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The Aunties

They were, above all else, women of their time
Neat perms, smart costumes and court shoes
Crisp blouses, cigarettes in holders
Each with a heart shaped locket at her throat
Love unspoken, never mentioned.

They both had jobs in busy offices in ‘town’
Shared a flat in Harrow on the Hill
Did the crossword on the daily underground,
My mother’s younger sisters never married
Lived together all their lives.

With the unheeding heartlessness of childhood
I said I loved Aunt Agnes best, I laughed with her
Sitting on a stool in Boots, felt glamorous
While she tried lipsticks, perfume on her wrist,
And Kath, her sister watched us patiently.

When they retired they bought a bungalow in Worthing
Agnes made a garden, colourful and neat.
Kath joined the Women’s Institute, made cakes.
So blameless lives continued year on year,
Then Agnes took an interest in books.
 
One day she asked me where she ought to start
To read her way through English Literature.
Unhesitating I suggested Chaucer, steering her
Away from Beowulf, Othere, mighty Norsemen
I know now she would have taken in her stride.

The aunts grew old, and later when I saw them
Kath had fallen prey to nerves
Abandoned cakes and socialising
Sat silent in an armchair by the gas fire
While Agnes read aloud to her.

By then she had reached Congreve, loved him
‘I’ve found some words I recognise’ she said,
‘I sang them, set by Handel, many years ago
At the school leavers’ concert 1928’.
And then she stood and sang the song for me

‘Where e’er you walk
Cool gales shall fan the glade
Trees where you sit
Shall crowd into a shade’

And I saw my aunties as I never knew them
Young, hopeful, exuberant and pretty
Their lives laid out before them to be lived.
Kath looked up alert and listening
Smiling gently while her sister sang.

Elizabeth Hare
 

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