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UPSIDE DOWN
THE OPAL STORIES by Crystal Jones ©
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Put the translated title here Upside Down
  Opal woke up thinking to herself, “What on earth is that strange noise?” and realised it was her alarm clock announcing half past five.
  She reached over weakly to turn it off and suddenly remembered she must get up instantly otherwise she might lose her place in the market.
  Creeping down the stairs at that hour was no easy task.
  She nearly tripped up, owing to a loose stair rod, and risked waking up all the house.
  Opal heard a key being turned in the front door lock as her mother let herself in.
  “Hello dear! Got your flask ready with your hot tea!” she said. “And a packet of sandwiches!”
  Opal groaned, as her voice wasn’t yet functioning, “Oh Mum, you are such a dear! You shouldn’t be running around after me like this! Anyway I’d better get dressed and out as soon as possible!”
  “You do that dear! And don’t worry about Brendan – I’ll look after him and I’ll get the children both off to school in time. You go!”
  Opal got into the small van where she kept her second-hand books and made off for Middleston Market Place where she paid a flat fee for her covered market stall, electricity and having the rubbish taken away at the end of the day.
  In the market place all sorts of food were sold, from olives and nuts to fruit and vegetables along with footwear, clothes and household articles.
  The price of books had gone up a lot recently and quite a number of people were glad to buy second-hand ones from Opal’s stall.
  “Morning Raj! How’s your family?” Opal asked a colleague who sold trousers, jeans and shirts at the market.
  “Very well, thank you Opal. And how are your kids?”
  “Everything OK – but this year Jane has got her GCSE’s so it’s head down and slog away! Ben is only twelve, so he doesn’t have too many problems!”
  Opal arranged her books onto her covered stall so that one could easily find the type of book he or she was interested in.
  Thrillers, satirical books, poetry, novels, non-fiction and foreign literature were all in separate boxes.
  Highly sought-after best-sellers were placed in the front of the stall marked £3 and all were in good condition.
  'I also BUY books!!!' was written on a piece of cardboard and stuck on the top of her stall with cellotape.
  Now Opal took a swig of tea from her thermos and wondered if the weather was going to hold out.
  Brendan, her husband, who was a taxi-driver, had just left hospital after a fall.
  He’d badly broken his leg and wouldn’t be able to work for at least four or five months.
  As he was self-employed, he had very little money coming in at all, just a small monthly payment from an insurance he had taken out.
  They were renovating their house which had been left to them by Brendan’s aunt, a three-bedroomed house with a large attic, so Opal had had to pick up the reins and get a job to be able to pay the mortgage and family expenses.
  At six o’clock in the morning not many customers stopped at Opal’s stall, but this gave her time to collect her thoughts and put photographs of her paintings up all around her stall.
  People often stopped just to look at them, shook their heads and usually just walked away.
  Some even made comments like, “Er… people trying to walk upside down. They must be mad!” or “Crazy painters! What will they think of next?”
  Opal was used to her paintings being laughed at.
  She’d been criticised during her art studies but nothing would make her change her style.
  “It’s how I see the world,” she always said, “people will do anything not to face reality – even walking upside down on their hands!”
  Now she was working on an extension of this idea but kept it all quite secret for the time being.
  She had no false hope of being recognised as a serious painter at all and, anyway, it was well-known that women painters were not taken into serious consideration easily.
  Opal had continued painting notwithstanding getting married and having two children.
  She had never sold any of her pictures even though everyone admitted she painted well and had an excellent technique.
  The trouble was that now she was the bread-winner of the family and that sooner than ask for benefits or handouts she had thrown herself into selling second-hand books.
  Opal went to the market twice a week, and to a different car boot sale every Sunday morning.
  She spent the rest of the week collecting books people didn’t want any more.
  Opal had put an ad in the window of the local corner shop and found that many people wanted to get rid of old encyclopaedias and detective stories.
  Sometimes she found herself with a collection of books from somebody’s old bookcase who was moving out into smaller premises.
  The odd interesting out-of-print classic sometimes brought in even twenty pounds or so; no first editions of Jane Austen’s works had cropped up yet, but she lived in hope.
  Now Opal carefully placed a small green teddy in a wicker basket in front of her stall.
  Someone had left the teddy there amongst the children’s books on Saturday by mistake.
  “Here you are, Opal!” said a man in overalls carrying an immense shopping bag with a zip, full of books, over to her.
  “Oh, what have you got there, Andy - bricks? It’s so heavy!”
  The builder laughed. “Can you bring it round the back and put it into the van?” Opal asked him.
  “Sure, Opal. I got these books from a building we’re pulling down on Samson Road. They were going to dump them!”
  “Thanks a lot! How much do I owe you?” asked Opal.
