Alice watched as the news scrolled up the feed.
She has never been a great fan of social media, nor used it as often as she should. She knew about it of course but it had never held much fascination to her, and she had not felt the need to engage with it, until she had read that post. Until she had seen the picture.
The picture had made her literally stop in her tracks. She was walking the dog around the park, when she received a message to check her tweeter . The link to the picture lead her to web page, as these things do.
She had hurried back home and pulled the web page up on the laptop and read it again and again and again. It was full of so many long ramblings, indeed that’s what they were nonsensical ‘ramblings’. On and on, un-cohesive and which most of the time did not make sense. The term ‘Verbal Diarrhoea ‘ came to mind.
Now, she had to admit that she was not averse to ramblings herself, at times. Indeed Charles had once said that was one of the things he loved about her; that and her ability to go off in tangents. But these ‘ramblings ‘ appeared to be of someone who had perhaps in a past life partaken of and/or sniffed a little too much. . . well you know what. And was as mad as, well, as mad as the ‘proverbial.’
Indeed when she looked closer at the ‘ramblings’ she saw that the writer, she couldn’t bring herself to call her an author, was called Hattie .
Alice wondered. Could this be the same ‘Hattie’?
Surely it couldn’t be, could it? Not after all this time. Perhaps she was just related, in that localised way. It was a common ‘ish’ name, especially with families from that area.
Alice looked closer at the photograph, faded as it was, it was of a young woman with dark hair, signing what appeared to be a book, and dressed in rather vintage looking clothes. Or is was an old photograph. The type of old photograph that people use when they have not aged as well as they could have wished for. Then she looked closer at the wordings, the turn of phrase. She realised that it was indeed the same ’proverbial’ one. The one as mad as, the one she had known, well met, all those years ago.
Alice told herself, she has not really ‘known’ her, their paths had crossed at a sort of tea party she had been invited too many years ago. She hadn’t really wanted to go, but you know what it is when you are a newish author; you have to get out there and meet people. One of the publishers was a friend of Charles and she was advised that it would be in her best interest and that of her work to make a good impression.
The publishers had been called Burke & Hare.
Archie Hare had been a university colleague of Charles when he was up at Oxford. Archie was actually the Most Honourable Archibald Hare of Listowel; a Marquis. But the family fortunes were sadly depleted and so after having to sell of the family silver due to Inheritance tax, and much of the lands, he had decided to drop the title and concentrate on what he loved best. Burke and of course books.
Archie Hare had ended up in Oxford studying as an undergrad as had all of his forbears , but he had then remained in the cloistered city. He continued as a student there, spending time between parties getting his Masters, and his doctorate. Finally, he was offered a a fellowship , before realising that life was too short and that if he was not careful he would end up like many other professors he new, alone and sitting in dusty room, just him a battered arm chair and his books.
When he was in his mid 40’s, he and Burke had met at one of his sister’s parties and hit it of straight away. Burke however was still a member of the ‘Faith’, and had, as such , other obligations. So they created the publishing company, giving birth to reasons to spend time together with no questions asked.
Archie had given up his tenure in Oxford and moved to London as soon as possible. He had chosen to live below the small shop that he and Burke had rented. The basement flat was at times damp, but it was dark and private. It had a separate entrance and he, and Burke, could come and go as they pleased without being overlooked. Above the shop was the office, where the publishing firm was based.
One day, in those early hours, the ones which linger silently before the chorus of the last birds in the city had got their selves together, Archie and and Burke were on their way back to the flat after a delicious night in Soho. They wandered, arm in arm, whispering and giggling with delight, intoxicated by each other and that which they had consumed. When, as they turned the corner, they bumped into Charles, who himself was hurrying back from some late business deal.
Burke insisted that Archie invite Charles back to the flat for morning coffee, after all they were old friends and Burke wanted to know more about Archie’s old friends. Archie, tried to persuade Burke that Charles had somewhere to go, such as home, and that he was tired and didn’t need to come back to listen to there boring conversation. Burke disagreed and said it would be great to catch up on old times, he insisted. He put his arm through Charles and led him down the dark alley to the back door of the shop and into the flat.
Charles left the flat a few hours later not sure exactly what had happened. The streets now busy with early morning commuters. He had texted Alice the evening before too say that he was not going to make it home that night as he had a lot off work that he need to get done for the up coming deadline. Alice understood, she always did. She was dependable like that. When he had bumped into Archie and his friend, he had every intention of trying to get back to his office, for a shower and change of clothes. But Burke had been very persuasive and there was something about him that intrigued Charles.
