Ohio Edit is pleased and privileged to be publishing Gilmore Tamny’s novel, My Days with Millicent, in serial form.
Cleavus had just begun another half-formed question when Millicent gunned up in her yellow MG, a vision in white in a frothy peasant frock like something out of the fashion pages, sunglasses, and broad-brimmed hat that circled her head like a chic halo, her lips, their usual shade of crimson, the only spot of colour. Cleavus and I stared, transfixed, as she came to a stop, neatly, at the kerb.
“Christ, I’m late,” she said, ivory bangles jangling, tossing parcels on the passenger seat. “Get in, Ramona, will you?” She gave Cleavus a nod. “Her bags.”
Cleavus hesitated, distracted by the simultaneous arrival of a taxi containing Mrs. Burney, the O’s oldest and frailest resident.
“Could you possibly trouble yourself?” Millicent said and I thinking she was addressing me, I nearly embarrassed myself by getting out.
“Thousand pardons, thousand pardons. Of course,” Cleavus said.
Millicent gave him the keys and he tucked in my worn suitcases in the boot, widening his eyes at me from under his great bushy brows, telegraphing exactly what I wasn’t sure. I doubted it was displeasure at her sharp tone. Cleavus was impossible to offend in a professional capacity; it seemed far more likely it was general wonderment, at her posh accent, car, mien.
“Best of luck, Miss Bright,” Cleavus said returning the keys to Millicent with a bow.
“And to you, Cleavus,” I said. “Tell Mrs. Cleavus I hope she’s feeling better tomorrow.”
“Yes, yes.” He spoke rapidly, as if he had been working up the courage: “If you could send a postcard to the Missus now and then—I’d be ever so grateful. It’s hard on a woman who takes such an…interest in the world to not be able to get out and—”
“Darling, let’s go,” Millicent said impatiently.
“Yes, of course, I’d be happy to. Well, goodbye, Cleavus, take care—” I said.
I didn’t hear his reply as Millicent pulled away. My final glimpse was a forlorn gloved hand waving before we sped around the corner.
“Really, Ramona,” she said.
I held on to the door handle as she swiftly took a turn. “Yes?”
“Who was that extraordinary person?”
“Oh. Cleavus. The doorman.”
“Not the resident milkmaid, then? Well, I could tell that much, Ramona. Honestly, you do pick the oddest people to be acquainted with.”
Unexpectedly, I felt myself irritated. If I had one thing, it was a blameless life, with very few friends or acquaintances, something she criticized frequently. “Because he’s the doorman?”
“No,” she said, weaving expertly through traffic. “Well, I suppose a little. But really only because you seem so very particular about the company you keep.”
My lack of a social life so unfathomable to Millicent had often been a source of contention.
“And, really, if you must know, because he looks like Caliban,” she added.
“He and his wife have been very kind to me,” I said.
“Oh, all right then. Please—please—don’t take a pious tone with me. I don’t think I could stand it today.” She pressed the lighter in the dash and pulled a cigarette case from her pocketbook, deftly opened it with one hand, offered me one, which I declined, pulled out one herself, placing the case on the wheel, giving three sharp raps to the cigarette.
“Hungry?” she said the cigarette bobbing between her lips. “We’re stopping at the Quai
Inn for luncheon.”
“Sounds—lovely. But, well, I should say Millicent—”
“Darling, don’t let’s bring up money again!” The lighter popped and she brought it to her cigarette, taking a deep inhale. “How I loathe gloomy conversations about money! We shan’t do that again, not for at least another six months—no, a year. At the outmost.”
In fact, we hadn’t had anything resembling a conversation, gloomy or otherwise, about money.
“Look, I know you haven’t any,” she conceded. “I don’t imagine that you would have made your fortune since we last spoke unless you went and had some luck at the races with the little tide-over I gave you.” Even if I’d lost the lot, she wouldn’t have minded, far more likely, in fact, pleased to see a display of recklessness. “Or married some rich old satyr. Now, that is unlikely, isn’t it?”
“Well, yes, I suppose it is.”
“All right: I’ve no illusions, Ramona. You haven’t a farthing. So just do let it go, can you?”
Inwardly, I sighed at the impossibility of pleasing someone with such quicksilver moods; another day she might have praised me for my insistence on frankness.
“Of course, Millicent.”
“And don’t sulk. I said I know how things are, and I do. If you’re going to go fretful and old-womanish over a mere luncheon, honestly, we should turn around here.”
The Quai Inn, which I’d read about numerous times in the society pages, wasn’t a mere luncheon, but I forbore saying so.
“Perhaps Darren Theobold will be there with his mistress. What she made the house servants do when he was Viceroy—makes Hitler look a perfect lamb! What a pair of fools they thought that would never get out.” She gave a hard merry sardonic laugh.
Millicent laughing at someone was certainly nothing unusual, but my fear of her had only lessened enough in recent months for me to realize how Millicent viewed not just myself but everyone in this particular vein. I was considering this so much that I had lost the thread of conversation, but wished suddenly I hadn’t. Millicent’s observations, I sensed, came close to the truth, and made for hypnotic, if uneasy, listening.
Gilmore Tamny is a writer and musician who lives in Somerville, MA. She has a tumblr of line drawings here: http://linesdotscircles.