A WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE

She was one of those high society girls, confident and accomplished in many things. Her mother made sure the hired help taught her how to provide for herself and maintain a proper house should she ever find herself in a position where she needed to do so. 

“You must never totally rely on a man to do things for you” the girl’s mother admonished. “Your father was a weak man and a drunk. If I hadn’t found a publisher for my memoirs, we’d be destitute. I managed to write and tend to everything around the house while your father was off chasing daydreams. Because of that I learned to become a strong woman and you shall be one also.”

She remembered her father; how she adored him. If he was ineffectual, she never saw that side of him. All she saw was the fun-loving man who loved her beyond the moon, sang silly songs, made her laugh and bought her penny candy. He took her to the carnival and picnicking by the lake, tilting at windmills and searching the sky for clouds in the shape of dinosaurs or butterflies or whatever his imagination created. 

If he was drunk, she didn’t realize. Once or twice she asked why he wasn’t at work and he would laugh saying he’d rather spend his time with her; work would always be there tomorrow. But work was not there the next day and he drank himself into oblivion.

When he became sick from too much liquor, she knew something was terribly wrong. The house was quiet except for the sound of his wet cough. Then one day he was gone and it was as though he never existed. It was just her, her mother and the hired help in the large house. Her mother was busy with her publisher and it was the kindly household staff who taught her to be resourceful.

And so she grew into a self-assured, self-sufficient woman. She was the perfect combination of a woman of substance able to fend for herself but one who also delighted in the company of a gentleman who could well and ably provide for her. Her mother said she must learn to tell the difference between an honorable, well-respected man and a foolish dreamer with no goals in life. She must be vigilant not to become attracted to a man like her father who was full of empty promises.   

She was wooed by many young men – those belonging to the polo club who knew how to sail and play croquet and turn heads at garden parties. There were others who caught her eye as well – the ones who labored on the docks or skillfully shoed horses and dabbled in boxing in the back rooms of the local pubs where people shouted out their names and placed bets on who would win.

The dandies from the yacht club were pale and thin; they wore foppish clothes and were sparkling clean and looked down their long pointy noses at anyone who did not meet their standards. Their lives were empty and shallow and they didn’t even know it.

The hirsute boxers and dockworkers with tanned faces and rough hands wore patched pants and frayed shirts and had perpetually dirty fingernails. They worked hard and played harder; they drank beer in the pubs, sang songs and told bawdy jokes. They were happy with a lust for life and love despite having just a few coins to rub together.

One group of men was strong with twinkling eyes and roguish smiles while the other group was flaccid, dull-eyed and mealy-mouthed. And when time came for her to choose between one or the other, she chose one from her station, her peer, a seemingly substantial gentleman – the peacock who lived next door who gave the appearance of being his own man but was simply another empty vessel with nothing to offer. She soon learned he was a callow, selfish fellow with an overbearing mother and a useless father.

The girl’s mother did not approve of the lowly blacksmiths and boxers but she knew the insipid gent who claimed to adore her daughter would amount to nothing and she warned the girl: “I see your father in him – an inflated, aggrandized ne’er-do-well.” But the daughter would not listen. She was accustomed to men treating her with kid gloves. The thought of rough hands with dirty nails against her pearly white skin made her cringe.

How ironic could it be that the domineering mother of this man-child did not approve of her, the one he fawned over? “She may play the role of a woman of substance but she is only a pretender after your wealth. Her father was a nothing, a drunk, and she was tutored by the blacks who worked in the kitchen. You, my son, can do much better.”

But he couldn’t do better for he was a fool and he could not hold on to her. He cried into his pillow every night and cursed when he saw the one he cherished about town with a boxing dockworker who was ten times the man he was.

The pugilist treated her like a queen at all times – in the presence of others as well as in the privacy of their own home – and the woman of substance found she quite liked the feel of calloused hands on her spotless breasts.

NAR © 2022