He and Archie went back many years, they had shared and kept each others secrets. He was surprised to see that Archie was so happy. he had never been a happy boy or a happy student. How he had got his undergraduate degree or his Master etc always amused Charles. He wasn’t sure where the money had come from for starters, but that was not something gentlemen discussed. The Old Boy Network was alive and kicking as always.
Before he had left the flat that morning Charles had told Archie and Burke about his wife, about Alice. He told them how she was an author, or wanted to be. He told them all about how they had met. She had had been a ‘office angel’ at his office and he had been enchanted by her. He told them about the whirlwind romance, the great sex and the society wedding. But after 7 years or so and how after despite trying, things were not working out as he had wanted, or as he had planned. However, he loved her, and she loved him. Well, he admitted, he loved her like you love a pet, if that made sense. He told them that he loved her in that familiar way that you do an old Labrador bitch. The one who will be every faithful, but is a bit dull. And, he told them, coyly, that life has a way of moving on, if they knew what he meant. They had nodded, and smiled at each other. He continued to add that he took his marriage vows to Alice very seriously, and that he had all intentions of remaining married; he supported her to do what she wanted to do and she left him to do what he needed to do. And she wasn’t that bad. She looked after their home, managed everything for him; he was away a lot. Oh and she wrote . She wasn’t that bad at it either. Charles looked at Archie and smile. He had a favour to ask, after all he owed him a favour or two, especially now.
Archie had agreed to read a couple of Alice’s manuscripts and had been impressed enough to sign her up.
Archie was a tall slender man, with light brown hair, smartly dressed in what could only be described as a eccentric manor. He favoured Edwardian dress, he knew not why, but had embraced it when Burke had commented on how it much it flattered him. Burke of course, with his wild white hair, and piercing blue eyes preferring the long black clothes of the Raven. Archie’s hair was precisely cut in a way to hide what Alice thought were rather large ears. Indeed she had noticed him at times checking to make sure that the hair was not a smidgen out of place. And he was not as bombastic as Charles had made out. Indeed, she found him to be quite delightful when he was on his own. Alice never actually got to meet Mr Burke, he preferred to spend most of his time in the Dublin Office according to Archie, digging up things and finding new ‘authors’. Archie laughed and asked her if she had read much of the work of Foucault? She had looked at him perplexed and he whispered to her ‘ all authors are writers, but not all writers are authors’. He chucked to himself as he walked away muttering indeed, Mr Burke seems to have an amazing aptitude to digging up these ‘peculiar auteur’.
It appeared that Hattie was one of them. She was a local girl, in that she lived close to where Burke had once lived and had worked for most of his life. Her family had known Burke’s family since time immemorial, and there had been whispers of ‘family relationship’, but Archie had dismissed it, he knew Burke to well. However, Burke had insisted that Archie had given the girl a go. And her work did not appear that bad. Though, if he was honest, he had not read it nor was likely too, so he had passed it to the young office girl, who he had recently employed. A small quite girl, mousy in appearance with rather none descriptive coloured hair which hung down her back in a rather unfashionable manner. She had appeared to like it. She had told him that it was a little clumsy in places, not well edited as such, but was not too bad but that they may make some profit from it, for them and the ‘author’. They needed the cash as he was well aware, and as was Burke. Hare was not sure what was happening to all the funds, that was not his department, but he knew things were tight, and ‘needs must where the devil drives’ as his father was fond of saying. So Hare had agreed, a contact was drawn up, and he even offered his services as an editor; but she had almost angrily refused, saying she already had an editor, a member of her family, who she believed had done ‘ a grand job’. Hare had told Burke he was not happy with it but Burke had insisted they give it a go. Hare had to admit that he was uncomfortable as the contents were also not what they normally considered, but for Burke he let it go. They were branching out into the metaphysical genre, as that was where the new money appeared to be. This, it seemed was a semi-autobiographical story of a mysterious family, one with historical links to the folk law of Ireland and he thought to himself what the hell, he would give it a go, what had he too loose.
Alice made herself a coffee, and sat at the kitchen table. Indeed ‘the proverbial one’ and that actual tea party, how could she forget? The tea party had been a much talked about and well publicised event. Archie had insisted that she come. He had been emphatic about it.
