MARY - 2 - THE ASHRAM



I've always made a point of taking those closest to me into confidence when new developments are to hand. This evening was no exception. Once she had mollified, I explained my tardiness to Borijana and said that I was going to start on my first piano lesson in a couple of hours' time. When I intimated that I should be out for dinner as well she no doubt began to feel threatened by this 'new friendship'. The 'cap' was set on her total-uneasiness when I confided my original thought relating to Mary when I'd seen her at the 'studio' window some month's earlier. To B. there were no such things as 'Good Witches' - in her roots of Catholic Orthodoxy. I left her, with some encouraging reassurances, to make the twenty minute walk back to the 'studio' - it would have been 'heaping coals of fire' I felt to have asked for the car again. My own car had been left with Gill once I'd left home to stay full time in the Doctor's Residences. Anyway, the evening was dry and looked likely to remain so and the walk would afford another good opportunity for 'mind freshening'.

Arriving back at '162' the front door was closed this time. I rang the bell and it was opened by a man who came from one of the ground floor rooms. I thanked him and wished him 'good evening' to which he made a muttered reply, turned and shuffled back whence he'd come. I headed upstairs and having knocked, opened the door into the 'studio'. Apart from the curtains having been drawn closed in the bay-window and two standard lamps being now lit, little else had changed, except that Mary was now sitting in the 'wing-chair', Gerald was not in the room and there was no pupil - apart from me that is.

"Welcome" said Mary as I crossed towards her, "Won't you sit down?" indicating the tub-chair on the other side of the hearth. "Or would you rather sit at the piano?"

Remembering her apparently long teaching session, which may just have ended if I did not press my claim, and also the observations I'd made of her painful hip I decided that this could as well be just a 'getting to know you' session if she - and perhaps Gerald? - concurred. She had said to eat with - us - after all. The moment seemed opportune, here was my chance to be gallant and sympathetic.

"I can't help feeling that you've already had a long day teaching. If you don't mind, perhaps we could just sit and talk rather than starting the lessons right now", I said, "and another thing, I notice that you're having some trouble with your left hip, so I'm sure you'd rather sit comfortably in that armchair."

"My word! You do know your stuff, don't you Mister Fosbery," she rejoined, "is it that obvious?"
"Only to a professional eye I should imagine" I answered, "is it very painful?"
"Oh, it never 'Pains but it Rours'" she quipped, 'spoonerising' the well known weather dictum.
I got it - and we both laughed.
"I try not to let the 'customers' see it though, they might feel 'an old crock' couldn't teach them very well and stop coming. Any way, when the time comes, I'll take to a stick then I can use it to conduct!" She laughed again. A sweet rippling heartfelt laugh that seemed far removed from the pain I was sure she had.

Suddenly there was other laughter in the room. I realised it was coming from the parrot, back in the cage by this time.
"That's right Hari" said Mary enthusiastically, continuing her in her merriment, "you know don't you?" She fluttered beringed fingers at him and he began to dance and sway upon his perch to the same rhythm. Then climbing upon the side bars of the cage, he began to cup his wings in a sort of courting dance.
"Mary!"
How amazing.
"lemme ou'" said the bird in a gruff manner.
"Le-tt me O-ww-tt PLEASE" corrected Mary carefully measuring her intonation.
" MARY! LEMME OU'(t)! " demanded the parrot, still dropping his consonants.
"Not until you ask properly" Mary continued in enunciated tones.
A measured pause, by the bird - who may even have been sulking - followed.
Then, suddenly, "Mary, Le-tt me Ow-w-tt Please", came from the cage in crisp syllables.
"Perfect Hari, there's a good boy" she rose and crossed over to the cage, "now of course you may come out - but mind you behave or you'll go straight back inside".

Mary swept him out of the cage and launched him into flight around the room in one easy motion, he settled on the top of the standard-lamp shade near the grand piano.
"I call him Hari, It's one of the names of God. He likes the highest places" explained Mary.
So now I knew for sure - HE not SHE -
Well, after all,....I mean, God is...Masculine !........isn't He…..???

