How she wound up in London from the great American Midwest was some story. She never told it to anyone, but loved reliving it over and over in her dreams.
Today was a dream day.
Much like the rainy weekend so long ago when she needed a change of scenery. A place to get away from everyone and everything. To write unchallenged, unhindered and undisturbed.
Sherry chose England not knowing why, really, just because it drew her somehow, and in her young 20 something mind, it held a calm feeling of home. Perhaps it drew her because her great grandmother’s family hailed from London, ventured to Pennsylvania and she as a young girl much the same age as Sherry, in the 1860’s journeyed on into the wild western frontiers of Montana.
100 years later England called to Sherry and she answered. Both young women held a spirit of adventure and a love for the thrill of the unknown.
So, in the springtime of 1969, a young fresh just out -of- college Indiana girl, with notions to write the great American Novel based on her great grandmother’s western escapades, arrived in Piccadilly complete with mini skirt, lots of thick eye make-up and long brown hair held back with a flower tucked behind her ear.
The sky was overcast, her suitcases cumbersome and the cabby in a really big hurry “luv” as she tumbled out of the yellow and red cab and tried desperately to figure in her head how to convert US dollars to English pounds.
Finally, after a huff and grumblings under his breath about tourists needing to read up before they go trapsing all over the bloomin’ world without a clue, they settled up. Sherry was left on the busy sidewalk drinking it all in.
The crossroads of five busy streets, The Circus had at its heart , backlit by colorful electric displays, a bronze fountain topped by a figure of a winged archer. Many told of it being modeled after the God of love, Eros, and this generation sprawled across the dawn of free love, it seemed to fit somehow. But Sherry was in love with the history of it all, more so than the modern legend, that Piccadilly took it’s name from a 17th century frilly collar called a picadil, making a young dressmaker quite rich sewing them and selling them out of her house in the vicinity.
Wonderful and colorful, foreign and yet like she was finally returning from a long absence, she took it all on and never looked back.
Unless you could call the now of her 70th year, scanning back to the object that would change her life forever, “looking back.”
The Underground was within the next block and a quick look at her watch told her she had just under 15 minutes to make the train to connect at Charring Cross. Sherry grabbed onto her suitcases and began dragging them down the street as fast as a pigeon pulling an elephant. She remembered wishing someone would invent suitcases with wheels on them, and chuckled to herself at wondering if the inventor had suddenly seen a light bulb go off over his head at that exact moment.
A very robust, very red-haired woman in her late fourties, with a cute little white poodle crooked under her arm, accompanied by a very tall man dressed in black sporting a black bollar hat came up beside her. “Here, let us help you, sweety,”
“Oh, thanks, but I really have to hurry. I have to get to The Underground at Charring Cross” said Sherry as she continued dragging her luggage at a turtle’s pace down the walk full of busy Londoners.
The woman gave a sidelong glance at the very tall man in the bollar hat, and he sprang to Sherry’s side as if he had read the red-haired woman’s mind. He scooped up the bags and had them in the trunk of a very large, extremely shinny black Rolls Royce, before Sherry could utter one word of complaint.
“My dear, I can spot an American a mile away, and…” The red-haired woman smiled and put her hand to Sherry’s elbow, directing her towards the opened rear door to her Rolls, as the man in the black bollar hat stood holding it open for them, “the nearest tube to the Underground is completely in the opposite direction.”
Sherry’s rescuer’s were a Mrs. Springfield, a widow from Lincolnshire who had married into wealth during the war, and her devoted my-man-Godfrey/butler/ chauffeur, Duncan.
In a time when people were less suspicious, the world was freer to stretch out a helping hand, and the English invasion had brought us all closer in spirit, Mrs. Springfield’s generosity didn’t seem at all out of place. As the spring rains began to pelt at the windshield of the get away car, Mrs. Springfield twittered away while Sherry listened to every tale of her colorful life. They exchanged girl talk while Duncan, quite dutifully drove them to Mrs. Springfield’s city flat in London’s West End.
By the time they had dinner sent up to the flat from one of the nearby restaurants, and finished it off with evening tea, Sherry and Mrs. Springfield had become close friends, and the younger girl reminded the older woman of herself at that age, just coming into London from Lincolnshire and brimming over with expectations.
“There was just something about you determinedly dragging your baggage down the street, that reminded me of me.” Mrs. Springfield said with a twinkle in her eyes, “I had to assist you.. and, my dear, “ the older woman put a warm motherly hand upon Sherry’s, “I am so glad I did.”
“Well, I sure needed some direction,” Sherry smiled , “and your offer to take me out to ..” Sherry looked perplexed, then picked up the travel guide that lay opened upon her lap and found the name of the place her travel guide had underlined,” Horsted Keynes and the Rail Station is so generous.”
“But, why a sweet young girl like yourself wouldn’t want to stay in Westminster and shop and see the sights, is beyond me.” Mrs. Springfield put on a mock scowl. “Writing your book must be very important to you, indeed.”
