MDwM #11: Ramona Settles in to Life at Helvstead; The Clives Used to Have Peacocks

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

So my days with Millicent really began. These days, in truth, took some getting used to. Millicent was as good as her word. For the first time in my life, I was with little obligations. And even at my most conscientious, with Lucy’s efficiency, I was hard-pressed to find more than a few hours of activity. From the first, I spent much of my time in the morning room, at the desk, when Millicent was at home, and on the couch, when she was not. Painted a bright robin’s egg, the room had faded to a discouraged turquoise. A vase holding feathers, remnants of the famous Clive peacocks, sat on the marble mantelpiece. The light from the windows strained through the monkey puzzles and oaks, and slanted and dappled through the silk and voile curtains.

There at the desk of the morning room, I tended the bills: grocer, florist, chemist, staff, quarterly fortifications from Fortnum’s (less than I imagined) and liquor shop (more), the occasional chimney sweep or coal delivery. I took particular pleasure in pouring over the details of the bills for Millicent’s frocks: crystal beads, eu de nile taffeta, and so forth. I made out the cheques for the boarding of the horses at the Quackenbush’s stables, as well as saddle soap, liniments, oats, hay, and the related wages. Occasionally, Millicent had me ring down to London to have her flat readied for the weekend.

Each Wednesday, a weathered white van pulled round to the servant’s entrance with a standing order for flowers for the last fifty years, interrupted only by the war years. Vases in hand, I ducked into a nook behind the entryway to arrange them, fearful Millicent would make some remark about my playing lady of the manner. This skullduggery was particularly absurd considering Millicent would see the results; somehow, though, I couldn’t bear her witnessing it.

I received forwarded mail from London, all of it from my charities, and it took some doing to write to all, requesting to be taken off mailing lists, and I did wonder if I could have really been a patron, however meager, to all.  My only personal correspondence was a note to the Cleavus’ once a month, receiving the same in kind from Mrs. Cleavus’ quavery hand, Cleavus’ large initials sprawling at the bottom. We hadn’t known each other well enough to lend much intimacy to these letters, and Mrs. Cleavus, so bright and lively in person, was a little awed by my new address, and retreated into a stilted schoolgirlish propriety, so our letters, although well-meaning, made for a very dull exchange.  Still it helped take up a few minutes.

 

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