After the painting by Leonard John Fuller
I had promised I would arrive in good time for afternoon tea with Edith and the Aunt. Angela was nervous.
‘Edith scares me,’ she said. ‘I feel a foolish girl. I have so little to say that she could possibly be interested in.’
She had sat up in bed that morning as I dressed. She had frowned, pushed her hair back behind her ears, then curled herself up like a child against my empty pillow. I sat on the bed and then stroked the hand she had reached out to touch me. She was still warm from sleep.
‘They are coming to see you,’ she whispered, ‘and to make sure I’m not fooling about with your mother’s house.’
‘I’ve told you, you may do what you like . . .’
‘But I’m not ready . . . and I don’t know how.’
‘Regard it as an adventure my dear, just like everything else.’
‘Well that had been such an adventure,’ she thought. ‘When you drive off each morning I can hardly bare it. It’s good you can’t see how silly I am, and what I do when you are not here.’
I could imagine, or thought I could imagine. I’d never known such abandon; such a giving that seemed to consume her utterly. She would open herself to this passion of hers and pass out into the deepest sleep, only to wake suddenly and begin again.
Angela felt she had done her best. They’d been here since three, poked about the house and garden for an hour, and then Millicent had brought tea to the veranda. Jack had promised, promised he would look in before surgery, but by 4.30 she had abandoned hope in that safety net, and now launched out yet again onto the tightrope of conversation.
Edith and the Aunt asked for the fourth time when Dr Phillips would be home. How strange. she thought, to refer to their near relative so, but, she supposed, doctor felt grander and more important than plain Jack. It carried weight, significance, *gravitas.
Angela hid her hands, turning her bitten to the quick nails into her lilac frock, hunching her shoulders, feeling a patch of nervous sweat under her thighs.
‘He’s probably still at the Cottage Hospital,’ she said gaily, ‘Reassuring his patients before the holiday weekend.’
She and Jack had planned to drive to St Ives tomorrow, stay at the Mermaid, swim at ‘their’ bay, and sleep in the sun until their bodies dried and they could swim again.
‘How strange this situation,’ she considered. ‘Edith and the Aunt in the role of visitors to a house they knew infinitely better than she ever could.’
The task ahead seemed formidable: being Jack’s wife, bearing Jack’s children, replacing Jack’s mother.
Edith was thinking,’ What would mother have made of this girl?’ She’s so insipid, so ‘nothing at all’, there wasn’t even a book beside her bed, and her underwear, what little she seemed to wear, all over the place.'
Edith just had to survey the marital bedroom, the room she had been born in, where she had lost her virginity during Daddy’s 60th party – Alan had been efficient and later pretended it hadn’t happened – she was sixteen and had hardly realised that was ***. Years later she had sat for hours with her mother in this room as, slipping in and out of her morphia-induced sleep, her mother had surveyed her life in short, sometimes surprising statements.
Meanwhile the Aunt, Daddy’s unmarried younger sister had opened drawers, checked the paintings, looked at Angela’s slight wardrobe, fingered Jack’s ties.
Edith remembered her as a twenty-something, painfully shy, too shy to swim with her young niece and nephew, always looking towards the house on the cliffs where they lived.
They were those London artists with their unassorted and various children, negligent clothes and raised voices. The Aunt would wait until they all went into St Ives, for what ever they did in St Ives – drink probably, and creep up to the house and peer into the downstairs windows. It was all so strange what they made, nothing like the art she had seen in Florence with Daddy. It didn’t seem to represent anything. It seemed to be about nothing.
Downstairs Angela knew. The visit to the bathroom was just too long and unnecessary. She didn’t care, but she did care, as she had cared at her wedding when the Aunt had said how sad it was that she had so little family, so few friends.
Yet meeting Jack had changed everything. He wanted her to be as she was, she thought. And so she continued to be. All she felt she was this ripe body waiting to be impregnated with her husband’s child. Maybe then she would become someone, fit the Phillips mould, be the good wife, and then be able to deal with Edith and the Aunt.
That cherub in the alcove, how grotesque! As Edith droned on about the research on her latest historical romance, Angela wondered at its provenance. ‘Daddy ‘ loved that sort of thing, Jack had told her. The house was full of her late father-in-law’s pictures, a compendium of Cornish scenes purchased from the St Ives people. She would burn the lot if she could, and fill the house with those startling canvases she occasionally glimpsed through studio doors in town. She knew one name, Terry Frost. She imagined for a moment covering up the cherub with one of his giant ecstatic spirals of form and colour.
The chairs and the occasional tables she would disappear to the loft, she would make the veranda a space for walking too and fro. There would be an orange tree at one end and a lemon tree at the other; then a vast bowl on a white plinth in which she could place her garden treasures, rose petals, autumn leaves, feathers and stones. There might be a small sculpture, perhaps something by that gaunt woman with the loud voice, and those three children. Angela had been told she was significant, with a studio at the top of Church Lane.
Edith had run out of experiences regarding her monthly visits to the reading room of the British Museum. She was doing the ’ two thousand a day, darling’, and The Dowager of Glenriven would be ‘out’ for the Christmas lists. The Aunt had remained silent, motionless, as though conserving her energies for the walk through the cool house to the car.
‘Oh Darlings,’ Jack shouted from the hall, ‘I’m just so late.’ Then entering the veranda, ‘Will you forgive me? Edith? Aunt Josie? (kiss, kiss) Such an afternoon . . .’
Surveying the cluttered veranda Angela now knew she would take this house apart. She had nothing to lose except her sanity. Everything would go, particularly the cherub. She would never repeat such an afternoon.
She stood up, smoothed her frock, put her arms around Jack and kissed him as passionately as she knew how.
This is the first of my PostCard Pieces - very short stories and prose poems based on postcards I've collected or been given from galleries and museums. I have a box of them, pick one out at random - and see what happens!