Stephie journal – Day 22

I approached today with extreme caution. For today I dined with Alison. I had no diamond earrings to proffer, and in many ways I felt she wouldn’t find my story about my failure to buy her an engagement ring quite as engaging as I might. She might, quite reasonably, take it as a sign that I don’t care about her and that I hate certain bits of her, quite specifically, her earring baring lobes.

But when I met her she put me entirely off kilter as she beamed back at me.

“Stephie,” she said which being my name was entirely fair enough, “Stephie, why didn’t you tell me?”

I stopped in my tracks, I paused, the little besticked monkey who drums in my chest seemed to have temporarily gone on strike. Had Roger told her my part in all this, but she didn’t mind and I was off the hook? I allowed a smile to not exactly play, but more limber up with the intention of a swift game, on the lower echelons of my visage.

“What didn’t I tell you,” I asked?
“Why didn’t you tell me that being wooed was so wonderful? I’ve never been wooed before, and now both of them are at it, it’s absolutely the best. Why didn’t you tell me? I suppose you’re getting woo-ed so often that it’s rather become old hat to you, but for me it’s still got all a refreshing freshness to it for me.”

“Not me,” I said, “you must have the wrong person.”
“Oh they woo you Stephie, you just ignore them is all.”
“But you,” I said, “I understand it from Roger, but you’re not telling me Anthony is spouting verse at the sight of you?”
“He is, it’s practically cross-garters at dawn.”
“Well this I have to see.”
“You must Stephie, it’s wonderful, its tickled me rotten. Tomorrow take Anthony and me to dinner, and on Friday to yours with Roger.”

I finally let that smile arrive. I had done wrong, and I hadn’t come clean with her about my feelings, but aiming Roger at her had clearly pepped them all up.

“Of course Alison, please consider the invites issued.”

-Stephie

Desire

I can hear them all tittering. She’s done it, she’s actually gone through with it in a bush by the side of the veranda. She’s got scratches on her thighs that’s she’s showing off as a badge of honour from a branch of the bush that was almost as persistent as Will.

She looks pleased, surprised, elated and proud.

“What if you’re pregnant,” I ask?

I can’t even allow her the afterglow of excitement and joy, I must watch the crash on her face.

“Stephie”

“I know, I know, he was wonderful and you were all caught up in the moment, and all of these girls want to know what it was like and what he’s like, but I want to know what you’ll do if you’re pregnant.”

“I don’t know Stephie.”

I can see her fear, and I can see the other girls despising me, they won’t be told the story int he same way now. It won’t sound wonderful and exciting and full of hope. When she tells it, it will sound full of fear and worry. And I did that, not because I care about this girl and what happens to her, I do care, but that’s not why I did it. I did it because I’m afraid of desire.

-Stephie

Pairing

I was 16 in 1946, and so consequently all everyone wanted to do was go and have a fun time, but we all didn’t want to make the mistakes we’d just seen everyone else make a few years before. Lots of girls five years older than me got married to boys just to give the boys the courage to go to war.

But now that was over, nobody wanted to get married, we all wanted to have fun, but not too much fun.

I’m afraid to say I was quite judgemental. “Doesn’t she know what he’s after?”, or worse in my mind, “doesn’t he know what she’s after”.

I always felt that I was quite happy to go mooning about after boys, and I was even happier for them to reciprocate or even initiate. I knew I had to be careful. I as a prize catch, no parents on the scene, already loaded, with relatively useful relics and hot and cold running aunts.

I was fascinated with the boys, but I couldn’t let them get near and it turned out that this was quite the way to get them to be interesting, neigh obsessed with me.

Nothing stole my attention more than a couple pairing off. I was always pleased for them, or generally I was unless I was particularly partial to the attention of the boy. I wanted to know all of the details, wanted to know how they planned to even deal with the humdrum matter of factness of living with somebody. Crazy as I have lived with people my whole life, but never consciously. It’s not like I decided to have parents or a cook is it?

Deciding to commit though, the mechanics sent me dizzy and so I obsessed of the particulars of each pairing.

-Stephie

Stephie journal – Day 21

After a weekend revelling in the joys of the old human companionship it was rather pleasant to get back home and not have to deal with anyone anymore. Not so this morning though as it was time to head back to the office.

I was fairly giddy this morning despite the deluge that had rats considering if London might not have suddenly turned out to be a ship they needed to abandon.