  “Nothing, Brendan’s done me quite a few favours in the past. Hope they’ll be of some use! I’ll bring you some more I’ve got in my car next time. Bye bye Opal!”
  “Er… excuse me, but could you tell me where you got those photos from?” said a rather heavy-looking man of about forty-five with a shopper full of vegetables and fruit.
  Opal was caught by surprise at the man’s question, “Where I got... oh, er, actually I took the photos.”
  “Mm… good lighting – er – the pictures are very unusual!” the man continued scrutinising the photos.
  “Very interesting, really. Where on earth did you find the paintings? I assume they’re in oils?”
  “Oh yes – they’re all in oils. Actually, they’re all at my home!”
  The man put his shopper down on the ground.
  “I can’t make out the signature – it looks like Opal something or other – do you know who the artist is?”
  Opal nodded cautiously, “I painted them – you know – over the years!”
  “You! So your name’s Opal then! You’ve certainly found something interesting to paint! I’ve never seen your work before – where do you show?”
  “Er, I don’t show.” Opal didn’t like having to admit the complete lack of interest for her work in academic and commercial circles.
  “My name’s Theo Salder. I’d like to get back to you about them. This is my card. Would you like to give me your telephone number - Opal?”
  Opal just stared at the man for a minute to see if he was being serious.
  “Yes, if you like. Here, I’ll write it down for you. Anyway, I’m always here on a Tuesday – and Saturday too!”
  The weather didn’t hold out and Opal had to protect her books with a plastic covering when the wind blew the rain right on to the front of her stall.
  Then suddenly the sun came out and a rainbow appeared.
  Opal shook the water off the plastic sheeting and people suddenly started appearing from nowhere.
  Stall holders called out their wares declaring their prices to be ‘astonishing, ridiculously cheap and frankly below cost price.’
  “Looking for something in particular?” Opal asked a woman who had stopped at her stall.
  “Got any Ben Whites?” the woman replied.
  “Everybody wants them! I haven’t got any at the moment, I’m afraid, but some of my clients like to sell me back their books when they’ve read them. I keep them here.”
  Opal indicated the box labelled best-sellers, “If you come by next Saturday I might have some – anyway, if you want to have a look through the books there….”
  “Anything for me today?” asked an elderly man adjusting his glasses.
  “Mr. Shaw. Yes, I’ve acquired some really old German text books. Would you like to see them, they are here behind these modern classics.”
  Mr. Shaw pulled out his reading glasses and started browsing through the books printed in Gothic characters.
  “Hello Opal – something for me?” asked a young woman seemingly in a terrible hurry and handing a plastic bag full of books she had read to Opal.
  “Yes Becky. Over there – all English and American detective stories.”
  Opal was used to Becky rushing by as she was a nurse and always wanted something to read on the bus on her way to work.
  “Can we settle up on Saturday?” Becky asked Opal knowing she would say yes.
  “I wonder if you’ve got any Italian literature,” inquired a girl in school uniform.
  She was in Jane, Opal’s daughter’s, class.
  “How about The Betrothed, Jill. Or here’s one of the Don Camillo books – I believe they’re very amusing!”
  Opal liked to watch people milling round the market-place.
  It was always a wonderful opportunity to observe human behaviour.
  She often wondered what sort of people they were and invented stories about them in her mind.
  Occasionally she found people she wanted to put into her paintings.
  People who weren’t flexible – who had rigid opinions about social problems and who took a stance without really ever reasoning things out for themselves.
  “Oh, so this is where our Penny left Cheepygoogoo!” exclaimed a woman picking up the small green teddy Opal had placed in a basket to make him more visible.
  “My little one can’t get to sleep without him. Thank you for finding him!”
  As Opal stacked her cardboard boxes full of books back into her van, Shazia, who sold fruit and vegetables in the market, came over.
  “Shall I bring you your stuff now, Opal?”
  “Yes, please, Shazia, I’ll be off soon.”
  “I’ve put a few lemons, some new potatoes and fresh peas, and a couple of beetroots in as well, as I know you like them. Oh - want any watercress – I’ve got a lot over and it’s going at half price?” Shazia asked.
  Now it was time to get back home quickly where Opal would start her second job – of looking after Brendan and the children.
  “Hello love! Had a good day?” Brendan always cheered up when Opal arrived.
  “Well, I’ll put the kettle on and tell you all about it!” said Opal. “I’ll wheel you into the kitchen.”
  Brendan slept in the sitting-room as he couldn’t get up and down the stairs with his crutches.
  Fortunately they had an en suite utility room behind the kitchen which Brendan could get to more easily.
  Then the landline phone rang.
  “Opal? Theo Salder here - you remember, the advertising manager of In A Wink. I gave you my card. Er, I’d like to come and see your paintings, if I may.”
  Opal had often fantasised that when, for the first time, someone was seriously interested in her paintings she would try to appear nonchalant, but now that the moment had finally arrived she opened her mouth to speak, but only inarticulate sounds came out. “Er... what... er...?”
  “Can you hear me, Opal? I wanted to drop round to see the originals of the photos on your stall.”
  “Yes...” she managed to pronounce.
  “Brilliant, tomorrow at ten then, ok?”
  Next morning Opal, anything but composed, sat down with Theo Salder in the sitting room.
