That night Esme was to be denied the closure of soundless sleep. She lay in the half gloom; her eyes open to a flickering, shapeless room. Emily had made her hot chocolate and settled her down; saying it would help her sleep, but her tickling mind ran with regenerating reliving joy. She had been his pleasure. His delight. He had drenched himself in her body. He had supped his fill of her. He had enjoyed the fruits of her soul and not turned away. She pulled the Eiderdown over her face to remember his kiss. His flesh touching her flesh. His hands ran through the creases of her soft tissue and his mind again penetrated her spirit with its erotic grace.
In that heat of airlessness gripping hands pulled back her covering; heapishly throwing her nightclothes to the floor. She lay nude in the reflective hue of that dismal air. His hands were upon her breasts. She kissed his face and caressed his features. She tasted his skin of masculine balm and he lifted himself and took her under him again. At five thirty she fell into a troubled sleep. Her trial would begin with the coming light. Her ordeal would wait for her as sure as death. Silence met her arrival next morning to the walnut occupied dining room. The onyx mantle clock ticked with a deliberate glaring cunning from its godly-valid posture above the unlit open fireplace. She had the poise of indignation. She knew it would not be enough. She sat presumptive and roused, and looked at her mother’s paltry eyelids and assaulted plunged face.
Emily placed an important plate of bacon and fried eggs in front of her; said nothing and melted to the kitchen. Her mother was sat reading The Telegraph’ as she always did, then carefully folded it beside a pot of marmalade.
‘I trust you slept well?’ the question was unconvincing and wavered precariously.
Esme said nothing and proceeded to cut her bacon; her head bowed; her eyes moored insistently to the plate of food. Her indifference brought forth a high pitched glare from her mother and a more forceful advance.
‘I did not!’ her feet shuffled under the weight of parental responsibility. You never returned for dinner in the evening. I’ve been sick with worry. You should have left his number…You should have telephoned…I was frantic!’ The muscles in her face became homely for a moment.
Somehow the thought of her mother becoming anything other than frantic’ did not prevail on her with much astonishment. The inkling that she had fired this state of mind pervaded with a soothing weird irritation.
‘You know I was with Charles,’ he lifted her head slightly avoiding her mother’s direct glare. Her reply was sallied; full of thrown-back denunciation. ‘Anyway, he’s in the phone book! You had no reason to be concerned.’ The words spat and bubbled like spit on a hot stove, and her eyes turned and watched the pallid window of Nottingham lace, that in turn watched a quiet respectable street of suburbian London. Constance felt she might have launched a quantified word-for-word tack at that time, and supported by her thoughts for the morals of pretty young girls and ambitious young men, but she was well aware of her daughter’s fired nature and self assertion. The fruits, she was sure, of a solidified upbringing and the desire to do well. Esme sat in ashen loneliness. She was very hungry. But did not touch her food. There was growing self-will in her young womanhood. She waited for the next volley.
‘Did you spend all of the day with him?’ There was now a decisive sharpness to her voice. Her nose seemed to thicken with a temper. It was clear she had made her mind up to be direct.
‘Yes, of course.’ There was a sudden kindled reflection to her thoughts; a momentary oasis. She floated her mind airlessly. ‘It was a wonderful day…he is so nice, and Toby too…and the parrot…mother you should see the parrot, it’s…’ her voice trailed away. Her mother was not to be infected.
‘It is obvious to me that this Charles would not have kept you out so late, causing you to miss your dinner and failing to let me know if you were dead or alive…if he were anything of an answerable nature.’ She was charmingly malicious and now flogging a seething anger. Esme knew the signs. She was turning into the wind with all guns ready manned. Emily returned and placed another large silver teapot; steaming with hot green tea beside the bowl of white roses that listened handsomely from the centre of the dinning table; and turned to go.
‘Esme is staying in the house today, Emily. She is to have No Callers!’ The sudden unrehearsed words tossed red-hot pokers in to Esme’s thoughts.
‘What!’ Esme shrieked with a sudden awoke hysteria. ‘How dare you!’ she roared. Her face bloated quickly to blood-red. Her legs rose angrily. Her knife and fork fell silently to the heavy dull carpet. ‘How dare you keep me in the house? You have no right! She continued in furious indignation; ‘I will not be made a prisoner by you or anyone!’
