Short Story (Sunday): Wednesday. That would be my normally scheduled (Sunday) short story on a Tuesday and this week's story happens to be titled "Wednesday". How's that for a mouthful?
I really like Dorothy Whipple. This is the second story by her in the Persephone collection, earlier I read "A Lovely Time" and prior to that three of her many novels (Someone at a Distance, Greenbanks and They Knew Mr. Knight). So often Dorothy Whipple's stories are quite devastating. They might ultimately have happy or at least satisfying endings, but the domestic situations she writes about are not usually of the storybook mold or terribly blissful. Like most of the really good stories in this collection she offers a perfect slice of life no matter how flawed the characters or blemished the relationships. Much like reality the people she writes about have made mistakes, are no longer young and beautiful and want only to carve out a little happiness in life for themselves.
Once a month on a Wednesday Mrs. Bulford (as she still calls herself) is allowed to see her three children. No longer seen as a fit mother she is lucky her ex-husband has allowed this one small privilege no matter how painful each meeting is. After her time with them and the difficult separation once more she vows to put an end to it all but cannot face not having contact with them. Each Wednesday she waits for them outside the gate of what was once her home. A home now belonging to another woman. Sheila. Why had she never heard this name before? Barely with the divorce decree finalized her husband married a younger, beautiful woman named Sheila. The children call her "Mumsie" in order to keep the two women separate. Mum and Mumsie.
"It had been a temporary madness, induced by loneliness, the cold withdrawal of Cecil, the approach of middle age. She felt her looks were going, she made a last grab at the romance she had missed. She felt that if she didn't get it then, she would have missed it for ever, and how sad to die without having loved or been loved. As it stood on the horizon like the sun about to go down into night, love seemed the most important thing in life and Jack, to her incredulous happiness, seemed to love her as Cecil had never done."
And what woman would not grab for such happiness to try and relieve some of the emptiness she might feel, sadness at no longer being young and the feeling that whatever attractions one had at twenty are fading away by thirty-five? But the affair, only illusory, comes at a devastating price. That of her children. And now she must watch from a distance, living on the very outskirts of town, how quickly the children grow to accept Sheila as part of their lives. The younger children not understanding what has happened and crying for her to not leave them, and the older daughter just old enough to begin to understand the choice her mother made the the mistake that cannot now be undone.
Imagine looking in on what was once your life. One false move. One misstep and you are relegated to living on the outskirts of your world. Smelling the flowers of your own garden from outside the garden gate. Vintage Dorothy Whipple. Such a melancholic story, but treated with the usual light touch that I have come to observe that Whipple is so talented at having.
Next week another new to me author: Frances Towers.