I first met Eve Chatsworth at the behest of her husband, Aubrey. We worked for the same company, Sunrooms. We supplied and fitted double glazing units, conservatories, Fascias and conservatory furniture. I was one of the working cogs in the business, and he was the best performing salesman. That he was an egotistical, condescending, patronising bastard, was neither here nor there. He was the most successful agent we had. It was typical of him to enter my office that day without knocking, and hand me a package.
"John. Do me a favour. I am pushed for time, an appointment that could be a big sale, and I promised my wife this necklace, the clasp has been repaired. Run it over to her, would you?" I was up to my eyeballs with work, mostly going through his fuck-ups. He may be the most successful salesman, but he was also the one with the shoddiest of paperwork. No! Shoddiest is not the right word, deceitful would be better. Getting customers to sign incomplete order schedules, in order that later he can add extras they hadn't agreed to, was deceitful. But he seemed to have the gift of talking them round usually offering them discounts and free services to mollify them. Even with the discounts it boosted his commission.
His request put me in a quandary. I was overloaded with work, and taking an hour out of my day to do his 'favour' would mean my working late. I did have the option of refusing, but that may not have been sensible. Aubrey was vindictive. If I refused, he would make sure that I would pay later, by giving me so many problems of administration that my work day would extend from eight hours to ten or even twelve hours, in addition he was the blue-eyed boy as far as Bob Sellick, who owned the business, was concerned and Bob would rate the sale more highly than any piffling paperwork. I took the umbrage and the package, locked my files away and left.
I had never been to his house before. I knew where it was though, in Sutton Coldfield just to the north of Birmingham. The Royal Borough of Sutton Coldfield was a medieval town, granted a charter by Henry the Eighth. A bounty for the local Bishop who had been helpful in one of the King's divorces. The town was also mentioned in one of Shakespeare's plays. The actual area where Aubrey lived was an imposing location known as Little Aston Park. Private roads, large detached houses set in their own grounds, they oozed money and privilege. It was one of those places where properties scorned such conveniences as numbers, they had names! So you couldn't find your destination by following a number sequence, the area subtly reminding you, that if you didn't know where the house was, you had no business here. I drove the grass-verged roads slowly, looking for 'Sycamores'. Every house was different, those that you could see as many were set back behind woodland and along with those differences the placing of the house name was different too. Some placed the name inside the porch; others favoured rustic signs at the entrance off the road. They were tacked to trees, on garage doors. One even had the name created in wrought iron set in a plinth. Each house had to be scanned, and rejected, taking up to a minute to find the name and drive on. I eventually found 'Sycamores', and cautiously navigated the curving drive. It had taken me nearly twenty minutes from entering the Park to find the house.
It's strange when you meet someone's wife for the first time. You know the husband, and mentally endow the wife with his characteristics, attitude and physical appearance. When Eve Chatsworth opened the door I was staggered, she was the total opposite of Aubrey. He was loud, pompous and aggressive. She was quiet, kind and mannered. He was built large, florid of face and sweated a lot, Eve was petite, elegant, fragrant, in her early thirties I would guess and had that air about her that told you the beauty without was merely a reflection of the beauty within.
One similarity they did have was dress code. Aubrey always appeared in suits, the best of Savile Row hung from his shoulders, immaculately tailored to his frame. Suits that always seemed to be freshly cleaned and pressed that morning. Eve was dressed in a way most women would for an evening out. A little blackdress fashionably short, a gold chain necklace, which hung to a point between her small breasts, and three inch high black heels, her make-up, was perfect. It was incongruous as you don't expect that on a Monday mid-morning.
"Can I help you?" She asked politely.
"I am John Birch from Sunrooms." I introduced myself. "Your husband has asked me to drop off this package for you." Her face cleared and lit up.
"Oh, Mr. Birch, it is so kind of you to come all this way. Thank you. Aubrey has spoken of you. Please come in, would you like a coffee, or tea?" I wanted to refuse and get back to the office, but her offer was so genuine that I had to accept.
"Thank you Mrs. Chatsworth. A coffee would be very acceptable." She walked ahead of me through the foyer; it had to be described as a foyer in this house, entrance hall sounded so down-market; and into a kitchen that was almost bigger than my flat. Gleaming stainless steel abounded with polished marble work surfaces everywhere. Not one single item was out of place, did anyone actually cook in here?
