Unspoken

As July 1922 dawned, two girls paddled across a lake hidden deep in the woods. The rain bucketed down; several inches of water sloshed in the bottom of the canoe and every few seconds a raindrop would slide down the nose of one of the girls, splashing into the puddle at their knees. But through the drops, they could see the familiar campsite, where the treeline broke at the clearing. Once they had everything set up, they would be able to get into dry clothes. Then they could listen all night to the satisfying pitter-patter of rain on canvas.

The weather had drenched any hope of lighting a fire. It would have to be cold ham sandwiches for dinner. But that suited them fine; they were already hungry and dinner wouldn’t be for a while.

Though they were only just 18, Margie and Pat were old hands at this. They had both joined the Girl Guides at a young age and had grown up together as part of the Guiding community. They were on their way, in fact, to rendez-vous with the Guides in a few days, but had come out early to spend some time at their favourite campsite together.

The girls looked up every now and then to make sure the canoe remained on course. Otherwise, they paddled in rhythm, concentrating on their strokes rather than how wet they were.

With only a few feet to go, they stopped the canoe and jumped out into the shallow water. Wordlessly, they pulled the boat up onto the grass just beyond the narrow beach and turned it over their cargo. When they had pitched the tent, they dumped the contents of their packs inside and peeled off their wet over-clothes, leaving them hanging on a branch. Laughing with the freedom of having completed the serious work, they ran to the water in their soggy underclothes.

It was glorious swimming in the clear lake while the rain pelted down all around them. They laughed and splashed and floated on their backs, looking up into the downpour. They didn’t speak much; they didn’t have to.

When finally they climbed into their bedrolls, dry and with sandwiches in hand, Margie tentatively spoke her mind.

“Pat, this is our last summer as children, you know.”

“Oh, Margie, with all the summer days stretching out before us, let’s not think of that. Let’s only think of the woods, and cookouts and seeing the girls. Perhaps Dot will bring her lovely collie again. Prince is such a darling!”

“But we do have to think about it sometime. About jobs and where to live.”

“Margie, if things become too dire, I always have Sam. I think he may be working his way up to proposing. And we’ll find you a fellow,” she added.

Margie’s face flickered with dismay at the thought. “Does that mean that we won’t be sharing an apartment after all?” She kept her voice steady.

Pat laughed. “Oh Margie, you know I love you best! Sam is just a good fallback.” She winked slyly but seeing the look of doubt on her best friend’s face, she continued, “You mustn’t take things so seriously. Of course we’ll share a place, and I’m sure we’ll both get jobs – the dentist is looking for girls and you’re sure to get that job as a nanny with the Fields family. It will all work out! Now, stop fretting and pass me those cherries.”

Margie lay staring into the darkness long after Pat’s breath had deepened into sleep. The days she and Pat spent camping and Guiding together were her happiest. Pat was the only person who understood what mattered most to her; no one else shared her love of the wilderness. She was sure this summer would be just as wonderful as all the others, but as the rain continued almost daily, a desperate longing took hold of her.

Six months later, on another rainy day, Margie became Pat’s Maid of Honour.

Always responsible, she got a job and found an apartment by herself. Eventually, she went to live with her sister’s family, where she became a much beloved aunt. She found some measure of comfort and happiness in being part of their home but it was never the same as what she had felt in the woods, with Pat.

For the rest of her life, whenever it rained in that constant, dismal way it had that summer, Margie would stand at the window and reminisce.

 

I will miss hanging out in the Yeah Write Bronze Lounge, sharing and critiquing stories. What a great summer we’ve had!

Many thanks again this week to the hugely talented and generous writers who offered me valuable suggestions, edits and guidance on this piece. Thanks to them, I cut unnecessary adjectives, adverbs and description; moved the year up to the front to provide relevant context; adjusted awkward sentences; and added more on why Margie felt so deeply for Pat.

p.s. I just had to change the title!

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39 thoughts on “Unspoken

  1. So did Margie have a crush on Pat, or was it very intense affection? Weird to consider what her life could have been like… Then again, her life was a stable and happy one, whereas (and this is assuming she did have a crush on Pat) Homosexuality and the first 2/3 of the 20th century (and, to a certain extent, right up until today) don’t make for a very stable life….
    Anyhow, congrats on the great piece!

    • Hi DS, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I wanted it to be ambiguous because back then you wouldn’t really speak of homosexuality, and in Margie’s case especially, I don’t think she’d fully admit to herself the depth of what she was feeling. But yes, I do see it as unspoken and unrequited love, one that left her a spinster in the end. But you’re right, it would have been a hard life for them…unless they had gone to live in the woods 🙂

  2. At first I imagined two much younger girls but as your story unfolded it became a such a beautiful “coming of age” piece. You brought warmth and so many relatable good memories of childhood with all the little details – the pitter patter on canvas taking me back a decade or two! Also liked the transition back to the present day at the end, revealing it all as a memory. Well done!

