Red martini, with a cherry
‘Dez? Oh sorry, Desmond?’
‘Have you got any cotton?’
‘What colour dear?’
‘Any colour, it’s just to sew a button on …’
With a long suffering look, his head slightly tilted, Desmond held out his hand.
‘Thank you Desmond.’
‘Have you got the button?’
After a deeply theatrical sigh, which had he been on stage, would have reached the back row of the upper circle, Desmond snatched the shirt from Sebastian’s hand and, head in the air, marched out of the dressing room.
Mark Olver giggled. ‘Is he always like that?’
‘Today’s a good day, he’s obviously too busy to deliver a lecture.’
As he made his way towards his workroom, passing Dressing Room Number 3, Desmond was hailed by Jonathan Tremlett. He put his head around the door.
‘Desmond, I need more fuzz, gingerish …’
‘Give me ten dear, I’ve only one pair of hands.’
‘I …’ Jon said no more, as he heard the heels clicking on the concrete floor.
Around the English speaking world, there were thousands of actors and other theatrical personnel to whom, if you said ‘Theatre Royal, Birmingham,’ would reply ‘Desmond’. Not one of them would know his surname, but each would have a story to tell. There appeared to be no-one alive who could recall a time when the short, slim, bespectacled man was not at the ‘Royal’. One notable director regularly advised that Desmond was not real, but the ghost of a member of the cast from the Theatre’s first production in 1820.
If that was the case, at least Desmond had updated his wardrobe. He was always to be seen freshly shaved, wearing a white shirt and a tie which would bear some or other insignia, black trousers and a short grey jacket. The latter was the type defined in the old days as a ‘bum-freezer’. His most idiosyncratic characteristic was his shoes, always ladies, black patent, with one and a half inch heels.
People outside the theatre would have scorned and ridiculed him, but inside he was respected, indeed admired, as there was nothing he did not know; nothing he could not do, and little he could not get, given enough time. He knew so many parts in so many plays that, during rehearsals, he would often prompt, without the book.
On a number of occasions, it had been suggested that he must live somewhere within the confines of the premises, as not a single person had ever seen him away from the theatre. He was apparently always first to arrive, and the last to depart. Apart from an occasional sniff during the pantomime season, he had never appeared to be unwell.
‘Who on earth is he?’ Moira asked, after the costumes had been delivered and hung on the rack.
‘That’s Desmond, don’t ever call him Dez, not even Lord Olivier got away with that.’ Amelia replied.
‘But who is he, what’s his job?’
‘I told you, he’s Desmond. If you need anything, anything at all, ask Desmond, and he’ll get it.’
Moira shook her head, believing her question to have remained unanswered. She stood and examined the costume which was intended for her character. She held the dress against her, turned from side to side and studied her reflection in the mirror.
‘This is going to be much too big,’ she pouted.
‘Ask Desmond, he’ll adjust it, render it as a glove.’
‘Believe me, he’s brilliant.’
‘Where will I find him?’
Amelia reached out and pulled a portable microphone towards her. ‘Will Desmond kindly come to DR 12 please, when it’s convenient.’
‘Do you have to grovel?’
‘It’s not compulsory, but it’s worth it, he will …’
Before she could finish the sentence, he put his head around the door. ‘Yes dear?’
‘Desmond, Moira needs a fitting please.’
‘Right you are, how do you do Miss Moira, we‘ve not met before, welcome to the Royal.’ He proffered his hand.
She took it in hers as she said quietly, ‘hello Desmond.’
‘Well?’ he challenged, his hands on his hips. The actress looked confused.
‘He won’t be able to fit you with the dress still on the hanger,’ Amelia chipped in.
‘Oh,’ Moira blushed.
‘I’ll be back in five,’ he said and walked out of the room.
He must have waited just outside the door, for as soon as Moira had stepped into the garment, he was back and pulling up the zip.
‘Right, lets have a look at you.’
For a small, slight man, he was strong, Moira thought, as he turned her this way and that. He said nothing, as he had a collection of pins between his teeth, but seemingly within seconds he had pinched and crimped, pleated and pinned, and she could feel the tightness of the dress. He studied her reflection in the mirror which occupied the whole of one wall.
‘How does that feel dear?’
She breathed in deeply, then exhaled. ‘Good, it feels good, it’s, I’m, a little …’
‘You need tits dear, just hold on there, two seconds.’
Moira was mesmerised.
‘I told you he was good.’ Amelia declared.
‘Do you think he could get me some slap?’
‘That’ll be no bother at all.’
It was just before midnight by the time Desmond had completed his rounds and satisfied himself that all was as it should be. He entered his workroom and made his regular phone call. He opened the single wardrobe door and scanned the contents. Smiling, he removed the chocolate brown two piece that augmented a cream blouse which hung beneath it. He kicked off his shoes and undressed. After he viewed himself in the old, worn mirror, satisfied with his re-dressed appearance, he selected a shoulder length hair piece, two shades lighter than the suit. Finally, the shoes; dark brown suede with flat heels. ‘You’re getting old dear,’ he said aloud, as he wriggled his feet into them.
Collecting his handbag, he extricated a set of keys and let himself out through a trompe l’oeil bordello door, which gave access to a stairway. Having carefully locked the door, he climbed the steps to the waiting taxi.
‘Good morning Miss Hall,’ the driver said, as Desmond opened the front passenger door. ‘How are you today?’
BIO - Roger Noons began writing in 2006, when he completed a screenplay, for a friend who is an amateur film maker. After the film was made, he wrote further scripts, then began short stories and poems. He occasionally produces non fiction, particularly memoirs from his long career in Environmental Health.