In the winter of 1924 Gabriel Johnston failed to attend dinner at his friend Harvey Fanworth’s home on the basis of a bad back.  He did however allow his family to attend in his absence.  For the next several months he would regard that decision as a mistake. Emboldened by the absence of paternal eyes, his eldest daughter Elizabeth took the opportunity to deepen her connection to Fanworth’s eldest son, John.

 

It is a well known phenomena that although fathers may often speak of looking forward to the day when they will leave peaceful, happy and financially less draining lives with their daughters married off, the moment of having to face up to that frightful ‘giving away’ and all that goes with their little angel’s maturity is a difficult one to manage.  Gabriel acknowledged that the boy was charming, that he was polite, largely sensible and had great prospects with his career in the city.  He acknowledged that John treated Elizabeth well, that it was nice to see the girl so happy and to think that they should be affirming their relations with such an old friend through the union of their offspring.  What he struggled to acknowledge was that his precious flower was anywhere near ready to be deflowered and though he did all that was required of a father of the bride in the months leading up to the wedding he did so with a scowl upon his face and a distant and confused look in his eyes.

 

Suzannah Johnston, mother of the bride, was a mess of nerves and planning.  Everything, of course, had to be perfect.  She bullied Elizabeth with all maternal affection over what she ate, for fear she would gain weight, what she liked, in case it differed from Suzannah’s view of perfect and how she behaved toward her fiancé, for fear that he might change his mind.  Why exactly the behaviour that had won affection in the first instance may suddenly be inclined to drive it away was a mystery that not even Suzannah herself could have solved but everyone was in each their own way too wrapped up in the magic and spectacle that is a wedding to give too much thought to it.

 

Elizabeth for her part was glowing.  Her views of marriage and what was to come in their life together was romantic to say the least.  She would become bewildered at times with what her mother tried to explain her wifely duties, of serious matters of running a home and keeping staff of how she should behave and what she could expect from her future spouse.  At times a little furrow would appear on her brow, momentarily marring her picture perfect face as she wondered at how complicated it all seemed but John was handsome and so in her youthful optimism and the pounding of her sweet, chaste heart she had no doubt that being a good wife would be just as easy as pie and she would quickly drift back into her romantic reverie.

 

Only Elizabeth’s younger sister, Sally-Anne, wasn’t entirely swept away by the drama of the impending nuptials.  She wandered, aloof and largely neglected, through the maelstrom of the preparations, longing for the day that life would return to normal while being faintly aware that it never would.  She briefly wondered at whether she should find a beau of her own but her experience of the opposite sex was mostly that they frowned too much, liked theatre too little and were overall no fun.  She was old enough to acknowledge that a handsome male served some decorative purpose but had not yet encountered one that could set her heart to fluttering and moreover, having once inadvertently walked in on what her sister and John had doubtless imagined was a private moment and seen something quite alarming, she had reached the conclusion that the complexities of masculinity were something she was not yet ready to explore.

 

She tried to be supportive of her sister but when the burden of that supportiveness became to much, which was at least a hundred times a day, she would take herself away somewhere quiet.  She tried not to be sulky but she found herself experiencing a deeper and deeper sense of resentment toward handsome John.  Why did he have to be so charming all the time?  Why was he so nice to her mother?  It wasn’t her he was marrying. And why was he always trying to hard to impress father who was clearly unimpressed by anything.  She hated the way he would sit looking at her sister and when Elizabeth came over would say nothing but kiss her hand and touch her hair or something equally unnecessary but which nevertheless always seemed to make her sister swoon.  She hated the way the Elizabeth fawned over him when he was there and the way she floated through the house hugging herself and sighing when he wasn’t.  What was so special about getting married anyway?  As far as she could see her parents being married had involved only the most basic of normal normalness and a lot of being bad tempered, she saw little to recommend it. Sally-Anne aspired to more.  Sally-Anne aspired to adventures and travels and seeing the world, she did not yet know how she would achieve this but while the wedding plans rushed forward Sally-Anne stayed in her room with her books and dreamed of far-away places.

 

The wedding came and went as Elizabeth had been warned weddings do. The excitement of the planning comes to a crashing crescendo in the exhilaration and romance of the day, and then it’s gone and your new life begins.  When Elizabeth left the family home for the last time her sister cried.  Elizabeth tried to explain to Sally-Anne that marriage was an adventure too and the most exciting one she could imagine and that one day when Sally-Anne met the right boy, she too would decide to get married.  Elizabeth told her that she saw no more fulfilling life for a woman to lead, after all, who wants to grow and be a spinster with no man to take care of?  She told her sister that they would still see each other often and that they would all of them live happily ever after, just wait and see.

