Winifred enters the darkened parlour, nothing on her mind except a brief respite from her world. A moment to sit down, pour herself a drink, and kick off the wretched heels she is wearing. Her head has been aching subtly all day, breaking out into fully-fledged pounding by suppertime, and her cheeks feel stiff with the smile she has been wearing for her husband, for her children, for the servants, for herself. But children and servants are asleep, and her husband will not emerge from his study for another hour, and this is her hour, when the house is silent and nobody is watching her. There are more appropriate things that she could be doing, that her husband is probably imagining that she is doing, and most evenings she dutifully fulfils his expectations, but not tonight.
She pours a finger of whisky (how her husband disapproves of her drinking it. It is a man's drink. But she acquired a taste for it during late nights celebrating successful performances at the theatre, feeling happy and deliriously free, sipping from a dark bottle passed from person to person) from the crystal decanter into a crystal tumbler, trails a finger along the square designs on the glass, and then almost drops it as she turns toward the fireplace and meets the eyes of Mary Poppins, from where she is leaning sideways to study her around the high back of one of the armchairs.
The first thought that comes into Winifred's mind is that Mary Poppins looks vastly more comfortable in Winifred's own sitting room than Winifred herself has ever felt. She has kicked off her shoes and placed her stockinged feet on the low ottoman in front of the fire, forearms resting easily along the armrests, shoulders relaxed, a smile playing around her lips. A glass similar to the one in Winifred's hand is refracting the flames from its position on the small table between the two chairs.
Mary Poppins pushes the ottoman with her feet until it is perfectly aligned between the two armchairs. "Have a seat, Mrs. Banks. Put up your feet. Let your hair down." Mary Poppins's own short cut is still impeccably styled despite the hour of the day. Winifred's scalp itches from the hair pins.
"What are you doing here, Mary Poppins?"
"The same thing you are, I imagine. Having a drink before bed."
Winifred irrationally feels like crying. This is her time, she has been looking forward to this all day. But there is no house rule, outspoken or otherwise, prohibiting the nanny from using the common space when the children do not need tending to. Not quite a servant, not quite a family member. To her mortification, she feels the first prickles of tears against her eyelids.
Suddenly a gentle touch is at her elbow, and Mary Poppins is guiding her towards the other chair, holding her hand as she sits, and then she kneels at her side, removing Winifred's shoes. Winifred knows that she should not let Mary Poppins do this, it is surely inappropriate, but Mary Poppins places her feet, one by one, on the ottoman, wraps her fingers around Winifred's toes, digs the pads of her thumbs into the arches of Winifred's feet, and the words telling her to stop fail Winifred as she feels her shoulders slump and lets her head rest against the back of the chair.
Without conscious decision, Winifred lifts her hands, and one by one she begins removing the pins from her hair by touch, feeling the tension draining from her with every lock that comes free. When she has a sizeable collection she lets them fall from her palm onto the table, and then pushes her fingers through her hair, massaging the scalp. It feels heavenly, and her hair falls in unruly blonde locks around her shoulders. Her eyes are closed, and her hands drop to her thighs, and it is quiet around her for the first time that day, just the crackle of the fire can be heard. She can almost forget that there is another human being just feet away.
She can almost forget it, until Mary Poppins (when did she get so close? Kneeling on a pillow on the floor next to her.) cups her face with one hand. She carefully pushes her fingers into Winifred's hair above her temple, until she can put her thumb against that spot between Winifred's eyes, where it feels like all the stress settles throughout the day, drawing her brows tightly together, pulling her shoulders up, hunching her body around it. For a moment Winifred's world narrows to that point of contact, and it aches and Mary Poppins pushes against it. But Mary Poppins is gentle, small small circles and Winifred wants to weep the moment it gives, and she can feel the warmth and relief washing over her body, spreading across her skin, through her limbs, and she feels relaxed and heavy against the velvet cushions of the chair.
She does not want to open her eyes, fully expecting Mary Poppins's trademark superior smirk, but what she sees is something far kinder.
"You shouldn't push yourself so hard." Mary Poppins's voice is softer than she has ever heard it. "Trust your instincts, and don't worry about everyone else so much."
"But I don't know what to do." Her voice is a mere whisper, and she tries to hold it in, but she can feel all her insecurities falling out of her, having been gently guided far past her breaking point without even realizing. "There are so many things George, Mr Banks, expects from a wife, from a mother, that all the other wives manage, and I feel like I miss half of it, and what I do attempt to do I fail at, and the children... The children. I feel like I cannot reach them at all these days."
Mary Poppins takes her hands. "The children love you. They have just been frustrated as well. You are a caring, passionate, beautiful woman, Winifred. But the world is a cold and self-absorbed place, and you have to trust in yourself for others to be able to see it. "
"You see it..." Winifred's voice is but a breath.
Mary Poppins's eyes are very white, and her lips are very red as she smiles suddenly, a thousand promises in that smile that Winifred cannot even begin to comprehend. "Ah, yes, but I am a very special person." There are flames dancing in the depths of her eyes, reflections from the fire, surely, and she is very very close. Winifred can feel her soft breath against her face.
For a moment they are at an impasse, neither of them moving, and then Mary Poppins brings up her hand to caress Winifred's cheek with the back of her fingers. Winifred shivers at the touch.
And then Mary Poppins closes the last distance as she leans forward and presses her lips against Winifred's. Winifred gasps against her, stiffens in shock for a moment, but then her sensory system reacts to the presence of another human being so close, and she cannot help but lean into the touch. Mary Poppins's lips are hot against her own, brushing again and again over her lips, and she feels a warmth spreading through her body. She does not know the last time George kissed her, and never like this. Reverently. Her lips, her cheeks, her eyes, Winifred's hands clutches Mary Poppins's arms where they are braced against the armrest. She feels her body reacting to the nearness, to the touches, as though she is waking up after having been asleep for years. She feels beautiful. Desirable.
Mary Poppins's kisses burn, linger on her skin, until she stills, her cheek resting against Winifred's, her lips very close to Winifred's ear.
"Go to bed. Sleep. Dream. Wake up rested in the morning." And with a last brush of her lips over Winifred's hair, Mary Poppins is gone.
Winifred does not remember the last time she dreamt. But until this moment, she had not realised that she missed it.