“I tell you what, I never could see what drew you to a boy like that!” She brought the fly swatter down as if upon the head of Tom.
“Mom! He’s a good man!” Clinching her fists, Sarah noticed that she gave a little stomp with her right foot to punctuate this statement. She felt like a caricature, but she didn’t care. This was important–important enough for dramatics.
“I should hope so! He thinks he can just waltz right in here and sweep my daughter away? I’ll let him know he’s got another thing comin’!” Another fly bit the dust.
Meanwhile, Tom, unbeknownst to both Sarah and her matriarch, was pacing back and forth in his room rehearsing a speech.
“Mrs. Wynter, I know I’ve got barely a penny to my name, but I’ve got a wealth of love for your daughter. And therefore, I’d like to humbly request… (No, that’s not right.) Mrs. Wynter, the wealth of love I have for your daughter greatly outweighs any deficits you feel I hold within my… (Damn, that won’t work either. What to say? What to say?)”
And just so you know: Sarah’s hand would be asked for today. And her mother would say yes.
Sarah’s father had died years ago when the tracks were being laid in their area for the great railroad, bringing together East and West. He had been supervising the immigrants when an explosion caused a large rock slide that ended up killing the China-men and Sarah’s father–or, as the joke went, truly “bringing together” East and West. Sarah did not appreciate this joke.
She was one of those women that idolized her father. She considered his passing a martyr’s death–departing from this world in the midst of a holy commission. The work of bringing together East and West, and indeed all that was most different, was, in her mind, a work of the Lord.
And so it was, when Sarah met Thomas, she saw in him a representation of all that was most different in her immediate world; and so she fell in love.
Tom was a spirited man, more laborer than thinker, but kind and sincere of heart. He also felt much for Sarah, though he lacked the introspective resources to properly label his feelings as “romance”, “friendship”, or even “love”. He knew he preferred her company to anyone else’s, and felt worse when she was not around. This, he concluded, was what many call “love”.
Sarah, for her part, was as spunky, smart, and smitten as any Austen heroine. Generally mature and self-aware, she shocked herself in those moments in which she demonstrated extreme displays of immaturity. She recognized that many of her faculties and character traits had out-matured the others, but she was confident the others would catch up in due time. At any rate, these personal shortcomings were, in her mind, no reason at all to prevent an otherwise favorable marriage to Tom.
You see, Sarah knew instinctively, though not consciously, that her mothers’ objection to Tom was not necessarily against him, but rather her being married in the first place. This instinctual personal offense is what led Sarah to employ the aforementioned dramatics with a greater fervor than she normally would, given similar circumstances.
For her part, Sarah’s mother, out of a love for her daughter, did not want to articulate her objections this way, so she kept along the same line of argumentation as earlier. “I don’t care what manner of warm affection that boy thinks he feels for you; men are fickle, Sarah!”
“Was Daddy fickle in how he felt about you!”
“Hmm.. you’re right. I must re-phrase myself: boys are fickle, Sarah!”
“Tom is not a boy!”
“On what account do you feel you have the experience, knowledge, understanding, and perspective to make such an evaluation of a male? What more: on what account do you think you can make this evaluation better than me?”
“I just know-uh…” Sarah caught herself adding the extra syllable onto her retort, like a four-year-old. She understood how this would ultimately undermine her case.
So there they stood. Sarah and her mother, on opposite sides of the kitchen, silent, staring with mouths agape, absolutely shocked at how unreasonable and unfair the other was being, and if only they would take a second to see it from the other person’s perspective they’d finally “understand”.
A knock broke this trance between them.
Her mother left the kitchen, was gone for some time at the front door, and returned with the strangest look on her face.
Russell Hezekiah Albright emerged from behind Sarah’s mother, beaming. She said, “Sarah, Russell here has something he’d like to say.”
“Sarah, we’ve been good friends for many years now, having been taught by the same tutors, having lost our fathers within three years of one another. As you know, I became the recipient of a large wealth after my father’s passing. I have recently come to the conclusion that a man of my status and resources needs to finally settle down with a kindly, gentle woman who can serve his…shall we say…less ‘material’ needs. And Sarah, having surveyed all of the women in our circles, I have come today to ask your mother for permission to be your husband, and your mother has agreed to let me have you as my wife!”
“She did? And she said you’d be just as excited as me! I shall return later to establish the plans for the wedding. Until then, my love!”
Russell Albright then took Sarah’s hand and, kissing it, knelt and swore his fidelity to her. She stared blankly, the color having left her face, and simply curtsied and retired to her room as he left the house.
Sarah thought: surely her mother would not play games with a matter of such seriousness as this! Would she really dally with such weighty affairs in such a cavalier way? Sarah could not think of an answer. Her mother was known to be creative in how she tried to challenge her daughters left-over immaturities, but this would be a bit over-the-top.
Sarah decided she wouldn’t do it. She would run away and meet Tom in town and they would elope. He could borrow his brother’s horse and they could head east to one of the cities Sarah had heard were there. She had a little money saved up from when her father died. Tom could find work in the cities building all their new buildings. She could raise their family and leave her mother and all the interference she played in the course of Sarah’s life.
She heard another knock on the door. Was Russell back already? Not even five minutes after he left? She heard her mother open it and welcome in the guest. She then heard the unmistakable stammering baritone of Thomas Shelby Douglas, come to ask for her hand.
This work by Paul Burkhart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.