Days were darkened . . . (episode 7)

2 Wilderness Row
Milk Felling
TRACKLESHIRE TR2 4PN

April 3 1997

My Dear Harriet

I do realize that life must seem very bleak to you at the moment darling. But do try to believe me: you will get through it and, by the end, you will have become a stronger woman; indeed you will have become your own woman. I can say this with some assurance given my own early experiences at the hands of Sir Charmer Tankful OBE. The year was 1959 and, as I have said in my first epistle, Austen was only two. I myself was 24 years old and Sir Charmer – born as you may remember back in 1917 – was forty two. These should have been our halcyon years. Sir Charmer had enjoyed some considerable success as a (dashing) young submarine commander in the war and had taken up his seat in the House of Lords. And I myself had just embarked upon a career with the Secret Intelligence Services (SIS).

However, my days were darkened by Sir Charmer’s frequent absences and an increasing feeling that I was becoming marginalized at the edges of his life. When I tried to discuss my unease, he engaged in non-contextual remarks to the effect that I shouldn’t ‘fight losing battles’ and that he needed ‘stimulation and variety.’ And when I actually came out with it and asked him if he was seeing another woman I felt reduced to a state of confusion by his reply, which was: ‘You’re bizarre.’ Frankly darling, for quite some while, my mind moved like the black ooze at the bottom of a pond. Finally – feeling denuded absolutely of health, happiness, and sanity – I determined to find out what (if anything) was actually going on.

But perhaps I shouldn’t bore you with my own personal story at this point? It was, after all, so long ago and Sir Charmer has been (thankfully) deceased for over ten years now. Also, for all we know at present, Austen is attending a very early morning session of ‘pitch and putt’ in St James’s park!

Here at Wilderness Row, my neighbour Miriam has finally returned from her sojourn in Carter-in-the-Woods. And when she came round to invite me for supper yesterday evening – and a rubber or two of Bridge – I was in receipt of the news that her aunt had died and that she is due to inherit quite some considerable sum and the house! It turns out that a significant number – five in fact – of her aunt’s relatives have come to an unfortunate end recently: train wrecks, road traffic accidents, drug overdoses and the like. This quantity of unexpected demises does tend to offend the laws of probability somewhat, doesn’t it dear? I must say I feel quite fortunate that I am not a member of Miriam’s family myself. Still. She seems a chummy sort of character – in a bucolic kind of a way – and the possessor of quite a winning sort of persona manner. Sirens do, of course, rather go off in one’s mind when coming to conclusions of this kind about an individual’s character. The Service was always quick to point out that persons of this type should, if possible, be given a wide berth throughout life. And, failing that, they should be watched at all times – preferably with the aid of a microphone and a radio tracker!

Supper went off quite well – my head is still resounding from the after-effects of the cider some ten hours later – and our game of Bridge proceeded with the shark-like mentality with which it is usually invested. Miriam’s partner Onions (named thus for his cycle rides up and down the fells bearing strings of red onions) proved to be more cunning in his play than his looks might have suggested. And my own partner countermanded her age and physical minuteness with play of an unrelenting viciousness – even, I might add, having the gall to criticize my own capacity for memory, counting and concentration. I have always resisted the learning of this game. Sir Charmer was particularly keen on it – citing, I remember, the game’s opportunities for ‘hunting,’ but I felt that its values of calculation – and winning – sat uneasily with my own leanings towards creativity and, indeed, political groupings emphasizing the values of altruism and compassion. This was the era of Amnesty International and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament remember dear!

Good news regarding Carstairs by the way. He has finally been apprehended by the Corsettshire police and is currently interned at Small Cell gaol. I will be able to return home to Forsythia Grove – and its water from an actual tap – any day now!

Yours

Mother (in law)

P.S. In reply to your questions, I feel it may be the more narcissistic male who tends to age well; such individuals seem more immune to worry than the rest of us and so the flesh continues pink. And, as for boarding schools, I fear that time spent outside the bosom of a loving family may lead to a child becoming dangerously secretive and less able to form authentic bonds with others.

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