Teaser: The Friendly Suffragette short story

Slowly but surely, I work on the Atlanta & the Lion and Other Tales short story and poem anthology. I’ve been working on converting some contemporary stories I wrote in grad school over to historical romances and/or fiction, since I am much more comfortable with that genre. Here is a taste of one of the stories, called “The Friendly Suffragette.”

FIRST DRAFT OF THE FRIENDLY SUFFRAGETTE

“Why, you seem as though you could use a hug, sir,” Kate said, blinking at the old man shuffling past her makeshift wooden crate table covered with suffragette pamphlets.

Kate’s comment startled the old man and rightly so. One did not expect a young lady standing in a drab gray dress and straw hat at the corner of a largely abandoned city park in a London neighborhood to suddenly offer an embrace of any kind. Generally such offers were not of the respectable sort, of that the old man was certain.

He lifted the brim of his homburg hat to peer at Kate from behind his overlarge spectacles. Her eyes matched the fabric of her sensible, ankle-length dress; the color of a proper overcast English sky. Her thick auburn hair was restrained, hardly, by a low chignon at the base of her neck. Her flat straw hat was perched at the crown of her head, making her seem both cheeky and charming.

Kate watched the old man with a bright smile. As he stared agape at her she was thinking he was the mirror image of her grandfather, dearly and recently departed, complete with the dusty overcoat and tarnished pocket watch.

“I beg your pardon,” the old man said finally, his tone gruff and unwelcoming over the din of horse-drawn cabs, streetcars, and people too busy with their own business to stop and chat with Kate.

“My grandpapa would always say everyone needs a hug now and then, and it seems as though your turn is now, sir. Would you care to have one?” Kate’s tone made it sound as if she were offering him an apple perhaps, or a slice of toast, rather than such an indecent display of shared affection—and in public, of all things.

“A hug?” the old man asked, his wheeze punctuating his outrage as he shifted his spectacles on his nose. His pale, clean-shaven cheeks colored and his jaw gyrated as if he were rearranging his teeth for the fun of it.

“Oh my, yes, a hug.” Kate opened her arms, the action revealing her to be thin, perhaps too thin, and unaided by the fashionable, distorting S-curve corsets of the time. Though she looked frail, she had a sense of sturdiness about her—something in the way her smile reached her eyes.

The old man noted she had three freckles on her cheek and a pale band of skin on her ungloved left hand, indicating a ring once protected the skin from what must have been healthy, countryside sunlight. Suddenly, the situation began to make rather more sense. The gray dress, indicating a season of mourning. The missing wedding band. The misplaced need to share some semblance of affection with a complete stranger.

“I think there aren’t enough hugs in this world,” Kate continued. “Perhaps if we all hugged one another more often, we’d see some smiles in this dull city!”

Dull, she said; the old man had certainly never heard of London described as “dull.”

“You’re American, I suppose?” he said, having made up his mind she was quite, quite mad.

Kate beamed. “Yes! However did you guess?”

The old man pressed his lips together, and then puckered them in thought. “Very well then,” he said, careful to note where his billfold was in the off-chance the mad American red-head happened to fleece him during their embrace. “I suppose we might hug. But this is very irregular, mind you!”

Kate laughed, a tinkling sound that invited a solitary ray of sunshine to peek through the London haze. “Not to worry, there’s a copper just over there who’s been watching me all morning, just waiting for me to do something incorrect. I promise you, I only want to give you a hug.”

Sure enough, when the old man glanced over his shoulder, there stood a young officer, most likely no older than thirty, standing with his arms crossed and his feet spread just further than hip-width apart. He looked none too pleased, with his face contorted in an annoyed grimace.

“He needs a hug, too, but he refuses, the silly man,” Kate said, shaking her head. She shrugged. “Now then, shall we hug?”

Like I said, this is a fun project. I’m realizing I dabble with absurdity and magical realism, so I’m interested to see how Kate’s hugs affect her suffragette campaign at her noisy little corner in London.

Best, Belinda