‘Will you please sit down?’ There was no pain of physical torture in her mother’s face; only a look of restraint. The look shocked Esme into a degree of submission. She sunk slowly back into the chair; her face portraying a grimaced glimmer of anger.
‘Look…’ her mother was wildly calm, ‘…I have certain concerns for your well-being. I always have. You must understand. I have a stake in your future…just as you have. You must see that?’
Emily picked up the knife and fork, her head down to avert any stray gaze and placed clean ones beside Esme’s plate, then withdrew quietly to the kitchen.
Some truthfulness began to hover, as if waiting to be snatched from the air. Esme cut her bacon into several small pieces, then replied respectfully; ‘I understand your unease …and I love you for it. But please trust me. I’m not the under-vitalized child you take me for.’ She had to make a courteous stand. It was the only way if she wanted to see Charles again. It would be the only terms perhaps – that she could have him. In this moment she was alone and fearful. She had set herself above her mother with the arrogance of youth. For seconds a cold silence prevailed between the two women and yet she knew her mother would not wait long for any further sign of disobedience.‘Did you sleep with him?’ her mother’s voice broke the engagement of fleeting peace. In a way the sound echoed in a room not known for echoes. It bounced off ordained, respectable walls, and hurled itself into the ear of the unsuspecting like a long silver, dislodging blade. Esme shuddered with sudden panic and reddened intensely.
‘Well?’ Her mother’s eyes were strangely pale, hard and resolute. Her face portrayed inquisition of condemnation.
‘Well what?’ Esme’s head was numb. She could think of nothing to say. The two women looked at each other from a sustaining mistrust. Esme’s veins raged with fired emotion. Why should she lie…she was proud of his love for her. She caressed his desire within herself…she would not excuse him to others!
‘Yes! Yes I did…So there you are. So what!’ She angrily spat out the words in putrefied defiance.
‘My God! You’re turning into a whore!’ Her mother’s mouth was saggy. Her eyes wild. ‘You are disgusting.’ she screamed. She had not expected such an admission. She looked murderously at her child. Then her fist came thumpingly down upon the table bruising the polished surface with a grasp of sweat that extruded from her every pore. Then she was quiet. For minutes there was silence. Esme staked a small dry piece of bacon with her quite respectable silver fork and glared at its demise intensely, then popped it sharply into her mouth, and chewed defiantly. Her mother’s mind whirled like a turbo. Her head was full with discovery. She watched her daughter from behind a sudden webbed eyelid. She had the narrowness to accept eventualities from a teaseled thought…an easing readiness to capitalize.
‘If he’s made you pregnant…he’ll pay!’ she broke the still and settled air thunderously and transparent flecks of dust danced precariously in the hairs of sunlight that had the obstinacy to remain. ‘I don’t understand you.’ Her mother’s words; for an outlet; were almost considerate. ‘Why do you want to have this man? He’s…’
‘He’s had me.’ Added Esme rudely.
‘Don’t go simple on me, dear girl. I’m not a push-over for a juvenile love story!’ Suddenly her face stood out again.
‘We love each other!’
‘Rubbish child. What do you know of love? A man sticks his penis into you…and this time asks you nicely…and you’re in love! My god, if this gets out…’ She toyed with thoughts of sudden reality.
Her anger ebbed quickly and frights took hold. She sat back reposted. Her spine firm-square to the back of her chair. Her eyes darted about her endlessly. ‘Yes, of course, that’s it. I must phone Dr. Williams. He’ll examine you.’ Her brow was haggard and unpretty. She had the ability of the neurotic to focus concentration.
‘I’m not pregnant!’ Esme voice raised itself above her mother’s ruminations. Then it vanished with her breath, ‘we took precautions,’ she croaked. ‘Precautions! What do you know about precautions?’ her voice was unyielding; ‘…you’re a child.’ She had the wisdom of the years to her credit. This girl would not understand the reckless possession of this man. There were many fine young men within her circle of friends. Men with incomes to be considered which would find this beautiful product of her loins; a bedded joy, and would keep her in wealth, comfort, and respect, for the simple individual perfunctory of a few weak-minded demands.
‘Charles took precautions!’ she added with embarrassment. She averted her mother’s burning eyes of distasteful aggression and waited for her condemnation bellied from the fires of hell.‘Oh he did…did he!’ Her fury was pained and visible. Within every aging line of her powerful and pampered face was the artery of distain and her voice became sing-song like – ‘It’s well understood those things are no good.’ She stared almost with steadied reinforcement and arched her back raising her bosom to a point that demanded respect.