  3. this was really well told and i enjoyed reading it. up till the very last line, i got the sense that maybe there was something more going on with Margie’s feelings for Pat than she was letting on… but then the last sentence makes me think it was just a nice friendship. which it was… but it was more for Margie yes?

    • Yes it was more for Margie. Because of the era, she couldn’t vocalize it, even to herself, but she definitely felt it – and her “otherness” for lack of a better, time-sensitive word as well as her lost love was, I think, enough for her to stay single the rest of her life. Since posting, I have decided I should have named the piece Unspoken instead. Oh well! Thanks for your very thoughtful comment, Christina!

  4. This was a great story! I also wondered if Margie had a crush on Pat but then considering the time period, closeted those feelings and resolved to live her live as a maiden aunt. Probably more acceptable than admitting she was in love with Pat. I enjoyed reading your story and loved the details.

    • Yes, Kathy, that is exactly it! It must have been hard all those years but, being responsible, I guess she just got on with things. Other than when it rained.

  5. I loved what you did with the story from the first version. It was so enjoyable to be a part of the process. I really got the sense, in this version, that Margie had a true attachment to Pat. Cheers! -Lisa

    • Lisa, thank you so much for all your help. I really appreciated it – and had fun! I felt daunted at first by the question but when I really thought about it, I was able to come up with a way to remain subtle and yet give the reader something more about their relationship. Thanks again!

  6. You describe their easy relationship so well, I can see why Margie feels complete around Pat. You’ve also captured that feeling we all experience when the school part of our lives comes to a close and we need to think about futures. Scary. Some questions for you: why is water pooling at their knees? Are they wearing plastic ponchos? I was distracted by how many times Margie and Pat said each other’s names when they were the only people in the setting. I think you chose that to be clear who was saying what, but if you establish who is speaking in the first instance of dialogue, the reader can assume it goes every other line. Thinking about gay relationships back then makes me sad and very grateful for the world I live in today. I just want to fetch Margie from that time and take her to Girls Town. (that’s a neighborhood in Chicago)

    • Thank you for the wonderful feedback! You are exactly right; when I first read what I had written, I thought the dialogue became confusing. But you are also right that of course when there are only 2 people, it’s pretty easy to figure out who is speaking. Thank you for pointing this out – I hope you continue to leave me these kinds of comments. I’m going to miss having a place to really critique and be critiqued. I do feel sad for all the people who have been stuck in this kind of situation, through history and now, too. I wish people could understand that love is love and that’s really the only important thing. I could go on. And I have to say, Margie was slightly inspired by my great aunt. She was in Guides around that time and had some really great friends there. I don’t know why she remained a spinster but I always wondered. I’m really moved that you would like to take Margie away from a closed-minded past 🙂

  7. This is a wonderful piece! It reminds me a little of Sarah Waters, though more innocent. 🙂 I missed the original in the lounge (I just couldn’t keep up with y’all in there!) but the final product is very well done. Thanks for sharing!

  8. I loved the way you wrote this. You captured that lost feeling of leaving school so well, and the social climate of that era. I could feel the metaphor of the rain, mirroring emotions, their closeness being revealed… the joy of adventure. I suspect Pat had some idea of the unspoken words in Margie’s heart as she called Sam her fallback. And then you circled back to the reminiscent rain.

  9. I’m sorry I missed this in the lounge, too, but I can see you got some excellent feedback! I love the details and visuals of the two girls paddling the canoes and setting up the campsite; you really brought me there with them.

    • Thank you, Jenn. I received some great advice and edits on those first scenes so it’s great to know they worked and that I was able to transmit the pictures in my head. I really enjoyed our mutual critiquing in the lounge this summer; I’ve learned so much!

  10. I can’t now remember the original title but this one fits perfectly. I like the additional detailing and the way you’ve tightened the girls’ conversation – Pat comes across as a much nicer person in this version and someone I can understand Margie loving. The last sentence also seems to have much more resonance now. It was a real pleasure to be involved in this in some small way.

    • I am indebted to you! Your edits and suggestions were so helpful. I really enjoyed this process!
      I’m glad you like Pat a bit more; Meg’s edits helped a lot with how she comes across. The original title was Summer Rain but I think the new one better deepens or reflects the story’s essence.

  11. Your changes and tweaking of this piece paid off — it flows so beautifully and I really got the pang of Margie’s heart. Poor Margie! Your focus on setting adds so much here, as if the lake and woods were characters as well. Lovely, Silver, just lovely. (And the title, ironically, says everything.)

    • Thanks again for all your edits and well-thought-out questions. You helped me hugely, especially with the task of showing why Margie would feel so strongly for Pat.You’re great at critiquing – feel free to do it anytime 🙂

  12. “Lives of quiet desperation” was the phrase that came back to me after reading your story and I think you evoked that desperate, thwarted longing really well whilst keeping the actual events so understated.

  13. It has a sad, gripping quality to it. Your words kept me engaged. There are stories where words are too haphazard and a reader loses interest. That wasn’t the case with this one.

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