Small Cuts (4) – Genevieve

Find part one here, part two here, and part three here.

Beautiful Elaine. I watched her through my lashes. Beautiful, curvaceous, fecund Elaine. No wonder Oliver couldn’t keep his eyes off of her. His hands, either, for that matter. In comparison, I was a sallow, insubstantial, specter. Whatever fleeting and foolish love Oliver had felt for me in our early days had been completely and unabashedly transferred to the wife of his best friend. I shot a look across the table at James. He’d taken my hand in a gesture of understanding —as Elaine basked in Ollie’s attention— that he was in the same position as I. I turned my hand to link our fingers and whispered, “Thank you.”

“No, Gen, thank you,” he replied. And after a gentle stroke of his thumb to mine, he let it go.

He returned to his meal and I to mine, though I had little appetite. My stomach rolled at the sight of the medium rare red meat. I should’ve ordered something light like the soup. But in an attempt to feel ‘normal’ among all the other normal people, I’d ordered the steak. Oliver had been making snide remarks about my recent weight loss, as if I was doing it just to spite him.

He really had no idea…

For years I had counted on my career to supply the ammunition for my arsenal of arguments against reproducing. I really did see the most horrid side of humankind. But now I didn’t even have that any more. Three missed deadlines, three major screw-ups and I had lost one of the biggest donors the non-profit had on their list. I hadn’t told Ollie, even though it had been a week since I’d been ordered to clean out my desk. I still got up every morning, showered and dressed and left at the same time. However, instead of heading to my Center City office building, I bought coffee at the cafe and I walked. I walked and walked and walked for hours.

Failure. I was a failure. At everything.

That was the reason I didn’t want to have a baby. God, I was barely able to take care of myself. How was I supposed to care for another human being? A little person who had to depend on me for their very existence? It scared me to death. And yet my unwillingness to have a baby was just one more loss on my score card.

I was thoroughly convinced that my parents had had children out of a sense of achievement. As if it was another box to tick off in the accomplishments of life. And now they were exerting that pressure on me. If I didn’t fulfill this duty —this obligation— to produce offspring, it would be yet another demonstration of my incompetence. Yet, the more pressure they put on me, the more resistant I became toward the idea. I’d be damned if I was going to become Oliver’s brood mare just because it was expected of me.

Mother sent emails with articles about how much more difficult it was for women to get pregnant after a certain age —the age I now approached. My sister was an oblivious conspirator in this battle, in that mother had insinuated to her that Oliver and I were trying but failing to conceive. Allison now tried to offer comfort in not so subtle ways. She made remarks about my taking time off work to rest and get my health back —if she only knew— and how stress interferes with all sorts of things, especially fertility. I would laugh and say that would only be a problem if I was trying to get pregnant. And she would tsk and nod with pity and a knowing look.

I hated them all for their self satisfied, ‘I know better than you’ attitudes. It made me want to scream. I was never enough for anyone. No one was ever happy with just me. Why was I so unlovable? Did I not offer enough all on my own? I was a bad daughter, not playing by the rules. I was a bad wife, not yielding to my husband’s desires. I suppose my own desires were of no consequence in comparison. I was a freak of nature. A woman who ignored her biological and evolutionary purposes. I had failed my species.

And now I had even failed at the one thing I counted on for validation —my job.

And so I didn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep and I found myself I staring into an abyss of perpetual misery. I had no practical answers, no solutions to this predicament. I dreaded talking to Oliver. He would view my newly unemployed status as an opportunity. Or at least he would have a few months ago…

But now I watched him, gazing at beautiful Elaine, his eyes full of tenderness —he used to look at me that way long ago— and the emptiness and despair that washed over me was physically painful. As I looked across the table at James once again, the first tear spilled over and rolled down my cheek.

A Fine Reputation Here Lies a Soldier part 18)

By Meg Sorick. Find other parts of the story and a family tree, here.

January 2, 1913

Marry for love. Hugh’s words whirled in my mind as I walked home that evening. I had thought he was going kiss me, he’d stood so close. But like a true gentleman, he had merely lifted my hand to his lips and lightly bussed my knuckles before hurrying off to have tea with his family.

