Blame for the accident had been laid squarely at my sister’s feet. Hannah had taken the rap for an old man stepping out into the road and getting his foot run over, even though it was actually me who had been driving. Two years’ ban and a hefty fine no less. Fortunately, she was insured to drive my car and, to her great credit, didn’t want to see my political career jeopardised.
I’d been distracted, adjusting my rear-view mirror, when this old codger had just lurched onto the zebra crossing out of nowhere. I wasn’t drunk but admittedly a couple of glasses of Shiraz at the theatre had perhaps dulled my reactions. Hannah and I looked and dressed alike so when we’d stopped the car, it was obvious he wasn’t sure who the driver had been. I breathed a sigh of relief as she did the ‘decent thing’ and saved my political career, ‘confessing all’ to the ambulance driver and the police.
In return, I’d allowed her to stay with me and Charles in an annex over the garage, whilst she sorted her life out after her divorce. Originally it was for six months. It was now three years later and she showed no sign of leaving.
My train of thought was interrupted by Charles. “The limousine will be here soon, Stella dear.” I looked in the mirror again. My hair was cut and coloured a mid-blonde. I’d carefully applied powder, lip stick, rouge and a touch of mascara and eyeshadow. My favourite nautical earrings – bejewelled seahorses, a pearl necklace and a royal blue dress and jacket completed the look of a first-time Conservative candidate, hopeful of joining the Great and the Good in the Houses of Parliament.
As we were driven to the counting hall through the dark city streets, the exit polls were coming in. Maurice, my agent, phoned to tell me it was a close call but it looked like we were ahead of Labour by some two thousand votes out of a total of forty thousand. Charles squeezed my hand. “Are you nervous, dear?”
“No,” I lied, “I’m looking forward to getting on that stage and hearing my name being called out as the successful candidate for Breton and Barking and giving us Tories the chance to make the positive changes the towns and people need!”
“Isn’t that what the Labour party say they want to do?” said Charles
I ignored him and thought back over the last ten years. How I’d joined the parish council, naively thinking I could do some good, then realising it was a battle for dominance by the men over the women, irrespective of policies. Whatever improvement I suggested would be shouted down by old Fred Fowler and Buster Mutton. But faith can move mountains and, thankfully, after a year Fred left because of gout and Buster died of liver cancer.
Then, inspired by my little successes with the council, I’d taken a series of posts: church committee-member, school governor, treasurer of the local Women’s Institute, union official at the supermarket, even secretary to the local Conservative candidate, Arthur Jones.
Then Arthur had dropped dead in the street from apoplexy and suddenly, to my amazement, I was proposed as the replacement candidate.
My time of tramping the streets and knocking on doors hadn’t deterred me either. For every one who sneered at me or slammed the door in my face, there was another who would smile and offer me tea and biscuits. I realised I was actually quite popular and my confidence began to grow. I began to devour books on famous politicians: Aneurin Bevan, Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher, Nelson Mandela even. If they were a famous political leader, I wanted to learn more about how they ticked. Even Charles had come around from his original attitude of treating it all as a joke – “Oh, Stella and her crazy dreams!” – to fully supporting my political ambitions.
There was a good crowd at the hall and I and the other candidates were ushered through, where we stood, sipping water and exchanging small talk whilst waiting for the count to be finalised. People rushed around comparing notes in hushed tones.
Maurice appeared. “They’re almost ready to announce the votes, Mrs. Harding.” He smiled. “Feeling confident?”
I laughed. “Yes, I think the adrenalin’s taken over!”
“You’ll be fine.”
He walked away as my phone rang. I saw it was a local number and told myself I’d take one last call. “Hello, Stella Harding.”
It was a woman’s voice. She sounded old and distant. “Mrs. Harding, I know what you did. I was there.”
I felt my heart skip a beat. “What are you on about?”
“You ran my Herbert’s foot over, then swapped places with another woman!”
“Look, Herbert died yesterday from complications of his foot being crushed. I saw what happened. The driver had big seahorse earrings and the woman who said she’d been driving didn’t. I’ll tell the police I will and stand up in court and say so.”
“Look, who are you and what do you want?”
“Enid Scragg, Herbert’s missus. I was too upset at the time. It was only afterwards I realised what you’d done.” She laughed. “And I want what everyone wants. Money and a lot of it for keeping this quiet.”
Maurice coughed. “Mrs. Harding, sorry, it’s time for you to go on stage.”
I turned the phone off and my smile back on. “OK Maurice, lead the way.” Tomorrow was another day.
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