The Importance of Plum Dresses
Lennon said she would fill the vase herself.
For her husband, Joseph, was preoccupied, sitting (as he always did with one leg crossed over the other) in his office chair, staring with a blank expression outside the window at nothing at all in particular. What a fool, thought Lennon, I must be for marrying this dull, deeply uninteresting, unpassionate man. And those eyes! Those empty eyes of his! How could she have failed to notice his vacant eyes those many years ago when they first met at Mrs. Summersgill’s dinner party? There she was, only nineteen years old, dressed in that hideous plum dress (but of course her mother had insisted that she wore it, for Mrs. Smith had always believed that young women dressed in plum always stood out amongst the crowd at social gatherings), wandering through the crowded halls of the Summersgills’ country house.
Winston Churchill had won the general election against the stuffy Attlee that very day, and as Lennon sat, awfully bored and feeling quite lonely, in the parlor, Lady Grant argued that Churchill would only bring doom to the country, while Sir Hillsbury scoffed and replied with some comment relating to the war and German soldiers. Why must dinner parties, thought Lennon, always be so dreadfully tedious! She had absolutely no interest in forcing smiles and speaking utter nonsense to unfamiliar guest for hours and hours. And the food! The food was always terribly bland at Mrs. Summersgill’s parties! Lennon would have much rather stayed home, sitting in bed with a Jane Austen novel and a warm mug of earl gray tea, where she was safely remote from the snobbish women of the Summersgills’ social gatherings.
But alas, there she was, sitting quite uncomfortably in a leather chair, when Joseph approached her from the hall. but Joseph had never intended to fall in love with the Smiths’ pale, thin daughter who was said to have preferred reading and speaking of history over dinner parties and dances and the latest London fashion (and how rare it was for a woman of this time to speak publicly of her distaste of all things feminine). Joseph, indeed, had always enjoyed the grandeur of social gatherings in the country, and had always thought the Summersgills to be absolutely wonderful company; their booming laughs echoed through the grand estate, bursting through the crowded halls, through the kitchen, and – finally – arriving in the parlor, where guests danced and smoked cigarettes, suddenly overcome with the feeling that they were in the presence of true greatness as they stood in the Summersgills’ house. But why, thought Joseph, now filled with doubt as he sat staring at his wife’s hydrangeas, did I approach Lennon, out of all the perfectly lovely ladies at that dinner party so many years ago? Was it perhaps her smile? But, alas, Lennon’s mouth was quite crooked (of course he eventually learned to grow accustomed to the left end of her lip drooping slightly below the remainder of her mouth) and her smile always looked unenthusiastic and cold; no, not the smile; it was not Lennon’s smile that he was drawn to those six years ago. But of course! The purple dress! Joseph Wells had absolutely loved that dress, its fabric draped across the leather chair, almost shimmering in the dimly lit parlor; he had approached her without much thought, and did not find her particularly attractive; but that marvelous dress, made of rippling waves of elegance (and a woman wearing such fine fabric clearly understood the importance of class and appearance) led Joseph to believe that Lennon Smith would make a wonderful wife.
Water cascaded out of the vase and Mrs. Wells stood by the sink, staring out of her window into the crisp, autumn morning. Had it been minutes since she had first turned on the water, since she had dove into her memory and began drowning in regret? Mrs. Wells hastily shut off the sink as Joseph turned towards her.
“Darling, are you happy?” He longed for the truth, for honesty. Was this marriage truly crumbling, or had his imagination lead him astray from reality?
Lennon closed her eyes as she stood facing the window, her husband’s silence seeping into her veins as she tightened her grip on the sink handle.
“Absolutely,” answered Mrs. Wells.