“I’ll see you soon, Ada,” he promised before leaving.

It took supreme effort to finish my work with two feet floating off the ground like they were. The thought of being noticed by, being courted by the son of the most prominent family in the town was a dizzying prospect. I never would have believed such a thing could happen to me. My first instinct, of course, was to doubt that he was sincere. Yet, nothing he’d said or done had indicated anything else. And as far as I knew, he had an excellent reputation around town. My father’s friend, Mr. Jennings might be able to tell us more. He and his sons delivered the coal from their warehouse down near the train station to all the homes in the area. I was sure Mr. Jennings had had dealings with Hugh’s father.

The gravel crunched beneath my feet as I hurried home in the frosty air. As I considered how best to proceed, it occurred to me that Mr. Jennings, in fact, might be disappointed by this turn of events. I was fairly certain he and Mrs. Jennings had hoped I would marry their older son Will. Will was twenty-one, enough older than me that, to this point, I’d only ever thought of him as an older brother. Though he was very dear to me, I couldn’t imagine ever thinking of him any other way. And truly, I’m sure he felt the same about me.

The new electric lights were coming on in the streets. The town had converted from gaslight just this year. I wondered if we’d ever be able to have them in our home. I stamped the grit from my boots before opening the door to our house. The sounds of voices drew me back to the kitchen. Mama had put Clara and Grace to work setting the table while she helped my father to his seat.

“Papa! You’re feeling better?” I asked, rushing to take his other arm.

“Yes, my dear. A bit better today.”

After getting him settled, I went to help Mama dish up our supper — a potato leek soup, with a small loaf of brown bread.

“Mama, aren’t you going to tell Ada…?” Grace said, stifling a giggle.

“Tell me what?” I asked.

Mama smiled. “We’ve had a wonderful surprise today. A lovely gift.”

“A gift? What kind of gift?” I asked.

“Someone… brought a supply of flour and sugar. Eggs and cheese. Butter and milk.”

“Oh and the candies, Mama!” Grace chimed in. “Don’t forget about the candies!”

“How wonderful!” I exclaimed. A gift like that would certainly help stretch our meager supplies. It could have only come from one source.
The Jennings family had been a tremendous help during Papa’s illness. My mother and Mrs. Jennings – Violet- were dear friends. Violet had come with food and supplies as soon as father had taken ill. I had a feeling they had been instrumental in my getting employment at the manor house, too. They had also put my sisters Clara and Grace to work for a few hours each week, filing and straightening up at Mr. Jennings’ office. So it was with absolute certainty that I said, “Well, thank goodness for friends like the Jennings.”

Grace and Clara exchanged a look and started giggling again. Papa cleared his throat and gave way to a fit of coughing. When it had subsided, Mama continued, “No dear, Mr. Hugh Prentice delivered it himself.”

As Mama passed a package wrapped in white paper over to me, I felt the heat rush to my cheeks. She said, “Go on. Open it, don’t keep us in suspense.”

I carefully slid a finger beneath one of the folds and opened the end without tearing the paper. No sense ruining a lovely wrap that could be reused. I withdrew a journal, with lined pages for writing and bound within covers of heavy woven cloth. The cloth was embroidered with gold threads which formed an intricate pattern of flowers and birds. A silk ribbon was attached to the spine for marking my place. It was a beautiful and thoughtful gift. I found a little card tucked inside the front cover. It read: Dear Ada, It pleases me to give you the means to record your memories. May they ever be as wonderful, as your friendship is to me. With warmest regards, Hugh.

I stared at the words. I couldn’t speak. Then as I looked up, first at Mama then Papa, I caught them exchanging a glance. My father began, “Ada, Mr. Prentice has asked my permission to court you.” My head swam and my heart leapt in my chest. I didn’t hear what he said after that, for the buzzing in my ears. “My dear,” he said, taking my hand. “Is this what you want?”

I swallowed hard. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”

“I told him that I wanted to know your mind on the matter before I gave my consent. And so I am asking you, my darling girl, is this what you want?”