It was time to clear the desk and start collecting for the new issue. I’d salvage one or two of the rejected pieces, from those who wouldn’t submit again for an age if I reject them. For those who come back fighting with better they’ll have to lose – keep them keen.

We had a team lunch to discuss ideas today and it all seemed very positive, until Simon-from-the-office reminded me that tomorrow I have lunch with Alison. The black clouds that had been providing the ample rain decided to perch on the fevered brow after that for the rest of the day.

-Stephie

Stephie journal – Day 20

Today, of course, is the day. Now obviously, today is always the actual day, but actually today was the day of reckoning. Could Paul step outside his moral universe and find it within his heart to return my broach?

From the moment I saw Aunt Clara I could tell that she was upset, she almost asked me on two occasions, and then turned the conversation to the subject of it being a shame that old traditions were no longer being upheld. After the first occasion I wondered if it might just be my own mind playing tricks on me, but on the second occasion it was so obvious that herds of rampaging wilderbeast would be asking her to keep her subtext under control as they were disturbing their enjoyment of the rampaging.

I have been assigned Tombola which is all very fun, lots of people attending and having a gas. It’s all in a good cause and everyone is ready to blow off some steam and enjoy themselves. The weather could not be better.

At one point Paul comes and has a spin, and gets lucky with a particularly good prize. He looks guilty as anything throughout the whole proceeding, I want to let him off the hook at times, but it’s not my debt to forgive it’s Clara’s.

After a whole day of ignoring the subject she finally says something obliquely about it. She mentions that after all of the wonderful things she’s heard about Claude that it’s a shame that he couldn’t pack the broach. She went on to say that this was a black mark against him in her book. I couldn’t have that, but I couldn’t rat out Paul.

Luckily Paul was in the room for the moment and I fell cleanly on my sword blaming the whole thing on me rather than Claude or Paul. Paul made eye contact with me as I was taking the blame and I was rather unsurprised when I found the broach neatly returned in the middle of my dresser that evening when I returned.

Perhaps I’ve found an ally for life through this process?

-Stephie

Stephie journal – Day 19

Wake with a ferocious appetite. I want a hearty breakfast, which is unusual for me, but I know I need sustenance if I am to catch this Paul red handed. His larceny is my singular focus, well that and breakfast.

I arrive in the oak room and grab a plate from the sideboard. Tradition here, from my father at least – may well have gone back before but I don’t know – is that you do not speak and nobody should address you directly until you have selected all of your breakfast, sat down and had the first bite.

I realise that the black pudding is in season and have to go back and remove a selected sausage to make room. Finally I sit and start to become conscious to the ongoing conversation which seems to be largely involved with the late stage planning specifics of tomorrow’s garden party.

Luckily I haven’t been hooked directly into the conversation as yet, and I call for some coffee to help clear the old cranial hemispheres. My rudimentary understanding is that the two key bits of the brain are supposed to keep there distance up there, but something about the Château Margaux from last night seems to have resulted in the two halves clanging into one another a bit more than expected when I move my bonce.

Aunt Clara leans over after she senses a sufficient quantity of the black stuff has bucked up my system. “How,” she asks, “are you getting on with Paul.”
“Yes, wonderful, very well, he’s a smasher,” she looks unconvinced, I add, “we are planning to go for a long walk” mainly so I can think the rest of the sentence in my mind “off a short cliff”.
But at the news of a long walk Clara noticeably brightens, and I realise that my opportunity to tell my own brain a secret joke has doomed me to actually gad about with the blighter.

When I break the news to Paul one rather gets the impression that in his mind I haven’t merely taken all that he clings dearly to in his life and trampled upon them. The look in his face suggests that I have instead hired a steam roller, flattened his hopes and dreams and posted them back to him through his letterbox.

We head out for the walk and actually, after a short acclamation period, it turns out that he’s largely a good egg. Goodness knows what I’d have been like if this ill fate had occurred in my young life.

We exchange tales of youth and dangerous pursuits which seems to keep him engaged. At one point I broach the broach and he bristles. I use all my wiles and suggest that while I don’t mind that it’s missing personally I am worried about the big stink that it will cause tomorrow, especially for Aunt Clara. Nothing. His stomach contents might have been curdling as we spoke but he gave no outward signs I could latch upon.

