Periodically over the years I have turned my hand to the writing of fiction. It’s not a creative first choice for me because I am no longer (I once was avid) a big reader of fiction. But this little item is part of a brief series of so-called ‘love stories’ I turned me hand to a few years ago. I hope you enjoy.
Esme Sylvia Clark was smart and pretty. At the age of twenty-one you might have thought that she should have had the world as her oyster. That is the way things so often work out for the bright and beautiful.
Yet, with all the two aforementioned elements firmly in place, she was unhappy. Life wasn’t unfolding for her in the manner she had hoped it would.
She had been a borderline brilliant student in high school. She’d skipped twice and had been graduated at the age of sixteen. Furthermore, she’d loved high school. She had a lot of friends – boys and girls – and in the case of the boys she’d dated a number of them.
Part of Esme’s problem, however, is that she’d been born at the wrong time. Like Miniver Cheevy in the E.A. Robinson poem she longed to be a part of a different, more romantic time. But, she was not.
She spent her teen years in the depths of the Great Depression born, the fifth out of seven children, into a family of ‘impoverished gentry’ for whom appearances were everything and poverty – and great that poverty was – was to be ignored and never referred to as Esme trudged to school in her broken down shoes and hand-me-down clothing (of older sisters whose tastes differed widely from Esme’s) and tried to maintain a semblance of popularity.
And then it was wartime. Life was still bleak and grim. After she had finished school she, to her family financial duress, had not gone on to university despite the fact that teachers had encouraged her in that direction. They had found her a dream student. But, when she finished school and for the next few years she frittered away her time in a couple of dead-end clerical jobs. With no training she had been relegated to basic drone work. It was a waste of what she had to offer.
Then she did a brief stint of nursing training, which was a case of vainly attempting to follow in the footsteps of three older sisters who were registered ladies-in-white. But, it simply didn’t work for Esme. At the end of the day she didn’t like it. Yet, there were so few options open for young women of the day. Aside from nursing there was teaching or secretarial work. None appealed. So she stuck with nursing training for a time – a brief time.
As she continued with her training Esme found herself becoming shattered with the way her life was unfolding as she plodded her rounds at the hospital and underwent abuse from a tyrannical matron. But then, destiny gave her a ‘break’, or what she saw as one. She got sick. She developed a severe sore throat which evolved into a peritonsillar abscess, commonly known as quinsy. This left her unable to carry out her tasks a nurse trainee (or so she convinced herself) and thusly fate had intervened and she felt justified in departing the residence and heading home to her parents’ house. Her mother was infuriated and strongly of the opinion that Esme should have stuck it out and carried on and refrain from being a baby about what was not really a dire illness.
“Just a sore throat,” she stated dismissively and with an upward flick of her hand let Esme know what she thought of the situation and worse, Esme’s retreat from ‘adult’ responsibility. In truth, Esme and her mother were never truly to reach a comfortable and accepting place with each other. Mother thought Esme was a coward and a slacker and Esme was always conscious of the lack of esteem with which she was held.
Esme tried to placate her mother by suggesting she might return the following autumn when a new class would be starting up. Her mother regarded that suggestion with a shake of the head and departed the room in which it was uttered.
And, of course, having made the decision to leave and especially once she was back in her own room, Esme fixed in her mind she would not be returning to nursing. Firstly, she did not want to be a nurse and had only been taking the training to please her mother; secondly, she found the theory boring enough to be stultifying and the practical work in the wards a bit on the ghastly side. Mopping up after diarrhea and wielding bedpans wasn’t to be in her future as far as she was concerned. Even so, it took her a while before she informed her mother of her ultimate decision to perhaps not return. Her mother’s expression could assume a coldness so intimidating that her children took to pleasing her as much as possible so as not to earn a displeasure so profound in its frigidity that a beating would have been preferable. Esme was past the beating stage of her life, but she got the ‘look’ once Mother had been told of her decision. It was all that she had feared it would be.
She also knew that to assuage her mother’s outrage she had to do something to make life in the parental home (at least until she earned enough to get her own place which wouldn’t, of course, happen until she found work.). She had to go and get a job since it seemed that her chance at further education had been quashed by her own unwillingness to get on with .it and do something.
Going back to the time she’d left high school, however, her desire had always been to go to university. She had a romantic aspiration to become a journalist, a modern day Nellie Bly. She’d done well in her high school journalism classes and she wanted to continue in that direction. She had a vision of what it would look like if she became an intrepid reporter and she could see herself in a smoke-filled newsroom pounding out her own stories amidst the collective din of the Smith-Coronas of the other reporters, and she’d be producing tales that’d be read by everybody, and then she’d go out drinking with the other reporters in the evenings. Maybe she could even become a foreign correspondent? How did other people attain such roles?
But for the moment, and since she’d backslid about nursing training and because there was really no money in the household, it seemed that university was out-of-the-question. She toyed with the idea of just going to one of the big newspapers and checking out to see if there was some sort of apprenticeship she could take. But, she never did.
In the end she went off to take secretarial training so that she might learn the rudiments of shorthand and taking dictation. She hated it, quite frankly, but realized she didn’t have the option of balking this time around. She had to stick it out so that she could get a job. Get a job and move out. Or – perhaps meet a man, in which case it would all become academic.
And then she met ‘that’ man and she married him and they had three children together. Did she marry him because she loved him? Only Esme would know the truth of that.
But ever she once thought she might become did not evolve once she made that commitment to that man.
Life is about choices and nobody will ever be able to judge the validity of Esme’s choice but herself and she is gone now.