Curtain’s Up!

Allison Hay © Illustration of woman hanging curtains up.


The stage is set and it’s all happening as the house lights (and troublesome street lights) go down…

Maddie had just snipped the thread on the hem of the curtain when her phone rang. Scooping it up, she crossed to the settee.


“Maddie? It’s Mum.”

“Hi, Mum.” Maddie relaxed into the soft, squashy cushions and let out a sigh. “Oh, that’s better. I’ve been bent over the sewing machine all morning, I’m aching everywhere. So, how are you?”

“Fine – really good. I just wondered if you were free on Sunday. I’ll be taking flowers up to the church, and thought we might go together.”

Maddie swallowed. It was three years since she’d lost her father and she still ‘saw’ him sometimes in the jaunty walk of a passer-by, or the tilt of a silvery head.

“That would be lovely, Mum. We can have lunch in that new Fifties-themed place in the precinct.”

“Oh, I’d like that. Would I have to dress the part?” her mother asked eagerly. “I wasn’t born in that era but I could probably dig out one of my old puff-sleeved blouses and a flared skirt. As long as the moths haven’t got to them.”

Hearing her mother’s enthusiasm at the thought of the little jaunt, Maddie made a silent vow to visit more often.

“You can wear whatever you like, Mum – as long as it’s not one of those topless dresses you told me about the other day. That might be a step too far!”

“That wasn’t the Fifties, love, that was the swinging Sixties, women’s lib and all that. I was just a baby. Not that I’d ever have dared wear one. Hot pants were one thing, but… ugh!”

Maddie chuckled. “So, how are rehearsals going? Are you looking forward to opening night?”

Ruth had recently joined an amateur dramatics group and was delighted to have landed the part of Delia in their next production, Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce.

“I am – but also I’m quite scared. It’s an eight-hander, this play, so every role counts. I’ve not acted since your dad and I left the Verdon Players.”

Back in the Nineties, Maddie’s parents had been members of a touring repertory company. Her father John had been a sax player, working in the pit; Ruth was part of the ensemble cast. Maddie hadn’t quite been born in a trunk, her arrival in 1997 coming a month after they’d moved into their first permanent home, but it had been a close call.

“I’m sure you’ll be brilliant, Mum,” she assured her. “You’re probably the only pro in the cast.”

“Ex-pro, but you’re right. I haven’t said anything, though – not sure whether some of them would like it.”

“No, I can imagine. But you’re enjoying it? It’s good fun?”

“Oh, it’s great fun. If we only had more men. There’s only five against a dozen women, so it limits what we’re able to tackle. You don’t know anyone who could be persuaded to join us, do you?”

Maddie ran through a mental checklist, discounting unsuitables as she went.

“Well, there’s Leon next door. No, hang on, he’s starting uni next month. Ned up the road’s a possible, though. That’s who I’ve been making these curtains for. Since the council installed new street lamps, he reckons he hasn’t slept a wink. I’ve backed these with blackout fabric, to block out the light. Ned’s seventy-five, but fit as a fiddle. Got quite an air about him, actually.”

“Seriously, age is no obstacle,” her mother said. “As long as he’s got a pulse, we’ll have him. Ask him for me, would you? That’d earn me a few brownie points with the others.”

Maddie laughed.

OK. I’ll be dropping these off soon, so I’ll sound him out. See you on Sunday, pick you up about twelve.

She smiled.

An hour later saw Maddie carrying the curtains, now encased in a zip-up travel bag, up the road to Ned Hastings’ house. Before she could knock, however, his neighbour Beryl’s front door flew open.

“He’s not there,” she said, a note of barely disguised excitement in her voice. “Been taken to hospital. The ambulance arrived this morning. I didn’t see the going of him, though, I was upstairs getting my clothes on. In case I could help.”

“Oh, of course,” Maddie concurred, hiding a smile. What Beryl didn’t know about the street’s comings and goings could be written on a sweet wrapper. The news about Ned’s health was concerning, though. She hoped he was OK.

“It’s curtains for Ned,” she explained, pre-empting Beryl’s next question about the bag.

Beryl’s jaw dropped.

“What? You mean…?”

“No, no, I didn’t mean that, Beryl,” Maddie said quickly. “These are new curtains, so Ned can get some sleep now that thing’s turning night to day.”

She gestured to the towering street lamp, innocently dark now but a source of great annoyance in the wee small hours before dawn.

Hearing Ned’s front door scrape open, she turned to see a man of about thirty standing there. Judging from his straight dark brows and generous mouth, he had to be a relative of Ned’s.

“Can I help?” His voice was velvety soft and Maddie felt a tingle run up her spine.

“Hi, I’m Maddie Burton, Burton’s Curtains. I was just delivering these for Ned, but Beryl here says he’s in hospital.”

The man’s jaw clenched. “Ah, so it’s you we’ve got to thank for that.”

“Sorry?” she queried, feeling oddly wrong-footed.

“Grandad fell backwards off a ladder this morning, trying to take down the old ones. Fortunately the bed broke his fall.”

“But I told him to leave everything to me,” Maddie said, reddening. “I never ask the client to do any prep.”