In that wilderness of the moment Esme regaled her mother’s implication for a second time. The inquest had petrified her defense with ease; laid her somewhat to waste. In a triumphant stand she would rally!
‘Mother,’ she said strongly; for this was uncharted ground, ‘I rather think your private parts have never been moved other than by a desire for wealth or the fear for the opinions of the well-to-do.’ There! She had said it. She had gained energy in the face of defeat. Her mother’s face glowed hot like a furnace. Her hands and arms shook with recoiled temper. She wanted to slap her daughter’s impudent, naïve, stupid face. ‘How dare you be so disgusting in the house? So this is the fruits of your relationship with this, this…’
‘This what?’ Esme was functioning to twist this tide with every offered, obstinate, opposed-over…tightening second. Her veins ran in the wealth of the young. In the certainty of eternal life.
‘Now I’m completely upset!’ feathered Constance in a vaulting endeavor to recover her direction and add weight upon her disaffected daughter.
‘Then I suggest you get drunk in the sitting room, as you always do in the afternoons.’ The words were foolhardy, irresponsible, and suicidal. A wet smack of skin upon skin and a growing mushroom of pulsing red blood within Esme’s face did not need to tell her that she have gone too far. She had lost. She had thrown away victory by being too bold. Too outspoken. Too confident with his love. Her mother looked as though she had hit the devil himself. She withdrew from her outstretched position across the table and sat back decisively and firmly in her chair. Her face a thunderous, conquering, deathly black. Outside, cloud shadows raged across pavement skies. Men went about their business as if possessed by a bitter knowledge. Esme began to cry. She nursed the hurting cheek. Salty tears formed within the curve of her eyes and ran down her cheeks like beads of glass. She dare not speak but broke into raucous sobs.
Constance studied her with the mastery of a fermented enrage. When she spoke; her voice was cool and steady, and her anger tucked behind rows of madistic teeth. ‘You have not kept within the bounds of formal behaviour. I forbid you to see him again.’ She rose from the table; her body arid like a stick. ‘Emily will ensure that you do not telephone him. If he calls here he will be turned away,’ she stepped toward the door. Esme wiped her eyes with sodden fingers and watched her mother with smoldering decent. ‘You can’t do this!’ she blurted the words in a feeble response.
‘Oh yes I can, my girl.’ Then her mother was gone and without further heed.
‘Go and get drunk!’ but the words were wasted; aimed uselessly in an empty room. She sat back, and plucked a composing handkerchief from a secreted position at her wrist, and touched her eyes with a gentle caressing manner of someone appropriate to tiaras and trailing footmen.
When Emily came to tidy the breakfast table – she looked at the plate of cold food with dismay and suggested Esme should go to her room and she would bring her something fresh from cook.
‘Please let me telephone him from the hallway, please Emily…I must speak to him.’ Her frothy blue eyes had a tear-soaked desolation about them.
It’s not wise Miss Esme, you know that. If your mother catches you it will only make things worse for both of us,’ she looked coyly on her much loved member of the family and the desolation of her remark.
‘Look, give it a few days. Let the dust settle a bit. Your mother will understand your feelings, I sure of it. Then you can see Charles whenever you wish. And anyway, I would like to meet him too!’ She grinned churlishly and her bright morning eyes shone as if polished up ready for the day. Often Emily made sense in a world of overbearing adults.
Esme obeyed. Though perhaps, from a sense of thoughtful resolution than from any notion of accepted defeat. She would find a way to contact Charles…he would know what to do. He would sustain her in his loving and devoted way.
Later Emily brought to her room some cold fresh salmon, tomato and lettuce and a glass of milk. Esme balked at the milk feeling it was a little immature now that she was growing up. But Emily said it would balance the acid-ness of the tomato and help to settle her anxiety. To phone Charles was not going to be easy. It was as if her mother was patrolling the hallway in some macabre way. Seemingly she would cross the chequered marble floor of the hallway several times on route from the lounge to the dinning room and back. Occasionally, she would be holding a glass of pale liquid or magazine and redress a rampant rug or dissolute wall mirror. Esme would carefully peep over the banister at intervals and watch the strange spectacle below.