The Machinations of Matilda
Matilda was not having a good year; she had turned sixty, put on two stone and lost her husband – and it was still only April. More
Matilda Atkins has been having a bad time. Her beloved husband Charlie has died leaving her bereft both emotionally and financially. Her catering company is failing and she has put on a lot of weight – is she eating the profits? Her family are keen to help, but they have their own lives to lead and in any case their plans for her are just that – their plans. It is not until she finds an old friend that she begins to start the next phase of her life.
“Knickers and bras.” I shouted the words at the walls of my empty kitchen. I had just got off the telephone. Not an unusual occurrence, but this was the first invitation I had had since becoming a widow. Widow. Hateful word that swirled around constantly in my head. Was that the way people would refer to me from now on? Matilda Atkins - widow. I used to think it a romantic word. It conjured up the picture of a noble and tragic figure; but not any more. It had not been a good year, I had turned sixty, gained two stone and lost my husband, Charlie, to a heart attack and it was still only April. But I had to get used to my new status, so I practiced saying the word out loud. “I’m a widow” Just the bald fact, with a solemn face. “I’m a merry widow.” With a jaunty smile. People didn’t like wet blankets at parties. “I’m afraid I lost my husband.” Sounded so careless. “My husband dropped dead.” Bit of a conversation stopper. I had tried to refuse the invitation, but Jennifer Jackson is like a friendly tank. Reassuring to have on your side, but useless to resist.
“I’m sorry Jennifer. I don’t feel like going out yet. It’s too soon,” I’d said.
“Nonsense. You’ve got to start sometime and this is the perfect opportunity. You can’t spend the rest of your life moping at home. Life goes on.”
“Not for Charlie.”
“Oops!” Jennifer had given a slightly embarrassed laugh, but wasn’t put off her stride. “You know what I mean. I know Charlie’s dead and I’m sad, really sad. We all loved him. He was a wonderful man and a brilliant GP.” She paused but I could tell that she was determined to get me to go to her annual lunch. Sure enough the voice had continued. “But you’ve got to get back into the swing or you’ll turn into a recluse. People will forget about you. Won’t ask you out.”
“I don’t want to go out,” I said firmly. “It’s only been three months.” I wished I had a good excuse, but for once I didn’t have any of the children visiting on that Sunday, or any other Sunday as far as I knew.
“Yes, and it’s only a lunch party. You don’t have to stay long.” Jennifer’s voice was equally firm.
“How many people are going to be there?” I’d asked, stalling for time. I never used to find it difficult refusing invitations, but being a widow has turned me into this incredibly wet person who finds it practically impossible to say no.
“Not many. It’s only a buffet, very cosy. People you know.”
“Well, I suppose I could drop in for a little while,” I muttered feebly and like a hungry lioness she could spot a weakness and she pounced.
“Good, that’s settled,” she’d said briskly and rang off before I could object again, presumably to tackle the next name on her list.
I knew that she was right, I couldn’t hide myself away forever, life did have to go on and it wasn’t possible to just disappear. Apart from suicide, which I didn’t fancy – Dorothy Parker was right on that one, I didn’t seem to have much choice. I might as well live.
“Hello, I’m Matilda, I’m a widow.” Oh, knickers, I would just have to play it by ear on the day.