The customary faces of the High Street greeted Marion as she made her way from shop to shop. The butcher, hearty but with an unhealthy flush to his face served her with a rib of Beef for the weekend. The greengrocer, tanned from early mornings in the market, filled another part of her basket with fruits and vegetables telling her "the spuds were lifted just three hours ago, fresh as a Daisy". And the Baker, perspiration glistening on his brow from the oven just behind him provided her with crispy rolls and a cottage loaf. Familiar faces, the usual requirements and the oft repeated greetings of "Good Morning Mrs. Urquhart." She nodded and received nods from others known only by their familiar presence along the High Street, their names a mystery. The shopkeepers were relics of another time in Caggetts Wood, preserved by distance and size from the tide of supermarkets that had swamped their like in other, larger towns. The customers were also to an extent vestiges as well, people who chose to enjoy the peace and tradition of old England whilst it still existed in little pockets such as this. People who could afford the high prices of property here as it wasn't cheap to live in old England.
It hadn't been Marion's choice, but rather the choice of her husband, Charles, a dispassionate man who was a 'something' in the Department of Trade; a civil servant who was supposed to facilitate business in this country and abroad, unfortunately without knowing anything about the cut and thrust of Commercial life. His position had been obtained and guaranteed by a double 'First' in Arts at Oxford. The Civil Service liked graduates who understood Latin. Charles, in addition had good French and German. He would have appeared to be perfect for the Foreign Office. However the Foreign Office seemed to deplore linguistic ability, arrogantly believing that everyone should understand English. An attitude they shared with their American counterparts. At Trade they thought his languages could be useful.
With her shopping complete, Marion would call at the 'The Nook', a Tea room to refresh herself with a coffee. As she sipped the hot liquid she reflected on her life. With no reference to her watch she could time her Thursday routine almost to the second. Ten o' clock arrive at the butcher. Ten fifteen, she would enter the greengrocer's. At ten thirty the baker would have her attention. Ten forty the bell of the Chemists shop would ring as she pushed the reluctant door. No matter how often Mr. Littlejohn, the chemist had it repaired it stubbornly refused to open easily. Another five minutes and it was the Haberdashery and finally just before eleven she would arrive here. She would have been greeted and returned the greeting at least a dozen times during her foray along the High Street. Women who she knew simply because they shopped at the same time, were members of the various women's groups that dressed the Anglican Church with flowers on a rota basis; baked cakes for the bring and buy sale, the beneficiary being some charity or other; and made the sandwiches then cheered on faceless husbands at the village Cricket matches. It was odd, she thought, that she knew the wives but could never match up a wife to the various husbands that played in those matches. Was this it? She thought. Was this life? Acquainted with husbands and wives who seemingly existed in separate universes. Was this how people saw her? Imprisoned in a daily life so regular that she could forecast her day a year, or even ten years ahead.
Charles was a good provider of all things material. Lavender Cottage was described so, but in reality was a comfortable four bedroom house, built with a mixture of cream and orange local Kentish bricks that weathered so well. Originally it had been a cottage and the old part still had the thatched roof. Then it had been extended with the extra bedrooms, a large lounge, a new kitchen and plumbing that worked. The extension was roofed with those waved tiles copied from the Roman design called Pantiles. They didn't seem out of place alongside the thatch. Roses clambered haphazardly around the walls and low eaves, Magnolia hung lazily, blossoming exuberantly and the lawns were kept immaculately manicured by the gardener. It was that sort of place that photographers believed would represent the essence of England to the world as many calendars would bear witness.
Standing outside the garage was this year's Jaguar which she would sometimes drive although she preferred the exercise of walking the mile into the town to shop and back. With this almost daily exercise she retained the measurements she had at nineteen. The cottage was idyllic to most eyes. Charles had chosen a four bedroom property because there would be children. As time passed by and no children came he changed, until they reached the point where their intimacy was for five minutes once a month. Marion wondered if it appeared as a diary entry in much the same way that his work appointments were diarised. He associated intimacy with progeny and as it became clear they their union would not produce, he withdrew from frequent sexual contact with Marion. Nothing was said, no words of blame, he just relegated that part of the marriage. He now slept in one of the newer bedrooms, ostensibly because he would not disturb her when he had to rise early. Marion knew the real reason. Their marriage had evolved into one of convenience. He was a provider and she was the lady of the house, charming to visitors and understanding the etiquette of meeting the other high-flyers in the world of government when they entertained.