  “Mm… I'm interested in your paintings, Opal, and – er – please call me Theo.”
  “You mean you want to...,” Opal hesitated, “to – buy one?”
  “That’s not exactly what I had in mind.”
  Opal’s heart missed a beat.
  “What I'd really like, is to see the actual paintings first. Might I...?”
  “Yes of course. Would you like to come up to the attic? It’s my studio, you know.”
  “You must have a good light up there judging from your photographs!” remarked Theo climbing up the stairs.
  “Here we are, I’ve put the three paintings you saw in the photos near the window, so you can see them better!”
  Theo Salder stared at the paintings.
  “Quite remarkable, they’re so original. Have you got a name for them?”
  “Yes, this one is named Common Sense. This is Common Knowledge and the other is Common Decency.”
  “I like Common Sense enormously,” he said.
  “You won’t mind if I take a few photos of it with my mobile?”
  “All right,” she replied, “but please don’t use your flash.”
  After having taken the photographs, Theo stood back a while contemplating Common Sense in silence.
  He blinked as though he had difficulty in taking it all in, but after a few seconds he managed to pull his thoughts together.
  “Er, the thing is, would you give us – that is, the firm I work for, permission to use one of your paintings for advertising purposes?”
  This was the last thing that Opal had imagined Theo would propose.
  “I don’t understand. Do you do advertising for paints or something?”
  Theo laughed, “No, actually, we have been commissioned to advertise headache pills on television!”
  Opal’s mind went blank.
  “You know, Opal – people walking about upside-down – their heads ache… It’s wonderful! I really would like to make out a contract at a sum we both agree upon!”
  Opal was stunned. She was used to having her work ridiculed and laughed at, but this was really bizarre.
  “I do appreciate your offer, Theo, but…” she gulped and couldn’t finish her sentence.
  “Look, I quite understand that that’s not what you had in mind for your paintings but, honestly speaking, people would see your work on national television… !”
  “I really don’t know…” Opal made an effort to reply.
  “If you’re worried about the script, I can let you have a copy of it in advance, no problem.“
  “All I know at the moment is that I must consult my family first.”
  “Look, I’ll have a copy of the contract and the script sent over to you by the end of the week and you can phone me any time about it.  Shall we leave it there for the moment?”
  Theo realised he shouldn't try to pressurise Opal.
  “Yes, Theo, I think that’s the best thing to do.”
  Opal’s family was sitting down to their meal and everybody was holding forth about the offer.
  “Mum, I’m not a solicitor yet – nor even a law student, but at first sight I can’t see much wrong with this contract.”
  Opal’s daughter Jane was always entrusted to read official documents and tax forms as she had shown a precocious interest in everything pertaining to law.
  “You're always saying that no-one has ever appreciated your art before! Mum, now you're going to be famous,” Josh, Opal's twelve-year-old son, pointed out excitedly.
  “Famous?” Opal hesitated.
  Brendan interrupted, “I think that unless Mum feels comfortable about the advertising lark, she won't accept!”
  Opal looked puzzled. “The money would come in very handy just at this moment,” she said.
  Brendan shook his head, “If you're not entirely happy with it, I advise you not to accept.”
  Just then the phone rang.
  Opal picked the receiver up. It was Theo Salder.
  “Yes Theo, I've read the contract carefully, but after considering the matter with my family...
   I've decided that I don't want my painting to be used for advertising purposes, ever.
  Sorry to put it bluntly, but that's how I feel about it. Thanks all the same!”
  “Mum, you've refused his offer!” exclaimed Jane.
  “So you're not going to be famous after all!” sighed Josh.
  Opal looked a bit blank and sat down.
  Brendan tried to cheer her up, “Well, personally, I'm glad. I'm fond of your pictures Opal, they are part of the family.”
  “That's very nice of you, Brendan. Let's finish our meal!”
  Two months later the family was sitting down in front of the telly having watched the last episode of a period drama.
  “Would you switch over to the news please, Josh? I want to see the football results,” said Brendan, still laid up with a leg in plaster.
  “Oh look!” Jane exclaimed, “There's an advert for those headache pills, the ones mum was going to advertise with her painting!”
  Brendan said, “Ok, let's see what they have come up with.”
  It was a cartoon where a little green man with a booming bass voice was just about to hit a clown on the head with a huge plastic toy hammer saying, “I can tell you you'll need a headache pill shortly!”
  “That's not very well done at all,” declared Brendan. “It's rather violent and stupid!”
  Opal looked in horror at the television shuddering at the thought her painting could have been part of this ghastly advert.
  The day after, the children had gone off to school and Brendan had got a mate to take him to the doctor's for a blood test.
  Suddenly someone rang the doorbell.
  “Hello Opal! Do you remember me from In A Wink?“
  “Yes, of course, Theo.”
  “I've brought  an old friend of mine along - Ed Hundersford!”
  “Very pleased to make your acquaintance, Ms. Opal!” said Theo's friend who was a rather short, slim man in his fifties.
  His heavily-lined face made Opal think that he was a person whose life had been hard earned.
  Opal looked confused, “Er... pleased to meet you, Mr. Hundersford - but look, Theo, I really won't change my mind about advertising...”
