When the blow first fell it was devastating. Grandfather roared and blustered around the rooms. He used words such as wanton and strumpet. Strumpet, it’s a ridiculous word, it doesn’t fit, sounds silly and theatrical. There was nothing silly about the situation and if it was theatrical it was a Tragedy.
Mummy and Nana sat in purse lipped silence. Their hands wrung and squeezed, white knuckles straining against aging, tightened skin. Aunt Miranda was “In Trouble, Disgraced, a Ruined Woman.”
Miranda herself appeared totally untouched by the bluster, drifting around the house, a gentle smile playing about her lips. Occasionally she would touch her belly, reverentially, with a little wonder. At first for endless days, in the full force of the tempest, she simply refused to speak about the father. She waited until inexplicably and seemingly apropos of nothing she announced, at lunch one day, that Terence Hilliard was the father of her unborn child.
The sudden announcement fell like a dust sheet. It shrouded the everyday and redrew the surroundings infusing them with drama, reforming everything, smudging the outlines. I can hear it now her gentle voice, subdued but sure and I have to say proud, falling like a meteor, carving out a crater for us all to tumble into.
“My baby’s daddy is Terence Hilliard.” That was it nothing more and then she simply continued forking salad around her plate. Her eyes shone, a beautiful serenity suffused her face.
Of course Grandfather had a lot to say “Terence Hilliard, what on earth were you thinking. How could you, my own daughter, my flesh and blood with someone like Hilliard. His people are nobodies, they have no history, no breeding. My God girl, I didn’t think things could get any worse and now you present us with this, this bombshell. Terence Hilliard. I’ll kill him, when I take my belt to him he’ll know it” Miranda didn’t speak, she didn’t even look up from the table.
Nana sobbed, whenever I think of Nana she is sobbing, sobbing for the disgrace, sobbing for the fury and in the end sobbing for the whole lost world. Poor Nana, I wonder there was any more liquid left behind her eyes but they continued to leak salty tears for years, tears for this and tears for that but never more than at that time during the “Great Disgrace and what came after”
Later, when the debris of the unfinished meal had been carted away I sought her out, Miranda. She was lying on top of her bed, fully clothed and with her shoes thrown in the corner of the room. Her hands were crossed over the still flat tummy but the knowledge of what it hid rendered it sacred and mysterious. My eyes were transfixed. No matter how I struggled they were drawn back, the fascination too strong for my fifteen year old mind, the pull of the foetus.
“What does it feel like Miranda?”
“It feels like magic.” She smiled at me. Being close in age we had a bond tighter than would be imagined, more like sisters than the other tenuous link we were born to. She stretched out her hand and grasped mine laying it on top of her tweed skirt. “In there, under the skin there is a miracle right now.”
“Did you mean for it to happen?” She turned her violet eyes to me a small frown knitting the thin lines of her brows.
“What? The baby or the sex?”
Yes I know I was only fourteen. But, we had talked of sex before. In the darkness of a holiday bedroom she had told me about it. She had told me that it would happen to us both and she had told me that at nineteen she hadn’t done it yet but wouldn’t hesitate when she knew the time was right.
“Well, the baby really, but yes, the sex. You meant the sex to happen didn’t you? He didn’t make you did he, force you?”
“No silly, of course not. He’s gone away you know. Joined up. They don’t know that yet. Father thinks that he can go down there and shout at him and frighten him and bully him but it’s too late he’s already gone,” now her sudden declaration after the long silence made sense, “I should think that when he comes back Father and his bawling will be insignificant. After the trenches and the shooting and fighting do you think that Father will be able to make any impression?” She laughed a little at the thought then and swung her legs from the bed. “Come on let’s go and walk around the shops, see if there is anything worth buying.”
I think that was the last day that we talked. It is a bit confused of course. Nana’s crying and the passion and the drama muddled it in my brain but I do think that was the last day. As we walked she talked, “I didn’t want him to go to The Front without showing him, really showing him how much I loved him. I wanted us to be really joined in every way, all of it. I gave him my soul and he gave me his heart. The baby, no I didn’t expect it and it is a complication,” she laughed at that, “a beautiful complication. When the baby comes in September he might be back and then we can be together. How divine will that be, three of us all joined together, part of each other it really is a miracle. You do see that don’t you?”
Of course it was the very next day the boy knocked on the door. Trevor’s little brother. Standing on the step with his tear streaked face and his dreadful news. She didn’t cry or faint, simply turned and looked at me, her eyes already far away.
When they found her in the morning I wasn’t surprised, I understood you see. They never asked me, just wailed and cried and wondered why. I could have told them. They had to be together all three of them. Together, part of each other forever, a miracle.