MDwM #8: Briefly Touching Upon Ramona’s Incredibly Uncomfortable Childhood Visits to Helvstead

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Ohio Edit is pleased and privileged to be publishing Gilmore Tamny’s novel, My Days with Millicent, in serial form. 

As I readied myself for bed that first night, I wondered if silence could have a nauseating effect on a person, and suspected this is what was making me feel bilious. The muffled London bustle rising around the ‘O’ like a cocoon had been reassuring, in its way. Even though I had the daughter of an invalid’s aversion to noise, with years of carefully closing doors, washing up noiselessly, speaking quietly, I found I disliked doing my normal ablutions in the backdrop of absolute quiet, the sounds of running water, toothbrush, facecloth seemed inordinately loud, a violation of privacy even.

The bedroom was smaller than I expected, but well-kept. Well, this ought to be very nice, here, at Helvstead, very relaxing, I spoke. I knew when I began to talk to myself as if I were a stranger on the tram I shouldn’t bother to sleep. I read an old church circular till I grew groggy. “She’s doing a fantastic job,” I imagined Millicent saying to her friends, which I envisioned as Caroline Windsor, Deborah Kerr and William Holden. “I don’t know what I did without her. Rough time she’s had, but she never complains, not like you lot! I should be spending more time with her. “

And so, soon enough, I was asleep, although it wasn’t a very comfortable sort, and I kept being woken by the silence. And then I dreamt of Helvstead’s garden, in full flower. I counted hyacinths, released the flies that Millicent had entrapped in the snapdragons, and considered whether I might harvest a bouquet for my mother without being detected, all events stolen from real waking ours of my childhood when, a lion walked through, startling me. My lion in the garden! How long it had been since I’d thought of him.

 

I had loved the garden at Helvstead as a child. It was the immense and jigsaw puzzle of flowerbeds, ivy, topiaries, rose bushes and shrubberies. I’d squat and gaze, hypnotized, at the flowered borders of pansies, succumbing to the urge to pet these flowers from time to time. And I kept my eye open for the lion.

My uncle had once said, in one of the rare times he spoke to me directly, that there was a lion loose in their garden, one they had lost three or four chambermaids to over the years, which, besides little girls, were its favorite treat. Initially, I had been frightened and refused to go out unless Mother or Father accompanied me, but eventually I realized he had been teasing. The idea, though, had held. I often—felt—he was very real to me—this lion, hiding in the yew, watching us with its round yellow eyes, slinking along in the bushes, the dry, gold fur ruffled by the branches, its mane framing its heavy head. I’d always, even when I was older, feel his watchful presence. The lion in the garden, who knew what I did not.

 

Gilmore Tamny is a writer and musician who lives in Somerville, MA. She has a tumblr of line drawings here: http://linesdotscircles.tumblr.com