  “It's not about that at all, Opal. Do you think we could come in for a minute and I'll explain all about it?”
  A few minutes later Opal's guests were sitting in the living room.
  “Do you remember that I took some photos of your painting with my mobile? Well, I showed them to Ed as he is an art enthusiast.
  “Yes indeed.” said Mr. Hundersford, “I've been studying art for the last thirty-five years or so.”
  “You've been studying art - so you're a painter too, I imagine?” asked Opal.
  “No, no, not at all. I can't draw or paint, but I love art.
  You see, when I saw the photo of your picture I understood what you are saying, the message behind the painting...
  and frankly I was astonished and I've come here to ask you to let me buy it!” explained the mysterious Mr. Hundersford.
  Now Theo got up, “Opal, I'm afraid I've got a meeting this morning so if I may leave you with Ed...”
  Opal felt it was all surreal, “Well, I suppose that you'd like to see the original, Mr. Hundersford.”
  “Ed, please. Yes, I'd love to. May I call you Opal”
  “Please do, Ed. There's only one problem. The attic door is stuck - the handle has come off and my husband can't mend it while he's still got his leg in plaster.”
  “No problem -  Just give me a screwdriver and I'll see if I can fix it.”
  Ed fiddled about with the door handle for a few minutes, managed to open the door and fix it firmly on the other side.
  “There you are. As good as new!” he declared.
  “Oh, thanks Ed,” said Opal, “I can see you're a very practical sort of person.”
  “Well, you could say that,” replied Ed in a slightly obscure way.
  Opal noticed that his hands were of someone who had done a lot of manual work in his life.
  “Ah, the picture itself, at last!” He exclaimed seeing Opal's painting on the wall opposite the window.
  “A real marvel!” He breathed in deeply. “I love the subject - and your technique is superlative! But please let me have a look at your other works too...”
  Ed scrutinised the other paintings one by one at length, moving  backwards and forwards several times as though he were at an art gallery.
  Opal couldn't believe that at last her paintings were receiving some sort of recognition.
  Finally Ed turned round towards her with a smile on his face.
  “So - may I write you out a cheque, Opal!”
  “Let's go down to the living room and have a talk about it,” replied Opal who now felt she was walking upside down and couldn't wait to tell Brendan all about it.
  Yet she had a nagging doubt - after all Ed was a friend of Theo’s!
  When Ed had finished signing the cheque, Opal asked him, “What sort of a frame will you put it in, Ed?” as she gave him a mug of boiling hot coffee.
  “Well, first of all, I'm not going to put your picture in a ready-made frame - I'm going to make one for it.”
  “Really?”
  “Well, I've been carving frames for years!”! replied Ed surprisingly.
  “You see, I've got a little shop where I do a bit of restoring antique furniture as well.
  I just love making things look as they once did or enhancing the beauty of a painting with a frame specially designed for it.
  This all came about when I discovered art, you see.”
  “Excuse me Ed,” said Opal, “but it's getting dark. It looks as though we're going to have a storm.”
  Opal got up to switch the lights on.
  “Oh gosh, there's no light, it's gone again! This house has been going to rack and ruin since Brendan's accident!”
  “Not to worry, Opal. Let me have a look at the fuse box.”
  Ed was soon at work.
  “Mm... there it is! You've got a loose wire here in the entrance hall as well. If you let me see what kind of tools you've got in the house...”
  After a while, Ed had sorted out the loose wire and fixed it safely.
  “Ed, I'm so sorry to put you to all this trouble. You're an electrician too!
  Thanks a million. Would you like some more coffee or can I make you a sandwich or something?”
  “Just some more coffee please, Opal.”
  “Er... you said you discovered art. How was that”
  Ed broke into a smile, “It's a long story, but I discovered art more or less when I broke into a house while I was still a teenager.”
  “Broke into a house - you mean you...”! Opal couldn't finish her sentence.
  “Yes, I was a burglar, you see. Once, during one of my, shall we say, routine jobs, I had gained access to a well-to-do country house.
  I was trying to find my way round in the dark, when I accidentally switched my torch on.
  The light fell onto a painting hanging up on the wall. I was mesmerised by it.
  It was a painting of wild animals by an Italian painter, Ligabue.
  Next day I went to the library to find out more about him... and that's how it all began!”
  Opal was used to meeting many different types of people and managed to keep her surprise at a minimum.
  “So you were able  to rethink your life because of this?”
  “Yes. I went to evening classes to study art and learn something about drawing, perspective and things like that!”
  Opal warmed towards the ex-burglar.
  “Well,” said Ed getting up from the sofa.
  “I've taken up a lot of your time already. I'll have to thank Theo for introducing me to you.”
  “But Theo didn't really seem particularly interested in art!”
  “No, he isn't. I met him through his wife who comes into my shop sometimes to look for antique furniture.”
  He smiled, “You must have thought that Theo was using me to buy your picture for the headache pills ad.”
  Opal blushed, “Well, it had crossed my mind.”
  “Theo's a good bloke - he just gets too enthusiastic about his job sometimes.
  Why don't you drop by my little shop one of these days? Here's my card.
  I'll show you some of my work and the frame I'll be making for Common Sense.”
 