I nodded. “Yes. Yes, I think so.”

“Are you sure, Ada?” he asked again, stifling a cough. “I do have some reservations.” He paused to have a sip of water. “I have expressed these to young Mr. Prentice. I am concerned about his family’s view of this match. That perhaps they had a young lady of the same social status in mind for him. However, Hugh indicated to me that his parents have always been open minded and could be won over in this regard. This of course, remains to be seen. Nevertheless, if you have determined in your heart that this is something you want, I am willing to give my blessing to your courtship.”

I took a deep breath and smiled. “Thank you, Papa.”

“You’re welcome, Ada. Now,” he said looking a round the table. “Let’s everyone bow their heads and we’ll thank the Lord for His gifts.”

Header image courtesy RTE 

Nouveau Riche (Here Lies a Soldier part 17)

By Meg Sorick. Find other parts of the story and a family tree, here.

January 2, 1913

“Hello, Ada,” Hugh said, his eyes twinkling.

I blushed. “Hello, Mr. Prentice.”

He walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. “You needn’t be so formal, Ada. Call me Hugh.”

I shrugged and continued fluffing the pillows. “All right.”

“How is your father faring?” he asked. “Any better?’

I nodded. “Yes. A little. He’s still not well enough to go back to work, I’m afraid.”

“And when he does? Will you be able to stop working here?”

I nodded again. “Papa would like me to go back to school. I’d like to train as a teacher.”

“That’s a lovely idea,” he said and was quiet for a minute.

I glanced over to see him frowning. “What is it?” I asked.

“Well, it occurred to me that most young ladies who embark upon careers don’t expect to marry…” he grinned. “I am trying to decide whether to be happy that you don’t have a young man waiting to walk you down the aisle or to worry that you have no wish to marry at all.”

I turned an even deeper shade of red, which made him laugh. “Oh, Ada. You must have realized by now that I have my eye on you. Don’t you like me just a little?”

“I can’t imagine why you’d have your eye on the likes of me,” I said keeping my eyes averted. “It wouldn’t be right.”

“Ada,” he said, standing. “You think my motives are improper.”

I shrugged again.

“I am sorry. That is not at all what I intended.” He cleared his throat. “I will admit, you caught my attention when you came up from the kitchens the day the table collapsed. I asked Mrs. Cooper about you. She told me… well, she told me you were meant for better things and that you’d only ended up working because your family had fallen on hard times. So…” he paused. “I realized that you were a young woman of good character and it made me all the more… interested in making your acquaintance.”

“Mr. Prentice,” I began, turning to face him. He looked so sincere and so very handsome that I faltered for a moment. “Mr. Prentice, you can’t seriously mean that. Surely, there is a young lady of more suitable station intended for you…” I trailed off, as he shook his head.

“No, no one,” he replied vehemently. “My father would have me marry our family into title but I want no part of it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Ada, we are nouveau riche. My grandfather made his fortune in manufacturing 40 years ago. It was a case of having a good idea and being in the right place at the right time. So you see, we are not ‘society’ in the sense that you think. Our wealth has not allowed us entry into that oh-so exclusive world of gentry and nobility. I would be reduced to marrying a penniless debutante whose family would permit it only to gain access to a fresh influx of capital.” He turned away, irritably. “It would be no better than a business transaction.”

“I see,” I said softly.

“I’ve been away at one of the best preparatory schools in the country, probably had as much, if not more wealth at my disposal than half the other boys in my class. And yet, and yet,” he balled his hands into fists. “You’d have thought I was a poor charity case, been allowed into the school on a scholarship or the altruism of a benevolent patron. And so Ada, I’ve seen first hand, how that world works. I’ve seen it and I hate it. And I never want to be a part of it.”

“I’m sorry. That must have been very difficult for you,” I offered.

He turned back to me, offered me a wry smile. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to unload my frustrations on you. What I meant to say…. The point I was getting to… “ He moved closer, took both my hands in his and said, “When I marry, Ada. I will marry for love.”