Marion had been brought up to do this job. Her family could be described as upper middle class, quite wealthy and hovering on the fringes of aristocracy, but not part of it. Education for girls in that stratum was about knowing how to comport themselves, how to curtsey and how to address a Lord or a Right Honourable. She was taught what cutlery to use, how to converse politely without controversy and last but not least given an introduction to the classics in Literature, Art, and Music. It was assumed that she would marry someone who needed a wife and hostess so she was trained for that role.
As she sat, her mind meandering around her life she thought that many would envy her. Yet Marion missed something. She wasn't certain what it was but something was missing. If she had a really close friend it would be something to discuss and identify, this mysterious something. When she was younger she did have such a close friend, but time and distance had gradually eroded the contact, from frequent phone calls and letters to occasional letters and even less occasional phone calls. The last she heard was that Justine was in Hong Kong with her second husband and a different life. That was three years ago. Marion had written to the last address she had for Justine but had no reply. Now she had no friends but those who were acquainted with Charles. Was that something she sought simply the need for a friend?
Gathering her purchases Marion left the cash on the table together with a tip and left 'The Nook' to make her way home. This mood of dissatisfaction came rarely but when it came it would stay with her for a few days. She normally dealt with it by deciding on doing something different. As she walked the options of something different played in her mind. At last an idea solidified in her head. She would go to Tunbridge Wells. Not tomorrow though, being Friday Charles would be home early; no self-respecting Civil Servant would work Friday afternoon. No! She would go next Tuesday. She would drive to Frant station and take the train to Tunbridge and then spend a day window shopping and treating herself to lunch. It was easier to park at Frant and driving around Tunbridge was a nightmare. With that decision made she felt better, so it was with a lighter heart she walked up the drive to the cottage.
The weekend was very much like every weekend. Charles had arrived home at three on Friday afternoon, changed into flannels and a tweed jacket and spent some time in the garden dead-heading the roses; this was the limit of his interest in gardening. Saturday was his day for Golf. Marion suspected that he didn't play more than one round, but the club had excellent dining facilities and a good bar. Sunday's were passed lounging, usually reading the newspapers first and then later the papers he brought home from work. Marion cooked a traditional Sunday lunch, the rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding and vegetables, then for dessert a Bramley apple pie with custard. She wondered what would happen if she put something different in front of him. Not much she imagined. He was a Civil Servant, trained to be imperturbable. He would eat the meal, and then later chide her gently.
Early on Monday the taxi arrived to take him to Frant Station and just before he left he mentioned, almost as an afterthought.
"I will be in Brussels next week. Probably there for about three weeks. It's this bloody business with the subsidies again."
"I understand, dear. I will make sure you have plenty of clean shirts and underpants." Marion replied taking this news in her stride. Charles made frequent trips to Brussels as he and his fellow Civil Servants of all the member states tried to make sense of the unworkable agreements the politicians had negotiated and signed.
"Good girl! See you this evening." He gave her a brief kiss on the cheek and then went out to the waiting car.
She spent the day sorting through Charles's clothes, laying out shirts with matching ties. Then handkerchiefs, underpants and socks sufficient for the week. She would take three of his suits to the cleaner tomorrow, dropping them off on her way to Frant. All three were a dark grey with a fine light grey pin-stripe; he never wore anything else and never wore the same suit two days running. They would be ready for Friday. Shoes were similar. Black with a toe cap and laces. Marion selected three pairs to pack. Satisfied that she had made a start on his packing she relaxed in the garden, flicking through the latest edition of 'Woman's Realm'. Charles would be late tonight as he usually dined at his club on Mondays. As she thought about that she realised that he was dining at his club more frequently. A little smile came to her lips, perhaps he had a mistress? No, she thought, not Charles. Charles did nothing in his life that could upset his equilibrium. She on the other hand was doing something different. Tuesday would not come soon enough for her.
Over breakfast that Tuesday morning she mentioned to Charles her plans for the day.
"I thought of going into Tunbridge today." Charles was engrossed in the paper, but he managed a polite enquiry.
"Looking for anything in particular?"
"No. Just having a look around. Is there anything you need?"
"I don't think so." They heard the crunch of wheels on the drive. "The car is here. Must be off. I'll see you tonight." He leaned down and gave Marion a perfunctory kiss on the cheek.
