Writing

Reading Sundays: THE WAYWARD DAUGHTER (Part 4), a short story by Cynthia Sally Haggard

Fourteen-year-old Jessica was already proficient with her needle, and had persuaded me to buy one of those new-fangled Singer sewing machines to make our sewing go more quickly. How fortunate I was with this daughter! Dear Jessie quietly took upon herself the lion’s share of the sewing, and also the business of minding the younger children, eleven-year-old Beryl, nine-year-old Sylvia and our youngest, seven-year-old Bevil, my son and the apple of my eye. Why wasn’t she my eldest daughter, for she certainly acted the part?  Instead of which, my eighteen-year-old daughter Stephanie, who should have been helping me with the chores, who should have been accompanying me when I paid calls, who should be offering to mind the children had gotten – I mean got – into the habit of disappearing, often for hours on end, leaving no message and giving me no clear idea of her whereabouts. I really couldn’t go after her myself, I had too much to do. Besides it would be undignified for me to go chasing after my eldest daughter around London…

Stephanie May Treffry Haggard (1894-1986) my grandmother at the age of around 16.

The front door banged open and someone rustled into the vestibule. I rose and opened the door a crack. Stephanie had collapsed into a chair and was easing her muddy boots off her feet. They were a size too small, so that she could appear to have the delicately turned feet that were so fashionable. As I gazed at her, my heart contracted in sorrow. My daughter was a lovely young woman, tall, well-grown, with a creamy complexion and thick blond hair pinned up into a bun that peeked out from underneath her hat. She wore a long straight skirt that just cleared the tops of her ankle boots, and over that wore a hip-length pea coat. Just now, she was rising from her chair, and gazing at herself in the mirror as she unpinned her hat.

I took this opportunity to open the door wide. “Stephanie, where have you been?”

“Out.” She spoke into the mirror with her back turned.

I waited, my arms folded while she put her hat on the hat-stand and unbuttoned her coat. Finally, she turned around.

“That’s not an answer and you know it.”

“Excuse me.” She made to pass but I blocked her way.

“I’m your mother Stephanie, and I’m waiting for you answer my question. Where have you been?”

“I’ve been visiting friends, haven’t I?”

“Who are they?”

“Let me pass.”

“Stephanie!”

“I’m nearly nineteen and it’s none of your bloody business.”

“Stephanie, that’s no way to speak to your mother. There’s no need to be so vulgar.”

She gave me a shove and ran upstairs.

I followed her to the large front  bedroom Spencer had insisted on giving her for her own exclusive use, which meant that the three other girls had to share a room. Just as I reached the door, she slammed it in my face.

“Stephanie!” I turned the doorknob expecting it to open, only to find it locked.

“Stephanie! Open that door immediately!”

There was silence.

“Stephanie!”

Silence. I stood outside that door, seething. What should I do? If I banged on the door or shouted that would be undignified, and I’d already blotted my copybook enough for one day. I cringed as I thought of my loss of control in front of those ladies at the gardening committee.

I slowly descended the stairs and entered the empty parlor, going to the window to gaze out. I could feel cold tendrils of air coming in under the gaps in the sash windows. It was getting cold. I rummaged around in my sewing basket and found some fingerless woolen mittens to keep my hands warm. [To be continued.]