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Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the North
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Kaye McGann
Features Writer
4:10 AM 28th August 2021
fiction

Friday Night Is Amami Night

Clifford Holden considered he’d been very lucky to be forty-two when the war started – too old to be called up. By the time men of forty-two WERE being called up, he was forty-seven, and safe. He had not wanted to be thought a coward, however, and had been delighted to be an air-raid warden, which fitted in well with his hobby – spying on people. An unkind description would have been a Peeping Tom.

Together with Wilf Wilson he patrolled the dark streets at night, looking for chinks of lights around the black-out blinds at everyone’s windows. It was all worth the long hours at the end of a day’s toil, because occasionally he would come across neighbours misbehaving down the alleys and open yards of his home area. He enjoyed making the female participants very uncomfortable when he encountered them in the daylight, with his insinuations, which could not be counteracted without admitting they understood his allusions.

Clifford was a decorator by trade, time-served, and extremely good at what he did. Work was in short supply during the war, but as many decorators had joined up, Clifford got most of what was going, so he and his wife Lily never went short. Lily was a good housekeeper, and a good manager, so their money stretched. They were twenty-one when they married, and the shine soon wore off, once he got used to sex, and its ready availability in marriage. They didn’t have any children, and he was pleased about this. Children were a nuisance, a drain on one’s finances, and a brake on one’s freedom.

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay
Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay
After the war, when men were being de-mobbed and returning home, work picked up, and even more so by 1950. Clifford was kept very busy, even though no-one really liked him. There was something very unpleasant in his smutty remarks, and the way he, somehow, contrived to touch the women in whose houses he worked – putting his arm around them in an avuncular fashion, but ‘accidentally’ pressing their breasts against himself. There was nothing so specific or overt they could complain about to their husbands. And Clifford was, after all, the best painter and decorator for miles around. His paper-hanging was second to none.

Clifford and Lily lived in an end-of-terrace house at the end of an unmade road in Loxtown. At the other end of the road, where houses had been demolished, there were large billboards advertising Virol, Bill’s Bile Beans, and the one Clifford enjoyed seeing, an image of a glamorous young woman with shiny hair, and the caption, ‘Friday Night Is Amami Night’. Lily washed her hair with Amami shampoo, but had never looked like that. Across the road from their house was a hen-pen of about an acre, where an elderly man enjoyed his retirement looking after his flocks of hens, and selling the eggs to the corner shop, which then sold them on for a profit. Clifford and Lily liked living there, because it was so open, compared with most streets, which had rows and rows of terraced houses facing each other. They were used to the cock crowing every morning about twenty yards away.

The house next door was occupied by two maiden ladies, Miss Booth, and Miss Dorothea Booth, elderly sisters of seemingly slender but independent means. They had lived there since the late twenties, so it was a surprise when they told Lily they were moving to LLandudno. Lily wasted no time in telling her sister Milly and brother-in-law Harold that next-door would be coming empty. The two women had always wanted to be neighbours, and now would be their chance.

Photo by Erick Larregui on Unsplash
Photo by Erick Larregui on Unsplash
Harold went round to see the landlord straight away. He was crestfallen when he was told new tenants had already signed a rental agreement, and would be moving in at the end of the month. It was with great interest that Clifford waited to see who his new neighbours would be.

He was not disappointed. He watched as their bits of furniture were unloaded and carried into the house, and then caught sight of the young couple themselves. Goodness, but the woman was a looker ! She had shoulder-length auburn hair, waved casually; a shapely figure, good legs, and the most beautiful face he thought he’d ever seen. The man looked pleasant, but nothing out of the ordinary. His dark hair was cut very short, and he was quite thin, and very young-looking.

It wasn’t long before Lily was able to give a full account of them to Clifford. The young husband was Fred Smith, and he had been in the Navy for the last three years of the war, and was now working nights at the local asbestos mill. He had grown up in Crewe in Cheshire, which was probably why he hadn’t tried to get work in a cotton mill when he was de-mobbed. His wife said her name was Greta, but Lily reckoned it was really Rita, which as far as anyone knew rhymed with Greta. She had grown up on the other side of town, at Stoneflatbottoms, and the couple had met at the Ritz Ballroom in Manchester when Fred was on leave. They had married next time he was home. Greta was a winder at the local cotton mill. How Lily found all this out in one conversation was a wonder to Clifford. Now she had, the information would be round the neighbourhood in no time.

Photo by Taisiia Stupak on Unsplash
Photo by Taisiia Stupak on Unsplash
Lily and Milly, whose given names were Lilian and Mildred, didn’t go out to work, unlike most of their neighbours. They spent most of their time in each other’s company, in one or other of their houses, and what they found to talk about day after day was a mystery to their husbands. Still, as far as Clifford was concerned, the less he saw of his wife, the better, as long as his tea was on the table at half-past five, and she left him alone to do whatever he wanted – which was, of course, spying on people.

