Christmas at the Vicarage(4)By: Rebecca Boxall
‘Poor little things. Look at them,’ and ‘Little Rosamunde, only seven years old,’ and ‘How will he cope, I wonder?’ They all whispered too loudly. Rosamunde wished she could stuff cotton wool in her ears. She started to hum until her dad told her, very gently, to be quiet. He had red, puffy eyes. She didn’t like it.
At the burial, at least, the girls were surrounded only by close family. Standing by the side of the great hole in the ground Rosamunde felt hot and uncomfortable. The sun was unforgiving and the vicar kept mopping his brow with a spotty handkerchief. Normally her dad was the vicar but today someone else was. Dad said it was because he was too sad to speak. She didn’t think she was going to cry but then Rachel started tickling her. It was a strange thing to do; perhaps her sister was desperate to hear laughter. But instead Rosamunde started crying.
She became inconsolable and, as the coffin was lowered, found herself becoming quite hysterical. This behaviour was so uncharacteristic (it was usually Rachel who was prone to histrionics) that her father and grandmother weren’t sure what to do with her. In the end Granny Dupont threatened to smack her bottom unless she was quiet. Rosamunde thought this was very mean in the circumstances but she began to quieten down. Tears still streamed down her face, though, and she noticed Rachel’s face was wet and blotchy too. She wondered if they would spend every day crying now instead of laughing and the thought made her tummy ache.
But as the days passed, Rosamunde realised that life carried on. They were all a little quieter and a little sadder, but the sun still shone and Bernie still had to work. September came and the girls were required to return to school. Nothing would ever be quite the same without the loving arms of their mother to comfort them, but they got on with their lives. There didn’t seem to be any alternative.
Three years later, in July 1981, the whole country was in a state of mass celebration. It was the day of Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding.
‘Please will you play Sindys with me,’ Rosamunde begged her sister. She loved playing Sindys with Rachel. Whilst the families Rosamunde created were unfailingly conventional, Rachel always invented thrilling characters and thought her sister exceedingly boring.
Rosamunde could feel tears of frustration starting to prickle at her eyes and tried to blink them away. Rachel hated tears. In fact Rosamunde hadn’t seen Rachel cry since the day of their mother’s funeral. Since then Rachel had been so determinedly cheerful Rosamunde sometimes thought she might strain her face through smiling and laughing. Rosamunde felt dreadfully feeble by comparison.
‘I’ve already told you,’ Rachel said in her newly acquired, patronising tone, ‘I’m way too old for Sindys. Jeepers, Rosamunde, I’m thirteen now! Anyway, this is the most important day of the year. I can’t believe you’re even considering playing Sindys when Prince Charles and Lady Di are getting married today.’ Rachel glared at her sister and noticed Rosamunde’s watering eyes.
‘Oh for goodness’ sake!’ she exclaimed. ‘Rosamunde, if you don’t stop crying I’ll tell Granny Dupont.’ This managed to stop the tears in their tracks as they slithered down Rosamunde’s cheeks. Granny Dupont’s name made her sound like some sort of cosy French grandmother with rosy cheeks and hair pulled back into a practical bun. In fact Rosamunde’s maternal grandmother was very English and very fierce, the hoodwinking French name coming from her late husband. Granny Dupont taught French in a boarding school and often came to visit in the holidays. She was required to be addressed as ‘Granny Dupont’ at all times – Rachel had once experimented with ‘Nanny’ and her grandmother had barked at her that she was neither a goat nor a professional child minder. Needless to say, she was a firm believer in ‘a stiff upper lip’.
After delivering this cruel blow and marvelling at its success (the tears had stopped entirely), Rachel flounced off to pollute the atmosphere with her Elnett hairspray as she tried to style her red curls into something approaching Diana Spencer’s yuppyish blonde hairdo. She was entering the Potter’s Cove Lady Di Lookalike Competition, which was taking place later that day. Even Rosamunde’s best friend Kizzie, a resolute tomboy, was entering the competition, the feverish excitement of the female population of Potter’s Cove having managed to seduce even her. Only Rosamunde, it seemed, was failing to be charmed by the fairy-tale wedding. She was also fairly sure entering the competition would be pointless since her father was judging the contest and was bound to avoid any criticisms of favouritism.