A sudden decision.
This story was written for the NaNoWriMo contest of 2018.
Margaret’s father knocked and walked into the spacious downstairs room set aside for his daughter following her accident, years earlier.
There was a hospital bed just inside the door, a study-desk near the French windows, away from the full light, and two book-cases of books on either side of it.
Some of the art on the walls would not have been out of place in a high-end art gallery, and Margaret sometimes sat for hours studying them, and even striving to create something like them for herself with her paints, but she'd given that up some weeks earlier when she'd decided what she had to do with her life, or go mad.
She was sitting in her wheelchair looking out of the windows when her father knocked and walked in. He didn’t like to see her like this, feeling sorry for herself and turning inward.
He started the conversation, sensing her fragility. It was the fourth anniversary of the accident that had cost them her mother, and him, his wife and almost his daughter.
Thinking of that, being reminded of it all of the time, by being trapped in her wheelchair, Margaret was always too ready to snap at him, or to break down into tears, though less, of late.
He noticed her pushing tissues down beside herself. She had been crying again, but she had seemed happy enough at breakfast, even though she no longer smiled or gave any more substantive outward signs of being happy.
She would know why he was here yet again, and wouldn’t like what he had to say but it needed to be said, and often, about how she needed to get out and mingle with girls her own age.
He didn’t start with what he felt like saying, about her having antagonized the latest of too many nurses, never wanting to listen to their advice about what she needed to do to help herself.
Few of them survived his daughter’s intransigence for more than a month; the longest had stayed for almost eight months, but she'd had the skin of a rhinoceros; about as much conversation as one, and no sympathy or empathy whatsoever.
She had been immune to his daughter, and only left because her own daughter had gone into labor and needed her.
Other girls his daughter’s age that he had encouraged to visit; friends from her earlier school, had soon been discouraged by Margaret's attitude, and stopped visiting.
“How do you feel today?” It was always the same question.
“Same as I felt yesterday and the day before, and as I’ve felt each day for the last four years.”
He filled in the blanks:
Quietly angry with the world. Blaming everyone else, especially him, for what they couldn’t help her with.
“I can’t keep replacing nurses for you, Midge. The word is getting out. I didn’t get any responses to the last advertisement.”
“Then you will have to pay them more, from your billions, won’t you? Or I’ll have to do without a nurse.”
He paid them very generously.
“Perhaps if you….” No, he’d better not say that.
“I saw your last exam results. You should be in university. You’re at that level.”
Or she should be thinking of contributing somewhere in the work place, rather than sitting away from life and moping. She needed to examine her life and live it before it slipped beyond her and out of reach.
His own company had a place for her anytime she wanted to break out of here, but she seemed terrified of the prospect of mixing with others older than herself, and standing out both physically and mentally. Deficient in the one way, outstanding in the other.
“I am in university, Father. My own university. Here." She tapped her head. "Just not physically. And I’m already beyond it, academically. I have nothing else to do but study, to take my mind off….”
Yes; to take her mind off that anniversary.
Too many of their conversations ended in that dead-end.
There was little they could do to take her mind off the accident that had killed her mother when Margaret had been fourteen, leaving her daughter; a passenger in that car, crippled, and putting her in that wheelchair.
She would have to break out of this mood for herself when she was ready. If she would ever be ready.
She still seemed to hold it against him that the doctors had gone to extremes to save her life. They should have let her die, instead of doing what they had done to save her, if they couldn’t give her some mobility back, too.
It hadn’t helped her mood when her mother’s sister, her aunt Gladys, had moved in, to live with her father. They had not tried to hide it, but had been open about it. Even defiant.
There had been something not quite right about that, but as Margaret had been recovering in hospital for several weeks after the accident, and had gone back in for other tests and exploratory surgery a couple of times, she had only learned of it almost a year later, and had only recently learned that her father had suffered a nervous breakdown over that loss and had given up on life until Aunt Gladys had rescued him.
Margaret had nothing against her aunt. In fact, Aunt Gladys was an entirely wonderful woman, much like her mother had been; kind, pragmatic, generous, always soft spoken, and who didn’t mind sitting with Margaret, reading to her, or bringing her up to date on fashions; on politics; and on things happening in the female world that Margaret herself chose not to follow.
But Aunt Gladys wasn’t her mother; though she looked like her in so many ways and sounded like her, with her mannerisms.
Aunt Gladys did her best to protect Margaret from herself by distracting her as much as she could, while Margaret waited for the next pessimistic prognosis about her likelihood of making a full recovery, and what surgeries were available that might be able to do something for her, but 'that', surgeon was not yet trained, or 'that', procedure was always just out of reach of the research, no matter how much money her father kept throwing at it.
He had taken his daughter out of the hospital after the third surgery, rather than subject her to yet another procedure that would do nothing for his daughter.