Charles couldn’t make it, he was away, as usual, but Archie insisted she would be fine. She hadn’t seen Archie for a while before the due date of the said party; she had been busy trying to get her novel completed. He had cancelled the lunch dates they had made to discuss her work, and the times she had bumped into him at various parties, he had, so it seemed, almost purposely avoided her. She had noticed that he was as not as well kept as he had previous been, he looked a little hollow faced, and kept scratching the back of his ears. Alice had heard on the grapevine, and as much as she hated gossip sometimes it was good to know, that Burke’s visits back to the office had started to wane, and she wondered if this had affected him more that he wanted to let on. Alice had realised when Archie had talked about his partner that there was more to it than just a business arrangement, but she was too polite to say so. And well, what two older gentlemen like Archie and Burke did was their own business.
So she had found it very strange when the white invitation had appeared at her house. It had been hand delivered. Archie use to just call her, or text her and let her know when and where. This was much more formal and again not Archie’s usual style.
Alice had made her way across the town for the Tea Party. The Map had arrived a few days after her RSVP had been returned. The Tea Party was held in one of the most bizarre and difficult places to get to she had ever known.
She has travelled up and down escalators, tube stations, a maze of tunnels and then streets and lanes to an area of London she was not very familiar with. By the time she got there it was almost 5.55pm . The Invitation had stated that it the tea party was to start at 6pm sharp . It was a strange time for a tea party in her book; she preferred tea and cakes around 4pm. This, however, she told herself, was not her tea party and was, she had to remind herself, a book launch or meet the author kind of thing. Or so she thought. She wasn’t, if she was truthful, not entirely sure.
The Tea Party, according to the invitation was to take place in a small building next to The Ferryman’s seat on the South side of the River. She had never heard of the Ferryman’s seat, and had to look it up. She had found that it was close to The Globe theatre. No one was exactly sure how long it had been there and how old it was but it was supposed to be the place where the Ferrymen rested in-between taking passengers back and forth over the River Thames in the 1700’s. The South of the Thames at that time was a lawless place, full of brothers, dens of other unspeakable iniquity and bear baiting. Indeed the seat itself was to be found on a street called Bear Street, where the last pit was located.
As Alice walked down aptly named Bear Street, the light was starting to fade , the streets were empty and a cold chill touched Alice’s nerve. Alice saw that on her right, in the midst of the new up and upcoming buildings, a small dark and dingy Georgian house sat back against the river. At the side was an even smaller wooden arched doorway. Alice stopped outside and looked up and down the now deserted streets. The yellow of the lights seemed to cast shadows of those who had once wandered up and down plying their trades as well as those who preyed upon them. Alice shivered and knocked and waited. The door was opened slowly by a slight mousy looking woman. It was a woman; though Alice initially thought it was a child. The woman could not have been more than 4 feet tall, with long grey whiskery hair than hung down her back like rats tails. She was dressed in what Alice could only consider was miss match of various styles and periods.
The mouse like woman/child asked in a voice so quietly that Alice strained to hear, if she could help. Alice looked at the invitation and read out the ‘password’. The mouse like woman asked her to come in and Alice followed her down a long dark corridor to the back of the house and into what had maybe once been a kitchen. Then the woman turned and to Alice’s amazement they went down a number of rough cut stone steps, and into the entrance to cellar. On the left side was yet another old small wooden door, with oversized hinges and large lock. Alice was sure she could hear the sound of water, and the air smelt of death and dampness. The mouse like woman turned as she could hear Alice’s thoughts and fear and introduced herself as Donna. Donna had a soft Irish lilt to her voice. Alice offer her hand out the woman, who seemed to flinch as she did so. The woman then let out, what Alice could only imagine was some kind of nervous laugh. Shaking her head, Donna answered she did not shake hands as she was always scared of catching a cold. Then turning to the right, she ushered Alice through an old and rather dirty long dark velvet curtain and into what appeared to be a room to with a rather long table down the centre. The lighting was mainly candles, though there was the occasional electric rig looking very much out of place. To the side of the table were a number of various styles of chairs, each a different size and colour and at the end what one could only described a rather garish throne on which the dark haired woman, who was later to be introduced to Alice as Hattie, was seated. On the walls, there were a number of images of Hattie, signing something, or looking mysteriously into a crystal ball. There also appeared to be a number of pseudo Gothic emblems, very badly designed and painted hanging of the wall. Alice was later to learn, that these had also created by Hattie . At the end of the table was a large coat of Arms which hung precariously over the throne. Alice looked at the coat of arms and thought she had seen it somewhere before, but she couldn’t just think where exactly.
Archie ran up to Alice as soon as he saw that she had entered the room and hugged her. She was so surprised by the significant change in his appearance. He seemed a shadow of himself. He was very thin, his clothes, appeared dirty and he smelled of something that she was not quite sure off. What was most striking was that he seemed to be under the influences of something. She initially thought he may have been drunk. Too much port or claret. He was always fond of claret, a throwback, he would say, to his genetic disposition. But this was something else, something different, strange even.