“Mm, but you know Ned,” Beryl said blithely. “Contrary old cuss.”

The man shot her a look.

“No doubt he was trying to help. Still, I wish he’d asked me.”

“He’s OK, though?” Maddie demanded, her cheeks still burning. “Nothing broken?”

“Not as far as they can tell. He jarred his shoulder, so he’s having X-rays. I left Mum to sit with him and came back to finish what he started. Wouldn’t put it past him to have another go otherwise.”

“He won’t need to now, will he?” Maddie said, stepping forward. “If we can get these up before he gets back, at least he’ll get a decent night’s rest.”

She watched the conflicting emotions flit across the man’s face. Finally, he stepped back from the door.

“OK, thanks.”

Realising that there was no more fun to be had from either of them, Beryl went back indoors.

“I’m Richard, by the way,” the man said, leading Maddie into the kitchen. “Tea or coffee?”

“Tea, please,” she answered, draping the bag over a stool. “I’m so sorry this has happened. I should’ve known that he’d try to go it alone.”

“Not your fault,” he conceded. “That Beryl person’s right, he’s always had a mind of his own. I remember when I came to give the place a spring clean. By the time I got here he’d lugged seven rugs out to the clothes line. No carpet beater, so he was using a tennis racquet to whack them with!”

Maddie chuckled. “Very inventive.”

“So I’m guessing you live locally,” Richard said, pouring tea from Ned’s big brown pot, “given that you’re delivering these by hand.”

“Quite the detective,” she smiled.

His mouth curved.

DI Richard Chisholm, at your service.

“Oh, you really are a detective,” she laughed, surprised. “As it happens. you’re right. I’ve got the ground floor flat on the corner. Well, the letting agent calls it a flat, it’s more a shoebox really.”

“It’s still independence,” he said. “I’ve been living with my parents since my divorce – a real shock to the system.”

She wasn’t sure whether he meant the divorce or moving back home but thought it better not to ask.

“I considered doing that after my dad died, my mum was so down. But now she’s joined an am-dram group, she’s so much happier.”

Richard looked intrigued.

“Oh, you should tell Grandad about that. He was an actor for about five minutes back in the day. You can spot him sometimes in those old drama re-runs, all chiselled features and matinee idol looks.”

“You think he’d be interested? Apparently they’re desperate for some new blood.”

He spluttered into his tea.

“Not sure how new his blood is, but yes, I’m sure he would. I’ll mention it when I go back. Now, shall we get these curtains up?”

“They’re nice, really classy,” Richard said, as Maddie pulled the ocean blue curtains across, plunging the bedroom into darkness.

In the hour it had taken them to take down the old ones, clean the track, and put up the new, she’d found herself warming to Richard Chisholm more and more.

“Great job,” he said approvingly, stepping forward to open them again. “Not so much as a chink of light.”

Maddie scooped up the empty case from the bed. “Right, I’d better be getting back. Thanks for your help, Richard. I hope Ned’s happy with them.”

“What about payment?”

“Already sorted,” she said, as she trotted ahead of him down the stairs. “Ned helped me with some decorating when I moved into my flat. This was my way of saying thanks.” She fished a card from her pocket. “Let me know how he gets on, will you? And tell him I can always pop in if he needs anything.”

Thanks, Maddie, but I think I’ll have it covered. I’m going to suggest I stay for a while, at least while he’s recovering. We’ll be neighbours.

He added, with a smile.

“Then I’d better go and get busy with a welcome-to-the-neighbourhood cake.”

“Fantastic. I’ll buy a bottle, we can all share it. Bye then, Maddie, see you later.”

She headed home, pleased to think that she’d soon be seeing the lovely DI Chisholm again.

It was early evening when Maddie’s doorbell rang. Richard was on the doorstep.

“Hi, I thought you’d like to know that Grandad’s home. It was a torn ligament in his shoulder.”

“Ouch. Sounds painful.”

“Not so painful that it stopped him trying to show me how his arms were wind-milling as he fell,” he said with a grin. “Such a ham. Anyway, it means he’s going to need to wear a sling for a while, so I’m definitely sticking around.”

“He’ll appreciate that,” Maddie said, thinking that Ned wasn’t the only one.

“I also mentioned the am-dram group and he’s definitely up for it, just as soon as the sling’s off.”

“Oh, Mum will be delighted. Would he be up for seeing their next show, do you think? I’m going on Wednesday.”

“Sounds good. Reserve us two tickets for then, would you? What’s the play, An Inspector Calls?”

“No – would you believe it’s actually Bedroom Farce!”

Richard gave a bark of laughter.

“Very apt. I got that bottle, by the way, a nice Chardonnay.”

“And the coffee and walnut cake’s cooking as we speak. Night, Richard.”

She watched him cross the street, the street lamp picking him out like a spotlight. At the gate he turned and waved.

She waved back. Funny that Ned didn’t have a good word to say about that light. Maddie’s praise was glowing.

Read more uplifting short stories:

Read Life Is A Journey, Isla’s Capri, and Talk Talk, plus many more in our archives.

Georgia Grieve