The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred P - By Wendy Jones


The Yellow Dress

Spring, 1924

It was because of a yellow dress. She was wearing a yellow dress and her arms were bare. It was slightly tart, the colour of lemon curd. He couldn’t remember seeing a dress in that shade before. It was pleated silk and sleeveless, with a low waistband and a square neck that was slightly too low, perhaps only by half an inch.

Wilfred wondered how she got the dress on. Maybe there were hooks and eyes hidden on the side, under her arm. Ladies’ dresses sometimes had those. Women hooked and encased themselves in their dresses but there was always a way out.

‘And there’s trifle,’ Grace said triumphantly, ‘with cream from the Clunderwen Dairy.’ Wilfred noticed the trifle was sealed with thick whipped cream, and the cream was scattered with flaked almonds. She laid the white bowl on the Welsh wool picnic blanket.

‘There are grass cuttings everywhere; my brother Madoc mowed the lawn this morning,’ she said, brushing splices of grass from her dress. ‘I asked him not to, but he would insist.’ She waved an inquisitive honeybee away from the bowl. ‘I do hope you like trifle, Wilfred. I made it earlier so there would be time for the jelly to set before the cream spoiled.’

She leaned forward to serve the dessert. The neckline of her dress was cut slightly too low, he noticed again. And he wanted to glance but knew better of it, knew how women always noticed those glances from men, no matter how subtle men tried to be. Men’s eyes were too slow. It was not only how she got into the dress that Wilfred wondered. He wondered, too, how Grace got out of it.

She laughed lightly and brushed her fair hair from her face.

‘Wilfred, are you listening to me? Would you like the trifle, or there’s some Bara brith in the house?’

‘Grace, will you marry me?’

Wilfred saw an animal panic flash over her but then she very quickly reined herself in. The bee buzzed while Grace served the dessert in the small bowls slightly sloppily, almost as if she was over-focusing on what she was doing, as if the trifle was something safe to think about. With a clink, she had put a silver dessert spoon into a trifle bowl. She gave him the trifle with both hands.

‘Here you are, Wilfred, darling – and yes, it would be delightful.’

He wasn’t able to meet her eyes – he’d been gazing at her waistband when he’d inadvertently proposed in a shame-faced way. It wasn’t that he had intended to get down on one knee – he hadn’t intended anything at all. What he had meant, if only he could have said it, was, ‘How do you get out of your dress?’

After the picnic, Grace went to her bedroom. She drew the curtains so the room was dusky. Wilfred had asked her to marry him! In the moments before he proposed, she had been bending forward, scooping some trifle into the gold-rimmed bowls. Then he asked, and she waited one shocked moment before replying.

‘I would be delighted,’ she had answered. Or perhaps she had said, ‘That would be delightful.’

Earlier in the day, her brother Madoc said to her as she was laying out the crockery, ‘You look splendid, Grace. Really quite dolled up. I should think that Wilfred Price will like your dress, too.’ But before the picnic Grace had had her trepidations. Would Wilfred like it? What did Wilfred like? She didn’t know. In fact, she didn’t really know him that well. She knew him vaguely from her childhood and recently they had met at a dance, taken tea and then gone for that walk last Sunday. Then Wilfred had suggested an afternoon picnic and she said perhaps they could eat in her garden, to save carrying the food.

But Wilfred had seemed distant during the picnic. She had been anxious – was it perhaps that he didn’t like her in her new dress? She had bought it especially from Mrs Russell’s Haberdasher’s & Draper’s. Mrs Russell said yellow was all the rage with Flapper girls in London, though surely a yellow dress was too fussy for a picnic in a garden in Pembrokeshire?

Grace lifted her arm, looking for the first hook and eye in the bound seams at the side of the dress and undid each of the fastenings. She pulled the delicate garment over her head then shook it out. Grace looked for an empty clothes hanger in her wardrobe, one with a knitted