Mrs. Dalloway the Lost Excerpt
Suddenly Mrs. Coates looked up into the sky. The sound of an aeroplane bored ominously into the ears of the crowd. . ."Glaxo," said Mrs. Coates in a strained, awestricken voice, gazing straight up, and her baby, lying stiff and white in her arms, gazed straight up.
After pondering the cryptic clouds of smoke for a few more moments, Emily Coates decided that it was time to head towards the park. Emily carefully placed baby Stephanie back into her carriage and then slowly made her way out of the crowd.
Once they were back in the safety of the flow of fellow pedestrians, Emily breathed in the morning air deeply. Today was indeed a fine day to take Stephanie out into the world. Stephanie was lying stiff, staring up blankly at whatever caught her eye. Stephanie had been taken on walks a few times before, but never very far from their apartment which was now a good ten blocks away. Emily knew she was over-protective of Stephanie, so she promised herself that on the next fine day that came, she would take Stephanie on a long walk, going anywhere that Emily's feet could handle. No servants, no nannies just mother and daughter out on the town. Emily wanted Stephanie to be as familiar with the world outside their apartment as she was. And yet, at the same time Emily wanted Stephanie to be safe. She blamed this desire for safety as the reason for her waiting to take Stephanie to the park for the first time. This and the fact that her husband Roland was usually working whenever she had a hint of courage to go. If Roland had certainly been home at those times, Stephanie would have definitely been to the park for the first time long before today. But in any case, it felt exhilarating to be outside today. This feeling is just from walking down the street, Emily thought. She could only imagine how lovely walking through the park would be.
* * *
When Emily had at last decided on a shady spot to rest, her feet felt as though they had circled Regent's Park twice. But it had been such a lovely walk! And Stephanie had giggled and smiled a few times at various sights and sounds, so Emily had kept going despite her feet's protest. She wanted Stephanie to feel life around her, and having sensed her accomplishment she found Stephanie's bottle, picked up Stephanie and sat back down on the worn park bench.
As Emily watched Stephanie suck contently on the bottle, Emily's thoughts began to drift. She began to think back to before Stephanie had been born, how she and Roland would take frequent walks to the park and just sit for hours, discussing everything that came to their minds. She knew then that she and Roland were soul mates and she knew Roland knew too. Emily and Roland had never once fought with each other (at this thought, Emily paused feeding Stephanie for a moment to knock on the wood bench beneath her); they had always discussed things openly without worrying about how the other would react. Everyday Roland worked hard at his job as an accountant at the London Accounting Firm. It was a well-paying job that allowed them to live comfortably in a modest two-story apartment that was cozy enough for the three of them but had the capacity to hold fairly large parties and comfortably house up to six guests. They had two wonderful housekeepers, Nancy and Margery, who kept the apartment sparkling. Emily and Roland always made a conscious effort to compliment their work at least once a day and always made sure to give them major holidays off with pay. This was partly because the two of them certainly deserved it with all the dedication they put into their work and partly because they were both lovely women who had growing families of their own to support, their husbands' pay alone not meeting their financial needs. Some days Roland would get his work done early and hurry home so he and Emily could go out for a long stroll before supper. Life was good then and it continued to be now, and yet Emily knew something had changed. Something had shifted when Stephanie had been born and before Emily began to worry.
Roland's job had always required extra hours at the office on occasion. And just before Stephanie had been born, Roland was given a promotion that gave him significantly more pay. But with the promotion came more obligations for Roland to perform. He began going to business luncheons and dinner parties as a representative for his accounting firm. This meant that even if he got all his work done at the end of the day, he would still have to put on his very best suit and head off to a business gathering of some sort to try and gain even more customers for the firm. Sometimes he would have time to come home and change and Emily would spend at least a few moments with him as he dressed and help him straighten out his tie or fix his hair just right. But more recently, he had been bringing his change of clothing to the office with him in the mornings so he could change at work, so it would only be late at night that Emily would see him again. And usually Stephanie would be fast asleep as Roland would creep into her room and gently caress her head. Roland was a great husband and a great father. Emily wasn't disputing this, she told herself. But then what was it that was troubling her?
Stephanie let out a faint groan as the last of the milk had been sucked out, and this snapped Emily out of her trance. "Oh, you finished have you?" Emily said in a playful tone. "Well, how about we head back home my dear little angel, mommy's feet are worn out." Stephanie giggled in agreement as Emily gently placed her back into the carriage.