Marion drove into the town first and dropped the suits off at the cleaners and then she set out towards Frant. She was always careful with the car. Charles had bought the XJ five litre Portfolio, and at first Marion had been frightened with the power, it seemed the merest touch on the accelerator had the car leaping away. Now having got used to it she could drive it without fear and appreciated its comfort. It was a shade less than ten miles to Frant and she had arrived and parked the car just after ten o'clock. She would have half an hour to wait, not that she minded it was a warm day and a gentle cool breeze took the heat out of the sun.
When she first used the station she was bemused as the platforms didn't face each other, but were staggered. She had wondered why and someone had told her it was so that trains would not stop side by side, thereby allowing passengers in third class to ogle the important personages and nobility in first class. She wasn't totally convinced that was the reason, although Charles thought it a very good idea. But then Charles would, she thought. Another amusing and very English thing was that the station was actually in the village of Bells Yew Green. Frant itself was a couple of miles away. The South Eastern Railway who built the line in eighteen fifty-one decided to call their station Frant and no one had ever bothered to correct the peculiarity.
The train arrived on time and shortly she was alighting at Tunbridge Wells. It was always quite cool at Tunbridge as the station was sandwiched between two tunnels; they funnelled any waft of air into a brisk breeze. She crossed over the footbridge towards the Mount Pleasant Road. Marion was just leaving the station when she felt a blow on her right heel, immediately after the blow she was hobbling. Looking down she saw the heel of her right shoe was suddenly missing. She was now two inches smaller on her right side.
"Oh! I am so sorry. I think I caught your heel with my case." Marion looked up at the speaker. He was a fair-haired man, younger than she. He was about six feet in height, and he was pushing a large case with wheels. Marion slipped her foot out of the shoe and picked it up. The missing heel was evident. "Damn! Have I done that? I am so sorry." He looked around and found the heel. He picked it up. "God! I feel so foolish, please forgive me." Marion was a little annoyed at his clumsiness, but her upbringing had taught her to control her emotions.
"Please don't concern yourself. It can be repaired." That was what she said, although inside she was seething. It could be repaired, but not today, so the first thing she had to do was buy a new pair of shoes. The young man was not finished.
"Are you sure it can be repaired?"
"Yes, but it does leave me without shoes for the day."
"Look. I may be able to get it done today. I could take you to my sister's shop. Just along from there is a good shoe repairer. I'll beg and plead and promise him anything to get it done as you wait, so to speak. Please allow me to at least try." He was so earnest in his pleading that Marion had to smile.
"I suppose that may help. How far is it? I don't want to hobble too far."
"I'll get a cab. It's not far but even so it would be wrong of me to expect you to hobble anywhere."
His sister's shop was a rather up-market ladies boutique. It was in a terrace of Georgian buildings so the windows were small with room for one display only The mannequin in each displayed a very fashionable dress, artistically draped but with no price shown. Marion knew expensive when she saw it. There were three steps up to the door with ornate iron railings either side.
The young man opened the door and showed her in, a bell tinkled somewhere at the back of the shop. There was no one in the place.
"Sylvie! Sylvie." He called. A very pretty, slim young woman entered the shop from the back. She was dressed as many would expect for a place like this; designer Jeans with black strappy high heels and a loose brightly patterned blouse. Although slim she did have quite a large bust.
"Hello Guy." She looked at Marion curiously. "Can I help?" Guy answered for Marion.
"I need help. I have been terribly clumsy with my case and broken this lady's shoe heel. Could you look after her while I go down to the Cobbler and see if I can get it repaired?"
"Yes Guy, I can do that, but a repair will only last for a couple of weeks. You will have to buy this lady another pair of shoes." Guy looked crestfallen.
"Another pair?" He asked slowly. His sister nodded.
"Yes. I'll show this lady some whilst you're gone. I won't charge you too much Guy." She said sweetly. She turned, smiling, to Marion as Guy left with the shoe. "There! That will teach him to look where he's going." She extended her hand. "Hi. I'm Sylvie, Sylvie Tranter." Marion shook her hand.
"Nice to meet you, Marion. Let's get you a cup of coffee first, and then we can look at some shoes."
"I didn't realise you sold shoes as well?"
"We try to provide everything for the discerning lady. Top to toe and underneath."
Marion followed Sylvie down the passage past the changing room which at a quick glace showed it furnished with comfortable settees, opposite the changing room was a beauty parlour and they finally arrived in the footwear department.
"Take a seat, Marion. How do you like your coffee?"
