Why him and not her?
“Why him and not her?” is one of the outstanding stories of the first biannual International Short Story Contest 2018 written by Prachi Agrawal, St. Brigid's Primary School, Ballsbridge, Ireland.
Why him and not her?
‘I’m very disappointe’ in thou Lillian, thou shall have known better than tha’!’ he screamed at her in his rough, thick accent, waggling a finger between her frightened eyes. ‘Years ago, lassies your age weren’ allowe’ to goo outside a’ all! ‘Such a disgrace! Spyin’ on your brother – ‘
‘Father, I wasn’t spying! Cross my heart with my life and soul, I wasn’t spying!’
‘Thou dare interrupt me with a big whapper! Lassies your age have to be tau’ a lesson! First spyin’, then lyin’, interruptin’, God knows wha’ll come next…’
‘I was just –‘
‘Help your Mother wi’ tea until I hear a fulsome apoligi’!’
Lillian stared at her Father’s strict, gaunt face. His forehead was furrowed in a frown and his face was contorted in fury. His wrinkled skin was bunched up below his empty, grey eyes and his thin lips were pursed beneath his thick, barbarous beard, making a frightening scowl.
She murmured a quite sorry and went off to the pantry to get eggs and bread for her father’s and brother’s afternoon tea. It wasn’t her fault. Today was just her unlucky day. For years, she sneaked behind her brother’s window while Mrs. Dickson, his governess, taught all sorts of fascinating things called ‘Mathematics’ and ‘Handwriting’. She had handcrafted a clumsy copy from the leftover paper left in her brother’s bin after lessons and ‘borrowed’ a pencil from him too. Day after day, she would sit there in awe, and soon, she had learned how to read and write and add and divide. She was proud of that, for not many girls her age were able to do so. Little Anne next door, she couldn’t even talk properly!
But today was just her unlucky day. Mr. Marleigh, Little Anne’s father had spotted her from his window and had told her father. The next thing she knew her father had taken her by the ear in the middle of sewing class and given her a big rant about it.
For years she had laid in bed wondering why her twin brother got everything. He was three minutes younger yet she never got his opportunities. He got a room. She got a cupboard. He got brand new, fashionable clothes. She stitched them for him. He ate first, however many helpings he could possibly wolf up. She helped mother with the food and served him.
He got the right to speak.
And if she wouldn’t have tried hard enough no little girl probably ever would have.
It was the summer of 1831, a pleasant summer in the east of Derbyshire and the English Primroses had come to full bloom in front of Abbyeshire Manor. Lillian and Lygolas Cromwell were in the house for the sun was at its most fierce and Mrs. Cromwell was worried they’d get hyperthermia. Lygolas, Lillian’s stout twin brother was busy sunbathing in their sunroom porch and Lillian, quite the contrary, lean and thin had made sparkling ginger lemonade and apple crumble pie with fresh cream for the family. Mr. Cromwell and Mr. Marleigh were gone to the trading market in the north of Nottingham with their pretty honey-coloured Dutch Warmbloods and were expected to come back at any moment.
‘Ah Lygolas, my littl’ gentleman, come ear’ to your dear father an see wha’ I’v’ go’en fo’thou!’ he said as he marched into the room with a hefty rucksack and took out a handsome birch accordion. ‘Thou are goin’ to play the accordion! I go’ such a dandly fine deal by Mr. Ainswor’ when I trad’ Hazel’s old saddle. Tis was too sma’ fo’ mean to big for thou!’ Mr. Ainswor’ was a nice man, he’s go’ a nice li’le lad too, shoulda go’en thou alon’ wi’ me…’
Lillian smiled to herself. She could imagine Lygola is playing the accordion, clumsily pressing with his pudgy fingers and dropping it and breaking his toe. She giggled quietly and asked Mother if she could go to Little Anne’s cottage.
When she got there, Anne was sobbing in her bed and hesitantly stood up and wiped her tears when she saw Lillian.
‘What’s the matter Anne?’
‘I – I – I’m getting married.’
Anne couldn’t stop crying after that.
‘At the ripe, young age of 15, and him, as old as 22!’ She sobbed, burying her face into the pillow and kneeling on the rug.
‘Father says his name is Chilter Ainswoth, son of Buckley Ainsworth, Chief Officer in a town called Derbyshire. He says he’s a ‘fine pickle o’ a lad, very strong and handsome’.’ she sniffed, and threw herself on the bed and started bawling again.
Lillian did all she could. She soothed her and said ‘it wasn’t that bad’. She patted her head and offered to do the washing for her. But they both knew something had to be done.