* * *
Emily watched contently as their nanny Justine kept Stephanie occupied with her colorful toy blocks and plush dolls as Emily sipped her tea. Roland had suggested they hire a nanny for the baby since they could easily afford one now and it would not burden their current help. Emily had reluctantly agreed and Justine had turned out to be a real relief those first few weeks Stephanie had been home. Thanks to Justine, Emily and Roland had been able to sleep soundly as baby Stephanie became accustomed to the sleep cycle outside her mother's womb. But Emily continued to worry about the particulars of Stephanie's development. Emily could have sworn that she had read all of the most respectable books on parenting and child-rearing there were. She had taken to heart her mother's recommendations as well as that of her friends and neighbors who had children of their own. She had heard numerous horror stories of scrapes and bad bumps to the head and even broken bones due to various accidents, which usually involved the parents not paying enough attention to their little ones. After Emily had heard such tails, she inwardly swore to always listen to her gut instinct and watch her little one every single moment and keep her close. But after Stephanie had been born, she quickly realized that the promise she had sworn was impossible to keep. Accidents happen, and they are sometimes impossible to foresee. One night about five weeks after Stephanie had been home, Stephanie cried out in the middle of the night. When Emily and Roland saw her in her crib, they saw that her foot had somehow gotten caught in between the bars of the crib. Roland had gently maneuvered her tiny foot out of the vice she had inadvertently worked it into, and Stephanie had wailed the whole time. The next day, they bought a new crib with no bars, only soft padded sides. Since then, Emily had come to terms with the possibility that Stephanie would probably have accidents, just like everyone else and that they couldn't be helped. But Emily continued to worry over Stephanie's psychological development.
She wanted Stephanie to be a well-balanced girl who was smart and polite and most of all happy. Emily spoiled her less and less as the months went by, never knowing exactly when Stephanie's permanent memories would start to kick in. She didn't want Stephanie to expect that whatever she wanted she would automatically get. That would be no good. All the experts said so and no one wants a spoiled brat. Emily even started trying to teach Stephanie the alphabet and how to spell her name and three letter words like "cat" and "dog". Stephanie couldn't even speak and here was an eight-month old being taught how to spell with colorful blocks. Needless to say, the blocks usually ended up being covered in drool. Emily didn't mind this because she felt that on some level Stephanie was learning. Roland and Justine disbelievingly followed Emily's requests to not spoil Stephanie and to try to spell things with her blocks each day. But usually Roland would sometimes come home with a brand new doll or stuffed animal whenever he thought Emily wouldn't notice. She did, but she thought it more humorous to let him think he had gotten away with it. Besides, Emily thought to herself, they already thought she was too fussy about Stephanie's development, why add more wood to the fire? If they forgot to do lessons with her, she let it pass. Things were good, Emily couldn't ask for more. Except, her thoughts drifted yet again, perhaps more time with Roland.
* * *
Stephanie was fast asleep in her old baby crib with the bars, which was now kept downstairs so Emily could watch her before carrying her up to her new crib. Emily had just finished a late dinner. She had hoped Roland would be home before she finished, but he had called and said some more statements had to be finalized for tomorrow. So Emily kept Stephanie in her peripheral vision, as she read yet another parenting book.
Then the front door slowly opened, and Roland appeared in the hallway, visibly exhausted. Emily put down her book and for the first time in a long time, examined Roland entirely, searching for the reason why she felt something different between them.
"Long evening, Roland?" Emily said as soothingly as she could.
"It certainly was my dear, it certainly was." Roland barely glanced at her as he spoke. He was fussing over his satchel of papers. Even at home he was still working, thought Emily.
Then it hit her. Emily knew now what had come between Roland and her. They hadn't had a moment's peace alone to themselves in ages it seemed. Over time, they had both been compulsively fussing over their own projects. Emily fussed over Stephanie and Roland fussed over his work. Both were of great importance to be sure, but within the fussing they had lost track of each other somehow. They lived together and yet Emily could almost see the chasm between them that the fussing had caused. She knew she had to do something to bridge that chasm as soon as possible.
Without a second thought, Emily drew herself up to Roland. Roland set down his papers; Emily put her arms around his neck and kissed him. Emily and Roland kissed each other so passionately, for a moment they were back in the park, enjoying each other's company again. Neither of them wanted to be the one to draw away, but eventually Emily slowly did. They both gazed into each other's eyes for a moment. Emily smiled at Roland's face that was both slightly bewildered and happy.
"Wow, Em" Roland said in a hushed tone, "where did that come from? I mean, that was wonderful, but did something bad happen to you at the park today to bring that on?"
"Yes" Emily paused for a moment. "The bad thing that happened was, you weren't with us" replied Emily truthfully.
Roland then began to apologize, but Emily stopped him and said, "I'm the one who should be sorry. I realize now that I have been fussing too much over Stephanie. We have a wonderful nanny; I should leave her with the baby more. When you come home, we should go for walks again, like we used to do, before the baby and the promotion." Roland agreed, saying "You are right my sweet Em. We have been living separate lives lately haven't we?" He hugged her tightly and said, "We shall walk every evening from now on. I will ask my firm for time off if need be, but we will have our walks my dear. I want to live my life with my family not at my job." Roland unexpectedly trailed off, as tears started to drip down his face. "I have missed you both so much lately" he sobbed. Emily held Roland close and laughed as the tears fell down her own cheeks. They both then began to laugh. The stress was no longer inside them. They had taken back control of their life together. And together, they both knew, they would remain.