Next morning, as Jonathan locked his door behind him, he heard some fuss on the second floor landing, lots of tuts and sighs and “bothers”. He walked downstairs to see Mrs Kingston fiddling with her key. There were two shopping bags on the floor beside her and because she was a small woman, she was reaching up to the lock and getting exasperated.
“Mrs Kingston, can I help you there?” asked Jonathan.
“Oh Mr Montague, I’m having so much trouble with this key. I’m not sure if it’s the key, the lock or just my old fiddly fingers.”
Jonathan took the key and inserted it into the lock. After a few little manouevres, the key turned and the door opened.
“There we are,” said Jonathan, “it is a bit of a sticky lock. I’ll give it a spray with WD40 later, if you like.”
“You are very kind. I hate to be any trouble,” said Mrs Kingston. “Can I offer you a cup of tea?”
Jonathan started to decline the offer. “I’m just on my way to…..no, no, a cup of tea would be lovely.” Mrs Kingston had looked a little sad, so Jonathan thought she might like the company. He carried her shopping into the flat and placed it on the kitchen top. Mrs Kingston filled the kettle and invited Jonathan to sit down at the table. He could see the main living room from his chair. The flat was immaculate, beautifully decorated and furnished, rather like an old-fashioned parlour. The colours were warm and despite many ornaments, there was a feeling of space and neatness. Mrs Kingston seemed to be a stickler for order.
“I don’t see many people, living on my own and all, but I feel safe at Maple Court. The neighbours are no problem and little acts of kindness like just now with my lock and key make all the difference.” She poured the tea into two delicate porcelain cups.
“We should all make more of an effort to communicate more with each other, like neighbours used to do, but we all seem to make the same excuses that we’re too busy to socialize.” Jonathan nibbled on a bourbon biscuit and sipped his tea. He noticed several pictures on the wall of a glamorous dancer or showgirl. Mrs Kingston caught him staring.
“Those were the days in music halls. We had such a good time,” she said, her eyes looking into the past, “we worked hard, travelled all over the country but we did have some laughs.” Jonathan’s eyes widened as he stood to have a closer look at the photographs.
“Mrs Kingston, you were a dancer. You looked beautiful, em, not that you don’t now, of course but what a stunner.” Mrs Kingston blushed.
“I worked with all the greats, and there are one or two tales still to tell but they might be too saucy, if you know what I mean.” Mrs Kingston laughed. She was still a beautiful lady, whatever age she was now. “I worked with Charlie Chester, Tessie O’Shea, Max Miller and any number of magicians, dog acts, jugglers, you name it. It was the only real variety entertainment in those days, except for radio of course, but television killed it all off and when you see what’s on telly these days, you do wonder how such a brilliant invention can have been so badly used.” Jonathan had never heard Mrs Kingston say more than a few words before, but, as patronizing as his thoughts may have been, he listened enthralled as anecdotes and opinions poured out of her fascinating memory. Then it struck him. He was trying to think of another way to earn a living and he had the idea of collaborating with Mrs Kingston on a book about her life as a musical hall performer. She had the memories and the stories, including the saucy ones she mentioned. It was worth a shot.
“Mrs Kingston….” began Jonathan.
“Oh please call me Molly,” interrupted Mrs Kingston.
“Molly, just a few days ago, I was made redundant. I was the Sales Manager for Supreme Buttons & Zips but they decided in their wisdom that the job, and therefore me, was no longer required.” Molly bit her bottom lip in sympathy. Jonathan continued. “I have been trying to think about how best I can earn a living and at fifty four, there is not a hell of a lot of opportunities out there for managerial jobs. So I’ve been thinking about using the redundancy in a positive way by trying to see it as an opportunity to change direction. I’ve always fancied myself as a writer but, apart from a few articles and poems published over the years, I haven’t really had the time to devote to it. But now I have all the time in the world and you, Molly, have given me a great idea. How would you feel about collaborating with me on a book about your life in the music halls?”
“My goodness, I’m not sure,” said Molly, “I don’t think I’m very interesting at all. In fact my late husband Herbert once told me that I was getting a bit dull and that I should beware of dying too soon because he would put a headstone on my grave saying: “Here lies Molly Kingston, a not very interesting old hoofer.”. Maybe he was right. Anyway, on the day he said it, he went out for a paper and got killed crossing the road. Serves him right. He was a cranky old buffer in the end. I missed him for a while, it was very sad but, cold as it sounds, I’m glad he’s gone. I couldn’t have lived with him much longer anyway.”
“Molly, don’t put yourself down. You’ve got a lot to say and I’d love to write a book with you. I can look at sorting out an agent and all that, and it would be a straight fifty-fifty on anything we make on it. Please say yes.”