A Daisy for Hannah Jane
Once I held the cup to my parched lips, everything came crashing down on me all over again, blurred together from fatigue, nostalgia, and possibly grief.
It was the way he’d looked at me before being shipped off into the dark world of war, a look I could never describe. The way he’d tipped his hat to me as if he really would be back soon, and his crooked grin had told me he thought it was all for show. The way he’d tucked in his kerchief into his collar, something we’d shared in our secret code since our schooling. Anything and everything I missed about him was attached to me. He was a part of me.
And I hated the war.
But I knew I shouldn’t. Raymie wouldn’t want me to think like that anyway. The war wasn’t something to fret over, was it? It would be over soon, and certainly “the boys” needed my beau’s help. He’d be a good soldier once he realized how much he needed to be one. It’s eating me up inside. I’d heard stories from my British relatives about how the war is a haven of insanity and loneliness for these men. Meanwhile, wives were trying to find their own way. They all yearned for their sons and husbands, while I longed for everything that had been taken away from me. Life.
But the longer I moped, the longer I’d be in poor spirits. It was 1917, for goodness’ sake, and things were beginning to bloom. Machines — those loud, dreadful clumps of clanking metal and whatever combustion thing Henry Ford had mustered up with — the whole housewife cliche, the public was beginning to really read for themselves (Go literacy, am I right?), and the hoo-ha over whole wheat hamburger buns and soda pop were coming to town.
Why, God? Why couldn’t Raymie and I experience all of this together?
America was starting to erupt, and he couldn’t share the pleasure of newness with me. The only newness we’re sharing is being split by the pond. He’s being shipped off to the trenches during the first-ever European World War. The trenches!
At least he’s fighting for the country itself. He’s fighting for you, Hannah. The little voice of Raymie’s godliness was whispering. Again.
I rubbed my aching temples and slumped against the doorway, closing my eyes. I didn’t care about my unladylike posture right now. I just wanted to climb into my soft, quilt-smothered bed and never come out. Well, until I could hear his boots scuffing against the doorstep. He’d have a small flower in hand, dainty and common, much less a rose. His smile would be crooked as always, raising dimples to his ears…
Stop. You’re only making yourself twice as miserable. I set the drink down on the wooden table next to me. It wasn’t helping me. Raymie probably would’ve slapped me for even trying alcohol. But it was one sip, right?
Didn’t matter now. My head throbbed. My fingers ached. Maybe his leaving was making me age.
“Hannah Jane Lewitt, how dare you insult me so?” A vicious voice bellowed from my doorstep. More pounding on the door. “I ain’t finished yet, so are you going to invite me inside like a hospitable little lady or not?”
As if things couldn’t get any worse. I rolled my eyes where the older woman couldn’t see me and called out the window, “I believe it’s I’m not finished, ma’am. Weren’t you the one who used to bash a book over my head for proper etiquette?”
I turned to smile at her through the window, but it was about as painful as watching a snake wrangler try to pour tea into a cup from a miniature china set. With an apron. Maybe even some dainty house slippers to cover the serpent slayer’s mud-caked feet…
“I equally believe that you daydream about silliness far too often! What’s going on in that pretty head of yours now?” More banging. “What is this, the Stone Age? Stop standing there like a pork loin and let me in,” the voice cried, rising into the high-pitched realm by at least ten notches.
I ignored her hopeless analogy and sighed, wishing this clearly unexpected visit wouldn’t take long. “Fine.” I did everything I could to stop gritting my teeth and let my tutor in. Raymie would’ve made a hilarious face with his nose scrunched at the sound of this absurd woman’s cackling.
“What are you here to accuse me of today, Mrs. Chauldings?” I shut the door behind me and tried to put Raymie’s sardonic face out of my mind. It barely worked.
“Accuse? Darling, whatever do you mean?” Darling. The all-English-blood, cold-hearted old woman squinted her catlike eyes. They held fire, no doubt.
“Did you not just bang on my door and demand me to let you in? You shouted about me insulting you. What did I do?”
She rolled those squinted eyes, making them round as Raymie’s old watch. “You disgraced us all. How did you not realize?”
I bit back a few words. “Realize what? Who’ve I disgraced?”
“You are just a silly, silly girl. You know that, Hannah Jane? An utterly strange girl who has no place in womanhood. An immature child who seeks no responsibility at all, chasing after young men and whatnot.”
I’d never been so infuriated in my life. Especially since she said “young men,” not one man she’d already known was her soul mate. “Ma’am, I’ve no time for this. If you’re going to keep playing this goosechase game, I’m going to have to show you to the door.”
She shut her eyes and inhaled sharply, as if I were the difficult one here. “Your behavior at the send-off for the drafted men was completely inappropriate, and you ought to be ashamed! You humiliated the women around you, who had actually behaved as sane ladies. I had every right to think you had potential a season ago, but now I’ve reconsidered my own regards to your future education.”
I turned on my heel, more than aggravated. She’d offered to pay for me to go study at a university how long ago now?
But I’d finally decided to become a housewife. A working, scrubbing, cleaning one, but happier than the sun in July.
I could feel her scowl burning holes into my back. Raymie would’ve kicked her out by now in some defensive but persuasive statement that would make her really think. I was never blessed with that ability.
I turned back and faced her. “Ma’am,” I sighed, “with all due respect, I was not a disgrace or a humiliation to anyone two days ago. And what on earth did I do that was inappropriate to you?”
She straightened her posture and started to reach for the doorknob. “You still don’t understand? No, I shan’t explain. You are definitely not fit to be a lady. I must leave.”
“You know what?” I laughed, causing her to jump. “You’re right. I’m not fit to be a lady. I can’t pour tea and I couldn’t quilt a nine-patch if my life depended on it. I’m not my mother’s daughter. And for the love of everything holy, all I did was give my beau, Raymond, a hug – an embrace, as you’d call it – before he was shipped off to the trenches. If that’s inappropriate, then what would you call appropriate at all? A handshake?” I sighed for probably the hundredth time and awaited some biting comeback.
She was silent. A first time for everything, right? Next thing you know, women will be wearing trousers or dresses made from denim cloth.
I ran my fingers along the folds of my gingham dress thoughtfully. I never liked being mean, but this was different. Mrs. Chauldings always had a say about everything I did, and I was finally sick of it. When I was younger, I’d thought she just meant well. But I had to tell her now, before it was too late.
“But most of all,” I said, locking eyes with her, “I’m not you, Grandmother.”