-Stephie

Stephie journal – Day 18

Down to Aunt Clara’s for the long weekend. Claude was doing driving duty while I tried to retain composure in the back of the car. The journey was thrilling, as Claude can generally be relied upon to drive a little bit too fast.

After a while Claude’s usual confidence behind the wheel seemed diminished.

“Claude,” I shouted, “why are you slowing?”
“No reason,” he answered and gunned the engine.
“You’re lost, aren’t you? Admit it Claude.”
“Not lost, Miss Lettings, just recalibrating one’s bearings.”
“That’s Claude for lost. Ha!”
“I don’t think it is generally appreciated for one’s employer to take such joy in ones shortcomings.”
“Generally ha! You aren’t generally anything Claude and don’t let anyone ever say that you are. You and I both know that your shortcomings are so few and far between that one must make absolute hay when the opportunity presents otherwise you might start to believe your own press.”
“Understood.”
“How can we be lost on the way to Clara’s, it’s our country pile Claude, it’s where we emanate from, seems a bit rum this Claude.”
“Well there was the small matter of a poorly signposted diversion, it was very clear about which ways we couldn’t go but hasn’t, since that time, been as keen to inform us of how we might return to the designated path.”
“Well that explains it Claude, I’m sure you’ll get us back on track, but if you could see your way to hurrying these wilderness years along it would be preferable. I believe fatted calves are being prepared and one doesn’t want to put people out.”

We made it in shorter time than normal, I allowed Claude his pretence that he had found a shortcut, while secretly being rather pleased that he’d gunned the engine to make up time.

Clara greeted me and rather than welcoming me into her bosom and asking me to pull up a pew began to issue me marching orders and complaints. What, she wanted to know, was going on with young Alison etc, etc, this didn’t seem a fruitful line of dialogue to have at the moment, but in exchange for diverting her river of verbiage off course I was given the unenviable task of acting guardian over the weekend for a vicious squirt, known as Paul, who was a nephew of Lord Boysenby.

I decided that the best way to break his spirit was to charge him with taking my bags to my rooms. He was none to keen and seemed to feign buckling underweight and there was a great deal of groaning to contend with.

Once in my rooms I ordered him about with abandon. Claude was not keen on receiving such help but I feel this is good for him and the boy too. I’m sure Paul sees this as beneath him and it’s good to break this belief. Claude thinks such things not proper, and I want him to realise that there’s no such thing anymore.

We are just about done when I realise that my scotty dog broach is not at the appointed place. I quiz Paul about it and immediately I can add to the existing list of shortcomings, which already includes wiping snot from nose, lifting bags without a fuss, and not showing distain quite so blatantly, the new item of inability to lie convincingly.

That boy has my broach, and I must have it back by the garden party on Monday or there will be hell.

-Stephie

Stephie journal – Day 17

By rights, after having a night where one spends a significant portion of the allotted slumber time conversing with argumentative foremen, one should be sub-par but in fact I do believe I felt more ready for action when I woke then on a normal day. Must have been some of incandescent anger which can flare up in one from time to time if pushed.

Obviously by about eleven this had largely faded and the rest of the day slumped, then rather badly sagged and by the end it felt largely like the day might rather need to be sent for repair. No point in starting anything on a Friday before a long weekend.

I closed up shop early, allowing everyone else to get out while the going was, while not necessarily good, was at least fair.

-Stephie

Stephie journal – Day 16

You may remember, if you are a careful observer of this diary, me saying yesterday that this particular issue of the magazine was finished and that it was a particularly successful process as so much good material was able to be included. Well. At three o’clock in the morning I was woken by a telephone call. It was Simon-from-the-office telling me that something had gone wrong with the printing press company and that there was a danger that we wouldn’t meet our subscription deadline.

I dressed and hailed a rather startled cab unused to seeing a woman at that time of night – something he proceeded to remind me of for the entire journey.

When I arrived at the press they were starting to get moving again and print was being struck left and even to a certain extent right. There was, however, one rather fatal flaw in the proceedings from my point of view, it wasn’t my magazine that was being printed.