"Thank you. Strong with just a little milk and one sugar."
"Won't be a moment."
Marion sat down and looked around. As she did her heart sank as the stock on display didn't look at all like the shoes she would normally wear. They were mainly sandals with very high heels, basically a sole and heel with straps to hold them on the foot. Sylvie returned with two cups. Marion thanked her.
"Guy said you were his sister. I have to say there is little family resemblance." Sylvie laughed.
"No. We are step sister and brother. I lost my mother when I was young and my father married Guy's mother. His father was killed in the Falklands five months before Guy was born. We grew up together. We get on well although Guy can be a bit thick at times."
"This is a very nice place you have."
"Thank you. I haven't been open long. It takes time for people to know we are here."
"I was looking at your displays. I don't think there are any shoes there that I could wear." Sylvie followed her gaze to the displays.
"Oh! The cfms. I have lots more I can show you."
"Sorry. The cfm's did you say?"
"Yes. The come fuck me shoes." Marion burst out laughing.
"Well I have never heard that expression before, but looking at the style I can see what you mean." Sylvie grinned back at her.
"Every girl needs a pair like that. I mean how else are we to get through to the men we fancy but are too stupid to understand the signs we give out. Dangle one of those off your toe and he will soon get the message."
"I would imagine so." Marion felt a little uncomfortable with this topic so asked about the other styles of shoe Sylvie had. Sylvie looked at Marion's feet.
"What size are you? I would imagine something like a four or five."
"Five usually, but sometimes I can get into a four."
Sylvie went off and after a few minutes came back with a selection of shoes.
"Oh yes. These are more my style." She tried most of them on until she found a pair that suited her and were very comfortable to wear. Apart from the shade they were almost a copy of the shoes she was wearing when she left home that morning."
"How much are they?" She asked Sylvie, as she rummaged in her handbag for her credit cards.
"Guy is paying for these." Marion shook her head.
"No. I can't allow that. It was an accident and he is trying to get the heel repaired. I will pay for these. Now how much is the account?"
"Can we wait until Guy gets back? Let's see what he says."
"If you wish. But I will insist on paying." Sylvie got up and wandered over to the shoe display. She hummed a little then picked up a pair of cfms. Turning to Marion she grinned cheekily and said.
"Want to find out how these feel?" Marion had a smile on her face as she nodded.
"Go on. I'll try."
The sandals had a higher heel than Marion had ever worn before so she tottered a little when she first stood and walked in them. A few turns about the room got her used to them quite quickly.
"It feels as if I have nothing on my feet!"
"That's the whole idea. Show a man your naked feet and he will immediately start thinking of the rest of you in the same state. Men are really quite simple you know." They both laughed. "Poor things." Sylvie continued. "Nature has programmed them to react to signs they don't understand. At the same time Nature has given women the understanding of the codes, so we have an advantage over them."
"Don't you like men?" Marion asked.
"I love 'em." Sylvie replied emphatically. "Women are at their best after they have had a good session with at least four good orgasms. Men are needed for that ... Well most of the time."
"Four?" Marion asked with astonishment written all over her face. Sylvie nodded.
"Yeah. You've got to train them a little, but once they have been taught they're quite capable." Marion was astounded at this young lady's attitude, quite the opposite of how she was brought up.
"My husband would be appalled to think that women could exert that much influence."
"Is he a lot older than you, then?"
"No. He's four years older than me. He's forty."
"You're thirty six? I wouldn't have put you past thirty." Marion laughed.
"You need spectacles."
"No I don't. You dress and make up as if you were older, but underneath that you are a lovely woman. A younger woman as well. Why do you do that?"
"I was brought up to dress conservatively, and that is the way my husband seems to want me."
Sylvie was thinking about Marion's reply and walked around the room, her arms folded with one forearm raised so that her finger tapped her cheek.
"Marion. You may be here for some time; do you have anything else you planned for today?"
"No. I thought to just wander around, window shopping." Sylvie came to a decision.
"Let me give you a make-over. I have been properly trained and I can show you my certificates if you wish. A facial first, then a complete make-up. I want to show you how you could look. What do you say?"
"I think the day I planned has changed so much, so why not? It could be fun, only I shall have to redo my make up before I go home. I doubt that Charles would notice, but just on the off-chance it would mean I don't have to explain things to him." Marion would realise much later that keeping a secret from her husband was the first step on the road to infidelity.