Sunday, 23 September 2012

Game of Sitting Rooms

"Your brother," and here Mrs. Golddieb sneered without changing the lightly conversational tone she was using, "had telegrammed us to say that he will be in London this coming week and wishes to visit."  She was sitting in a high-backed wing-chair in the Blue Drawing Room, one of three in the Golddieb's five-storey townhouse, stiff-backed herself and holding the offensive telegram in one hand.  The chair was brocaded to match the carpet and appeared almost to grow out of the floor in an oddly organic way.
Mr. Martin Golddieb took care to look pained, and left the comfort of the Welsh Dresser to cross the sand-and-silver carpet and take the telegram from his wife.
"Oh Miriam," he said, glancing at the telegram.  "Well, I suppose we have a duty to entertain hi–"
"Like he entertains those whores?"  Little red blotches appeared in the centre of her cheeks, and he could almost swear that she was trembling with rage.
"Pas devant les enfants," he said reflexively.  "Mir–"
"The children are with the nurse," she said, hissing her sibilants like an angry snake.  "But you are here in front of me, telling me that you intend to invite that little viper into this house again!  How can you stand to be under the same roof as that vile little man?  You know he consorts with consorts frequently in his house in Leeds!  You must remember that he attempted to marry one of them last Spring!  Hah, if your father hadn't intervened then we'd all be disgraced.  And only two months ago, he hanged a man in his front garden!"  Her hands were clutching the arms of the chair so hard that her knuckles were bone white, and when he looked at her face again little beads of sweat were standing out on her forehead.
"The man was a traitor," said Martin, working backwards through the litany.  "He stole boot-blacking and was selling it to the baker to adulterate bread with.  My brother sought to kill three birds with one stone: he stopped the theft, he stopped the adultery–" he paused while Mrs. Golddieb snorted, "– and he made an example of the man that others could not deny they'd seen.  I sincerely hope you'd expect me to do no less under the circumstances."  He paused again, waiting for agreement from his wife.  The angry silence drew out, first for seconds, then for nearly a minute.  At last, unwillingly, she glanced at the Welsh Dresser where the heads of the northwards-neighbour's children were floating in preserving jars and nodded, her jaw tight and her eyes fixed firmly forwards.  "My father did thankfully intervene with Johann, and none are more grateful than me for that.  None," he emphasized, his foot striking the floor in time with the word.  "He had his failings, but we all have those and it is best not to mention them in polite company.  Even in discreet company it can only fare ill to talk of these matters."  He sighed, his tone dropping from formal and angry to weary all of a sudden.  "But you are right, Miriam, you are very right.  When Johann comes this time I will speak to him about his attraction to the less salubrious side of life and set him straight.  He must reduce his contact with these women; in fact, he should take a wife, a proper wife, and the sooner the better."
"I am pleased that you think this way," said Miriam stiffly.  Although she was pleased with her husband's words she couldn't bring herself to step down from the argument as easily as he could and would need to leave the room and let her anger cool down from its simmer before she could agree to his truce.  "I think I shall go and see what the children are learning this afternoon, and then instruct the cook to provide something suitable for their tea."  She stood up, and smoothed down her heavy dress that provided insulation against the cold and made her feel like walking was a constant struggle.
"I would like cucumber sandwiches for tea," said her husband quickly, aware that his wife was growing increasingly keen on the idea of a diet of raw meat for the boys.  "Perhaps with some of that new spice?"
"Paprika," said Miriam.  "If you insist, dear."  She swept out of the room, the fabric of her dress rustling against itself like the wind in trees in a storm.  The Blue Drawing Room door closed behind her, just loudly enough to be a final reproof, and Martin sighed again, and went back to the Welsh Dresser.  He picked up one of the heavy preserving jars in both hands and turned it until he could look into the dead eyes of the boy's head.  Their northward's neighbour had sent the children into his garden on a raid, probably hoping that not all of them would come back.  None of them had returned.
"Well Christian," he said to the dead head, "it looks like Johann will be causing his usual excitement.  All it needs now is for Nickie to cause a scene as well and announce her arrival and it will be a menagerie here instead of a home."

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