Sherry stood and looked wistfully out the window down at the bustling crowds of shoppers and sight seers going in all directions. People as far as the eye could see, crowding on all points of the compass since West End streets don’t run North-South, East-West, but off in all directions, down alleys and side streets, yet every one of them with their contingent of people packed onto the narrow pavements, all looking for bargains or just people watching. Her heart, though, was elsewhere. A place of peace and quiet, away from packed dormitories and frat houses. American college life wasn’t much different than all those British people mulling together below. She was a shy and private girl and what seemed should make her happy, was really not close crowds, but quiet open spaces.
“Nearby is Liberty, a store built in the Tudor fashion. Each department is housed within its own room and the goods are spectacular. Liberty is especially famous for its printed fabric, rich colors and silks. “ Mrs. Springfield came up behind Sherry and the two “girls” stood looking down on the busy West End streets
“I recommend walking around and exploring the entire area as there is much to take in around Britain’s premier shopping area.” Duncan then entered the sitting room and began clearing away the tea cart littered with honey and creamers, and the left over crumbs from traditional English biscuits.
“You’d love walking around the West End. Oxford Street, Regent Street with its lovely curved buildings, Bond Street ,Old and New, and of course Piccadilly….” Mrs. Springfield then sat on the flowered sofa, as her little white Poodle, Dusty, hopped up into her lap. They both starred up into Sherry’s face as if Mrs. Springfield’s love for the downtown area would most certainly have rubbed off on the girl, “I can get Duncan to escort you, if you are worried about going in the wrong direction again.” Mrs. Springfield smiled a sly smile while Dusty sat perched beside her, panting ,making the little dog look as though she were smiling too.
“You have been way too kind to me already and I know I will get to these places all in due time. But, I guess I am not like a lot of the girls of my age, Mrs. Springfield…” Sherry began, “I have a need for peace right now. As though something were calling to me from the countryside. The need to write is so strong from within me..”
“One thing I will say, from what we have shared this evening,” Mrs. Spring field patted the seat cushion next to her and Sherry took the seat beside this wise wonderful new ‘Mum’ she had adopted, ”you have what they call an old soul, you are wise beyond your years and very driven as well.”
Sherry patted little Dusty’s soft white Poodle fur and smiled as Mrs. Springfield went on, “You go out and write your book. But, you must promise to keep in touch with me once you get to your little cottage, and if you need anything, anything at all, Duncan and I will always be here for you.”
Just as Mrs. Springfield finished her sentence, Duncan entered and smiled politely, dutifully waiting until Mrs. Springfield had finished speaking.
“Madame, I believe it’s time for Dusty’s evening walk.” Duncan announced, stepping forward to take the little dog on her evening excursion.
Sherry had a better idea.
“Let me do it, may I?” Sherry asked looking between the two of them as Dusty stood up from her mistress’s lap, seeing Duncan had her leash in hand and obviously used to and looking forward to this nightly ritual.
“A grand idea, my dear.” said Mrs. Springfield rising. “Duncan can show you the walking trail and lead you to the little garden and man made lake nearby.”
Mrs. Springfield held out her hand to Duncan who obligingly handed over the leash to her, with a half nod in Sherry’s direction. “Of course, Madame. There are many people taking their pets for an evening stroll at this time, perhaps you’ll make a new acquaintance.” Duncan gave a fatherly wink in Sherry’s direction, knowing he meant well, she smiled shyly back.
Sherry knew they were being nice to her, and she appreciated the thought, but glancing at her reflection in the mirror that hung in the hall, purposely placed there for those entering or leaving to make a last check on their selves before the door, she couldn’t help but see the too large nose, the yellowed teeth and the acne that screamed rudely across her face.
People had been polite like that to her, her entire life. She used to hate it, then she got used to it, because she finally gave her self over to the reality of it. She was one of those girls who would never marry, not have a date. The girl other girls would come to for advice but never ask to a party, ugly and forgotten with a body like an overweight chimpanzee and a face, as the old saying went, only a mother could love.
Sherry and Dusty, pulling just a bit at her gold leather leash attached to her rhinestone color, looked typical for the English youth of the late 1960’s. Sherry sported a raincoat, mini length, with yellow and orange flowers splashed across it with hat and umbrella to match.
The walkway was wet with a light sprinkle of rain. Passer’s by were of all sorts. Some ignored the girl and her little white dog, while other’s gave a nod and a friendly smile. There were trees and bushes with benches which dotted the edge of the small lake. Many people walked their dogs this evening, as twilight began to creep over the area.
Sherry stopped for a moment while Dusty smelled and squatted now and then. She knew why she came here. It was delightful. The people, the smells, the calm pitter patter of rain, everything was perfect. She was joined to it all in some mystic way she couldn’t put a finger on, but she didn’t question. She was used to following her instincts.