He was especially interested in his new neighbours. Fred left for work soon after Greta got home from hers, and in the mornings he came home just before she went off to the mill. The party-wall between the two houses was thin, so Clifford knew which radio programmes Greta listened to in the evenings. She laughed loudly through ‘Take It From Here’, ‘Ray’s a Laugh’, and ‘Life with the Lyons’. Clifford had never found them funny. He and Lily, together with Milly and Harold, occasionally went to the first-house at the Savvy (as the Savoy cinema was known) on a Saturday night, and his taste ran to Norman Wisdom slapstick, and to singing and dancing spectaculars, where he could ogle the skimpily-clad young women. He kept his trilby on his lap, to hide his excitement. There was one usherette he liked the look of. He sometimes, accidentally-on-purpose, stumbled in the dark, and had to grab hold of her to prevent himself from falling; but not too often, or his actions might be seen for what they were.

A few months went by, and Clifford’s interest in the couple next-door waned – until the time he became aware he didn’t always hear their radio in the evening. Then, one night, as he was returning from the privy in the common yard, He saw Greta, got up to the nines, leaving her house by the back door. Clifford stood in the dark, and watched as she looked round, as if making sure the coast was clear, and then scurried – the only word for it – down the ginnel, and disappeared. Clifford was intrigued. His next move would be to find out where she went – and with whom. He kept his eyes and ears open, and soon saw a pattern emerging. Greta’s trips out were always on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

Clifford had always sneaked round in the dark, so Lily was not surprised when he said he was going for a walk in the evenings. She didn’t care. She preferred him being out rather than in, when he was constantly fiddling with the radio stations as she was trying to listen to a serial or a play.

The next Tuesday came. Clifford was ready. There was a tree just by the hen-pen opposite, and Clifford stood in the shadow it cast, watching for Greta to come out from the ginnel into the street. He was wearing the soft pumps he wore for work, so his footsteps would be soundless on the pavements. He didn’t have long to wait before Greta appeared and set off down the steep brew towards the main road. She didn’t look round until she reached it. Then she paused and glanced back. Clifford flattened himself against a wall. He was virtually invisible. He waited motionless as Greta stayed where she was.

As the Town Hall clock struck the hour, a large car drove up slowly, and then stopped. Greta got in. Surely she wasn’t on the game, Clifford thought; and then he saw that she and the driver were kissing, clinging together, - and also that he recognised the car. Not many people had a car at all, and this one, a big black Wolseley, belonged to Douglas Entwisle, who owned the local mill.

The car drove off, and Clifford stood there, thinking. He had done some decorating for Douglas’s wife, Evelyn, and a right stuck-up so-and-as she was too. He’d papered what she called their ‘drawing room’ (as if they were royalty or something), and she had balked when he asked if he could use their toilet. She’d said yes on sufferance, telling him not to leave the seat up, and not to use the best towels ‘if’ he washed his hands. What a snob! So he could understand Douglas Entwisle carrying on with someone else. But fancy it being Greta Smith, a mill-hand at the factory he owned! If that ever got out, the scandal would rock the town.

Clifford hugged the knowledge to himself. It needed some thought. How could he use it to his advantage?

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay
It was chance that led him to the answer. Lily wanted a picture of the new young Queen put up on the kitchen wall. Clifford grumbled a bit, but then said he’d do it. Anything for a bit of peace and quiet. He carefully made a hole for the nail to go in. As he did this, he realised the hole went right through the party wall, and if he put his eye to it he could see into their kitchen; not much of it, true, but the fireplace with its bright fire blazing. As he watched, Greta appeared, and put some clothes on top of the fireguard to warm. Was she going to get changed in front of the fire? He hoped she was. He also hoped she wouldn’t notice the bits of plaster that must have fallen when he made the hole through. He moved his tools away, and put the picture of the Queen on the draining board, and got back in position. He could hear one of Lily’s interminable serials on the radio, so he was safe for a while. He thought quickly. If Greta realised she was being spied on, Clifford had the knowledge of her affair to keep her quiet. He could threaten to reveal all about her shenanigans.

His luck was in. Greta had dragged the zinc bath in from the yard, and filled it with warm water from the kettle and pans. Firelight played across her skin as she slowly took off all her clothes, and then climbed carefully into the bath. Clifford’s excitement mounted. He could not have wished for anything better than this.

Greta had mixed the powdered Amami shampoo with warm water on a saucer, and now tipped it over her hair. She lifted her arms and began to massage it into her scalp. A moan came from Clifford’s lips. And then…….a change in the air made him turn. He thought he would collapse at what he saw. He could not believe it. A policeman stood just inside the back door, watching him. The shock was intense. He would be found out. Everyone would know – Lily, the neighbours, all his customers. He stood gaping. Where had this constable appeared from – and why? Clifford felt the air thick about him. He could not breathe. He felt a pain gripping his chest, and spreading down his left arm. He stumbled sideways, knocking the Queen’s picture into the stone sink. The last thing he heard, ever, was its glass shattering.

At the Inquest, Constable Brierley, the local bobby-on-the-beat, said he was following up a complaint made by a Mrs. Greta Smith about her next-door neighbour, Mr. Holden. She said he’d been following her and spying on her, so the constable had agreed to call round, even though he thought it was probably her imagination. He had tapped on the front door, but no-one came, though he could hear the radio inside, so he’d decided to try round the back. It wasn’t locked, so he’d walked in, and found Mr. Holden watching Mrs. Smith through a hole in the party-wall. Mr. Holden had then collapsed.

What the constable didn’t say at the Inquest was that after he’d ascertained Clifford was dead, he had himself looked through to the next house.

“Blimey!” he’d muttered, “Friday night really IS Amami Night!”