The Joy Club writers’ showcase: The Mistletoe Bough

26 Jul 2021 | Written by The Joy Club


Mistletoe Bough

We’re delighted to introduce our first ever The Joy Club writers’ showcase. Our members have been discovering their literary voices and crafting some brilliant poetry and stories. We have been awed by the talent and variety of work produced and feel it would be a huge shame to keep it behind doors! That’s why we’ve collated a selection of our members’ writing to share with you… This piece from our writers’ showcase is by our member Norma and is called ‘The Mistletoe Bough’.

The Mistletoe Bough – updated to 21st Century (Norma Goodwin)

Maddie felt she must be the happiest woman in the world as she and Paul cut the first slice of their wedding cake. They had married that morning in her parish church where as a child she had gone to Sunday school. Her father had led her down the aisle to the rich tones of the organ playing Purcell’s Trumpet Tune and Air. Sunlight had slanted through the stained glass windows casting colours of blue, red and green on the pillars. The warmth had brought out the perfume of the pale cream roses decorating the church to complement the ivory silk of her wedding dress made by her mother. The fashion was for broad shoulders and puffy sleeves but she had chosen a simple slim line skirt without a train and a bodice of an intricate pattern of lace flowers which her mother had created. Her small, sparkling diamond tiara highlighted her dark brown hair hanging in loose ringlets to her shoulders.

She had met Paul on a cruise around the Caribbean, a holiday with teacher friends and Paul with a group of colleagues from the Stock Exchange. They were celebrating their financial successes in the neo liberalism of the Thatcher government. She’d noticed him looking at her several times and then one evening during after dinner dancing when the band had started playing Lady in Red, he’d crossed the ballroom and asked her to dance. She had been wearing an off the shoulder red satin evening dress and he said he could not resist asking her to dance with him to his favourite song.

She was no longer Miss Bowdery so her pupils would be greeting her at the start of the new term with “good morning Mrs Ballard”. And now she was about to cut the cake with its four tiers topped by the coat of arms of the London Stock Exchange, dominated by two rampant griffins on either side of a shield and the motto: Dictum Meum Pactum. Our Word is Our Bond. Maddie began to feel faint in the heat of the oak panelled room as the photographer’s camera flashed away. Her family and friends were about to raise their glasses once again. For the exclusive use of the wedding party Paul had booked this prestigious hotel, a former Tudor Hunting Lodge renovated and enlarged in the reign of Elizabeth the First and still surrounded by acres of ground. 

A cheer went up as she held the knife, Paul’s hand on top of hers cutting the first slice of their wedding cake; then the ringing sound of crystal glasses clinking together as another toast was given. The party, headed by the bride and groom were led by staff in Elizabethan costume down the panelled corridor past diamond-paned windows into a large ballroom where the group in the minstrel gallery were playing Greensleeves. The guests seated themselves at tables around the dance floor while they were served little glasses of Madeira wine and fingers of wedding cake. Settling down they listened to the little group playing madrigals before the dancing began. It was getting dark as the lights from the chandeliers were turned on, throwing shadows from bunches of mistletoe hanging from the beams.

Without Paul’s knowledge Maddie had arranged with the group to play the opening dance to the tune of Lady in Red. She planned to wear the same dress Paul had so admired her in when they first danced on that cruise over a year ago. She whispered in his ear that she was going to slip upstairs to freshen up and he was to be sure to keep the first dance for her.

Maddie made her way to the wedding suite on the first floor of the west wing overlooking the lake. Entering the room she noticed the cover had been turned back on the high oak four poster bed.  Kicking off her shoes she placed her bag upon a table and crossed the room to her wardrobe. From inside she pulled a garment covered in a white protective cover. Removing her red dress she held it in front of her as she admired herself in the long mirror. Conscious of time she carefully placed the dress on the bed. 

Suddenly the room was thrown into darkness so deep that Maddie felt fixed to the spot unable to move, but when the insistent sound of a fire alarm penetrated the room she panicked. Reaching the wall she felt her way along the panels desperately trying to find the door.  As she did so she felt a space open in front of her and losing her balance she fell headlong into a void hitting her head on a solid object as the panel closed behind her.

The fire had broken out in a bedroom in the east wing catching a tapestry alight. Downstairs in the ballroom havoc erupted as screaming guests fought their way past tables stumbling over chairs and each other. Paul, shouting for Maddie, somehow pushed past them all and ran through the open doorway into the corridor dimly lit by moonshine through the old window panes. Two at a time he took the stairs to the first floor still calling her name. Smoke was approaching from the east wing as he ran in the opposite direction. On reaching the wedding suite Paul threw open the heavy door and stepped inside, shouting Maddie’s name into the silence. From the corridor windows the moonlight threw shadows through the doorway onto the walls and he saw the red dress on the bed in a shaft of pale light. 

If the fire engines had not arrived so quickly the whole of the old timber framed building would have burnt to the ground. As it was the main body of the house was saved, as was the west wing, but the east wing was completely destroyed. Smoke had covered most of the intact remains. Maddie’s whereabouts were never discovered despite extensive searches and appeals on local TV and radio channels, notices in the newspapers and pinned to lampposts and other public places. The building was boarded up as it was too costly to restore. The gates were locked with boards erected warning trespassers of the danger of entering.

Paul took a while in hospital to recover from smoke inhalation and terrible grief. In time he found the only way to carry on and find any meaning to life was to return to his work on the Stock Exchange. Using his growing wealth he set up a development company buying small parcels of brownfield land to build housing for homeless and displaced people. 

Ten years after his wedding day the house and grounds of the Tudor mansion came up for sale at auction. Paul was the highest bidder paying well over the reserved price. Signs were placed around the property “Paul Ballard Developments”. Large machinery arrived bulldozing the thick vegetation that had enveloped the boundaries. Paul had gained planning permission to restore the old mansion as an exclusive boutique hotel and in the grounds a small development of retirement homes for the well-off away from the public gaze. The hotel was to be called The Madrigal and the crescent of retirement houses, Maddie Gardens.

Paul did marry again and found happiness. Many years later, after his death, his eldest son, now running the company Paul Ballard and Sons decided it was time for The Madrigal to be updated. It was then that the panel concealing the priest hole was discovered and the skeleton of a young woman wearing a silk wedding dress.

Read more of our members’ stories and poems in the complete The Joy Club writers’ showcase: Term 2.

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