Eighty in The Shade by Christine Bassett
The big house, set back in its own grounds, had obviously seen better days. Occasionally a lady from the village would pop in and ‘do’ and her husband would do what he could with the overgrown garden. Few people called and it was rare even for the postman to have a letter for that address.
The old lady, who lived there alone, had once been famous, so it was said, but no one in the village remembered her personally and she was regarded simply as a gentle and frail old soul who probably would not see many more winters.
Dorothy had indeed lived alone for many years, but today was her 80th birthday and from the moment she awoke she knew she would no longer be lonely.
Sixty years ago Dorothy had been part of a well known singing duo with her partner and husband, Arthur. The public loved them. They sang of lilacs in the spring and romance under the stars. They sang of their love for one another. Their singing took them across Europe and by Command before the Royal Family. For Dorothy one of the greatest moments had been when she danced with the Prince of Wales.
Their lives were filled with music, flowers and champagne. It seemed it would never end. Then suddenly Arthur had died and Dorothy gave up the stage and the life that went with it, for ever. After a while her friends and fans had drifted away leaving her alone with her memories.
One morning, recently, she had casually glanced at the calendar and after a little calculation realised that soon she would be 80 years old. The very thought made her laugh out loud. “Imagine Arthur!” she said to the photograph on the piano, “80!” and she giggled to herself at her private thoughts for the rest of the day. That evening the inspiration came to her. She would treat herself to an evening at the theatre!
Dorothy hurried into the living room to look at the ‘What’s On’ page of the Evening Standard and felt a thrill of anticipation as she chose “Eighty in the Shade” at the Royal, with Dame Sybil Thorndyke. “Very appropriate,” She thought, “and I shall go back stage afterwards and say hello – I wonder if she will remember me?”
– 2 –
Now the great day had arrived, the theatre ticket in her handbag, the taxi due any minute. She glanced at herself in the mirror and just for a moment saw again a beautiful young woman, fair hair curling softly to her shoulders, large blue eyes shining with happiness. How slim she had been in that wonderful wild silk dress. She remembered Arthur had bought it for her on the occasion of their first night at the Royal.
Dorothy began to sing softly and waltzed a few steps to the piano. “What do you think Arthur?” she said over her shoulder to the photograph and smiled as she imagined his complimentary reply. Thus she stood in reverie when suddenly the door bell sounded shrilly and brought her back with a start. The excitement made her heart flutter.
When the taxi drew up at the theatre, Dorothy thanked the driver and tipped him handsomely – today she felt good will to all. The Commissionaire opened the door for her as she approached. She smiled, said “Thank you!” and as she stood in the foyer for a moment she was almost overwhelmed.
“It has been so long, Arthur,” she whispered and continued the conversation in her thoughts, “but I feel the same thrill I did that first time you took me to a show – remember? We were so young then—.” A voice beside her broke into her reverie. “Can I help you Madam?” “Oh! Sorry! Yes please.” She rummaged in her handbag for her ticket and gave it to the Usher. He showed her to her seat, front row, the best, after all it was her birthday!
The play was wonderful, every moment, and Dame Sybil superb. By the last curtain call Dorothy’s hands and arms ached from applauding. Then suddenly it was all over. There was a shuffling and searching under seats, a putting on of coats and a general quiet and orderly movement towards the exits.
Dorothy stayed in her seat. When the last of the audience had left she stood up. An usher was approaching her, looking worried. “Do you need some help?” he asked kindly. “Yes, please.” Dorothy explained, “Some years ago I was a personal friend of Dame Sybil and I should very much like to congratulate her on her wonderful performance.” “May I have your name?” asked the usher. Dorothy told him. The man looked at her for a moment, recognition slowly dawning. “The singer!” he exclaimed incredulously. Dorothy smiled – it really was rather nice to be recognised by someone so young. “Yes.” She replied, a little shyly. The young man said, “It’s great to meet you. My mother has many of your records and she’ll be thrilled when I tell her I met you. I’m sure Dame Sybil will be delighted to see you, please follow me.”
– 3 –
They went through a side door and along a narrow passage. The young man hurried ahead, but Dorothy did not want to hurry. She wanted to savour every moment. The young man disappeared round a corner assuming Dorothy was still following, but Dorothy had stopped. She turned to face a door beside her. “This was our dressing room, Arthur – I’m sure!” she said aloud, forgetting she might be overheard. She touched the handle and very slowly the door opened.
Dorothy could not believe her eyes. She caught her breath, felt her heart flutter, became rooted to the spot. The small room was crowded with people, filled with flowers. She heard a champagne cork, but most of all – she saw Arthur! At the same time he spotted her. “What kept you Dotty?” he asked. “We’ve been waiting for you.” Dorothy took a step forward and the door closed slowly behind her.