THE END

 
 
 
 

THE OPAL STORIES
Upside Down

by Crystal Jones
© 2010-2011

Opal woke up thinking to herself, “What on earth is that strange noise?” and realised it was her alarm clock announcing half past five. She reached over weakly to turn it off and suddenly remembered she must get up instantly otherwise she might lose her place in the market.
Creeping down the stairs at that hour was no easy task. She nearly tripped up, owing to a loose stair rod, and risked waking up all the house.
Opal heard a key being turned in the front door lock as her mother let herself in. “Hello dear! Got your flask ready with your hot tea!” she said. “And a packet of sandwiches!”
Opal groaned, as her voice wasn’t yet functioning, “Oh Mum, you are such a dear! You shouldn’t be running around after me like this! Anyway I’d better get dressed and out as soon as possible!”
“You do that dear! And don’t worry about Brendan – I’ll look after him and I’ll get the children both off to school in time. You go!”
Opal got into the small van where she kept her second-hand books and made off for Middleston Market Place where she paid a flat fee for her covered market stall, electricity and having the rubbish taken away at the end of the day. 


In the market place all sorts of food were sold, from olives and nuts to fruit and vegetables along with footwear, clothes and household articles. The price of books had gone up a lot recently and quite a number of people were glad to buy second-hand ones from Opal’s stall.
“Morning Raj! How’s your family?” Opal asked a colleague who sold trousers, jeans and shirts at the market.
“Very well, thank you Opal. And how are your kids?”
“Everything OK – but this year Jane has got her GCSE’s so it’s head down and slog away! Ben is only twelve, so he doesn’t have too many problems!”
Opal arranged her books onto her covered stall so that one could easily find the type of book he or she was interested in. Thrillers, satirical books, poetry, novels, non-fiction and foreign literature were all in separate boxes. Highly sought-after best-sellers were placed in the front of the stall marked £3 and all were in good condition.
'I also BUY books!!!' was written on a piece of cardboard and stuck on the top of her stall with cellotape.


Now Opal took a swig of tea from her thermos and wondered if the weather was going to hold out. Brendan, her husband, who was a taxi-driver, had just left hospital after a fall. He’d badly broken his leg and wouldn’t be able to work for at least four or five months. As he was self-employed, he had very little money coming in at all, just a small monthly payment from an insurance he had taken out. They were renovating their house which had been left to them by Brendan’s aunt, a three-bedroomed house with a large attic, so Opal had had to pick up the reins and get a job to be able to pay the mortgage and family expenses.


At six o’clock in the morning not many customers stopped at Opal’s stall, but this gave her time to collect her thoughts and put photographs of her paintings up all around her stall. People often stopped just to look at them, shook their heads and usually just walked away. Some even made comments like, “Er… people trying to walk upside down. They must be mad!” or “Crazy painters! What will they think of next?”


Opal was used to her paintings being laughed at. She’d been criticised during her art studies but nothing would make her change her style. “It’s how I see the world,” she always said, “people will do anything not to face reality – even walking upside down on their hands!” Now she was working on an extension of this idea but kept it all quite secret for the time being. She had no false hope of being recognised as a serious painter at all and, anyway, it was well-known that women painters were not taken into serious consideration easily.


Opal had continued painting notwithstanding getting married and having two children. She had never sold any of her pictures even though everyone admitted she painted well and had an excellent technique. The trouble was that now she was the bread-winner of the family and that sooner than ask for benefits or handouts she had thrown herself into selling second-hand books. Opal went to the market twice a week, and to a different car boot sale every Sunday morning. She spent the rest of the week collecting books people didn’t want any more.
Opal had put an ad in the window of the local corner shop and found that many people wanted to get rid of old encyclopaedias and detective stories. Sometimes she found herself with a collection of books from somebody’s old bookcase who was moving out into smaller premises. The odd interesting out-of-print classic sometimes brought in even twenty pounds or so; no first editions of Jane Austen’s works had cropped up yet, but she lived in hope.


Now Opal carefully placed a small green teddy in a wicker basket in front of her stall. Someone had left the teddy there amongst the children’s books on Saturday by mistake.
“Here you are, Opal!” said a man in overalls carrying an immense shopping bag with a zip, full of books, over to her.
“Oh, what have you got there, Andy - bricks? It’s so heavy!”
The builder laughed. “Can you bring it round the back and put it into the van?” Opal asked him.
“Sure, Opal. I got these books from a building we’re pulling down on Samson Road. They were going to dump them!”
“Thanks a lot! How much do I owe you?” asked Opal.
“Nothing, Brendan’s done me quite a few favours in the past. Hope they’ll be of some use! I’ll bring you some more I’ve got in my car next time. Bye bye Opal!”