Days melted into weeks and weeks melted into months and finally the wedding day had arrived. Anne’s house was decorated from top to bottom with silver blossoms and purple foxgloves and the house smelt like cinnamon and nutmeg. Anne was wearing a beautiful beige wedding gown with small pearls sown at the helm of the dress and a frilly lace covering the gown. She smiled a bit at everyone, nodding and laughing, but a gaunt shadow was cast over her face – a shadow of deep sorrow.
Finally, when everyone was settled in the church, chatting and whispering, they first caught a glimpse of Chilter. He had a haughty aura around him. He walked with arrogance, his nose turned high up into the air and marching sure – footedly through the church. He was wearing a black tailcoat with a crisp white shirt and polished black shoes and a cocky black hat at an angle on his head. He grinned quickly as he passed the crowds of visitors and took a seat in the front aisle. The ceremony carried on, with scared little Anne walking up the aisle, scared little Anne nodding on everything the priest says and scared little Anne looking desperately at Lillian.
Lillian’s face grew hotter every time Anne glanced in her direction. Glance after glance, begging look after pitiful expression, the ceremony went on.
Lillian couldn’t wait any longer.
She had to do it.
She raced up to the aisle, sobbing. She was terrified. Just thinking about the consequences made her shudder. She imagined her in front of her father, staring at his gaunt eyes again. She imagined Anne’s lit up face, laughing and running free.
It was worth it.
‘Ladies and gentlemen!’ she shouted and all faces looked upon her. Father’s eyebrow went up. Little Anne looked hopeful and smiled a little.
‘I – I – I’m here to talk a – a – about Anne. Anne, such a beautiful little girl, was so little, so polite, and so helpful. She – she – she found out that she was getting married, a – a – a day after her Father had said yes! She matters! Doesn’t she?’
Some people nodded and muttered. Lillian had started to sweat. She was quivering from head to toe.
‘A – a – and she deserves to know right? And she deserves everything that Chilter does, right?
Chilter snorted. ‘Stop being utterly ridiculous little girl! Of course she doesn’t! She’s a girl!’
Some people laughed and snorted.
‘Y – y – yes I am!’ Anne shouted from across the church. Many people were surprised. She ran up to where Lillian was standing. Anne stood their appalled, holding Lillian’s clammy hand, she went on.
‘I am a girl and I’m proud! A – a – and I deserve everything that h – h – he does!’ and she pointed her dainty finger towards Chilter.
‘Extremely ludicrous!’ he said again, this time, looking a bit concerned now.
‘Why you and not me?’ said Anne quietly to Chilter.
‘Uh, because you’re a girl-‘ he said, sweating and stammering.
‘So? Have you got two hands and I have none? Do you have a brain and I don’t? Do you have a voice and mine’s missing? I’m the exact same Chilter.’ Anne said, smiling.
‘No wait – I’ve got a heart.’ she added, grinning.
All the little girls had started smiling now, pointing and making faces at Chilter.
‘P – p – perhaps, she is too young,’ whispered Mrs. Marleigh to her husband. ‘Possibly you’re right… and Chilter does seems very on top of his head, quite a wallow, I’ve heard from the marketers..’ he replied and walked up to the priest. The priest was still in shock of the whole berserk scene and was shaken even more by what Mr. Marleigh said.
The priest quietly summoned Anne and Chilter to the corner of the church and whispered something. Anne started smiling heartily and nodded as if her head was going to come off. Chilter furrowed his forehead and nodded curtly.
The priest paraded up to the altar and cleared his throat. Lillian held her breath.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, there is some news I may tell. Adolphus Marleigh, father of Annemarie Marleigh has requested this wedding to be ended immediately. This is by agreement of Ms. Marleigh and Mr. Ainsworth and permission of Mr. Ainsworth. I declare Annemarie Marleigh and Chilter Ainsworth officially unmarried.
Anne’s face lit up and she hugged her father and cried tears of utter joy. Chilter and his family looked very stunned and dazed indeed, and exited the church almost immediately, snorting and tatting. There was only one person that needed to be sorted.
Mr. Crawford walked slowly towards Lillian, who was laughing and hugging Anne. Lillian stared up at him. He was staring at her with such blank eyes, she shuddered.
‘Lil-‘ he started
‘Father I can explain, I – Anne – she, she needed-‘ she started hesitantly.
‘Lillian, I don’t know wha’ ha’ened to thou up on tha’ altar – bu’ I listened to tha’ very closely. Thou has opened my eyes Lillian, thou rea’y has – an’ from now on, thou an’ Lygolas ar’ the exac’ same, promise.’
That was all Lillian needed to make this the most special day of her life. She hugged her father and mother and Anne and cried and cried, tears of sheer joy and jumped and whooped and felt so free. Even the priest laughed.
And as they exited the church, you’d see a giant smile on their faces – a smile of victory for all of those little girls who needed a voice.
And they sure got one.