THE WALLS OF BUCKINGHAM PALACE from ‘London Road: Linked Stories’ by Tessa Smith McGovern

Nora Beecham was obsessed with the Queen. Not a break-into-Her-Majesty’s-bedroom kind of obsession, but a type of mental stalking. She maintained a constant image of Her Majesty in her mind’s eye, that familiar face with the gracious smile and the warm, intelligent eyes, and she often wondered (particularly in times of anxiety), what would the Queen make of this? How would She react?

It was just after two pm on Friday afternoon, and Nora was about to take her weekly walk around the perimeter of Buckingham Palace to reward herself for a solid week’s writing. Her latest historical romance, involving a lady-in-waiting and a lowly guardsman, was almost finished, and she felt she had earned a treat.

Outside, a wave of heat hit her face and, for a second, made it hard to breathe. A stream of black taxis chugged past, filling the air with exhaust fumes, followed by a small gap. She nipped across Buckingham Palace Road and marched along the wall of the Palace, in the shade, stretching out a hand to touch the dirty yellow bricks. What, she wondered, was Her Majesty doing at this precise moment? Climbing into the royal Range Rover with Prince Phillip, most likely, her perfect coif without its usual headscarf, for the weekend transfer to Windsor Castle. Best get the air conditioner cracking, Ma’am, Nora thought, it’s the hottest day in the history of our country today.

Briefly, she considered skipping her weekly detour around Buckingham Palace and going straight to the Black Horse as she did every Friday afternoon for a well-deserved half of Guinness, but she kept walking, relishing the roughness of the bricks under her fingertips. There was something profound, almost spiritual, about the wall that kept Her Majesty safe, and a walk around it would give her spirits an extra lift and make it easier to face Len, the new landlord, after his tipsy outburst last Friday.

Not that she would ever criticize such a small slip in decorum. No one was perfect, after all. Her own fascination with Her Majesty didn’t reflect well upon her own mental health, she knew, but immersion was essential for authenticity; a lady-in-waiting’s life revolved around the Queen. And Nora took great pains to be scrupulously well-behaved in other departments. She always gave an extra-generous tip to the stylist who trimmed her long gray hair twice a year, and made a point of smiling amiably at construction workers and taxi drivers and so forth.

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