There is an old lady that lives in my street that everyone knows as Grandma Gum. She is something of a hermit and her house is tattered with unkept gardens; weeds and brambles clawing their way over stone paths and decaying trellises. She is rarely seen by day but at night her silhouette waltzes and foxtrots in synch with an old gramaphone that plays melodies.
Grandma is bent double with osteoporosis; she creaks with arthritis and moans from bursitis. Her skin is thin, stretching deep lines made of laughter and from crying. She has knotted-swollen-joints, liver spots and dentures that hold loosely to her gums. They flip-flap up and down when she laughs. When she talks they slip gently, drawing lines of pooled saliva in her smile and making her slur. She has the smell of old porridge, sometimes mixed with urine, and she wears old taffeta, sometimes corduroy, surgical stockings, and orthopaedic sandals secured with Velcro that catches on the carpet making her "zip" when she walks.
Grandma has a dachshund named Albert who never leaves the house. He leaves presents on the carpet and barks at shadows in the night. She feeds him baked dinners brought to her by Betty who visits each night with dinner and the pills... They sit in the drawing room, sipping tea from bone china, looking through the same old photographs week after week until Betty has to leave, leaving Grandma Gum alone.
Grandma likes to make lace doilies with crochet hooks. And she knits woollen coat hangers for church markets, which no one seems to buy. She sits in the front pew at Sunday service and complains when she can’t hear the priest, asking him to "speak up" unashamedly.
As children, we were afraid of Grandma Gum. She would talk to us as we passed beside her fence and we would run away quickly. Sometimes she’d catch us as we climbed her fence to retrieve our ball. She’d wave her stick at us, then phone our parents who made us knock on her door to apologise to her face.
She’d stare at us through cataract eyes; shaking her head and holding her tongue forward in her mouth as though she was preparing for communion.
We’d be invited in for cake, which mother would accept on all of our behalf then we’d follow her through dusted hallways into the shuttered drawing room where we’d hold our breath to stop the smell from reaching our throat, if it did it would make us cough.
Grandma Gum would sit in her chair and rock to and fro. Mother would make small talk about the business of the neighbourhood. We’d gaze around the room; transfixed by ancient plates and statues, lamps and lights and photographs that looked like ghostly images in dark brown and white.
The men had large moustaches and they wore funny hats and coats with stripes and plaid. The women wore large dresses and serious faces and broaches and bonnets around their head.
Albert slept before the fire and from time to time he’d wake and bark loudly before returning to sleep.
Grandma Gum would listen to Mother’s news. Her ear would turn towards mother as she spoke and she would nod up and down as she listened. Occasionally her head would fall and we’d hear a long slow snore, which Mother would ignore and she’d continue speaking as if nothing had happened. If Grandma’s mouth fell open, we’d see her dentures slip to rest against her lower lip. Sometimes she’d pull them out whilst we were there and leave them swimming in a glass before Mother would help her into bed.
It was midday on a Sunday afternoon when Grandma Gum heard knocking at the door. She rose slowly from her seat, gathered her stick and limped along the hallway whose floorboards creaked gently as she passed.
The door did not open easily. Four heavy locks begrudgingly unbolted before the door swung four inches and the safety chain caught its pendulous swing.
The day was bright although you could not tell so from inside. The sun shone through clouds, which held loosely in the skies and washed backward and forwards like a tide. The street was quiet except for playful sounds of children traffic in the distance. A delivery van was parked on Grandma Gum’s unkempt lawn. A series of footprints led from it: first to a window, where a peculiar man peered inside before making his way to the to the front door where he knocked loudly. "William Pedderson of the Pembrokeshire Antiquities Society," said the man’s voice as he pushed a business card through the narrow gap.
Grandma Gum looked slowly past the chain.
"Can’t read that!"
"William Pedderson, at your service."
