I am here! It is a dream come true. I am actually standing on the Palace lawn at a Royal Garden Party. I can see the Queen. Well almost. I can see her hat. It is a beautiful, bright, boisterous yellow, with a high crown and a narrow brim, decorated on the side with a stiff, narrow yellow ribbon; fashioned in delicate loops to resemble a lovely flower. I can’t wait to meet her.
One of the princesses is laughing with a group of fresh faced, smartly dressed young men. She has chosen a full skirted dress of dramatic black and white stripes, and wears a cartwheel hat, black crowned, white brimmed, adorned with two long feathers, one black, one white. The young men bask in her attractive glow.
Hats do not suit me. I am wearing my long, blue woollen cardigan over a tweed skirt and sensible, somewhat worn, black shoes, (at 70 years of age, I do not ‘do’ high heels).
“The wind is cold isn’t it?” A voice says, close by. Startled to be spoken to, I look round and see a woman sitting on a chair under a tree. The hat, which shades her face, has an orange plaited crown and a wide brim, swathed in delicately ruched apricot tulle. Her dress falls in apricot layers from a sweetheart neckline, to reach her neatly crossed ankles. The dress is reminiscent of the ‘flapper’ era. Dainty, orange, low heeled shoes decorated with tiny gold bows at the toes, complete the picture. Obviously not young, she is still stunning.
“Yes, the wind is chilly,” I agree. She continues in refined tones, “The sun is warm though. I have just put reversed cycle air conditioning throughout my home. Cool in Summer, warm in Winter, as they say.”
“How lovely, I envy you. I have an electric fire but it has been broken for a while. I haven’t had time to go out and buy a new one.”
“Oh,” she says, disinterested, gazing into the distance. The crowd to our right moves closer and she is suddenly animated, ’Look, there’s the Duke; still so distinguished looking. I remember him as a young man; so handsome and a perfect match for our beautiful Princess, now the Queen, of course.”
I step forward and see the Duke of Edinburgh. He turns and smiles in my direction. I am walking on air! An odd grunt behind me causes me to look back. The lady is slumped in the chair. Her head is bent to one side at an awkward angle and her hat has slipped, revealing her wrinkled cheek and neck. She is deathly pale.
Before I can move, a security guard is at my side, speaking urgently into his phone. “Lady Macclesfee has taken ill. Mobilise now!”
Two men arrive quickly, and I step back as they shield the lady from view. A third man hurries from the palace with a sturdy wheel chair. It has leather arms and a shawl is draped over it. They rapidly lift the lady into it and wheel her away wrapped in the shawl.
I stand stock still. I am in shock. The security guard takes my elbow and steers me firmly to the gates. “You have seen nothing,” he hisses in my ear. “No bad publicity for the Queen, do you hear?”
“But,” I protest, “this Lady Macclesfee, you’ll tell her relatives. Take care of her?”
“She has no relatives. Leave it. Go home.” And he shoves me through the gates and closes them.
I feel so angry. How dare he throw me out! Poor Lady Macclesfee. Where have they taken her? I circle passed the sentry and walk along beside the wall. On turning the corner I find a small door. There is no-one about, so I slip through. Noises of the party can be heard, but this area is empty and in front of me is some sort of service entrance. I go in. To the left is a passage and ahead some steps. I take the steps and at the top find a solid, beautifully carved wooden door. It is the Library; just what I want. I must find Burkes Peerage. It will have details of my lady. I find the Peerage and take a volume down from the shelf. A woman approaches. I decide defiance is the best defence. “I’m looking up Lady Macclesfee,” I say, hoping she believes I have permission to be here. “Lady Macclesfee?”
“Yes, she was just taken ill, at the Garden Party.”
“Today? No, I don’t think so.”
“Yes, at the Garden Party. Just now; I was there.”
“Garden Party? There is no Garden Party today. Not this cold November. I was reading in the paper that during this extremely cold snap, there is real danger of the elderly freezing to death in their own homes. You wouldn’t have an outside party, now would you? No, dear lady, do you know what I think? I think you must have been watching a repeat of the television program we filmed of the May party. It is very good. The gardens are lovely then. That must be it. You look very tired too. Why don’t you go home? Look, there’s your flat.”
It is so strange. I feel worried and confused, yet this is my flat. It is icy cold. The television is on, a noisy game show is playing, and there is a letter which has been pushed under my door. I wander over to it. It has my address on it:
Miss Fiona Maccle
6A/23 The Buckingham
I turn and look at my arm chair, in its usual place in front of the television. A woman is sitting in it, her arms hugging her long, blue, woollen cardigan close to her body. A rug lies across her knees and sensible, somewhat worn black shoes can be seen beneath it. She sits very still. Awfully still.