“This is your past”, she advised Billy. “The Fool represents a beginning, a journey, risk and potential”. Billy responded to this by explaining how he had started in show business at an early age. His father had died young and he was the oldest of five children. It had rested on his shoulders to earn money. At the age of thirteen he was working full time in a glue factory in Barnsley, and each evening he would sing for a few pennies extra on street corners and in public bars. He found that by adding in a few jokes, the landlords wouldn’t turn him out of their establishments so quickly. It was his mother who had seen the potential in him and kept back a few pennies from his earnings in order to pay for proper singing lessons and a better quality, second-hand suit. Billy’s first real break came when he was sixteen. He was spotted singing in a public house just around the corner from the Empire Palace of Varieties in Barnsley. The man introduced himself as Marmaduke Fleet, of the Fleet Family Singers. A few days later, Billy was introduced to the family. Eliza Fleet, wife of Marmaduke, their daughter, fifteen year-old Sarah, and their slightly effete ten year-old son, Tarquin. Billy was asked if he would consider joining them on their tour. He would have to speak with his mother.
Billy was absolutely smitten with the beautiful Sarah who had long blonde hair, an angelic face, and delicate hands. She seemed to glide rather than walk, Billy was in love. He toured for the next few years as part of the Fleet family Singers and over that period of time , fell deeper and deeper in love with Sarah, and she with him. On her eighteenth birthday, Billy asked Sarah to marry him. With the blessing of her father, they became engaged and a few months later, married. A year later, Sarah was expecting their first child, but the labour was long and difficult, and Sarah died in childbirth. The baby, a little boy, lived for a few days before joining his mother in that long sleep. Billy was devastated, vowed never to marry again and turned to the one thing that would dominate the rest of his life, alcohol.
Madame Deville turned over the second card. “This represents the present”. It was the ‘Hanged Man’. “Oh, bloody typical, death!” sighed Billy. “It would have to be that one wouldn’t it? It couldn’t have been one with sunshine and rainbows and unicorns bouncing from cloud to cloud could it! Can’t we have a re-shuffle?”. “I’m afraid that wouldn’t do, Mr Nutmeg, you chose the cards freely, and besides, the hanged man doesn’t represent death, it represents consequences, stagnation, surrender or a situation that must be waited out. “Consequences”, Billy thought to himself. “Oh yes, I know someone who is going to pay for the consequences of his actions, Shadwell flaming Crump!”.
“Now for the future”, said Madame Deville as she turned over the third card. “Ah, the ‘Tower’, this represents upheaval, present danger or unexpected change”. Once again, Billy’s thoughts were fixated on Shadwell Crump and not on himself. He imagined himself making unexpected changes to Shadwell’s face with his fist. Madame Deville placed all of the cards back into an ornate box lined with black velvet and whispered a few words before closing the lid. “Is that it?”, asked Billy. Madame Deville stretched forward both of her hands. “Give me your hands”, she said. Billy cautiously took hold of her hands and watched as she closed her eyes. Madame Deville took several deep breaths and after each one, exhaled deeply. Her head moved back and forth a few times as if trying to induce a trancelike state. Billy had seen this done many times on stage and knew what to expect. The room was silent, and Billy noticed that the open fire had now reduced to glowing embers. Also, a number of the candles in the room had burned out. Madame Deville took in a deep breath and then spoke. “Is anybody there?”. Billy tried to stifle a laugh. “Is anybody there?”. Madame Deville opened her eyes wide, stared at Billy, and then closed them again, which was a little unsettling. Billy felt something rub against his leg which made him jump. He kicked out with his foot and heard a hissing noise. It was Prometheus. Madame Deville opened her eyes, paused for a moment, and then spoke to Billy. “Do you know someone called Sarah?”. Billy was taken aback at this question. “Err, yes, I do”, He paused, “or did, a long time ago”. “Well, she asked me to tell you that she loves you and wants you to be careful”. “Anything else?” asked Billy. “Only that”, replied Madame Deville.
Billy pushed his chair back and stood up, at the same time Prometheus leapt onto the table, which made Billy jump again. “Bloody cats,” he thought to himself. “What do I owe you?”, he asked. “No charge for today”, she replied. As Billy turned to leave, he saw that all of the candles were alight and the fire, that a few moments ago had been embers, was now roaring away again. Billy walked out into the hallway to find the front door already open. Madame Deville called after him. “Goodbye, John; take care”. This stopped Billy in his tracks. Nobody knew his real name; he hadn’t been called John by anyone but his wife. Even Billy’s mother and his siblings had taken to referring to him as Billy. He walked back to the drawing room, stood in the doorway and looked at Madame Deville. “Thank you”, he said. “Thank you for everything”. Billy buttoned up his coat, wrapped his scarf around his neck and put on his hat. As he stepped outside; the door closed slowly behind him. Back on the street again, Billy looked back at the house, he shuddered slightly, turned up the collar on his coat and walked away. Inside the house, Madame Deville, holding Prometheus to her ample bosom, watched as Billy disappeared into the fog. “Oh dear, Prometheus”, she said. “What a troubled man he is”. Prometheus hissed.
5 thoughts on “Thompson’s Lost Plimsole”
C-rikey. Deeper and deeper. What stories lie in Billy’s Past? What surprises in his future? Disturbingly addictive and subtly funny as always.
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Thanks. It is your kind words that keep me going in these dark depressing days. I’m nearly ready to post the next piece. It’s flowing out of me like the old proverbial… Only verbally!
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Oh My!! Billy is in for a few surprises
All you need is laughter, John was mistaken
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