She sat at the table next to mine, such a beautiful specimen of womanhood. Yes, even at her ripe age. I guessed at around 75, she was pleasing to look at. I tried not to stare, I mean, it’s rude to stare, but since I had never seen anyone like her I couldn’t help it.
Her hair was creamy-white, so pure in colour it made her skin seem pale. They blended so well I found it difficult to see where the skin ended and hair began. I know that sounds silly but quite honestly the effect was outstanding.
Her neck was heavily wrinkled but the graceful way she held her head made it swan-like. She was elegant. Something I could never be.
Abbey wasn’t normally an eavesdropper but she could hardly miss the powerful description of an unknown woman from where she sat. Normally she would have a seat to herself on the 8.10 commuter train but today was Lady’s Day at Ascot so the train was full. She’d been lucky to get a seat at all.
In view of the recent upset with her mother Abbey found the conversation disturbing. Oh how she wished she hadn’t answered the phone. Or put it another way, how she wished the approaching 50th birthday could be a less traumatic event. If she could see her time over again she wouldn’t invite her mother to any birthday celebration and then she wouldn’t have to put up with comments about her hair, her figure, or her outfit. The cocktail dress had cost the earth and so would the hair do. The first time she’d had it coloured her mother proclaimed that it was dreadful; a repeat performance prior to her party would be unbearable! Oh how she wished she hadn’t invited her mother.
As the train entered the station Abbey glanced at her watch. She had time to kill before she needed to head towards the office. Maybe an espresso would calm her nerves. Bundling together her bag and coat she rose from the long seat at the same time as the grey haired man who’d sat opposite the whole journey. When the train lurched to a stop, the man staggered and fell against her, knocking her so hard that her bag slipped to the floor. Both of them tried to save it, knocking heads and arms as they simultaneously reached out. Immediately Abbey felt some concern for he didn’t strike her as being very agile. Maybe the walking stick gave the wrong impression. Somewhat breathlessly, she thanked him and asked if he was okay.
‘I’m fine lass.’ The man winked and grinned mischievously. ‘It’s not often I get thrown into the arms of an attractive young lady.’
Abbey smiled and was about to contradict him with a self-preserving remark when he put a hand on her arm and smiled. ‘Allow me to escort you to the escalator,’ he said, ‘then perhaps you will join me for coffee in that newfangled station cafe.’
A moment’s panic rose inside her, throwing Abbey completely off guard. She didn’t know this man and here he was inviting her for coffee. It was only when she sneaked a sideways glance that she saw him smile, somewhat benevolently, as he took her arm. ‘It’s okay,’ he said, in a hushed voice, ‘I am perfectly harmless and the cafe will be quite crowded.’
Abbey grinned as she accepted his offer, feeling suddenly at ease. Something told her she could trust him. She hoped her instincts wouldn’t let her down.
They walked together along the platform towards the escalator. Before stepping on he paused to take Eve’s arm, a gesture she might have shrugged off had he been a younger man. It reminded her of her father, how he would always make sure she got on that first rising step without mishap ... whatever her age. He was a very protective man and she missed him terribly. Even now.
It wasn’t until they were seated, with two espressos in front of them, that he told her his name. Giles Hathaway. Eve thought it so fitted this well mannered gentleman. He told her he had two daughters and a pilot son, but his wife had died when the children were teenagers. ‘Matilda was beautiful as well as elegant. She had it in mind to grow old gracefully; sadly she didn’t get the opportunity.’ Giles smiled, remembering.
‘She sounds a lovely lady.’
‘Oh, she was, m’dear, and you remind me of her. I have seen you on the train many times and always thought how much you resemble her. The same stylish way of walking and such apparent grace.’
A week later, the day of the birthday party, Abbey stood in front of her dressing table mirror and gazed at her reflection. Her new lilac outfit was laid out on the bed, the silver sandals in a box by its side. She felt good. Since meeting Giles she felt her life had turned upside down. There was a new twinkle in her eye, repeatedly remarked upon by workmates. She decided that no matter what her mother said, 50 wasn’t too bad an age after all. Thanks to you, Giles Hathaway. For the first time in years she felt powerful and in control. Picking up a silver-backed hair brush she began gently to brush her hair. It was always a therapeutic exercise but now she felt quite rejuvenated and so pleased she had invited Giles to the party. A pity he turned it down. Such an unwarranted rejection. Again Abbey gazed at her reflection, lingered once more on the lifeless body that lay sprawled on her bed, the blood that had oozed from the fatal wound. Mother would have something to say about this, she thought, if ever she finds out.