While some might prefer the highlands of Scotland (and what a strange place that was, with castles hidden behind charms and giant squid pretending to be monsters), and others Paris (where the little girls lived in two straight lines), there was always something about London that called to Mary. It wasn’t just the bustle of the city (although that was part of it), and it certainly wasn’t Burt (although he was sweet in his own way). Mostly what Mary enjoyed was the entire performance of London – the stage that wasn’t just in the theater, but that took over the whole city at times. She knew (as those who don’t bother to care about time do) that London was where the Floating Market and the Goblin Market would and had been, where beasts and demons would be held captive and freed, and where Angels would fear to tread.
So when she learned that celebrated masher Miss Kitty Butler (she supposed she should have thought of her as Mrs Walter Bliss, but the names we choose ourselves are so much more important than the ones others choose for us, don’t you think?) was seeking a nanny, Mary couldn’t help but pluck the advertisement (in pieces, granted, but these things were easily fixed) out of the air.
A nanny suitable to assist with light cleaning duties, care for newborn. Parents both work in the stage--
“Well,” she said to Polly. “There’s nothing here about remuneration, but I suppose that can be negotiated once they’ve passed the trial period.”
The wind change, of course, brought her to when she needed to be; she arrived, neatly pressed with Polly in hand, at precisely the right time.
She hadn’t expected Kitty to answer the door.
“Oh my,” Mary said. “You are practically perfect in every way, aren’t you?”
* * *
Seeing her with her hair just beginning to grow out of its boy’s cut, in breeches, at home, had been startling, of course, but Mary quickly regained her composure. “Mrs Bliss,” she said, nodding. “I’ve come in response to your advertisement.”
Kitty (Mrs Bliss, she reminded herself sternly) looked confused for a moment. “That’s so odd. I was certain Walter disapproved. “ She smiled, and Mary found herself enchanted all over again, remembering the few times she’d seen the celebrated masher on the stage with her partner, Nan King.
“Well, never mind him, I’m here now.” Mary walked into the house and looked around. “it is obvious that you’re in need of a housekeeper, Mrs Bliss, and I am more than happy to take over that role while we wait for the baby to be born.”
Kitty looked embarrassed, but Mary reached out to touch her hand. “Don’t you fret about such things. You’re a stage performer! And a masher at that. I’ll get this house into tip top shape this afternoon.” She hung up her coat, put down her carpet bag, and rolled up her sleeves. The house was a bit of a tip, but she’d seen far worse, and anyway, she thought, any job is easy enough to get done with a bit of fun.
“While Sunday was a holiday, we scrubbed up nice and clean,” she sang quietly as she picked up the bits and bobs scattered about the foyer. “And took a little stroll about around the village green.”
“We saw a couple of pretty girls as they were passing by.” Kitty’s voice was just as perfect as Mary remembered, and Mary looked up to see her smiling while picking up the boots kicked into the corner.
“I say, Bob, what a spiffing, and I’m sure one winked her eye,” they sang together.
The tidying up went quickly after that.
* * *
Walter Bliss, Kitty’s manager on the stage and head of household in the home, was not impressed. “Kitty,” he thundered. “We cannot afford such extravagances with a baby on the way!”
“Well then, I guess I’ll need to go back into stage work in order to keep things in order here, won’t I?” Kitty shouted back.
Mary stayed in the kitchen and pretended she couldn’t hear, humming Bill and his Shy Brother Bob as she checked on the roast. Walter would come around. They always did, she found, once she’d fed them.
“You will be a proper wife and mother, not a silly masher on the stage! You’re my wife now! Be a woman, not a counterfeit boy!”
She closed her eyes, thinking of shadows caught with soap and people pretending to be things they weren’t, and quickly clapped her hands because she believed.
Walter was, of course, won over with the roast.
* * *
“I need a new act for the stage, Mary,” Kitty (Mrs Walter Bliss, she reminded herself firmly) said the following afternoon. Mary was humming as she darned some of Walter’s socks, but stopped.
“Surely you can find another girl to be a masher with you on the stage. Miss King was a delight, after all, but she can’t have been the only—“
Kitty looked away, blushing. “Walter doesn’t want me on the stage as a boy anymore, not now that we’re married,” she said. “I need another gimmick. “
Mary put aside the darning. “Well, let us practice something,” she said. “I am, of course, not worthy of the stage with talents such as mine, but I’m certain we can work together to do something.”
“Oh Miss Poppins,” Kitty said, standing up quickly. “I had hoped that was what you would say!” She reached out her hand, pulling Mary to her feet.
“There’s a song I know that I think would be absolutely splendid performed on the stage by someone with talents such as yourself, Miss—Mrs Bliss,” Mary said.
“Oh, Kitty is fine. What’s this song about?”
Mary smiled. “Kitty,” she said, and thought of thimbles and wine that hadn’t been tasted in thousands of years. “It’s about trying to find the right words to express one’s self.”
Kitty laughed. “Oh,” she said. “I think that might be perfect.”
* * *
They danced. Kitty, unsurprisingly, was a quick learner, and very shortly the two were cavorting around the dining room, jumping over the chairs and scuttling under the table.
“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” they sang in unison, giggling at the absurdity of it.
“A kick here, a leap here, and I think it would be perfect!” Kitty said, still laughing. “Oh Mary, and a partner, of course. I don’t think I could stand to be on the stage alone again.”
“Well then, we’ll just have to sort out a routine that’s perfect for a partner,” Mary responded. “A twist here, a turn here, and into each other’s arms—“ she leaned back dramatically, and Kitty caught her by instinct.
Kitty looked down into Mary’s eyes, and suddenly got very still. The moment stretched far too long.
“You were not just partners with Nan King, were you?” Mary asked, her voice hardly above a whisper.
"No," said Kitty, and kissed her.
* * *
The long afternoon was spent in Kitty’s bed, in the room she shared with Walter Bliss. Mary wasn’t thinking of that, nor was she thinking of a barbed wit and acclaimed beauty and a court that was always silent. She was thinking of the taste of Kitty’s lips, of the feeling of Kitty’s hand, and lipstick and nylons and girls and that Nan King was one of creation’s greatest fools. And then she thought of nothing as Kitty unpinned all of Mary’s hair and kissed all of Mary’s body until they were both gasping and covered in sweat and stardust.
It was inevitable that they’d lose track of time and Walter Bliss would find them.
"Mr Bliss," she said, with all the dignity her nakedness allowed her.
"Miss Poppins." His lip curled. "You are dismissed."
Mary began to gather up her clothes, scattered around the room from an afternoon of dancing and laughter, and reminded herself that this was Kitty Butler, and she would--
"You will, of course, receive an excellent reference," Kitty said, her face turned away.
Mary did not gasp as she turned back to face Kitty. "It’s for the best" said Kitty, still looking away. “After all, I have a career. And a husband, now.” Mary’s heart turned to ice, and she felt the wind change.
"What did you expect, Miss Poppins?" said Walter Bliss, turning his disdain on her. "It's not like it was real fucking."
In the distance, Mary thought she could hear a train.
* * *
She gathered her things, she gathered her dignity, and she left. There would always be more jobs, after all.
In the future, of course, she would need to remember to keep her heart to herself.
Well, bother all that, she thought, returning to watching London. She fixed her hat and refreshed her makeup. Surely another letter would come soon. She would put it out of her mind. Best not to think of these things.
Perhaps Nan King was not creation’s greatest fool after all.