Pedderson was a tall, thin man aged in his fifties. His hair was not so much in recession as clinically depressed. You see the thinning had occurred uniformly. Patches of cool pink skin were discernible throughout the thin ginger covering of his egg-shaped head. He wore a suit, which in its day must have been the height of fashion. Alas this was not that day for it hung on his pot-bellied form like an old lizard’s skin. His skin was pale and speckled with light ginger freckles. He stood with the gangling grace of a marionette, giving the impression that his spindly bones could fail him at any moment, allowing him to fall to the ground. His face wore deep lines yet his expression was cut with certainty and assurance. He had the smile of a vicar, the eyes of a weasel, and the honeyed tongue of a salesman with well-rounded vowels and many practiced speeches.
"Madam, I ask for but a moment of your time."
Grandma Gum began to close the door.
"It could be to your advantage!" said Pedderson as he pushed his foot into the doorway, making Grandma unbolt the chain.
The air was stifling. For a moment Pedderson caught his breath and adjusted his eyes to the darkness. Greyness enveloped the room in the same way smoke fills the air, leaving its smell, taste and its smoky residue upon everything it touches. The crimson carpet seemed coated in grey dust. So too did the walnut hat stand, which held coats and umbrellas covered with the same grey hue. Grandma Gum pulled the curtain to banish the light, then led him by the elbow to the front room.
"You sit there, Mr. Mr. Pickwick?"
"It’s Pedderson, Madam"
"I don’t have many visitors."
"You’ll stay for tea, wont you?"
Pedderson’s Antiques and Collectable’s sat at the northern end of Kensington Church Street, near Notting Hill Gate. It was a small cluttered shop filled with rare obscure items of considerable value - the type of shop through which one could spend an entire afternoon. Exploring and sorting through the items, the ones that weren’t locked safely behind glass, or staring at them in pure amazement of their construction and quality. The shop was patronised by the crème de la creme of London society, and many a renowned hallway or dining room boasted a "Pedderson’s Relic," as the shops wares soon became known.
The proprietor, William Pedderson, was an oddity, however the quality of his wares and the reputation of his shop ensured his popularity within the ranks of society. The source of his antiques was a hot topic of conversation. He attended the same auctions and exhibitions as his competition, yet he uncovered items more rare and more precious than anyone else. It was rumoured he had a special arrangement with Sotheby’s to purchase stock prior to auction. And with the Bank of England: they were rumoured to inform him if an aristocrat hit hard times and needed to sell an heirloom to make ends meet. The speculation added to his reputation and to the success of his little shop.
Pedderson had a secret that he shared with one other person in the world. They would take it to their grave for they owed whatever fame and fortune they had in the world to the little shop where Edwina Pedderson stood proudly in its front window, dusting the newly set display with extravagance whilst glancing secretly at her watch.
"To perfection," she said, as the elongated shadows of Lord and Lady Hawthorne appeared at the corner.
Edwina Pedderson busied herself, pretending not to see the Hawthorne’s as they stood before the shop window, waving enthusiastically and tapping at the window with a cane, then pointing to the front door. "Just a moment!" she said as she climbed carefully over the desk, removed her apron then she paused to adjust her hair in a mirror before opening the door. "Lord and Lady Hawthorne, such a pleasure to see you!"
"It’s nice to see you too," barked Lord Percy, who was almost completely deaf.
"Splendid day," said Lady Prunella who cast a judicious glance at Mrs. Pedderson’s plain frock.
"Smashing desk!" said Lord Percy.
"William found it last week. We’ve had it with the French polishers since Wednesday. It’s Louis the fourteenth."
"Be a good girl and have William phone me would you? Tell me, has he had any luck finding the clock we spoke of?" said Lord Percy.
"Hmmm, Hmmm…A word please Mrs. Pedderson," said a voice from behind the Hawthornes.
"However can I help you Sargent Barnes?" asked Mrs. Pedderson.
"Looking for Mr. Pedderson, Madam. Is he about?"