An Edwardian Woman

She considered herself a quiet woman, shrinking into the background of anonymity like the pale pink roses of the wallpaper she could barely discern as she looked around the powder room where she had escaped. She wanted to reach out and touch them, those still, stiff flowers standing at attention up and down the wall, as if it would stir her inner core, that part of her she kept sheltered, to action. The woman who serviced the room touched her arm as if to catch her in a swoon and she waved a hand and turned away so that her emotions would go undetected.

Her preference to remain inconspicuous, like one of the ballerinas in the group of dancers that attended the primadonna in tonight’s performance, allowed her spirit to entertain her fantasies in a way that made them manageable. She let her husband take center stage. He craved it even as she shrunk away. Yet, tonight, this was too much, even for her.

Her life was ordered, just the way she liked it, the children safe at home in their beds, her daily chores calming in their repetitiveness, her home a citadel of tranquility until the end of the day and the arrival of her husband. He made life bigger than she wanted it to be. If I hadn’t married him, she thought, I would have been a librarian or a nurse. It would have infinitely suited me better than marriage.

Her parents had insisted, had pushed her forward to her coming out and the social events necessary to mating. She went reluctantly, somehow knowing that her match was not among the other participants of this formal ritual that pushed young fanciful girls toward a life they could only dimly foresee. She was to be courted by a man, a new arrival to her social class, whose reputation hinged on his pushiness as an entrepreneur and his hasty fortune gained in the dirty world of work during the Great War that had only recently been resolved.

She knew, from her quiet observation of life among her peers, that there were unacknowledged secrets among husbands and wives. Yet, even though it was accepted that a man could do more than was allowed to women, it was expected that any impropriety would be safely shielded from his family. Yet, here he was, her husband, standing next to her and making introductions to that woman. Does he think I do not know? She had stood there mutely, as the brazen blonde smiled sweetly, acting as if she barely knew him. His mistress!   A bitter brew went spewing through her body, disintegrating her persona, as she watched the propriety of her life drain away, leaving her feeling like a liquid morass of clay melting on the surface of her being.

She had excused herself and turned away, heading toward the powder room, with it safe haven for her collapse. What am I to do? How can I accept this assault to my honor? It was not something that would be discussed, not with friends or even with her family. Her role, to be a wife to her husband and a mother to their children, was destined when her father gave her to him on their wedding day.

The options for a woman of her times were few; and, once selected, were for life. Her back straightened. She would endure, within her view of life, and maintain her part in the existence that was theirs. Yet, deep within, a part of her soul, that part that was ever hopeful, felt a twinge and faded from sight, like the light that alters from the lavender winged sky at twilight into the darkest indigo as night progresses. Head held high, she turned and exited the powder room.