Mattie shifted uncomfortably as a trickle of sweat teased its way down her back until it reached the waistband of her petticoat and was soaked up, adding to the dampness. She cursed her own stupidity for wearing her heavy winter petticoats on such a warm spring day, but then how would she have known that the doctor’s waiting room would be so small and stifling. It was newly built and furnished and the pride of the townspeople of Streatham in Victoria. The new doctor had even employed a secretary, a position that Mattie would dearly loved to have had herself. She knew she was capable of it and it would have saved her from the isolation she felt living out on the farm with Roy.
It was so hot, and she couldn’t stand it any longer. She stood and walked to the desk where Helen Simpson had taken up her sewing to amuse herself between appointments.
“Helen,” Mattie said politely. “I wonder if we could open a window. It’s sweltering in here.”
Helen smiled sweetly. “You know Mrs. Lawson; I was just thinking the same thing myself. Won’t you take a seat and I’ll take care of that for you.”
Mattie resumed her seat next to her husband Roy, as Helen used a stool to increase her petite stature and open the little windows to the front of the waiting room.
“Quit making trouble,” said Roy quietly to her.
Mattie ignored him and raised her nose catching a waft of the nice breeze that had found its way in.
“Oh, it’s no trouble at all Roy,” said Helen, her razor-sharp hearing picking up what Roy had said.
Mattie smiled slightly. Her husband wasn’t used to such casual talk. She turned her head to see his reaction, but he seemed not to have heard
Helen or was deliberately not responding. He sat staring at the wall ahead of them as if he were somewhere else. Mattie sighed. She’d agreed to come to the appointment eventually after much goading from Roy. He’d managed to persuade her to come to an early evening appointment when the town was quieter.
Mattie couldn’t face the humiliation of everybody knowing their business, although she knew that she was probably worrying herself over nothing. Streatham was a quiet little town, and most of the people were kind, friendly, and quite fond of Mattie, besides they’d probably point the finger at Roy and not her, as Mattie herself did.
The door to the doctor’s office popped open, and a smartly dressed man popped his head out. “Mr. and Mrs. Lawson, if you’d like to come this way,” he called.
Roy leaped anxiously to his feet and led the way. The doctor stepped back to let them in and resumed his seat opposite them his hands reaching for pen and paper.
Mattie sat with her hands neatly folded in her lap, and she suddenly felt a ton of sweat trickle uncomfortably down her back. She observed the doctor while he began to make notes and wondered why a young, refined doctor from Melbourne would come to a quiet little place like Streatham.
“Well…” said the doctor looking up, “What seems to be the problem?”
Mattie sat politely waiting for Roy to speak for both of them but was startled when he blurted out. “Well, it’s her, isn’t it, she’s, ah, barren. We’ve been married three years and still no babies. There’s something wrong with her, Doctor.”
Mattie flushed a violent red color, and doctor’s gaze seemed suspended on her for what felt like an eternity. Roy too had turned a funny sort of red color adding to the ever-present rosiness of his cheeks from the fresh country air as well as the whiskey.
“Ah,” said the doctor is his upper class, British accent. He peeled his astute gaze away from Mattie and looked at Roy. “Well, Mr. Lawson, sometimes these things take a little while to get going and usually they’re nothing to worry about. How old are you Mr. Lawson if you don’t mind me asking.”
“Thirty-eight Doctor and I don’t mind you asking. You go right ahead and ask me anything you need to know, including about her,” he jabbed his thumb in Mattie’s direction and had there not been a law about such things Mattie felt sure she would have bit it clean off.
“I’m sure Mrs. Lawson can answer me herself,” said the doctor pleasantly.
Mattie couldn’t help but smile just a tiny bit so Roy wouldn’t see.
“Sure,” said Roy, not at all fazed.
“And you Mrs. Lawson. How old are you?”
“I see,” said the doctor making a note.
“She was an old maid by the time I got to her,” laughed Roy nervously.
“I don’t think so,” said the doctor not looking up.
Mattie had to bite her lip to keep from smiling again. No one ever set Roy straight, at least not anyone from this town. She rarely told Roy these days. Roy didn’t listen. He didn’t hear her or see her. The farmer worked hard that was true, but the man drank their money away on weekends in the local pub. She felt sure he probably took the company of a paid nighttime woman too when he wasn’t comatose because the money he went through was alarming. The thought of him lying with someone else doesn’t trouble Mattie, she didn’t care an awful lot what he did, but she did care about picking up some horrible disease, and so she kept her distance from Roy as much as possible.
The doctor looked from Roy to Mattie and back again as if trying to put the pieces of a puzzle together. “And, how often do you lie together?”
Roy shifted uncomfortably in his chair his hands clamped over his knees. “Often enough,” said Roy defensively, “Plenty for her to get pregnant by now.”
The doctor seemed to disregard Roy’s answer, and he looked at Mattie for clarification.
Mattie felt sure her face was so hot by now she could’ve cooked steak on her cheeks. She didn’t usually feel so utterly embarrassed. She’d been married to Roy for three years and was used to a certain level of humiliation, but the doctor’s intense hazel gaze unnerved her.
