Time passed by and the store remained quiet. Temperance had abandoned her efforts at reading her book, and the grandfather clock was winning every fight it picked with her. Days of being trapped in the store mirrored days of being trapped in her head until one day, it occurred to her: if no one saw fit to come in, then perhaps it would be a good idea for her to come out.
It was only five minutes before the doors to the shop flew open and, with some effort, Temperance dragged a rather large rattan chair out to the boardwalk setting it against the store-front which was nicely shaded by a generous overhang. Next came the table. And after that, a nice cold pitcher of sweet tea and a number of glasses set to chill in a generous bucket of ice. Temperance set up camp just outside the store, content to watch the people.
In truth, the lack of customers did not surprise her. First of all, she thought: “Men don’t really shop. They aren’t very good at it.” She doubted if it was even included in their natural make-up. It was not even included in the list next to snips, snails, and puppy-dog’s tails. Secondly, men’s furnishings were so very boring. How many derbies could one man possibly need? No. Henry was missing the mark. It was the women who did the shopping. They kept the houses as well as their men. And they certainly were more likely to splurge on something that they wanted instead of staunchly adhering to practicality as they were supposed to.
Temperance let go of a heavy sigh as she tried to reconcile the rift between the society that clung to the idea of being so very practical and utilitarian versus the one that passed her on the streets donning giant ostrich plumes and patent leather spats. What once were simple clothes born of necessity had long since evolved into ~fashion~ which, as was evidenced by the very corset she was wearing, had been elevated beyond practicality. If it could be trimmed in ribbon or beads, it often was and Temperance spent many nights, and now one hot summer day, pondering the chasm between society’s prized morals and its favored aesthetic.
It was this landscape of feathers and flowers and fabrics and frills that created a backdrop for new forming thoughts. With the grandfather clock silenced by the bustle of a busy street, Temperance could stretch out. She found more peace and a piece of her mind with the busy sounds of life passing by. Sitting like a royal presiding over her court, she could take in the movements of life around her and chuckle at all of its frivolities.
Little could pull her from the vacation in her head. Not even the heat, which was beginning to penetrate the deep shade provided by the awning. Temperance fanned herself slowly and watched the world buzz by through distant eyes.
Several hours passed before she was drawn from her daydreams by a vision. She straightened in her chair, and pulled herself out of the vast cavity of her mind. Her focus was drawn to a young girl who appeared in the middle of the street, despite horses and carriages and the foot traffic wefting through the warp. She was a mirage amidst the hard lines of the self-important.
Her dress was from the east. It was light, woven of the thinest silk, and splashed with fine, hand-painted designs. Her skin was smooth, unmarred by age or sun, and made of bisque or china or crushed rice. Her cheeks held the pink glow of humility and youth, and her hair was arranged in intricate curls which were sculptural, but still soft. Toward the front of her head, perched a fan, somehow woven amidst her coif. It seemed to float atop her head, its sole purpose to prevent the sun from marring delicate features. The girl was, in Temperance’s eyes, a work of art; something out of a fairy story, the quintessential exotic.
The beautiful creature stood there for the longest moment before beginning her stroll down the street. Temperance was captivated. She studied the girl from the bottom up and the top down, taking a moment to marvel at how very small her feet were. Everything about the girl was magic. She was the most fragile statement of womanhood Temperance had ever seen, and her expression could make the blue sky blush.
Tiny steps carried the girl along her path. Temperance noticed the men noticing her. She watched, mouth slightly agape as nearly every male in the fabric of the street either slowed or halted completely for at least a moment as she passed. Though no one stopped the young woman, she did manage to slip calling cards to a select few.
“Curious,” Temperance thought. “She must be new to town.” It was not usual protocol for a girl to announce her family in the middle of the street, but then customs were changing every day, and the girl was clearly not local. Temperance noted the new procedure and resigned herself to amending her behavior accordingly should the need ever arise.
Her attentions turned toward the girl once again, eyes darting between the handful of males that warranted a card, and the way the girl’s delicate fingers were held to her lips as she appeared to giggle, coyly returning their admiration with a second glance cast over slender shoulders. Everything she did seemed just so, as if it were a choreographed dance, and the fan in her hair, tilted and sitting gently askew, added a wonderful mystery to her expressions. From the shadows it cast, to the way the paper filtered the light over her luminous skin, Temperance was fairly sure it was enchanted.
The traffic seemed to roar to life as the demure figure receded into the distance. The pounding of hooves on the street, and the clanking of heels on the boardwalk made Temperance aware of her surroundings. Finally, a sea of people fell across the distant vision of the young girl, like the final curtain on a show which demanded another encore. It was this that freed Temperance from her dream.
“Indecent,” Mrs. Evan Bryant hissed once the girl was well away. “Simply scandalous!” Her words jarred Temperance from her captivation, and she stared at the woman confused. She wondered what sort of scandal she had missed. She could not imagine anything worth looking at that was more interesting than that beautiful young sprite.
Temperance flopped back into her chair, remembering to breathe again. Her eyes fell to her lap and studied the fan around which her fingers were still loosely wrapped. She paused, brows drooping heavily over her eyes in thought, then, struck by inspiration, she bolted from her chair and scurried inside leaving Mrs. Evan Bryant to sort out her scandals.