Every Tuesday and Thursday, when she had worked half-days, Miss Sarah Parsons had taken tea with her good friend Madeline Murray in the restaurant of the Imperial Hotel. They continued the tradition after she retired. They also had lunch there together after church on Sunday. They stood out among the other diners both in dress and appearance, for when they had begun frequenting the establishment most of its regular customers had been schoolboys, so the two women were both older and of a different gender. The clientele was not exclusively male – Sunday lunch attracted a mixed crowd – but except for them, on weekdays you would have been hard pressed to find a table not occupied by gay men, most of them artists, musicians, journalists and so forth, who did not have to work regular hours, and perhaps one or two of independent means who would have gone somewhere fancier and more expensive if they hadn’t been gay. For them it was a place to gather in the afternoon before the pubs opened, to have a little snack with a cocktail or a glass of wine, but Sarah still thought of it as tea, a custom she had observed as a girl, when she lived in India.
It’s a story about chance encounters and memory and understated loss; about pretence and being gay and being lonely. We’re honoured to be able to republish it.