“Hoi, Hoi!” I shouted.
“Excuse me madam,” the foreman said, rather a lot of madams this week, I thought, but he wasn’t to know that was he? “What seems to be the problem?” he said.
“I want to know why my magazine isn’t being printed now?”
“Well,” he said, “earlier the press experienced a rather serious fault which stopped it from being able to print, and while it’s now operational your magazine has missed its slot.”
“No it hasn’t.”
“Yes,” he said looking at the timetable on his piece of paper, “it has.”
“The magazine hasn’t missed its slot, you have missed my magazine’s slot, we are the customer here not you.”
“Late magazines do not get priority madam, then every other magazine would be late.”
“I appreciate and understand that, I know the policy, that’s why we always submit on time. But your machinery failing does not constitute me being late.”
“Same principle I’m afraid madam, this way fewer magazines are late.”
I blessed him for using fewer rather than less as seems to be the emerging trend but I had to let him know my mind regardless.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but my magazine is more important than this one to me and to this press. If you are unsure about that then I shall wait while you consult your manager.”
“My manager will be in at Nine o’clock, I suggest you wait at home.”
“You will be consulting him now,” I said.
“But madam it’s four o’clock in the morning.”
“If you don’t want to wake him then you might want to consult his manager.”
“He doesn’t have a manager, his manager is the proprietor and you don’t want to me to disturb her, she’s a real dragon.”
“Is she… Really?”
“Ah.”
“I’d ask for a penny for your thoughts, but I think that penny may have just dropped.”
“Apologies madam, we’ll get this sorted for you immediately.”

After he’d scuttled off to fix things I noticed Simon-from-the-office who had been skulking in the corner observing the whole thing.
“Too harsh,” I asked?
“No,” he replied, “It’s good when you get cross, they know it’s serious when it’s you getting cross.”
“Time to go home?”
“You go home,” he said, “thank you for coming out, they weren’t listening to me, I’ll make sure they don’t forget your wishes.”
He looked at his watch, “it’s going to be tight as it is.”

I went home and back to bed, a glint in my eye. I liked the action of moments like this.

-Stephie

Stephie journal – Day 15

A chance for an actual lunch break today. When the magazine is going to press I make sure I don’t make lunch appointments that might need to be cancelled at the last minute. The magazine is actually done now, and so I have a chance for some time to myself. I’m due to buy an engagement present for Alison and, unsurprisingly perhaps, I find myself in Greystone’s the diamond merchants near the office.

I’m unsure what to buy and the merchant rather hit upon the problem when he asked me what she liked. I’m afraid to say that I went off into a small trance where I considered her opinions, imagined in my mind, about Anthony and Roger until the shopkeeper rather gently brought me back to the matter at hand.

“Would she like a broach perhaps?”
“No, no, she wouldn’t want a broach for an engagement present. I mean she may be indecisive but she isn’t gauche.”
“Well then Madam,” don’t think I didn’t notice the madam, “what do you think she would like?”
“Something tasteful but extravagant, something that shows, but not something that says I’ve lost all sense of taste and reason.”
“Quite the balancing act you are after.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Would she perhaps be interested in one of these collectable spoons?”
“She’s not a 7 year old boy”
“Well then madam, I am out of ideas.”
“Can you show me some of your diamond earrings? I believe you are famed for them?”
“Certainly madam.”

He came back with a selection on a tray. There was a particular pair that would have been absolutely perfect. I asked to look at them.

“An excellent choice madam,” he said. Of course the choice was excellent, in his eyes, they were the most expensive on the tray, but they were well priced.

I had spent the entire run up to this issue of the magazine being published wanting to reward myself by making this trip to buy something for Alison that she would love. I hadn’t really reassessed the trip in light of new developments. Forget the engagement being on the rocks, I’m not supposed to know about that as such, or rather she still would expect a present despite that. My concern as I looked at these rather beautiful earrings, which glinted and flashed colour as I rolled them on the felt, was that this present would amount to tacit approval of the pairing in the first place.

I might be confused about my place in the potential destruction of the relationship, but one thing I was pretty confident about was that I wasn’t keen on the pairing in the first place. At first I thought I was voicing this by buying a present only for her, but now I wondered, if buying anything at all was a mistake.

“Madam, would you like to purchase those at all?”
“No, thank you, I would not.”

I walked out, went to the cake shop. I may not have been able to enjoy that reward but I was’t going to go unrewarded. At the cake shop I purchased a jam doughnut and scoffed it on the way back while trying not to lick my lips. I had to lick my lips twice and then I had to reapply my lipstick before I made it back to the office. A good lunch break it seemed.

-Stephie