Historical Fiction

Chris and Evelyn are going on the protest march tomorrow. I’ve done my best to persuade them that though I agree with the cause, of course I do, and they know it, I think it’s unwise. I would hate for anything to happen to them, and things do happen. Neither side has clean hands in this equal rights and universal suffrage issue. I agree, with Chris, even though it was put rather crudely and frankly shocked me (am I turning into a prude?) that what you have down below shouldn’t impinge in the slightest on your right to have a say in the running of the country. But throwing bricks through shop windows and setting off smoke bombs and vandalising works of art isn’t right, and of course it provokes a reaction.

     There’s the risk of jail, too. Pat from next door but one has been force-fed, and been very brave, and tried to downplay it, but the sight of that grey face and those sunken eyes where there was once such a winning and lively sparkle lingers in my mind and oh, I don’t want that to happen to Chris and Evelyn! Since our parents died, I’ve felt so protective of them, even though they’re of age now. Chris is more hot-headed and a firm believer in actions speaking louder than words. Evelyn is generally thoughtful and guarded, but can suddenly erupt into extremes of intensity and (I have to say it!) militancy that chill me.

     “Things ARE changing,” I said, “Look, you’re allowed to go to university now, and who’d have thought that a couple of years ago.”

     Chris snorted. Chris is a very good snorter, an art I have never mastered.  When I try it sounds either as if I have a bad cold or something has gone down the wrong way. “Oh yes, that’s a crumb they throw us! But with a limited range of subjects, and we’re still supposed to be chaperoned,”

     “True, most ignore that and get away with it, within reason,” Evelyn said. “But we have precious few real career chances and options afterwards, sometimes we have to wonder what the point of it is! Be honest about it, Lindsey!”

     I could only sigh and repeat that I was on their side but worried about them.

     “You’re a good sort, but we’re not children now, you know,” said Chris. 

     I still wonder if I have the right to forbid them, or at least to try to. There are so many grey areas in this matter. But I don’t want to. If that’s love or cowardice or both, I don’t know. Since our parents were killed in that train wreck, there have only been the 3 of us, and the thought of a rift is a horrible one. What would our parents have done? Oh, how I wish they could advise me. At times I feel both very young and inexperienced and inept, and so much older than my years. 

     They have proudly shown me the banner they have sewn with the slogans and images of what I rather wish they wouldn’t call the martyrs. Frankly, from an artistic or needlework point of view, it’s not that wonderful. They’ve never been especially handy, either of them, though I think Chris might have potential.

     It’s that lack of concentration though. And that contradictory fact that although banners are a part and parcel of the cause and the demonstrations, there’s something about the actual making of them that seems at odds with it. That’s crazy, really – I’m not bad with the needle myself if needs be! But it’s the way things are.

     Even now there’s some kind of vague notion that using a sewing machine would be “cheating”, though I’m convinced that they must have been used on some of the larger and more impressive ones. It must take no small amount of strength to carry them and to hold them aloft, but aching arms are the least of my worries.

     After a bad bout of gastroenteritis last year, Evelyn isn’t even that physically strong and there’s no point to denying it. 

     It’s going to be one of the biggest marches yet. There will be a band playing, too! If only I could believe that it will basically be a good day out, but making a point that (yes, of course I agree!) needs to be made and is just.

     Am I trying to convince myself too much? I suppose if the truth be told, then I want there to be equal voting rights, but I want the fight to be over, and Chris and Evelyn not involved in it. I know better than to say that. I would get a scornful look and one or both of them would point out that letting other people fight your battles for you is no way to behave. Evelyn, who is studying English literature, would remind me about that famous speech Henry V made about those who weren’t there on St Crispin’s day before the Battle of Agincourt. 

     I had to bite my tongue at that point not to say something that, well, let’s say wouldn’t have helped the situation and would have led to one of those discussions that starts off as reasonable and even good natured, but descends to bitterness and going round in circles.

     Of course it’s wrong, even more essentially wrong than there not being equivalence of voting rights, to carry things over from one generation to another and to visit the sins of the parents on the children. The use of the word “visit” in that context always strikes me as a bit odd and summons up a weird mental image. 

     Yet in my heart of hearts I can still understand why and how it happened. Yes, it was decades ago now, but the world had come close to self-destruction. Weapons of war had become more and more lethal (Evelyn would point out that you can’t make a comparison of lethal, and would have a point) and there was such blind aggression, not just on the battlefields, but in quiet market towns and old cities, and picture postcard villages. It all happened incrementally, though sometimes there would be a quantum leap, a sudden flare up. Extremist parties gained massive support, and the gun began to take precedence over the ballot box.

     The decision can’t have been one the government took easily, even though it had plainly been coming, and some of the MPs thought that even though it meant sacrificing their own jobs, it was still worth it, just to stem the bloodshed. 

     Still, that lesson must have been learnt by now! And I suppose that in their position I would be joining Chris and Evelyn on that march, and waving a banner proclaiming VOTES FOR MEN!

Author’s Note.   I’m aware that a certain trickery was required in this story, and hope it didn’t come over as too laboured. Please could I point out that though more usually used as female forenames, both Evelyn (as in the author Evelyn Waugh) and Lindsey (the current Speaker of the British house of parliament is a man called Lindsey Hoyle!) can also be male.  

June 04, 2020 05:22

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