"How do you like your coffee?"
"Strong, please Mrs. Chatsworth, with one sugar and a little milk." She turned and smiled at me.
"Do please call me Eve." I sort of bowed my head in acknowledgement.
"I am John." From somewhere in the house I could hear music playing and I recognised it immediately. "Nice music." I commented. "That's Mendelssohn's overture to A Midsummer Nights Dream, if I'm not mistaken." Eve looked at me in surprise.
"Oh, you know your music." I shrugged my shoulders.
"I have enjoyed good music from an early age." She was busy with the coffee, so didn't reply immediately. She put the cups, large French style bowls really, on the breakfast bar.
"Do sit down." I pulled one of the high stools forward and sat.
"I like music as well." She mused. "Aubrey is not keen on classical though. He calls it cacophony music. Its years since I went to a concert. I can only put on my classical CD's when he is not in the house; He becomes very irritable if I do. I should love to go to the Symphony Hall one day, but..." Her voice faded away.
"That's a shame. The acoustics in the Symphony Hall are superb, and the CBSO is a great orchestra." She looked at me over the rim of her cup.
"Do you go frequently?"
"It depends on the programme, but normally every six weeks or so."
"I envy you." She said wistfully. "I would love to go, but Aubrey wouldn't hear of it." She completed the sentence she had left unfinished a moment before.
"The man that hath no music in himself." I muttered quietly, but not quietly enough. Eve was startled.
"That's apt. Sounds like Shakespeare. Is it?"
"It's from 'The Merchant of Venice'"
"What's the full quote, can you remember it?" She smiled to encourage me. I gave that some thought and it came to me.
"I think it goes. 'The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils."
I felt a little embarrassed by this; after all with that quote I was suggesting her husband was false. But Eve didn't seem perturbed at all.
"Yes. That sounds like Aubrey. I shall have to remember that." She sipped her coffee, and her eyes glinted with mischief. "Well, here is a find. A man who recognises music immediately and can come up with the perfect quote from Shakespeare at the drop of a hat. It would appear that you appreciate the Bard as well." I acknowledged that I did.
"Yes. I go to the 'Rep' whenever they do a season and of course to Stratford as much as I can." Eve seemed to give that some pensive thought.
"I would love to be able to do that. What other tricks do you have up your sleeve?"
"None I'm afraid. Music, the Ballet and Billy Waggledagger, well all literature really, that's me. Boring I suppose." She laughed at the use of the comic name for England's renowned playwright. But she disagreed.
"No it isn't. All my husband talks about is his successful sales, and how important he is to Sunrooms. Now that is boring. Music makes the soul sing, and Shakespeare? Well Shakespeare is so full of homilies and quotes that we could spend a lifetime reciting them and never run out. No. John, the man who loves music and Shakespeare is definitely not boring and if you can come up with apt quotes like that from memory, conversation is certain to result." She grinned. "It did this time, didn't it? And you like Ballet? You are an unusual man."
It was time I headed back to the office. I thanked Eve for the coffee and left. Before she closed the door, she told me to call if I were in the area. Some chance, I thought. Me? In that area? Like in a month of Sundays. I did go away with some interesting thoughts. Aubrey's wife was not too respectful of her husband. That would make the guys in the factory and the fitters very happy if they knew that. Sadly I realised that I couldn't say anything. However it would be a little thought of comfort when Aubrey was next having a go at me. As I drove I ruminated on my visit. Mrs. Chatsworth was certainly an eye-catcher. She was more than that as I sensed in Eve an untapped vitality. Inside the elegant, glamorous woman was an exuberant girl trying to escape her prison.
There were even more schedules on my desk when I returned. I booted my computer and started entering the details. All our pricing was held on disk, and as I entered the sizes and qualities required the price was automatically generated. At the end of the exercise the final charge was shown, and I could compare it with the price quoted by our representatives. Normally they would be within two or three percent and I could allow that, but occasionally there was a much larger variance. I then had to go through the whole thing to find where the problem was. Aubrey's submissions were always the worst, and there were more from him than anyone else. I didn't get away from the office until nearly eight that evening. That meant tonight I would be eating a takeaway, rather than cooking something for myself.