It was a store she knew well and one that she had been in several times before. The clerk would likely recognise her and know why she was here. Swallowing hard, she squeezed her eyes shut, hardened her resolve, and crossed the street. The door was heavy and stiff. Its iron hinges groaned slightly as she pulled it open. The store smelled of old wood and oil while the tick-tock of all the time-pieces filled the air with a constant, low volume, noise.
From behind the counter, the shop-woman saw Angelique open the door and frowned. She tried to offer fair prices for the goods she bought, but the market was poor and they were lower than they used to be during the war. She waited until Angel reached the counter, and then asked in her heavy Polish accent, "What you got fur me dis time?" Angel reached into her bag, pulled out a battered and tarnished man's pocket watch and placed it on the counter. It had a raised embossing of a stag on its cover and pheasants engraved on the back plate, but there was no chain on its fob.
To Angel, it seemed like an eternity to wait as the shop-woman looked it over. "Iz dirty, but iz gold plate. Iz also working. Two pounds." She blanched at the offered amount and considered taking the watch elsewhere to try and get a better price. It was the last thing she had left to sell and when it was gone, she would have nothing more than the clothes on her back. Still, she had debts to pay, and she knew Ned would cut her off at the speak-easy if she didn't pay them. Getting rum brought up from the Caribbean was expensive, and though she tried to drink the local "whiskey," it burned her throat badly and often made her gag. She hated to think what the local distillers used to make it, but then, perhaps it was better if she didn't know.
The watch had been her fathers. He had purchased it at a jewellers in London and brought it to the new world with him. When consumption had taken his life, the watch had passed to her brother. She had watched him slide it into his uniform pocket as he boarded the boat for Europe. It was the last time she had seen him alive. She had already sold the medals he had won at Vimy, as well as her own jewelry.
The irony struck deep to her core -- her brother was a war hero while she was nothing but a drunk, two pounds away from begging for a job in a bordello, if she could find one at her age. She shuddered when she thought of a future spent selling her body for enough to buy drink and numb her mind so that she could ignore what was happening to her. No, a life in a bawdy house was not for her.
"Thank you very much. Yes, two pounds will be fine." She waited as the clerk counted out 40 shillings from the cash box she kept beneath the counter. After Ned had taken 10 of those, she would have enough left for a week's worth of rum, or two if she switched to whiskey. A tear trickled down her cheek as she slipped the coins into her purse while the clerk placed the watch into a tray under the counter. She would never see it again. With as much poise as she could muster, she turned and left the shop, knowing she would not be back.
When she got to the street, she looked up to see the sun peeking from between the clouds. It was probably going to be quite a hot and humid summer's day again. Most of the month had been quite muggy and with only a couple of days to go, people were saying it was going to be one of the hottest Julys in memory. Looking at the clock over the store she had just left, she saw it was almost 2:00 in the afternoon and about time to have a quick drink to help her bear the afternoon heat.
As she walked slowly down the street towards the speak-easy, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in a shop window. Her dress was frayed and stained, her eyes sunken and dark, and her hair limp and lustreless. Crow's feet spidered out from the corners of her eyes, and frown lines framed her thin pale lips. What she saw was a stark contrast to the beautiful young woman who stood on the dock a few years before, kissing her brother, and his best friend, her fiance, good bye. She had expected them to be gone for but a few weeks before coming home with medals and tales of heroism and courage. She had hoped they would be back in time for a spring wedding, when the daffodils and lily-of-the-valley were in bloom.
The weeks had turned into months that seemed to drag on endlessly until the day the telegrams arrived. She had needed a few stiff brandies from the hidden decanter in the study to get through that day, and then the next, and the ones after that. She hadn't realised that was going to be the day her life truly ended. Everything since then had been meaningless and empty. She couldn't remember much from the past couple of years as the debts mounted and she lost her home, her possessions, and in the end, her sense of self respect. All that was left was a hollow shell, dependent upon the demon of drink to get through each day.
Well, life was too precious to live in regret and unhappiness. She decided that today was going to be a wonderful day, much like the day she stood on the dock and given her love his last kiss. She decided that having a wonderful day meant she needed to feel wonderful as well. So, rather than a week of nursing her drinks to stretch out her funds, she was going to enjoy the moment, without cares and worries, spending freely and enjoying herself. She felt much better about her new plan and increased her pace, now walking with a purpose.
MONTGOMERY.—On the 30th July, at St. Margaret's Hospice, City of York, Angelique daughter of the late Arthur William Montgomery, brother of the late Major Daniel William Mongomery, DSO, MC, Queen's Own Rifles, from complications due to alcohol poisoning. R.I.P.