Saturday, 14 July 2012

75: Antonia

A woman called Antonia shuns meals-on-wheels, preferring instead to boil a soft egg. Antonia thinks dipping bread and butter in the yolk is vulgar, so she arranges one slice on a separate plate, in quarters with the crusts removed. She nibbles at the soft whiteness, taking care to alternate bites of egg-bread-egg-bread. Antonia listens to Radio 3, knows the correct piece of cutlery to use, reads the Bible, Shakespeare, nothing newer than Edith Wharton. She dresses each afternoon to receive visitors that may drop by for high tea. A cake stand is unused in the kitchen. Antonia’s hair is barely streaked with silver in the photos with her grandchildren. She wonders if they remember her.

A woman called Antonia never learnt to drive. What was the need when one’s driver is always available? Antonia shopped at Harrods, on account. She thinks Sir Hugh Fraser would never have sold to an Egyptian, and bought three monogrammed Louis Vuitton bags. Antonia marked twenty years since Coco Chanel passed away with a new suit. She wore it to Francis’ graduation but chose Ralph Lauren for his wedding after he warned her not to upstage his bride. The flight arrived in Johannesburg with only hours to spare before her first grandchild’s christening. The invitation for the second was lost in the post.

A woman called Antonia blossomed in pregnancy. Nanny said so each time. She regained her trim figure three times, each with a little more difficulty than the last. Antonia saw the boys each afternoon for an hour and her daughter for a little longer. She saw her husband if he wasn’t up in town. Dinner was served promptly at 7.30 but she was forbidden from planning the menu for all except the smallest gathering. Antonia wondered if seven really was old enough to start boarding. She cultivated roses and supported charities. Neither filled the hole she didn’t realize was there.

A woman called Antonia chose a chiffon coming-out gown and low heeled pumps, suitable for dancing as much as was seemly. Other girls were envious at the number of suitors paying her attention and when they smiled at her, their eyes did not. She was introduced to Charles by his mother. Antonia delighted her father with the union and wore her mother’s wedding dress, her grandmother’s pearls. They honeymooned in the South of France, returning early after Charles’ mother had a minor health scare. Antonia once attended a ball where Princess Margaret was guest of honour, but wasn’t presented to her.

A girl called Antonia dreams of being a princess, married to a handsome prince who worships her. She takes ballet classes and practises walking as if there is a book on her head. She has beautiful manners and already speaks French and a smattering of Italian. Antonia misses her brother and if her younger brother must be sent to join him, longs to go too. She looks forward to needlework with Mama each afternoon but is relieved to return to tea with Nanny at 4 o’clock. Antonia has a favourite tree and even climbed it once.

A girl called Antonia wonders what the future holds for her.

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