Archie ushered Alice down the room to the end of the table. ‘Sit here’, he said, pulling out a rather small and comical chair. Alice hesitated and then sat down. Archie came and sat next to her pulling his chair up very close.
Alice looked around. Donna had also taken a seat that the other side of the table in a much larger chair, and giving more emphasis to the impression that she was a mouselike.
‘Are we expecting anyone else?’ She looked at her watch it was 6pm, and at the empty seats.
‘Well yes and no…’ Archie replied nervously, looking at Hattie and then at the door.
‘ I invited lots of people, I promised Hattie that I would invite all of the best people, all the most influential people I know and of course all of the finest writer. Yourself included. I asked them here so that Hattie could meet them and they Her, but sadly so many have other appointments or so it seems, and are unable to make it. I asked Charles if he could persuade you to come, and he said he would try. I know he is away and I thought it would be wonderful for you to finally meet Hattie as she is so very special, so extraordinary, and of course beautiful, so beautiful…’ Archie signed longingly as he gazed up at Hattie. Then as if he had just remembered that Alice was there, he added, ‘And she is interested in the same kind of work you are . Aren’t you my dear? ‘ Archie looked again adoringly at Hattie, who seemed to be glaring intensely at Alice.
Archie continued ‘You know, she writes about the same kinds of things as you do, and has a very similar story to yourself. I mean a similar background. I am sure you would have so much in common and she adores your writing. Don’t you my dear?’
Archie quickly glanced at Hattie, who smiled in that way a snake does just before they devour their prey.
‘She has read all your work, indeed she reads them all for me, not just yours of course but all the metaphysical authors we now have on our books. I find it very hard to understand you know. As Hattie says, it’s not my kind of thing, and well it makes me have a headache. Yes a headache I seem to have a started to have, have a lot of those since, well since,. . . well’.
Archie took a deep breath, ‘Well, we won’t go into all that but since those days, those dark dark days’, Archie swallowed hard as he fought to stop the sob, ‘ Since those days Hattie has been wonderful to me. She looks after me and she is such as a dear, she makes me such wonderful tea’s and elixirs, magical elixirs and they do help they really do. Yes they do.’
‘Would you like a glass of wine or something?’ Archie reached out for a bottle on the table and started to fill Alice tea cup. A rather brown thick liquid came out.
‘It’s mean to look like tea’, he giggled like a school boy who has just got the joke. ‘Hattie thought it would be delightful and rather funny to just serve drinks that look like tea. You understand, what with it being a Tea Party. There are also cakes. Donna get the cakes! You will have a piece of cake wont’ you Alice? Hattie ordered them herself. She has some wonderful family you know; they have their fingers in lots of pies. Here and back home in Ireland… yes very influential in the area they work in. Oh and the do such good work. Did you know that Hattie is also a gifted, yes gifted psychic, healer an even dare I say it?’ Archie looked form side to side for some unknown enemy and then turned to Alice and whispered, ‘Witch!’ He laughed out and loud, and bellowed across there room ‘There I’ve said it.’ Before giggling again catching his breath.
‘Oh and Alice, as I am sure you know, Hattie does so many fabulous shows for charity; she raises thousands of pounds – sorry I mean Euros for children’s charities, and various animal shelters. She has held such amazing Balls for all the best people and well Alice, you know me, well I hope you do, I would not have believed in any of it until I met Hattie, and then…’ Archie seemed to almost grab the last breath. ‘Well what can I say she has changed my life and that of many more. She is so well known and respected. I am sure you have heard and know of her. Especially in your kind of circles you work in. ‘
Archie then stood up, please with his innuendo and ran around the table and sat next to Donna, who had returned from somewhere with a plate full of cakes.
Alice sat in disbelief, for all the years she has known Archie, though to honest it wasn’t that many, she has never heard him speak so much or so fast. Or behave in such an odd way.
‘Hattie is so good to me and such a help now that ….’
Hattie looked at Archie and he stopped mid sentence, then he looked at Alice.
‘I do love you hair where do you get it done?’
Alice was thrown of guard.. she stuttered ‘I go to a local salon, in Oxford, near to the college…’
‘Ahh,’ Hattie replied ‘ That perhaps why it’s so desperately in need of a trim’. You know with your salon being so far away, it can’t be easy to get to, and to have it “done”, especially when you are going to events such as this. I can always give you the number of mine, he is such a darling and so expensive, well you get what you pay for don’t you. Especially these day, in a town such as this, full of charlatans’.
