A Weekend is a Lifetime
“Have a nice weekend Emily.”
“Thank you Jo, see you Monday.”
Emily pushed her way out through the door then turned to wave before it closed behind her.
“It’s great to see her looking so happy.” Maxine said.
“So, is she really going to this country hotel then?” Jo shot Maxine a grin.
“She’s been on about it all week so why not? Martin has been gone for almost a year so it’s time she got on with her life.”
Hours later Emily arrived at her weekend destination and swinging her car off the narrow country lane, she entered the long gravel drive. Butterflies churned in her stomach, it was as if she was on her first date and a wave of guilt stirred her emotions. Why shouldn’t she be out on her own she thought, Martin was gone and it was a relief to be free.
“That’s not true.” Angrily she pushed this thought away. “I loved you dearly Martin. Oh, what am I doing?” she frowned, annoyed with herself.
Peering ahead, Emily concentrated on steering her car. The hotel was an impressive Georgian building made from honey coloured stone with tall elegant windows that looked out over immaculate lawns and flowerbeds, the brochure hardly did it justice.
Instead of parking at the front, she chose to pull into a yard surrounded by buildings that were once part of a stable block. A collection of vintage cars had already been left there and her modern car looked out of place amongst them.
Pushing open the door, she stepped out as a huge crash sounded overhead. Thunder rolled away into the distance and looking up anxiously, Emily searched the sky, but it was clear. Hurrying to retrieve her bag before the storm set in she headed for the entrance where a doorman greeted her amiably.
“Strange weather we are having.” She dashed in through the open door. “Do you think it will rain?”
The man frowned and looked skyward.
“Madame, welcome,” a short well-groomed man greeted her from the reception desk. “If you would be so kind as to sign the register I will arrange for your baggage to be taken to your room.”
Emily’s room was small and bright but lacked modern amenities. In the en suit, she found a huge cast iron bath standing on lion paw mounts, there was no shower and a large basin rested on a stand beside the wall. A toilet was in a separate cubicle, again old fashioned but clean and serviceable. It looked as if the room had not been renovated in years, but then that was part of its charm. She really wanted to freshen up with a shower, a bath would take too long, so closing the door behind her she went off in search of refreshments.
Lounging comfortably in an easy chair, she sipped tea from a bone china cup and saucer as she browsed through a copy of an old retro magazine.
“Guests are gathering on the west terrace for drinks before dinner.” The man from reception informed her politely.
“The sunset is particularly lovely,” she said glancing out of the window. “I think I will join them.”
The terraced lawns were a natural suntrap especially at the end of a hot summer’s day. All evidence of the earlier storm had passed and now the flowerbeds were happy to give up their scent.
“Good evening,” a tall slim fellow waved his glass at her as she approached. “Come and sit with us.”
“Good evening,” Emily replied and before she had chance to sit he introduced himself and his friends.
“Bertrum Moffat-Brown, pleased to meet you.” He took her outstretched hand. “May I introduce you to Grace, Gladys and Dorothy. “
Bertrum was dressed in a tweed jacket and trousers that looked slightly out of time and then she realised that both Grace and Gladys were dressed as Land Army girls with Dorothy wearing a WAAF uniform. She looked glamorous with startling red lipstick and a victory roll in her hair.
Leading her to a wicker chair, Bertrum insisted that she relax.
“Would you care for something to drink?”
“I have just had a pot of tea thank you.”
“I was thinking of something a little stronger, Gin and Lime perhaps or maybe you would prefer a Port and Lemon.”
Considering his suggestions, Emily ordered a Gin and Tonic instead.
“We haven’t seen you around these parts before.” Grace was the first to speak once Bertrum had gone to order their drinks.
“Oh no, I’m not from around here, just driven up from London.”
“Really?” Gladys asked.
“It’s still there then.” Dorothy said dryly, joining in on the conversation.
“We heard that the East End caught a packet again last night. Were you in the thick of it?”
Emily looked at Grace before answering. They must belong to some kind of re enactment society, she thought. Perhaps this was a 40s weekend, she would have to play along with the act.
“No luckily I was not in town.”
Bertrum returned with a tray of drinks. He realised what the women were talking about so as he handed out the glasses, he asked.
“What news of society, it’s been a while since I was in the great metropolis although I do get to fly over it regularly enough.”
Emily studied him and decided that he was much younger than she originally thought. His outfit made him look older coupled with the fact that he appeared exhausted. Casting her mind back over her history books she replied.
“Gracie Fields and George Fornby were both entertaining folk in the underground during a raid a couple of weeks ago.”
“Gracie Fields is my favourite,” Dorothy said. “Recently she came to entertain the boys at the base and we were allowed to join them for the evening.”
“Anne Shelton is quite the darling,” Bertrum said dreamily.
“I heard George Fornby on the wireless this morning just before Churchill’s speech,” Grace told them.
“Well I think you are best out of London,” Gladys said. “How you sleep at night with all those bombs going off I will never understand.”