 

Sally-Anne wasn’t sure what was so bad about being a spinster beyond the fact that it was a nasty sounding word and failed utterly to understand why taking care of anyone was so desirable.  She had killed every plant her mother had ever given her to look after and had eventually been forced to agree that she was possibly not responsible enough to look after a puppy, why would she want to look after a man who was far less adorable and clearly capable of looking after himself.

 

The weeks after the wedding were quiet.  Gabriel spent a lot of time in his office and was dour when he came out.  Suzannah was at intervals exhausted and flushed with nervous energy that she couldn’t seem to direct.  Sally-Anne stayed in her room and kept on reading but at some point, after all the dust had settled, and the absence of Elizabeth had become normal Suzannah began remember that she had another daughter and, desperately in need of a new pet project, she turned her maternal attentions to the hapless Sally-Anne.

 

Sally Anne had never been the ideal daughter in her mother’s eyes, she was stubborn as a mule and less elegantly built,  she ate too much and veered wildly between sitting silently oblivious to the world around her and speaking out of turn.  If Suzannah was going to get this second daughter married off she was going to have her work cut out for her.  As Suzannah swelled with joy at something else to think about and a new target for her maternal bullying so Sally-Anne turned ever inward.  Sally-Anne knew very well what the sudden attention of her mother meant and she struggled to understand how the decisions of her older sister should have such a profound effect on her own existence.  How could she go from being the youngest and still therefore really a child who was free to climb trees if she so chose, and if didn’t get caught and being forced to make herself beautiful to find a husband in so short a time and without any encouragement on her part?

 

Well read as she was Sally-Anne struggled to express to her mother exactly how unhappy she was with this set of circumstances.  Sally-Anne’s seventeenth year was notable in the main due the unusual amount of raised female voices in the Johnston household and Gabriel would frequently slam the door to his office to make a point of the fact that he had been driven there by the rabble of femininity that plagued his every waking moment.  Having given the first daughter away the prospect of giving away the second was far less daunting and with all the shouting going on he was soon fully espoused to the notion of having a house free of daughters.  When Sally-Anne approached him with the suggestion that she should go to college, he had laughed, not just at the absurdity of a woman seeking education but also in hysteria at the thought they she should remain in his house for years and years to come fighting with her mother and potentially unmarriageable.

 

Wilful as she is, Sally-Anne is not a bad girl and stubborn as she is she still is not brave enough to venture out into the world alone and she feels bad that she keeps making her mother cry and her father angry.  She tries to turn to her sister but Elizabeth is married now and all grown up, she tells Sally-Anne that she must do the same.  Elizabeth visits frequently but only it appears as a good example for her sister.  Sally-Anne is forced to admit that he sister seems happy and that she and John appear to shout a lot less than her parents.  Eventually she acquiesces to the concept of being beautified.  She agrees to attend the balls and to be charming and sweet.  She stops fighting, she still reads her books and dreams her dreams but she comes to allow the events of her life to unfold around her.  One day Suzannah even calls Sally-Anne a good girl.

 

Eventually, inevitably, because love beckons to us all, Sally-Anne meets a boy that she likes.  His name is Ned and he enjoys reading and drawing, he dreams big dreams and Sally-Anne likes to listen when he talks.  He’s not as handsome or as charming as John, but she blushes when he looks at her and her heart beats faster.  He makes the complexities of masculinity seem less daunting and he doesn’t even seem to mind when she allows her thoughts to drift or blurts out something she probably shouldn’t.  Sally-Anne accepts his proposal and marriage does seem like an adventure.

 

There is another wedding to plan and Suzannah is happily a ball of nervous energy again, Gabriel hides in his office and Sally-Anne is grateful that, despite the new responsibilities of motherhood, Elizabeth is far more gifted at being supportive than Sally-Anne herself had been. Sally-Anne is glad that she has finally been able to make everyone happy.  She hopes with everything she has that Ned will pursue his dreams and that she will be still travel and have adventures by his side and if not Sally-Anne knows one thing for sure, when she has a little girl who reads books and climbs trees and hopes to see far away places and that little girl asks to go to college the answer will be ‘yes’.