Alice noticed that Hattie also had an Irish accent, a broader accent than that of the mouse and harder. Not as well educated, she would have guessed. But Hattie was working on it, the odd word had the clipped middle class English as she tried to add some depth to her voice.
Alice thanked Hattie, and said that it was fine, and that she was due to see her hairdresser in the following weeks and all would be sorted. Alice then wondered why she felt the need to explain herself to this, what she now had decided was a rather horrid woman. Alice had never been one to quickly decide what kind of person someone was on their first conversation, but there was something about this woman that unnerved her. She wanted to leave, but she was not quite sure how to get out .
‘Suit yourself,’ Hattie answered, ‘I’m only trying to help one of my dear Archie’s up and coming.. or so he says. You are an ‘up and coming’ aren’t you? I have read some of your work, and well I have to say, it needs something doing with it but I am sure you know what with you husband being who and what he is we can come to some sort of arrangement. We are looking at helping people self-publish, a small fee for our time and a certain % of the sales. I know it’s not the same as you are used to, but I am sure we can do a deal for you, under the circumstances. Obviously as things being as they are, with you and Charles, and I am so sorry to hear what about, well you and I know what men are like and under the circumstances, we will be happy to help you. Of course I, that is, we, will need full copyright over any of the work you have already published with us. But we can sort that out at a later date.’
Alice sat in disbelief and looked across at Archie who it was in a world of his own oblivious to what Hattie was saying to her. And Donna seemed to be asleep.
Alice looked directly at Hattie and said ‘I am not sure what you mean?’
Hattie grinned. ‘Oh I am sure you do my dear’
‘ Oh has Archie told you our good news ? It seems that Burke and Hare are to be no more and we are to have our own little publishing house. Isn’t that nice don’t you think. And of course we will be taking up Mr Hare’s title again now that I am here to help him. It adds that bit of grandeur .’
Alice sat in disbelief, not sure what she was hearing.
‘Have a drink my dear and a cake?’
‘No thank you, ‘ Alice said, struggling to get to her feet. ‘It’s time I left, I need to leave. I have another appointment.’
‘Do you?’ said Hattie, laughing ‘Where would you have an appointment?’
Alice felt her knees buckle as she struggled to pull herself together.
Hattie laughed and lifted a glass, Archie rose and poured her a drink of some red liquid he had in his pockets..
‘Are you sure you won’t have a drink or two? Asked Hattie as Alice, pushed herself up. ‘No? Oh well… Arche it seems our guest needs to leave.’
Arche glared at Alice.
Why ? why do you need to leave? You don’t really I know you don’t. What have you got to leave for. Charles is way on ‘business’ again isn’t he?’ Archie laughed loudly, ‘Yes away on “business”, with that nice little secretary of his, just like you. She’s the same age as you too, except she has more going for her, not a dried up shrivelled piece of shit like you…She will let him bend her over desks, she will let him do all those lovely perverted things you no longer let him do.. and she loves it, she begs him and screams for him.’
Alice gasped and ran to the door… Archie screamed after her’ ‘You’re finished you know that! You work was never any good; I only published you as a favour for Charles!!’
Alice heard the laughter as she scrambled up the stairs and into the cold starless night.
Alice shuddered as she remembered that night; it was like a dream, a nightmare.
Indeed she came to find that what Archie had told her was true, re Charles and the secretary.
It was all true, and at first she had been a broken woman.
She had stopped writing and hid.
Then a few years later, on her way home from work, she picked up a day or two old copy of the Times that someone had left on the bus seat next to her . A picture had caught her eye and the headline underneath it read ‘The Honourable Archibald Hare had recently married a Ms Hattie Ó Faoláin at Westminster Register office. It had been a small gathering of a few close family and friends.
Alice‘s heart lurched and then her stomach turned, she grabbed the paper and rang the bell to get off the bus.
She walked the last few stops home and back to her small flat.
Charles had offered her a decent pay out, she had tried to refuse, but her parents convinced her that she deserved and needed to take something. So she agreed to a small amount enough for a decent deposit on the flat. She took little else, but her books and of course the dog.
She had managed to find her keys and let herself in. Her large white dog, Bunnie , bounced down the hall to her; eager to smell her and eager to be fed. ‘Soon,’ she whispered as she made her way into the small kitchen. Turning on the light she pulled the stool to the counter and spread the paper out., ‘Soon, Bunnie, soon I just need to read this.’
©Shullie H Porter 2016-2017