Reading Sundays: THE WAYWARD DAUGHTER (Part 5), a short story by Cynthia Sally Haggard

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. I went to stand in front of the fire, rubbing my arms to try and generate some heat. The house was silent and oppressive, the only sounds coming from the hiss and crackle of wood burning in the fireplace. I felt like screaming. I wanted to ball my hands into fists and smash something. I shuddered as I looked at the panes of glass and imagined myself doing it. But of course, I couldn’t do such a thing. I sank into my chair. My temper was getting worse, which was no surprise as Stephanie’s behavior towards me was worsening. She seemed to take delight in goading me to lose my temper, especially if her father were around. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe more slowly. At least, Spencer would be coming home soon. I must compose myself and wait quietly for him, just as a lady should. I picked up a book.

I must have fallen asleep because I didn’t hear the parlor door squeak open until Spencer poked his head around it. He entered, smiling.

“Mary Emelin, my dear.” He pecked each cheek. “How was your day?”

I shook my head as I tried to smile. “Unfortunately, not good. I need to talk to you about Stephanie.” Briefly, I described our interaction.

Spencer rang the bell and asked Lizzy to tell Stephanie that her father wished to speak with her.

I heard quick steps, then she appeared. Ignoring me, she went to her father and kissed him on the cheek.

“Daddy, how are you?”

“Not bad, not bad,” replied Spencer chuckling. “Fair to middling.”

She giggled.

He patted her arm. “Sit down my dear, we need to talk.” He cleared his throat as he eyed me. “Your mother is worried about you.”

Her smile vanished as her features hardened into that mulish obstinacy I knew so well. She turned the corners of her mouth down, folded her hands in her lap and stared at a point just in front of her, her eyes growing cold.

Spencer glanced from her to me and shook his head, passing his hand through his hair. “I understand that you’ve got into the habit of going out without letting your mother know where you are.”

“It’s none of her business!” exploded Stephanie.

He paused for a moment. “And worst of all, when she asks you about it, you won’t reply. What do you have to say about that, young lady?”

Stephanie smoothed her skirts and smiled up at him. “Daddy, I’m nearly nineteen. I can look after myself, you know that. Yes, it’s true that I like to go out and visit my friends, but why shouldn’t I?”

“Which friends are these?”

Stephanie rattled off a list of names, all people that Spencer and I knew.

“Well then.” Spencer smiled at me. “They’re nice people, perfectly respectable.”

I turned to her. “Have you been going out with any young men?”

A faint flush crawled up her neck as she turned slightly in her seat away from me and continued to smile at her father.

I clenched my hands under my skirts and tried to calm down, but she annoyed me so much. [To be continued.]