“Can’t be many children left in London,” Grace commented. “Mrs Mills has taken in six of them on her farm and do you know, she had to delouse them the moment they arrived. In a filthy state they were, she calls them her little urchins.”
“Must be on account of all those rats, they say the bombs drive them out into the streets.”
Bertrum laughed as he topped up his whisky glass.
“You don’t have to worry yourselves about bombs and rats ladies, we have the Luftwaffe on the run and soon all those little urchins will be back home where they belong.”
“Half of them won’t go,” Dorothy told them. They seem to be enjoying country life too much, it amazes me to think that most of them have never seen a cow before.”
Bertrum noticed that Emily seemed a little out of the conversation. She had not told them what she did in London, perhaps it was better not to ask. Her glass was empty so he asked if she would like to accompany him around the gardens.
“Do you do this kind of thing often Bertrum?” Emily asked once they were on their own.
“Please call me Berty. Well to answer your question I can’t get away as often as I would like. Managed a forty eight hour pass, pulled a few strings, you know the kind of thing.”
She smiled, he was obviously still in character playing his part seriously so she decided not to spoil the illusion. He seemed to be a true gentleman, not the kind of man that she was accustomed to in London and she found herself warming to him.
That evening they dined alone together, the women choosing something a little livelier in another part of the hotel. Emily found that she enjoyed his company even though he was playacting. She joined in with the spirit of the evening and decided that once back in London, she would look up groups that hosted events like this. Everything in the hotel was devoted to the 1940s, even the staff were in on the charade and she wondered how she had managed to book herself in without realising that the hotel was hosting a themed weekend.
Sunday afternoon came all too quickly and she was not looking forward to the long drive back to London. She could have chosen a hotel closer to home but wasn’t that the idea, get as far away as possible from her miserable existence?
Berty stood with her at the door of the hotel, his friends were nowhere to be seen. Taking her hand he looked at her and smiled.
“None of us know how much time we have left so we must grasp life with both hands.” He hesitated as if searching for the right words. “I will have more leave in a couple of week’s time, what say we meet up again here in a fortnight?”
Emily accepted his invitation without hesitation, she had enjoyed her weekend immensely and did not want it to end. Leaning towards him, she kissed his cheek softly before picking up her bag and walking away.
“Who would have thought it?” Jo said as Maxine joined her in the ladies room. “Our Emily seeing another man.”
Regarding each other’s reflection in the mirror, they giggled in disbelief.
“Well, you can’t blame her, it’s just what she needs, a real man.”
“Was Martin always in a wheelchair?” Jo asked becoming serious.
“Just before they were married he became ill but they went ahead with their plans. She nursed him for almost ten years right up until his death.”
“She must have loved him dearly.”
“I guess she did, but can you imagine, what kind of life did she have?”
Two weeks later Emily set out to meet Berty. She thought it strange that they did not exchange telephone numbers, but caught up in the spirit of the weekend, it didn’t seem appropriate to ask. She checked ahead this time, the hotel was not hosting a themed weekend. She wondered what he would be like in real life, his name couldn’t possibly be Berty. Whatever he was called, she would always know him affectionately as Berty.
Turning onto the gravel driveway, she drove slowly between the trees. This time cars were parked along the front of the building and the stable block now seemed to be some kind of storage yard. There was no doorman to greet her cheerfully at the entrance and inside the reception area was arranged differently. At least the bar was the same, comfortable chairs arranged around little tables overlooking terraced lawns.
Smiling excitedly, she saw Berty standing with his back to her at the bar so going up to him she tapped him on the shoulder.
“Oh,” she said as the man turned around. “I’m so sorry I thought you were somebody else.”
“Emily?” the man stumbled backward and almost fell. “Emily? No it can’t be.”
“Are you alright sir?” A passing waiter reached out and supported the elderly man.
“Sit him down over here.” Emily said indicating to a chair.
His hand shook alarmingly making the ice cubes dance against the side of his whisky glass.
“It’s me, Berty.” He insisted once he had recovered his breath.
“It can’t be.” He was much older than the man she had met just two weeks earlier. Perhaps something had happened and he had sent a relative to meet her.
“You see life was jolly dicey in those days,” he began to explain. “I was flying every hour of the day.”
“I think I need a drink,” Emily interrupted.
“I was one of the lucky ones. The week after we arranged to meet I was shot down and suffered terrible burns.” Holding up his left hand, she could see his withered fingers and thickened flesh.
Most of his face was hidden beneath a grey beard, but she could see the scars. He must have suffered greatly over the years with ongoing treatment she thought.
“Needless to say, I was unable to keep our rendezvous but I never forgot you.” He knew what she was thinking. “I was in hospital for several weeks then months of convalescing followed, but it was the thought of you that got me through.” He drained his glass before going on. “After the war I became a resident here. Every weekend as new guests arrived, I hoped that one of them would be you, but as time passed, it became an impossible dream.”
As he spoke, his eyes began to shine and he sat up a little taller. The years seemed to melt away and the Berty that she knew slowly returned. He looked at her lovingly then he asked.
“How have you managed to keep your youthful looks, you’ve not aged at all?”