Day 6’s topic comes from the brilliant, creative Christine Locher Second foray into fiction, with a flash of colour, I hope
Scotland – 1920 ish
Isla sits on the end of the bed, breath held, no sense of how long she has been sitting there, waiting. Hands on her lap. Feet resting on the floorboards. The clock on the mantle ticks solidly. Everything is still and very very quiet.
She becomes aware that she is cold; and with that comes a sense that she needs to move. So she does. She smooths the skirt of her dress, the fabric soft beneath her fingertips, and slowly rises.
She stands for a second, no clear sense of direction, and catches the image of her face in the mirror above the fireplace. “I am pale” she thinks. She regards her dark hair, curled and pinned. Her blue eyes and prominent nose. Her mouth and the angles of her jawline. She sees dark circles and an unsmiling mouth, a gauntness that makes her look older. She tries to smile, but her nerves stop her eyes from catching the feeling. She turns away, her spirit stubbornly refusing to spiral downward.
Today is the day.
She is ready.
She looks down at the dress. A fine thing. An expensive thing. Beautifully fitted and perfect for the occasion.
She takes a deep breath and goes to seek the others.
The men have gathered in the kitchen.
The bottle of whisky on the table, dram glasses gathered around it, belies the fact that it is morning.
They stand, suited, smart, hands in pockets, glass in hand or leaning on the sideboard. Some sit at the table. There is talking, gesturing, fiddling with pocket watches or cigarettes or pipes. A shaft of low winter sun strikes through the gloom, dust motes and smoke moving through it.
She enters the room quietly.
Her father has his back to her. Uncle sees her, nudges Father and nods toward her.
Father turns, expectant, arms opening to greet her as he turns. He takes in the vision of his daughter. He looks at her for a few seconds, staring. His arms drop.
“What’s this?” He says, quietly.
She doesn’t respond
“Isla?” Still quiet. Ominous. “What the hell is the meaning of this?”
She still says nothing, aware that the room is now silent; that all the men are looking her way; that the moment she knew would come is now here. For all she’d prepared for it, she now feels woefully under equipped and afraid.
She opens her lips to say something… but her tongue is thick and her mouth dry.
Father is standing facing her directly, still across the room. His eyes have ignited – cold fury shining from them.
“Answer me, damn you, girl. What the bloody hell is going on?”
“There’s no need to swear at the lassie, Gregor.” – A voice behind her. Mother.
She watches her father shift his position, less certain what to do in the face of his wife. “Agnes. She’s wearing… she’s wearing…” He gestures at his daughter, unable to finish.
“Red, Gregor. Our daughter is wearing Red.”
He considers this for a second.
“What the bloody hell is she doing wearing red?” He explodes, “It’s a funeral for Christ’s sake, no a…. a… hoor’s convention”
Agnes stands beside her daughter, long black coat buttoned up, the cold from outside still radiating from her. She takes Isla’s hand.
“Isla, my lass. Tell your father why you are wearing red.”
She hesitates. Looks at her mother. Mother nods, gently encouraging. Eyes still on Father.
“It was Robert’s favourite dress, father. He bought it for me. In Paris”
Father looks at her, incredulous. “What?” his contempt is searing.
She takes a deep breath. “This is the last dress Robert bought me. He loved this dress. I told him I would wear it to the funeral”
Father looks between Isla and his wife, trying to take it in. “No. Absolutely No.”
“No. No. No. What will people say, Agnes? The Minister? What will the Minister make of it? I forbid it! No daughter of mine goes to her husband’s funeral dressed like that!!”
“Hush, wife. I’ll not hear it! I forbid this, understand?”
He rounds on Isla “What possessed you, girl? What are you thinking? A Red Dress, Isla? Paris you say? It looks like he bought it for a…. Tart. Get up the stairs and put on proper mourning attire, or I’ll thrash you like…..”
“THAT IS ENOUGH” her Mother thunders.
Isla doesn’t move. The men seem frozen, too. Only the smoke in the light-shaft moves.
Gregor looks stunned for a split second, then recovers. He puts his whisky glass down, purposefully. The silence is agonising. He moves toward them, menacingly.
“Speak to me like that, would you? In front of all these people?” He hisses, quietly.
Isla is terrified. She bows her head, quivering. Her mothers hand squeezes hers and releases.
Agnes pulls herself to her full height, still smaller than he, and stands between him and his daughter.
“Aye. I would.”
“Who the hell do you think you are?”
She says nothing. Holds her ground. Dares him silently.
In the silence, in the safety of her mother, Isla thinks about the Red Dress. About Robert, returned from the war unlike so many of his brethren. About how he had passed through Paris on his return home. About how her had greeted her, victorious, with the dress. About how he had not seen her for over a year and when she put it on, he looked at her like she was made of purest gold. About the times she’d worn it since. About the promise she made to him, as he lay, riddled with TB. About her fury with God himself that He would return her Man and take her Man in such a fashion. About the bairn growing in her belly that meant this dress would not fit weeks from now…she takes strength from her anger, her grief, her dress.
She steps out from behind her mother and stares him down.
Gregor is taken aback under the eyes of his child. He’s never seen her thus. His own eyes glare back at him, defiant.
“I’m wearing the dress father.”
He shakes his head, enraged.
She restates “I’m wearing the dress to Robert’s funeral and that is the end of it. No man will stop me. Not you. Not the Minister.”
He considers his position. Looks at his wife.
“Are you proud of yersel, Agnes? You’ve raised a bloody Pankhurst bitch”
He spits on the floor.
Agnes simply unbuttons her coat, the crimson velvet beneath revealing itself to her husband.
“Aye. I’m proud.”
I loved writing this. Just loved it.
I hung out with the notion of “colour” for a few days – debating how to frame it. the name fuchsia blue? The colours of emotion? what to choose what to choose….
At some point on Sunday night I thought about a red dress and the scandal of it… that was a hook for other things.. how it once would have been more scandalous (therefore age the thing) how the outrage needs to be placed somehow (funeral? wedding? although in lots of cultures, colours at weddings and funerals are essential). It began in Wales, with the father outraged in a Welsh accent ( you’ll see why tomorrow) and moved home to Scotland, where I understand the tone and texture of the language.
It wasn’t particularly planned.. the crimson reveal happened after I’d written Agnes was wearing a coat… it kind of came together by playing it through – what felt real or not…