Copyright is held by the author.Two Wheels and a Cucumber Sandwich
TO SAY that my mother viewed progress with a healthy amount of skepticism was a grave understatement. Even with the new century well underway, she continued to be of the opinion that motor cars, telephones and suffragettes were a sure sign that the world balanced on the very precipice of existence. Needless to say, the delivery of my new bicycle provoked much consternation, and more than one lecture at the dining room table.
Her discourse generally began with my selfishness. I was depriving poor Jenkins, our chauffeur, to whom she paid a very good wage by the way, of his proper job. This apparent lack of concern for the well-being and opinions of others could only lead to my ruination. Although she couldn’t pinpoint what form my downfall would take, there was no doubt I was heading for disaster.
A serious homily ensued citing the evils of gallivanting about the countryside, straddling a bicycle, sans chaperone. And to further drive home the idea of my moral and social decay, she informed me in hushed tones, that she’d heard some women were even going without a corset. With her own bosom propped up like the prow of a mighty ship, she asked me to ponder what would happen to her after my inevitable ruin. Did I ever give a thought to my poor widowed mother, and her place is society? This was usually followed by an inquiry to the gods as to where she went wrong. So as you can imagine, today, when I showed up late for tea, unrestricted by whalebones, sporting my new bicycle suit, she became positively apoplectic.
Miss Lydia Filbert and her parents, the Vicar and Mrs. Filbert, sensing storm clouds over our drawing room, bade a hasty farewell. Or perhaps they feared my behaviour was contagious and, within the week, the lovely Lydia would be wearing men’s pants, drinking port and shouting “Blast and Damnation” at every opportunity.
From the French doors, we observed their prudent getaway, heading for the safety of the parsonage, where I was sure, life was as dull as a hammer. Only when they passed out of earshot, well beyond our wrought iron gate, did Mother draw a deep breath. Needing sustenance for the coming ordeal, I reached for the tea tray and popped two of the dainty cucumber sandwiches into my mouth. And with not a moment to spare, as Mother’s moaning and lecturing began.
It commenced with my shocking attire, followed by a series of dire warnings of what could happen as a result my lack of decorum. She proceeded to swish across the Persian carpet where she struck a theatrical pose, holding it just long enough to highlight my complete want of punctuality and table manners. That’s when the Belgian lace handkerchief made its appearance. As she dabbed her beautiful eyes, I had only enough time to grab a slice of plum tart before she swept out of the room on a cloud of ruffles, eau de cologne, and righteous indignation.
As she crossed the foyer her elegant shoes clicked hard and sharp on the Italian marble. She was forced to raise her voice to be absolutely certain I heard all about my spoiled, headstrong ways, and her lamentations that my late father insisted his only daughter received a decent education.
“All this thinking,” she ranted, “What good does it do anybody?” Sadly my clever retort was prohibited by a mouthful of tart crumbs.
At the base of the wide curving staircase she swirled around to face me. This was her big moment, her coup de grace: I would never catch a husband. Picking a cucumber seed out of my teeth, I explained that one caught a fish, a cold, or a thief. Did she really feel capture was the best way to go about acquiring a spouse?
Her corseted body swayed; her wide, blue eyes closed as if in pain. Would the mere thought of her daughter’s descent into the dark realms of spinsterhood prove too much for her delicate constitution? Holding my breath, I ponder a second slice of tart.
As usual the newel post saved her. She rallied, and with a martyr’s sigh, harnessed her remaining dignity and strength. Like an exhausted soldier, home from battle, she hauled her weary body up the stairs toward her boudoir. When she reached it there was just enough energy left in her petite, satin and lace covered body to slam the heavy oak door hard enough to wake the dead.
Her maid cast dirty looks down at me from the upstairs landing as if to say, “Look what you’ve done. Now I have to go in there and sort her out.” I shrug and grin up at her from my place in the foyer.
A fresh spring breeze blew in through the open French doors. Brushing the last of the tart crumbs from my plain worsted suit, I walked out into the sunshine where I knew she was waiting. She was leaning against the water barrel in the garden, just as I left her. I hopped on to leather seat and pushed off. I called her Maud after my granny who taught me how to swear, drink brandy and be unafraid.
I circled around the lawn and passed under mother’s bedroom window. She was staring down at me, arms crossed tight to her chest. I wanted to yell up to her and tell her it would be alright, that I’d be just fine, but instead I tossed my hat into the hedge, and set off at a great pace down the lane, letting the wind steal the pins from my hair.