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23 March 2009 @ 18:33
Fiction: The Poppins cycle: about 8 months after the wedding  
The Poppins cycle is a collection of short stories, vignettes, conversations and so on. The pieces can stand alone but collectively they also can stand as a biography of Mary Poppins. I had originally intended to post them chronologically once the full work was completed but I doubt I will ever arrive at a time where there isn't at least one more story to tell. So, I've decided to post them as they are finished. All stories in the collection will be tagged as being part of the cycle with either a title (for short stories) or a type note (for vignettes and conversations) and a time reference for anyone who wants to keep track of what order they go in.

As always Mary and Bert, Mrs Corry, the Bankses, etc belong to PL Travers, CamMac and Disney. All other characters mine unless noted in the individual story notes (ISN).

ISN: 'keep a tender distance, so we'll both be free' This one is somewhere between a vignette and a short story, but it felt like it needed a bit of a title. The quote is a line from 'Marry me a little' (which is perhaps something Mary and Bert should have considered doing) from Stephen Sondheim's Company.

He was back to being a chimney sweep this week and just finishing the last house of the day. He was taking his time at cleaning up, packing his brushes and tidying the room, in the hope that the downpour outside might ease if he waited a few extra minutes. He hadn’t left this morning prepared for rain and the thought of his walk home soaked through was not an appealing one, though he knew things would turn pleasant once he got there.

Mary would have warmed dry clothes for him by the fire and have a nice cup of hot, strong tea, with at least three lumps of sugar, waiting for him. She would dry his hair while he drank it and he would tell her about his day.

He frowned; he was a little worried about her though. She had been distracted of late, as though she were listening to things only she could hear. And the other day, when they had been out walking, and again it was raining, they huddled under her umbrella and he was certain that if he hadn’t been holding on to her the wind would have blown her away. It had been known to happen.

With that thought he wanted nothing more than to be home with her. The need to hold her was all the incentive he required to brave the rain.

He went out but before he could step out from the shelter of the doorway he noticed her tripping lightly across the road to him, in her polished boots, neat blue skirt, long black coat (the blue one with silver buttons now strictly reserved for special occasions) and the scarf and cap of his she had taken to wearing, sheltered under a large black umbrella.

When she reached him he ducked under its cover and greeted her with a kiss.

‘A very pleasant surprise, I must say,’ he smiled.

‘Well, I couldn’t have you getting wet and taking a chill, now could I?’ she replied.

He took the umbrella from her, he could hold it more comfortably to accommodate his height, and noticed it was his, with the plain, curved handle. Definitely something to worry about, but not now. He tucked his arm up against his side and she leaned her head on his shoulder as they began to walk home.

Mary liked the walk, liked the neighbourhood they had moved to in the autumn, near to her friends and relations, but not too near, and centrally located for where Bert plied the majority of his trades. It had been a change for him, to live in a house instead of one small room, on a quiet lane with a garden in the back. He had planted bulbs that would bloom in the spring before they finished unpacking. They were living a life they had only dared dream of. He could only hope it wasn’t time to wake up.

*    *    *    *    *

Later they lay in bed. Mary had her back towards him and he ran his fingers through her hair, breathing in the scent of it. It was a scent he couldn’t define but would recognise anywhere as her. He lifted his hand to gently rub his knuckles along her upper arm.

‘Do you want to tell me what’s bothering you?’

She sighed, ‘Not particularly. But then ignoring it has done no good, so I suppose I must.’ She turned to face him. ‘It’s happened. I’ve been summoned, I’m needed… somewhere.’

‘I thought as much.’

‘You did?’

‘Just a guess, we knew it was likely to happen eventually, but when you turned up with the other umbrella today, I knew that was it. Your duty calls.’

She moved closer, clinging to him, burying her face in his shoulder, showing this vulnerable side of her that only he saw, and rarely.

‘I don’t want to go,’ she whispered. ‘I’ve been fighting it, but its getting harder; today I thought the wind would take me, unprepared as I was. I didn’t dare touch my umbrella. I don’t seem to have a choice but I don’t want to do it, I don’t want to leave you.’

He could feel her tears and his arms held her, comforting. His every nerve and fibre of his being screamed out to hold her tighter, to keep her beside him, to never let her go.

