It had been at the back of the Grovers Antique Emporium for many years. Tatty, even when taken in from clearing the big old house on the hill. Now, spiders lived happily in the cracks and crannies of sprung joints and the dust gathered, casting a shoddy grey layer over what was once a rich, dark red velvet seat. But for a burst water pipe, it would, most likely in the nature of things, have slowly disintegrated until consigned to the fire to be lost for all time. An ignominious fate, for deep within the aging wood, a tiny speck of sap remained, as if knowing that one day it would nurture life as it had done in the past.
Just as deep within that old chair life still sparked, so it did quite deliberately within Muriel Winter. She never even tried to call her impregnation, love making, or even a romantic tryst, just sex with the sole intention of falling pregnant. Despite the apparent casualness of her coupling she had in fact watched the men of her acquaintance – her circle – until she narrowed the possibilities down to two, both unmarried as she wished no other woman harm, she simply wanted a child.
She knew, almost to the minute, when she would be most fertile. Fortunately that time fell during the late evening rather than midmorning, which would have posed problems given that she taught the reception class in her village school. Practical sex education was not part of the curriculum.
At six months, pregnant with twins, she developed a chronic backache. The women in the staff room were full of ideas about how she could cope, but kind and well intended as the advice was, it served no useful purpose. The ache persisted and Muriel even wondered if she should perhaps pray to some deity or other – was there one for pregnant women with chronic backache she pondered?
The only practical help was tendered by her friend Joan who would arrive armed with baby oil for a soothing back rub. Then she turned up with a tatty dirty chair declaring, ‘Muriel this is what you need and it’ll come in useful when you’re feeding your twosome! Found it in the skip outside Grovers as the shop is flooded out.’
The chair cleaned up well given it age and as the layers of dust and grime were stripped so the sap rose deep within, sensing that once again it would serve some useful purpose.
And as the age old varnish was gently stripped away it revealed a hand carved name upon the elegantly curved backrest. ‘Bethany Winter 1805 – 1873.’
The births had not been easy even for Bethany, a mother of five including one set of twins. Now two more healthy mouths to feed, be nurtured into fine young children. She had not gone to the birthing bed with any sense of ease or well-being, her soul unhappy, for she knew that as she bought new lives into the world, her beloved husband could well be fighting for his and the lives of her crew and ambassadorial passengers aboard his ship, HMS Jupiter.
He had sailed nine months before, deliberately not telling her that once again he was to face the storms and terrors of the Great Southern Ocean. He knew how she feared that passage, more than any he had sailed over the oceans of the world, his deformed arm broken by the violence of the seas around Cape Horn, bearing witness to the dangers of those enormous rolling seas.
It was the Admiral’s wife, a spiteful blowsy barren woman, who had taken great delight in telling Bethany of her husband’s voyage to the Pacific Ocean. She had watched with great satisfaction as the colour drained from Bethany, her spirits becoming as low and grey as her complexion.
Muriel Winter went happily to her birthing bed, became entranced by her two identical daughters. She sat, satisfied in Bethany’s chair, watching the park across the road, the people, the dogs, the high spirits for life and living. And as she sat, the aged sap deep within the wood was content with the new life now being nurtured upon its restored red velvet seat. A great unhappiness undone after all those long years since Bethany, with her twins sat looking at the portrait of her husband upon the Gallery wall, certain that the Southern Ocean had at last claimed him.
Bethany Winter appears in ‘The Gallery’ published some months ago in CWG.