Dusty barked a bit at a little girl with a kitten, as Sherry shushed the spunky poodle and smiled sweetly at the little girl. The little girl gave a hurried smile back, then grabbed for her mother’s hand, as if just a tad scared.
Sherry sat at a bench while Dusty sat on the grass and both looked out over the lake as the setting sun, just behind the rain clouds, cast a glow over the water.
She was used to children backing off a bit from her, her acned face sometimes scared them until they got to know her easy going ways and her sweet humor.
Sherry let out a long sigh which caused Dusty to turn momentarily in her direction, panting a bit with that little doggie smile she sported. And Sherry thought to herself about how her family’s money and position didn’t help her find love or friends. Her Mom and Dad had held coming out parties and lavish birthday bashes in her honor, but she still never had many friends. Her shyness was often mistaken for snobbery, since most kids assumed having money automatically made you a snob. Being smart not only made her the High School Valedictorian, it also made her a geek which in turn made her retreat within herself even more.
Sherry had become a self proclaimed loner and thought writing would be the only thing that would keep her that way. Love was not now and never would be an option. No boy had ever looked twice at her. Well, not because of her beauty, that’s for sure. Most only wanted help with algebra or to tease her unmercifully.
Dusty suddenly stood up an started smelling the evening air. Sherry stood too and allowed Dusty to pull her to a bush at the edge of the water. At that moment the lights which were spaced at even lengths along the walkway began to automatically glimmer on.
“Come on, Dusty,” Sherry called out, “You must be done by now. We need to get back, girl.”
But no amount of tugging at the leash kept Dusty from poking hungrily around this certain bush. The undersized poodle was showing a strength that surprised Sherry as the little dog poked and pulled harder in the opposite direction of Sherry’s urgings.
Sherry’s yellow knee high boots began to slip on the wet grass as Dusty pulled harder towards the water’s edge. Sniffing urgently and now beginning to dig at the base of the bush, Sherry was worried that Mrs. Springfield would be disappointed when she brought home a muddy pawed drowned rat of a dog instead of her immaculately groomed white French Poodle.
“No no, Dusty!” Sherry scolded while leaning towards the little dog to pick her up before she got any more involved in making herself dirty.
Dusty whined then began to growl, low in her throat, as she dug violently at the muddy ground beneath the bush. This caused Sherry to bend low and peer under the bush at what could possibly be making this otherwise docile little creature into a bulldozer.
At Dusty’s clawing the soft muddy dirt began to uncover something buried beneath the bush’s low hanging limbs. The poodle began to whine even more as she dug with a purpose only a dog could sport. As Sherry pulled in on the leash and kept looking at the hole Dusty was making, it became obvious there was something she had discovered with her doggie instincts.
The tip of a box of some sort jutted out of the mud. Sherry strained to see what it could be. She blinked for a moment, as she could have sworn it was giving off a peculiar glow. She told herself it was the twilight refection off the water that caused this optical illusion.
“OK, girl…that’s enough,” Sherry said with more of a command in her voice. This caused Dusty to look back at her, and at that point, Sherry pulled the little poodle away from her work with her left hand and yanked the glowing box from it’s muddy grave with the right.
Sherry stood as Dusty shook herself off and barked a bit as if announcing what a great retriever she was.
The strange item was slightly heavy in Sherry’s hands and caked with mud and dirt. She went to the lake’s edge and bent slightly, plunging the boxy find into the water to wash it off. As she pulled it from the cold water, Sherry was amazed at Dusty’s intriguing discovery.
“Well, girl, you sure know how to find ‘em.” Sherry said to the dingy little poodle at her feet. Dusty gave a curt bark of approval up at Sherry and then sat as if on command.
The walkway lamps were now on full beam and Sherry took the item over to stand under the closest one. She gasped in wonder at the beautiful nic-nac she held in her hand and examined it on all sides, rolling it over and over in her hands.
She marveled at how it reminded her of some of the ancient stone carvings she had studied in her art and history classes in college. One side looked like it had a crude pictogram of perhaps a frowning mouth, the other a sun with a small eye carved within it, another an ear, and the other was an obvious closed fist. It wasn’t really a box, but more of a tetrahedron with gold-ish encrusted writing of some sort, a kind of hieroglyphs that brought to her mind, Egyptian grave carvings or the Rosetta Stone she had seen many times in library books.
A cold wind suddenly kicked up which brought her back to reality. As Dusty began to bark her need to get home, Sherry wrapped the fist sized object in her scarf and stuck it into her raincoat pocket. She just barely got her umbrella popped open before the rain really began to pour down in earnest.
“Come on, Dusty!” She didn’t have to tell Dusty twice as they both began to scurry back to the building where Mrs. Springfield and Duncan welcomed them back with dry towels and hot tea.
The eerie notion not to tell Mrs. Springfield about Dusty’s find, crept over Sherry like a shroud. For once she had something no one else had and it was changing her so deftly and without conscious notice, that the transformation Sherry saw in her mirror the next morning never connected the mysterious artifact with the change over the girl from within.