He said, ‘There now. We knew you couldn’t completely give up being who you are, nor would it be a good thing if you did. This will be just like we discussed, it’ll be fine, you’ll see. You’ll go, set everything right and be back here in no time.’ He placed a re-assuring kiss on top of her head, thankful she couldn’t see how much being parted from her would hurt, was hurting him.

‘Do you think so?’

‘Course I do. You’ll get it all over quick and I’ll be waiting for your return, after all, understanding why you have to go won’t stop me missing you.’

‘Oh, Bert,’ she lifted her face then and kissed him. ‘I shall miss you, so very much, but you are right, the sooner I leave the sooner I can return. We promised to always come home to each other, no matter what, and it’s a promise I intend to keep.’

‘I should hope so.’

‘And now I have something I didn’t before.’ She laid her hand over his heart.

‘What’s that?’

‘The thought of you to hasten my return.’

He smiled and the fingers that had been comfortingly stroking her back stilled for a moment then began to move in a more purposeful fashion.

‘Then I ought to give you something to think about while you’re away.’

*    *    *    *    *

They slept late and spent the day together. They did nothing extraordinary, they spoke of nothing important, they were simply together.

In the afternoon Mary began to pack the things she would need into her carpetbag, things she hadn’t thought about for months. She took her best blue coat out from the back of the wardrobe, brushed it and shined the buttons. She took her black straw hat with the daisies and cherries and made them sit neat and straight. She polished her shoes and boots.

All the while Bert wandered in and out of their bedroom, wanting to be near her but unable to watch. Eventually she carried the carpetbag and coat and hat downstairs and set them by the door.

Bert looked up from kite he was mending as he sat in his chair by the fire. He had forgotten, or hadn’t noticed, her appearance had become so much softer since they married; it was disconcerting to see her so stiff and crisp and starched again, her hair so absolutely tamed and firmly pinned up. He wanted to go and rumple and wrinkle her and shake loose her hair.

‘Shall I make us cup of tea?’ he asked.

She smiled and he knew his Mary was in there, behind this façade she presented to the world. ‘Yes, that would be lovely.’

He disappeared to the kitchen and she settled in her own chair with the beeswax polish and parrot-headed umbrella, shining him up for travel. She could feel the summons in him, as if the wood was humming.

She was just finishing when Bert returned with the tea tray and they sat there, in their chairs on either side of the parlour fire, slowly, slowly sipping their tea, prolonging the inevitable, the first awkward silence to invade their life together.

Mary looked into her cup and realised it was empty. Time to go. She stood and he helped her with her coat and they collected her things and walked out to the garden.

‘Clear evening,’ he noted, she nodded. ‘South-east wind, should stay clear.’

‘I won’t be here to see your flowers come up,’ she whispered.

He took her hands, pulled her close, until their foreheads touched, ‘Yes you will, every second Thursday—‘

‘From six till late,’ she finished.

They stood like that a moment longer, for there are some things that cannot be said, until the wind grew insistent. Then he kissed her, smoothed a curl at her temple and set her hat on her head.

‘It’s going to be a very long fortnight.’

‘Yes, it is,’ she agreed.

‘Well, then, au revoir,’ and he took her left hand and kissed her wedding ring.

She looked at their clasped hands and then up into his eyes, those two words made it bearable, they would meet again, and soon.

‘Au revoir,’ she echoed, and she picked up her carpetbag, opened her umbrella and the wind lifted her away.

Bert watched her rise into the dusky sky; he had said the right thing, given her comfort and kept none for himself. She was his heart and as he went inside he wondered how he would survive without her.

lady of the summer, princess of the morning: mary poppins: shoesdiana_hawthorne on 23rd March 2009 19:17 (UTC)
Lovely story, as always. I can't wait until the next part of the Poppins Cycle :D
wegetufa on 11th April 2011 03:26 (UTC)
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wegetufa on 12th April 2011 16:07 (UTC)
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jidewoof on 15th April 2011 12:05 (UTC)
Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

drudununa on 4th November 2011 00:32 (UTC)
I am doing research for my university thesis, thanks for your great points, now I am acting on a sudden impulse.