Gladys also knew the burden of frustration that Margaret suffered, and she tolerated her niece’s (few) tearful outbursts with her; only walking quietly out of her presence when they got too much for her to bear, rather than butting heads with her niece and breaking both of their hearts.
Margaret usually apologized tearfully, afterward, but she was aware how much she had hurt her aunt, and resolved never to behave like that again.
“Did you come to tell me that you are going to marry Gladys, Father, and make an honest woman out of her? You should you know? She loves you.”
Her father sighed.
“No, I didn’t come to have that discussion with you.” He had asked Gladys often enough but she had steadily avoided answering his question, constantly putting him off, despite her growing condition.
“Why not? You love each other. She’s pregnant. But you already know that. Others of your friends will soon notice. I think that was why she stopped drinking wine with dinner.”
There had been many other clues that his daughter had noticed, but it was now also becoming physically obvious at the five-month mark. Glady was happy about it, and so was Margaret, if the truth were known.
Her father stared over her head across the lawns, knowing better than to go down that path. He would marry Gladys, but she was the one who was holding back until she thought the time was right. It had something to do with Margaret, and seeing to her needs first, but he wasn’t sure how he could do that. He’d already tried everything.
Margaret had full access to everything inside the house, as well as outside. All she had to do was open the windows and roll herself out, or ring for one of the servants to help her, but she refused to do that, preferring to stay inside.
Her father knew that she went out at night when no one could see her struggling by herself to trundle around the paths, so it wasn’t that she was a total prisoner of her own little world within the massive estate.
She also had a gas-powered four-wheeler to go farther afield in the hundreds of acres out there, and she also did that at night when she couldn’t sleep.
He knew better than to try and control her there, by expressing his concern about her having an accident and no one knowing where she was, or she would just become deliberately careless and go even farther out.
“You should marry her, Father. I approve, if that’s what you are concerned about. I like Gladys. She’ll make you happy. But you should do it soon.”
Gladys already did make her father happy, just as her mother had. The sisters had been very much alike, with Gladys just a year younger. Her mother had been emphatic, that if anything happened to her, Alfred should promise her that he would marry Gladys. She’d had the same conversation with her sister and extracted the same promise from her, so none of it was a surprise. It had been exactly what her mother had wanted.
He had promised, of course, never believing that Georgiana would be gone only a year later.
“Gladys likes you, too, my dear.”
“I know, Father, but sometimes I am not very kind, or careful what I say to her.”
“She understands, and she forgives you. She knows why.”
But Margaret’s behavior had still been unforgivable.
“I think she’s worried about coming between us, Margaret.”
“You mean as the wicked, plotting stepmother?” For the first time in a long time Margaret laughed at the nonsensical vision conjured up by that.
“Oh, Father. Marry her. She loves both of us, but why she would love me as she does, I do not know, with all of the hurtful things I have said to her, and the mistakes I made. Did you ask her to marry you?”
“Then I shall plead for you over lunch.” It might do some good, but it was all in Gladys’s hands.
“We all make mistakes, my dear, even with those we cherish most dearly. You are only eighteen. I’m still making those mistakes, even with you, and I’m forty, and you were too young to be faced with what happened to us. No one should have to face that.”
She knew he was not here to argue about things he couldn’t change.
“Why are you really here, Father?”
“An old topic that I keep revisiting.” She knew what that was. “You need to mix with other girls of your age.”
“Oh, what do you suggest this time? Another summer-camp?”
That summer had been a total disaster.
He laughed, remembering that episode.
Everything that could go wrong, had gone wrong. Storm after storm; flooding. Then a hurricane hit, taking out most of the tents and some of the less sturdy cabins. There had been no power, and no road access for several days to mount a rescue.
“We think you should go to school.”
We? Gladys wanted that too, but knew better then to suggest it lest she be misunderstood.
There wasn’t an immediate outburst or an angry refusal this time, claiming that they just wanted to get rid of her.
This response was better than the one he’d expected.
“We decided we’d let you choose. You’ve had all the prospectuses for three years now. You know the ones we’d choose. Somewhere close. I want you close, and so does Gladys so that you can be home each weekend. We are still a family.”
The extortionate fees from those ‘A’ list schools, would never be a problem.
“You say you’d let me choose?”
“I’ve already been looking. I decided on one a few weeks ago when this topic came up, earlier. But it’s not close.”
Her father was now the one surprised. He’d tried to get her motivated many times, and had met resistance each time, so this was a pleasant surprise.
“Good. When? The new School year?” That was still several months away.
“No. Immediately. As soon as it can be arranged.”
Another surprise. There were only three months left in the school year with it being April. He wouldn’t suggest waiting until the new school year began if she was so determined, and ready.