“Er… excuse me, but could you tell me where you got those photos from?” said a rather heavy-looking man of about forty-five with a shopper full of vegetables and fruit.
Opal was caught by surprise at the man’s question, “Where I got... oh, er, actually I took the photos.”
“Mm… good lighting – er – the pictures are very unusual!” the man continued scrutinising the photos. “Very interesting, really. Where on earth did you find the paintings? I assume they’re in oils?”
“Oh yes – they’re all in oils. Actually, they’re all at my home!”
The man put his shopper down on the ground. “I can’t make out the signature – it looks like Opal something or other – do you know who the artist is?”
Opal nodded cautiously, “I painted them – you know – over the years!”
“You! So your name’s Opal then! You’ve certainly found something interesting to paint! I’ve never seen your work before – where do you show?”
“Er, I don’t show.” Opal didn’t like having to admit the complete lack of interest for her work in academic and commercial circles.
“My name’s Theo Salder. I’d like to get back to you about them. This is my card. Would you like to give me your telephone number - Opal?”
Opal just stared at the man for a minute to see if he was being serious.
“Yes, if you like. Here, I’ll write it down for you. Anyway, I’m always here on a Tuesday – and Saturday too!”


The weather didn’t hold out and Opal had to protect her books with a plastic covering when the wind blew the rain right on to the front of her stall. Then suddenly the sun came out and a rainbow appeared. Opal shook the water off the plastic sheeting and people suddenly started appearing from nowhere. Stall holders called out their wares declaring their prices to be ‘astonishing, ridiculously cheap and frankly below cost price.’
“Looking for something in particular?” Opal asked a woman who had stopped at her stall.
“Got any Ben Whites?” the woman replied.
“Everybody wants them! I haven’t got any at the moment, I’m afraid, but some of my clients like to sell me back their books when they’ve read them. I keep them here.” Opal indicated the box labelled best-sellers, “If you come by next Saturday I might have some – anyway, if you want to have a look through the books there….”
“Anything for me today?” asked an elderly man adjusting his glasses.
“Mr. Shaw. Yes, I’ve acquired some really old German text books. Would you like to see them, they are here behind these modern classics.”
Mr. Shaw pulled out his reading glasses and started browsing through the books printed in Gothic characters.
“Hello Opal – something for me?” asked a young woman seemingly in a terrible hurry and handing a plastic bag full of books she had read to Opal.
“Yes Becky. Over there – all English and American detective stories.” Opal was used to Becky rushing by as she was a nurse and always wanted something to read on the bus on her way to work.
“Can we settle up on Saturday?” Becky asked Opal knowing she would say yes.
“I wonder if you’ve got any Italian literature,” inquired a girl in school uniform. She was in Jane, Opal’s daughter’s, class.
“How about The Betrothed, Jill. Or here’s one of the Don Camillo books – I believe they’re very amusing!”


Opal liked to watch people milling round the market-place. It was always a wonderful opportunity to observe human behaviour. She often wondered what sort of people they were and invented stories about them in her mind. Occasionally she found people she wanted to put into her paintings. People who weren’t flexible – who had rigid opinions about social problems and who took a stance without really ever reasoning things out for themselves.


“Oh, so this is where our Penny left Cheepygoogoo!” exclaimed a woman picking up the small green teddy Opal had placed in a basket to make him more visible.
“My little one can’t get to sleep without him. Thank you for finding him!”


As Opal stacked her cardboard boxes full of books back into her van, Shazia, who sold fruit and vegetables in the market, came over. “Shall I bring you your stuff now, Opal?”
“Yes, please, Shazia, I’ll be off soon.”
“I’ve put a few lemons, some new potatoes and fresh peas, and a couple of beetroots in as well, as I know you like them. Oh - want any watercress – I’ve got a lot over and it’s going at half price?” Shazia asked.
Now it was time to get back home quickly where Opal would start her second job – of looking after Brendan and the children.


“Hello love! Had a good day?” Brendan always cheered up when Opal arrived.
“Well, I’ll put the kettle on and tell you all about it!” said Opal. “I’ll wheel you into the kitchen.”
Brendan slept in the sitting-room as he couldn’t get up and down the stairs with his crutches. Fortunately they had an en suite utility room behind the kitchen which Brendan could get to more easily.
Then the landline phone rang. “Opal? Theo Salder here - you remember, the advertising manager of In A Wink. I gave you my card. Er, I’d like to come and see your paintings, if I may.”
Opal had often fantasised that when, for the first time, someone was seriously interested in her paintings she would try to appear nonchalant, but now that the moment had finally arrived she opened her mouth to speak, but only inarticulate sounds came out. “Er... what... er...?”
“Can you hear me, Opal? I wanted to drop round to see the originals of the photos on your stall.”
“Yes...” she managed to pronounce.
“Brilliant, tomorrow at ten then, ok?”