........I had been lost in deliberation of this profound thought for a few moments when I was brought back to reality by Mary’s voice once more,
“ Perhaps you would like to go down to the Kitchen and give Gerald a hand with supper”?
“Of course”, I replied.
“Downstairs, and straight through to the back” said Mary.
Once more at the foot of the carpeted stairway, I turned twice to the right and headed towards the rear of the old house down a dimly lit passageway. Upon the wall on the right was mounted a coin operated ‘pay-phone’. On the left was a smoky smelling room with a partition wall of hardboard. Near to the phone another staircase led down to what must have been the old cellars of this Victorian Town-house, it too was lit by a small wattage bulb set in a wall fitting at the head of the stairs.
Continuing back along the main passage I came into a small kitchen with old brick walls and another set of steps leading back towards the back-door at the end of another short passage, with another two ‘cubicles or ‘cupboards’ set along the sides of the passage. In effect , what must have been a kitchen and scullery in Victorian times was now a kitchen, with a passage way and two further ‘rooms’ either side.
Gerald was standing at the gas stove upon which, in a partitioned pot some potatoes, carrots and Brussels sprouts were steaming.
“Mary suggested I should come and give you a hand”, I said.
“I don’t know why” said Gerald testing the potatoes with the tip of the peeling knife, “these are almost done. Pass me that dish”.
I did as I was bid, and he ‘speared’ the potatoes, followed by the carrots then the sprouts into the porcelain dish with the same instrument. Emptying the water down the sink, and retaining the metal ‘saucepan, which I recognised was part of a Prestige Pressure Cooker, he indicated I should precede him back to the front of the establishment. As I turned to leave the kitchen carrying the dish of steamed vegetables, I noticed that he retrieved a sturdy walking stick from its place beside the cooker hanging on the metal gas pipe coming from the wall. Together we climbed the stairs silently and at last reached the door of the ‘salon’. With his stick, Gerald intimated I should proceed ahead of him.
“Ah, the banquet arrives”, said Mary enthusiastically, “look Hari”.
I saw that the bird was lying on his back quietly in Mary’s lap - a position only usually associated with dead birds, I thought. Mary, must have got into my head for she continued,
“ Its better than seeing a dead bird on its back on a dish with gravy don’t you think”!
There was a quiet knock, and the heavily curtained door swung open. Mary turned towards the man who had just entered
“What is it Malcolm”, she said.
“Jus' came to settle ma’ dues”, said the brushed and washed ginger headed Scotsman whom I recognised as the one who had been coming out of the house when I first arrived a few hours earlier.
“ That’s very good of you”, said Mary, “ better to settle before you go to the Pub, isn’t it Malcolm”?
- she continued in what I thought was a rather parental way to the man.
“How much is it this week”?
“One poun' fifty New-pence” said the man, who resembled an Army Private in appearance and stance.
“What’s that in ‘old money’”? Mary enquired.
“Thairty bob” said the Scot. Handing over thirty shillings in coins
“Aren’t you forgetting the Ten-P you owe the Box”? asked Mary.
“That’ll have t'be nex’ week” replied the ‘soldier’.
“ In that case it will be Fifteen-P” Mary responded.
“Oh, alright have it noo then” said the man rooting in his trouser pocket and producing a single coin - which a few months earlier would have been called two shillings, and which, when it had been minted in the days of King George the Fifth was a Silver Florin.
Now in the ‘New Money system’ it was a mere ‘Ten New Pence’, instead of twenty four old pennies.

‘Let me be perfectly honest and frank’, Prime Minister Harold Wilson had said at the inception of the new system, ‘the pound in your pocket will still be worth the same!’

Who was he fooling in the last analysis?

“Not mine”! said Mary, declining this offered addition to Malcolm’s ‘dues’,
“Put it straight in the Box, you know the rule”!

The man made his way over to the piano on top of which among the stacks of papers was sitting a small cardboard collecting box of the type handed out to Catholic Congregations at the start of Lent.

“That’s right”, said Mary, as the coin sounded against the others in the repository, “now remember the lesson Malcolm dear, no bad words allowed in the Ashram, you’ll have to save them for the Pub, or better still stop using them”.
The man grunted something half audible under his breath.
“Careful now Malcolm” Mary rounded, “you know the rule”.

‘Curiouser and curiouser’ I thought as this pantomime progressed. A real ‘swear-box’ and obviously in use by the sound of it!

“Malcolm, this is Desmond, he’s a new friend. Desmond this is Malcolm, he’s a great help around the Ashram, aren’t you Malcolm” continued Mary, introducing us in a friendly but I felt condescending fashion, as if she were introducing social equals.
The man grunted again, and proffered a cold and calloused hand. He smelled strongly of Carbolic soap, which almost masked the reek of tobacco in his clothes and the smell of whisky on his breath. His ginger hair which was clipped ‘short back and sides’, Army style, was plastered into place with Brilliantine. I felt somewhat patronised not having my full name and title proffered to this new and obviously subordinate acquaintance.

“Well off you go now Malcolm, or you’ll miss the pub. Please ask Alan to come up and see me before you go” said 'the landlady'.
The man grunted yet again and left the room.

“Well there now, you’ve met the first of our brethren” said Mary.
“Let’s see now, what are we having for supper? It’ll be none of ‘Our Lesser Brethren’ that’s for sure”.
Unknown to me, my lesson continued....


as the story continues................. NEXT PAGE


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