“Uh-huh,” she said, nodding as if confirming Roy’s theory.
She needed to get out of there, it was getting difficult to breathe.
“OK, then,” said the doctor, realizing Mattie’s discomfort. “Well, I’m going to suggest that you lie together more often, and eat fresh vegetables and meat. I would suggest you stay off the drink Mr. Lawson for the time being and we’ll continue to monitor the situation. I don’t think it’s necessary for you to come back Mr. Lawson but if Mrs. Lawson could make an appointment for one month’s time, I’d like to perhaps run some basic tests, nothing to worry about. We’ll take it from there.”
“Well thank you, Doctor,” said Roy, almost leaping out of his seat with relief. He lurched forward to shake the doctor’s hand.
“Mrs. Lawson,” said the doctor inclining his head.
“Thank you,” Mattie said, following Roy out of the door and onto the quiet street, sucking in deep breaths of fresh air.
“So, Mrs. Lawson,” said the doctor kindly, he gestured for Mattie to sit down. “Thank you, Doctor Burton.”
“Oh, please, call me Edward,” he raised his eyebrows and smiled at her.
“Err, Edward,” Mattie said, she almost stumbled over his name and had to force herself to look into those intense hazel eyes to regain some control. She felt sure her cheeks were beginning to redden again and didn’t feel at all on the same level as a highly paid clinician to be readily addressing him by his first name.
“How have you been Mattie?” Edward said, appearing to be genuinely interested.
“I’ve been fine thank you.” Mattie arranged her hands in her lap and sat straight while she spoke. “I … err … don’t think anything has changed since I last saw you.”
“I see,” Edward said, “and how many times have you and your husband lain together?”
“We, we, err, we haven’t yet.”
“Oh?” Edward said surprised. “Well, um, there needs to be sex before a baby arrives.”
Mattie flushed at the use of the word and then chastised herself for being such a prude. Edward had to be no older than her, and for all she knew he less experienced in such matters. She decided to reassert herself and gazed straight at him.
“I realize that, but Mr. Lawson is not one for lying. He works a lot, and when he’s not working he’s drinking and when he’s not doing either of those things he’s snoring like a bear.”
Edward laughed, and Mattie smiled too, aware of her appropriate reference to her husband. He did indeed resemble a bear at times especially when shuffling about in his work shrouds and boots, his beard tatty and his bleary eyes sloped down at the corners.
“I see, Mattie, well I can’t fix either of those things I’m afraid. You may need to encourage him to spend time with you though?”
“I tried, he’s been a bit wound up since we came here. He was shouting his head off the other day. I thought he was going to have a heart attack.”
“Shouting?” Edward said concerned. “At you?”
“Well, sort of…” Mattie said, “At me … at the farmhands … at the sky.”
“Right,” Edward sighed. “Well, I’m sorry Mattie.”
Mattie dismissed the sympathy, but Edward couldn’t help but feel that this young woman had become immune to many things no doubt. He’d seen the likes of Roy Lawson many times before. Hard working yes, but not willing to work at loving their woman. He knew on first sight of Roy that he was a big drinker and upon inquiry with Helen Simpson, it would seem that the man was incapable of being upright when he wasn’t working. Any wonder Mattie isn’t pregnant. He felt sad that Roy had referenced her as an old maid, who wasn’t true really, but folks panicked when women didn’t have children at a young age. Poor Mattie should’ve been married to her sweetheart by now not an old sheerer like Roy Lawson.
“Can I ask you a question, Mattie?”
“Certainly,” Mattie said, paying attention to his soft tone.
“Do you want a baby?”
“More than anything,” Mattie whispered, and then inexplicably tears came to her eyes, and she did her utmost to keep them at bay.
She wondered why Edward’s question had cut so deep, but she knew that it was because a baby would make her life worth living. Edward nodded as if reading her thoughts. A baby would be everything for this pretty and sweet young woman. How could he help her?
Edward offered her his hanky and hoped that it wouldn’t elicit the tears she was trying to fend off, and it didn’t. He admired her strength and couldn’t help but feel attracted to her at this moment. She had survived marriage to Roy, and no doubt, she would endure. The women Edward’s used to didn’t know anything of pluck or courage, and he, therefore, enjoyed his time away from the drag of Melbourne society. Here he felt free as if he were not confined by what he called “social investments;” making friends with the right people, saying and doing the right thing for social advancement. Out here, there was no pressure to perform, and yet the man was still significant. The townsfolk held him in high regard, and he enjoyed his position more at the top of the tree rather than at the bottom where he would be sitting in Melbourne.
Mattie had composed herself, and Edward had invited her back in a month’s time for a review. He pulled the door open to the little waiting room, which was empty save for his last patient, Tobias Grant.
Tobias stood gracefully despite the long and cumbersome wooden support attached to his lower right leg. He’d removed his hat and jacket and wore his shirt partially unbuttoned to allow the breeze to cool him. He looked surprised to see Mattie exit, and he bowed his head politely and murmured “Mrs. Lawson,” as she passed him.