Next morning Opal, anything but composed, sat down with Theo Salder in the sitting room.
“Mm… I'm interested in your paintings, Opal, and – er – please call me Theo.”
“You mean you want to...,” Opal hesitated, “to – buy one?”
“That’s not exactly what I had in mind.”
Opal’s heart missed a beat.
“What I'd really like, is to see the actual paintings first. Might I...?”
“Yes of course. Would you like to come up to the attic? It’s my studio, you know.”
“You must have a good light up there judging from your photographs!” remarked Theo climbing up the stairs.
“Here we are, I’ve put the three paintings you saw in the photos near the window, so you can see them better!”
Theo Salder stared at the paintings. “Quite remarkable, they’re so original. Have you got a name for them?”
“Yes, this one is named Common Sense. This is Common Knowledge and the other is Common Decency.”
“I like Common Sense enormously,” he said. “You won’t mind if I take a few photos of it with my mobile?”
“All right,” she replied, “but please don’t use your flash.”


After having taken the photographs, Theo stood back a while contemplating Common Sense in silence. He blinked as though he had difficulty in taking it all in, but after a few seconds he managed to pull his thoughts together. “Er, the thing is, would you give us – that is, the firm I work for, permission to use one of your paintings for advertising purposes?”
This was the last thing that Opal had imagined Theo would propose. “I don’t understand. Do you do advertising for paints or something?”
Theo laughed, “No, actually, we have been commissioned to advertise headache pills on television!”
Opal’s mind went blank.
“You know, Opal – people walking about upside-down – their heads ache… It’s wonderful! I really would like to make out a contract at a sum we both agree upon!”
Opal was stunned. She was used to having her work ridiculed and laughed at, but this was really bizarre. “I do appreciate your offer, Theo, but…” she gulped and couldn’t finish her sentence.
“Look, I quite understand that that’s not what you had in mind for your paintings but, honestly speaking, people would see your work on national television… !”
“I really don’t know…” Opal made an effort to reply.
“If you’re worried about the script, I can let you have a copy of it in advance, no problem”.
“All I know at the moment is that I must consult my family first.”
“Look, I’ll have a copy of the contract and the script sent over to you by the end of the week and you can phone me any time about it.  Shall we leave it there for the moment?”
Theo realised he shouldn't try to pressurise Opal.
“Yes, Theo, I think that’s the best thing to do.”


Opal’s family was sitting down to their meal and everybody was holding forth about the offer. “Mum, I’m not a solicitor yet – nor even a law student, but at first sight I can’t see much wrong with this contract.” Opal’s daughter Jane was always entrusted to read official documents and tax forms as she had shown a precocious interest in everything pertaining to law.
“You're always saying that no-one has ever appreciated your art before! Mum, now you're going to be famous,” Josh, Opal's twelve-year-old son, pointed out excitedly.
“Famous?” Opal hesitated.
Brendan interrupted, “I think that unless Mum feels comfortable about the advertising lark, she won't accept!”
Opal looked puzzled. “The money would come in very handy just at this moment,” she said.
Brendan shook his head, “If you're not entirely happy with it, I advise you not to accept.”
Just then the phone rang. Opal picked the receiver up. It was Theo Salder. “Yes Theo, I've read the contract carefully, but after considering the matter with my family... I've decided that I don't want my painting to be used for advertising purposes, ever. Sorry to put it bluntly, but that's how I feel about it. Thanks all the same!”


“Mum, you've refused his offer!” exclaimed Jane.
“So you're not going to be famous after all!” sighed Josh.
Opal looked a bit blank and sat down. Brendan tried to cheer her up, “Well, personally, I'm glad. I'm fond of your pictures Opal, they are part of the family.”
“That's very nice of you, Brendan. Let's finish our meal!”


Two months later the family was sitting down in front of the telly having watched the last episode of a period drama.
“Would you switch over to the news please, Josh? I want to see the football results.” said Brendan, still laid up with a leg in plaster.
“Oh look!” Jane exclaimed, “There's an advert for those headache pills, the ones mum was going to advertise with her painting!”
Brendan said, “Ok, let's see what they have come up with.”
It was a cartoon where a little green man with a booming bass voice was just about to hit a clown on the head with a huge plastic toy hammer saying, “I can tell you you'll need a headache pill shortly!”
“That's not very well done at all,” declared Brendan. “It's rather violent and stupid!”
Opal looked in horror at the television shuddering at the thought her painting could have been part of this ghastly advert.


The day after, the children had gone off to school and Brendan had got a mate to take him to the doctor's for a blood test. Suddenly someone rang the doorbell.
“Hello Opal! Do you remember me from In A Wink?”
“Yes, of course, Theo.”
“I've brought  an old friend of mine along - Ed Hundersford!”
“Very pleased to make your acquaintance, Ms. Opal!” said Theo's friend who was a rather short, slim man in his fifties. His heavily-lined face made Opal think that he was a person whose life had been hard earned.
Opal looked confused, “Er... pleased to meet you, Mr. Hundersford - but look, Theo, I really won't change my mind about advertising...”
“It's not about that at all, Opal. Do you think we could come in for a minute and I'll explain all about it?”