She continued. “And on one condition.”
“Name it.” He would agree to almost anything.
“Actually, there are several conditions.”
He could see that she’d already thought this one through. He waited for them.
“Aunt Gladys must agree to marry you, and set a date, or I shall not go.” He waited for the rest of it.
“The school must not know about you being behind me to pick up the pieces this time. I stand or fall on my own, in my own way.” She took a deep breath and continued, as he nodded his head. This was what he'd waited for, and hoped to hear.
"If you are not there to pick me up, I am more likely to succeed."
She continued. “No nurse, and no bodyguard, or minder. If no one knows who I am, or where I am, then I will be in no danger, and certainly not in an all-girls boarding school.”
“That’s all of it.”
“Agreed." His eyes were sparkling. At last! "Then I’ll arrange it, as soon as you and Gladys have talked over lunch and have set a date for us. Everything depends upon you and her anyway."
“No need, Dad. I already got started. It just needs for you and Aunt Gladys to agree on a date when you marry, or to accept having one imposed on you. I suppose when you marry her, I will have to stop calling her, Aunt.”
He was caught flatfooted for once and now sure what to say, but he soon woke up.
“Thank you.” Her father was thanking her?
“Gladys needed more than just your approval. You telling her this, and insisting on a date will help. I don’t think she’ll have difficulty deciding now.”
“Two more things, Father. I want to be present at your wedding, and for the birth, but the wedding should be first, for propriety's sake.”
Too late for that, the damage was already growing, and would be born in another four months.
“Agreed, and agreed.” Her father was obviously relieved. “What is the name of this school?”
Margaret did not notice his sudden hesitation. “Is that all of it? Not, Slingsby college for girls, or something like that?” He seemed perplexed as to where she had come across the name of that particular college.
“No. Just, Slingsby. I suppose it’s really, Slingsby College.”
It was not one of the top-listed schools, but he’d promised.
“But it’s not….”
She interrupted him. “I know it’s not on your list. It’s not on anyone’s list. That’s why I intend to go there. It’s also two hundred miles away, so I shall be relatively isolated. It doesn’t cater to the daughters of conspicuously wealthy men; old money, politicians, the usual corrupt crowd, or influence-peddlers, or ‘wannabees’, but it does provide a good education. It has an amazing library, an unbelievable art collection, and I saw a photograph of their art room and the entire school curriculum and calendar. Their art teacher is a Miss Cutler, and I think I know her from somewhere."
She thought about it as she repeated the name. "Cutler... Cutler... Brandy Cutler... yes, I remember now. ”
She suddenly perked up. "Isn't that one of her paintings in our dining room?"
"Is it?" He feigned surprise. He knew it was. They were all over the house. “How do you know all this?”
“I researched that school. Extensively. I found an old brochure in the back of my desk from twenty years ago, and went looking. They've moved into other premises now, and their art facilities are even better, and there is a gymnasium and pool.”
He smiled. It was not one of the choices he’d expected her to make when she eventually made a decision, but he’d look it up and refresh his own perceptions of it as soon as he left her, and had discussed it with Gladys to set a date. It was a done-deal, and he wasn’t going to argue with her.
Slingsby! He and Gladys could puzzle over that one, and wonder.
He’d been boxed-in, by promising like that, and so had Gladys, but he would keep his promise. Margaret was old enough to know what she wanted on most things, and she needed to change her life in her own way, and those three items she'd mentioned; pool, gymnasium, and art room, told him where her mind was going. About time.
“Do you want me to contact the school?” At least he would try to help.
“No, Father. I’ve contacted them already. They accepted me, and I paid fees for the full year from my own account, so they wouldn't refuse me or turn me away. I will tell them to expect me tomorrow morning, so I will need to make a very early start.”
She wasn't going to let the grass grow under her feet.
Margaret's father discussed it with Gladys when he told her the surprising outcome of that conversation.
"She decided on Slingsby, of all schools, my dear." Gladys looked suitably surprised. "You didn't tell her about that school did you, and our family's involvement in it?"
"Not a word, Alfred! How did she find out about that?"
"An old brochure from her mother's desk. Miss Cutler caught her eye, and she remembered that painting of hers we have in the dining room." He smiled at her. "History repeating itself?"
Gladys laid a hand on his arm. "At least we'll know where she is and can keep an eye on her. Should I give Mrs. Chignell a heads-up and warn her? Or maybe even, Robert?"
He chuckled. "No. Not yet. If Margaret knows our family connections with that school, she's likely to refuse to go, and I don't want that. No, this was her decision. Mrs. Chignell will know who she is the second she sees that name, Robarts."
"She may be the one to give us a call, Alfred."
He could almost guarantee that. For the first time in years, he began to feel optimistic about his daughter.