“Mr. Grant,” acknowledged Mattie politely, before stepping out onto the street.
Edward noticed that Tobias Grant’s bright green eyes had not left Mattie until she was well and truly out of sight and he didn’t blame the man. She was a pretty woman with a beloved figure, how Roy Lawson slept at night with her next to him he did not know, and yet Mattie seemed utterly unaware of her own appeal.
“Mr. Grant,” Edward said, gaining his patient’s attention.
Tobias flushed slightly and then hobbled into the doctor’s office his attention well and truly back where it needed to be, on this here damned irritating stump of his.
“Nancy you look devilish,” squealed Mattie, taking her best friend’s hand and looking up and down at her gorgeous but outrageously red, silk dress.
“I know,” said Nancy delighted. “I’m a married lady too, no doubt I’ll be talked about in town for a good while to come?”
“Certainly,” smiled Mattie, “but only in a nice way. Everybody loves you.” “Oh please,” said Nancy, “don’t make me blush. Anyway talking of blushing how’s your new doctor friend?”
“Oh don’t Nancy. That sort of gossip always gets out of hand, although he really is a good-looking gentleman I have to say.”
“I know,” said Nancy, “he comes into the shop for bits and pieces.” “The haberdashery? Really?”
“Yes, well he comes for thread and scissors. He orders bandages and suchlike.” “Oh, I see, well then you’ve seen him. He’s nice isn’t he?”
“Dear Mattie he’s wonderful, if only you weren’t married to Roy eh?”
“If only,” Mattie said, suddenly subdued. She wondered if she should’ve come to the spring dance at all. It was the first of several throughout the year and an excellent opportunity to pack away the winter clothes, step out, and reacquaint with the locals. The beer tent had arrived first, and Roy had been amongst the men to help erect it. Mattie and Nancy had been in charge of decorations this year, and the pair had worked hard for three weeks creating garlands and bunting. Mattie had pulled her best dress from the back of the wardrobe and had readjusted the neckline slightly lower and added a sash bow to the back. It wasn’t as decadent as Nancy’s dress, but at least it was in keeping with the latest fashion, and the emerald green bodice complemented her blue eyes, but it hadn’t done anything to lift her spirits.
Most of Mattie’s family had arrived early to help. Her brothers and sister- in- laws had brought food, and her nieces and nephews ran riot in and out of the town hall. Mattie’s mother approached her, and the two women kissed as her mother plunked one of Mattie’s nieces into her arms. Mattie looked at her sweet little niece’s curls and rosy cheeks and cuddled her in close. How she wished for one of her own. She couldn’t help but wonder what people must think of her. How had she ended up marrying Roy, practically an old man and a drunken one at that? If only she’d waited for one of the young men to come back from the war, but then many of them hadn’t returned. Fortunately, her brothers had been too young to enlist, and she was grateful for that because those that had come back had returned with parts of their mind missing, or limbs like Tobias Grant over there.
Mattie watched as Tobias thumped around the hall helping carry food that his aunt had made, riotous children that had gravitated too accompanied him to his playful nature, his little cousin leading the merriment. Funny thought Mattie that he hadn’t settled down with anyone. He was ever so tall and very handsome with shoulder length long brown curls. It was probably the stump, she thought. Women could be fickle about how their men looked she’d learned, although Mattie wouldn’t like to include herself amongst them; she had married Roy after all.
“Ooh he did come?” whispered Nancy, conspiratorially into Mattie’s ear. “Did who co…?” Mattie stopped her eyes locked onto Edward as he made his way to the buffet. Mattie couldn’t help but look a bit startled as he nodded in polite acknowledgment.
Edward was wearing tailored trousers and a shirt, like most of the townspeople, he opted for light clothing as the early evening was still hot.
“Mrs. Lawson,” Edward said, drawing in closer. He nodded at Nancy who did a little bob like she was greeting royalty.
Mattie laughed, secretly thanking her friend for breaking the ice. Edward grinned and noticed how even prettier Mattie was when she smiled.
“So Mrs. Lawson,” he said formally, “what do you recommend?” He glanced over at the heavily laden buffet.
“Try the pie Doctor,” Mattie said. “It’s my mother’s, she’s an excellent cook.” “Hmmm,” nodded Edward, he politely served himself squeezing between one or two of the patients that greeted him pleasantly and suggested he load his plate now because there’d be none when the dancing finishes. Edward took their advice, although he went lightly with his portions. Mattie couldn’t help but notice he looked very trim as she tried to imagine his outline beneath his shirt.
Edward looked up at her just as she was visualizing, and he grinned as if he were fully aware of the thoughts in her head.
Mattie glanced away, annoyed she’s caught, and she decided to leave Edward to the company of some of her delighted neighbors.
Edward watched her go, and he couldn’t help but issue his own assessment of her beneath her light dress that nipped in neatly around her waist and chest. He wondered if her skin was dewy beneath her skirt with the warmth of the air around them and then dismissed the thought as he tried to keep abreast of the conversation he had been unwittingly pulled into.
This is an excerpt from a 16,800 word story, buy the eBook to read the whole romantic tale.