A few minutes later Opal's guests were sitting in the living room.
“Do you remember that I took some photos of your painting with my mobile? Well, I showed them to Ed as he is an art enthusiast.
“Yes indeed.” said Mr. Hundersford, “I've been studying art for the last thirty-five years or so.”
“You've been studying art - so you're a painter too, I imagine?” asked Opal.
“No, no, not at all. I can't draw or paint, but I love art. You see, when I saw the photo of your picture I understood what you are saying, the message behind the painting... and frankly I was astonished and I've come here to ask you to let me buy it!” explained the mysterious Mr. Hundersford.
Now Theo got up, “Opal, I'm afraid I've got a meeting this morning so if I may leave you with Ed...”


Opal felt it was all surreal, “Well, I suppose that you'd like to see the original, Mr. Hundersford.”
“Ed, please. Yes, I'd love to. May I call you Opal?”
“Please do, Ed. There's only one problem. The attic door is stuck - the handle has come off and my husband can't mend it while he's still got his leg in plaster.”
“No problem -  Just give me a screwdriver and I'll see if I can fix it.”
Ed fiddled about with the door handle for a few minutes, managed to open the door and fix it firmly on the other side.
“There you are. As good as new!” he declared.
“Oh, thanks Ed,” said Opal, “I can see you're a very practical sort of person.”
“Well, you could say that,” replied Ed in a slightly obscure way. Opal noticed that his hands were of someone who had done a lot of manual work in his life.
“Ah, the picture itself, at last!” He exclaimed seeing Opal's painting on the wall opposite the window. “A real marvel!” He breathed in deeply. “I love the subject - and your technique is superlative! But please let me have a look at your other works too...”
Ed scrutinised the other paintings one by one at length, moving  backwards and forwards several times as though he were at an art gallery. Opal couldn't believe that at last her paintings were receiving some sort of recognition.
Finally Ed turned round towards her with a smile on his face.
“So - may I write you out a cheque, Opal!”
“Let's go down to the living room and have a talk about it,” replied Opal who now felt she was walking upside down and couldn't wait to tell Brendan all about it. Yet she had a nagging doubt - after all Ed was a friend of Theo’s!


When Ed had finished signing the cheque, Opal asked him, “What sort of a frame will you put it in, Ed?” as she gave him a mug of boiling hot coffee.
“Well, first of all, I'm not going to put your picture in a ready-made frame - I'm going to make one for it.”
“Really?”
“Well, I've been carving frames for years!”! replied Ed surprisingly. “You see, I've got a little shop where I do a bit of restoring antique furniture as well. I just love making things look as they once did or enhancing the beauty of a painting with a frame specially designed for it. This all came about when I discovered art, you see.”
“Excuse me Ed,” said Opal, “but it's getting dark. It looks as though we're going to have a storm.”
Opal got up to switch the lights on. “Oh gosh, there's no light, it's gone again! This house has been going to rack and ruin since Brendan's accident!”
“Not to worry, Opal. Let me have a look at the fuse box.”
Ed was soon at work. “Mm... there it is! You've got a loose wire here in the entrance hall as well. If you let me see what kind of tools you've got in the house...”
After a while, Ed had sorted out the loose wire and fixed it safely.
“Ed, I'm so sorry to put you to all this trouble. You're an electrician too! Thanks a million. Would you like some more coffee or can I make you a sandwich or something?”
“Just some more coffee please, Opal.”
“Er... you said you discovered art. How was that?”
Ed broke into a smile, “It's a long story, but I discovered art more or less when I broke into a house while I was still a teenager.”
“Broke into a house - you mean you...”! Opal couldn't finish her sentence.
“Yes, I was a burglar, you see. Once, during one of my, shall we say, routine jobs, I had gained access to a well-to-do country house. I was trying to find my way round in the dark, when I accidentally switched my torch on. The light fell onto a painting hanging up on the wall. I was mesmerised by it. It was a painting of wild animals by an Italian painter, Ligabue. Next day I went to the library to find out more about him... and that's how it all began!”
Opal was used to meeting many different types of people and managed to keep her surprise at a minimum. “So you were able  to rethink your life because of this?”
“Yes. I went to evening classes to study art and learn something about drawing, perspective and things like that!”
Opal warmed towards the ex-burglar.
“Well,” said Ed getting up from the sofa. “I've taken up a lot of your time already. I'll have to thank Theo for introducing me to you.”
“But Theo didn't really seem particularly interested in art!”
“No, he isn't. I met him through his wife who comes into my shop sometimes to look for antique furniture.” He smiled, “You must have thought that Theo was using me to buy your picture for the headache pills ad.”
Opal blushed, “Well, it had crossed my mind.”
“Theo's a good bloke - he just gets too enthusiastic about his job sometimes. Why don't you drop by my little shop one of these days? Here's my card. I'll show you some of my work and the frame I'll be making for Common Sense.” 

THE END