A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



Sitting back in her favourite chair, facing the window and with a thrush still perched outside on her window sill, she opened the parcel. It was tied with string like parcels had been in the old days, and she loved it for that.

The lock down had only been a few days old when Letitia, her great granddaughter and the most beautiful creature since Eve had cast aside her fig leaf in the Garden of Eden, had phoned her and asked her if there was anything she wanted, and after a great deal of thought she had asked for a copy of the book that had been all the rage in the thirties. Gertrude Davidson had written it and it had been published under a pen name (Cheryl Maiden) by an enthusiastic publisher, and it had made everyone concerned a lot of money. Gertrude hadn’t seen a penny, though, for reasons that were playing themselves out in Annie’s mind, though Annie and even Muriel had, indirectly.

It had taken two or three years for Gertrude to write the book and get it ready to be accepted by a publisher, and during that time the Captain had painted innumerable pictures for the front cover, all essentially the same and all featuring Annie in essentially the same pose. The differences between the many images had been cosmetic. He painted her wearing a dress, blue or green or saffron, or wearing a range of aprons varying from all-embracing to fashionable. Once or twice he asked her to dress in this overall and maybe that overall. He had carefully explained how he intended to explore the various aspects of what it was like to be a woman in his pictures, but to Annie they all looked very much the same. They were all her. And the focus was always on her face, her smile, her eyes … he captured them particularly well.

I had beautiful eyes, she thought.

Annie could have told him, of course, what it was like being her. He didn’t need to labour over dozens of paintings with a multitude of oils in order for Annie to illustrate what her real life was like. But she didn’t object. The pose was easy to hold, even to play with making minute changes, and anyway dressing up was fun.

The thrush was tapping something. She could hear it and it broke into her reverie for a moment. What was it? A nut, maybe. Or even a stone. Whatever it was the thrush soon lost interest and flew away, which was something Annie couldn’t do. She wouldn’t even have been able to fly away if she’d had wings because of the darned virus and current lock down. Back then, in her teenage years, freedom had been something she had taken for granted

She looked at the book Letitia had sent. Entitled She Moves Like a Ghost it had sold like hot cakes back in the mid to late thirties when it had finally seen the light of day. Before the war, it had even been translated into German and used as an example of how hard life was for the servant class in England without mentioning the servant class in Germany!

What do you think you might want to wear today, Annie?” asked Ralf on one last and memorable occasion. She called him Ralf these days, almost as if he was a brother. It was something that had grown from an obsequious sir to a friendly Ralf over the years

You choose,” she’d told him. That was something she wouldn;t have dared say at the beginning. But now she could. The Master and Servant thing had almost melted away.

There was an assortment of Gertrude’s things arranged on a spare table, items she thought might be appropriate from her vast collection of old clothes, and Ralf looked at them carefully.

She didn’t know what was going through his mind when he did what he did. Years later she had thought that maybe it was a tiresome remnant of his old war injury that had left him impotent and he desperately needed to regain, if only as an echo, the feelings that had woken with him every day in his youth.

But he picked one translucent garment that wasn’t, to Annie’s eyes, like clothing at all. It was diaphanous, so fragile and transparent that Annie immediately fell in love with it. Yet if she wore it, she knew, the artist would see through it to her very flesh. She was used to his eyes penetrating to her soul, but her flesh? Was that proper? Should men be allowed to see so much flesh as this would reveal, even if they were artists?

She recalled paintings, or prints of paintings, that she’d seen, dotted here and there in his house, and some of the models portrayed in various poses had, it seemed, been more than happy to pose completely naked. As a consequence the artists had produced truly lovely paintings that were praised the world over. And what was wrong with it? At school she’d been taught that God made us all and if that was so, and he created women, what harm would God find in a sight of his creation? Morality and religion seemed to be at war with each other, or why would the priest be right when he said that nakedness was evil?

I’ll try it on,” she said.

Good girl,” he replied.

And it was a flimsy thing. She supposed it might have been a night dress, something designed purely to excite the person that the wearer was sharing her bed with, and it did feel beautiful when she stroked it. She even made her own flesh tingle. She’d never worn anything like it before and she hoped beyond all hopes that her mother didn’t come in and catch her wearing it. Her mother, she thought, could be most old fashioned.

Goodness me,” said the captain, and with a laugh added “if it wasn’t for my war injury I might be getting quite improper thoughts, looking at you dressed like that!”

She didn’t know what he meant by his war injury affecting his judgement and didn’t have time to wonder because Gertrude chose that moment to sashay in once more, something she did quite often and always moving as if there was music playing inside her head and she was dancing to its rhythms.

Ralf! Why is the girl dressed in that flimsy thing?” she asked, and there was the slightest of edges to her voice that seemed to dim the sunlight that was shining through the window as she spoke.

It was in the collection you brought for her to try on so that I could find the right one for your book,” he replied, and his tone was clearly one of embarrassment.

But that, Ralf, as you know, is a night dress and the picture you are painting, and taking your time over may I say, is set in daylight! At least, it is if it has anything to do with my book!” she almost snapped, and she turned to Annie.

Take that thing off, get dressed in your proper clothes and leave!” she said, “and don’t bother to come back. I’ll send what little amount we owe you and that will be that!”

And like that, in that troubled instant and for no reason she could ascribe to anything she had done to displease, Annie found herself without a job. With no source of income. Essentially with nothing, and, when she arrived home, she discovered that her mother had been warned to say nothing about anything to anyone.

But, child, I don’t know what the stupid woman meant!” she said, and Annie noticed there was the hint of tears in her eyes. “What is anything that I’ve got to say nothing about?”

And Annie hadn’t really known.

With the thrush gone, no longer tormenting her with an impossible freedom, she was aware that a vast acreage of lifetimes had passed. Gertrude had seen the look in her husband’s eyes when he had dtared at Annie, and she hadn’t liked it. And as far as Gertrude was concerned there must be no competition in her home because one day or maybe never her man would recover his manly strength and all would be well again.

I was a young lass, still in my teens, and shining with youth, and she was middle aged, though she tried not to look it. And she can’t have known it, but that day, when she sacked me, was the very last day of her life!

© Peter Rogerson 09.05.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on May 9, 2020
Last Updated on May 9, 2020
Tags: artist, poses, costumes, flimsy, dismissal


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 77 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..

3. Exodus 3. Exodus

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson