”

The two friends shared a look for a moment, and then Mildred nodded, and took the ugly grey blotch from Heather. “You won’t need it?”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Heather said. “Not today, at least.”

They hugged once more, then Mildred left her broken parasol with her friend and stepped outside into the sun. She squinted at the bright daylight and stepped clear of the door. She regarded the grey umbrella with suspicion and then sighed.

“Times change,” she murmured, repeating Heather.

She opened the umbrella, waited for a breeze to gust, and then raised the tool. The wind caught the umbrella and a moment later Mildred Heathington-Findlay-Grieves took to the air, flying above the crowds of Green Lanes. Despite how ugly it was, Mildred felt her heart thrill. For the first time in a long time, she felt truly hopeful. She allowed herself a giggle, and angled her umbrella towards Redbridge, sailing with only birds for company through the empty sky.