Termagant. I didn’t even know what it meant (I’m not sure I do now) but it was a random ‘roll two dice’ to get a combination title from Chuck‘s lists two years ago. I didn’t remember it, either, and only Rebecca and David saw it, I think. I’m going early with Flashback Friday this week because I’ve had a hugely busy week and I’m only halfway through my response to Chuck’s sub-genre mash-up. But I think it’s worth finishing, and I’ll post that next week.
The Termagant’s Brains
When you live in a small community, you just have to get along with everyone else. The old man that spits in the gutter is disgusting, but he’s been spitting in the gutter ever since he told his ma to piss off, and that was when he was in short pants. The barman that makes sure everyone keeps their hands off his daughter, you just hope that Clarrie will be okay that night. The woman that does the laundry, though, she’s something else.
She runs the place.
I mean the whole place. You think the mayor was elected? Hokum. We all voted for him because Irene told us to. Irene, the laundry woman. How she got to have a neat, civilised name like Irene escapes me. Irene sounds kinda classy, like she should be wearing silk and sitting in a refined chair serving tea and scones, whatever they are.
“Hoy, you! Whatcha doin’ loungin’ around over there, yer good fer nothin’? Get back ‘ere and get these bags sorted!”
“I seen yer the other night, Mack Smithson. Don’t yer think I didn’t. You up an get yerself to the preacher and get yer sins forgiven, yer lazy so-and-so.”
I’ve left out her effing and blinding in there, but we all take notice. No effing means there’s real trouble brewing.
“And another thing, Mayor Wylie,” she says, coming out of her office into the street with the mayor holding onto her arm – and her hand over his to make darn sure of it, “you must make sure the public improvement committee does something about these drains. Look at the mess they make. That’s next Tuesday night, the meeting, isn’t it?”
Well, of course it is, and Mayor Wylie wouldn’t know without her keeping tabs on everything that happens.
Nothing happens in Wentworth without Irene knowing, saying or doing it.
They say there was a time before Irene. That she arrived on a stagecoach, a slip of a girl, and got herself apprenticed to the old laundry mistress, all official-like. Well, laundry is women’s work so nobody objected, but she soon showed a knack for understanding everyone’s business from the state of their linen.
I wasn’t here then. I was born around the time Old Mother Lawson took to her sick bed, and grew up with Irene in charge. Then she died and Irene took over officially. People say she took over Ma Lawson’s secrets as well, that should have been taken to the grave with her, but all I know about that is Irene running a pretty neat business, no trouble allowed, all her girls working hard for her, yeah, and the boys too. And she made sure we all got good schooling and then made sure one of us took over to keep giving Wentworth good schooling when Miss Pauling went and got fat.
Well, she got married and got herself fixed up as the second cook over at Al Larson’s ranch, on account of the first cook being poorly an’ all. The first cook being poorly in the same way as Miss Pauling, but then they could share both the cooking and the caring, as it were. Jed the ranch hand did well out of it, getting married to a school teacher, and all the kids on the ranch stayed there for school which suited everyone just fine. Me in particular.
I liked school, but I didn’t like getting shoved around by the ranch kids. They all felt they were better than us Wentworth kids, which wasn’t true, but Irene made sure we didn’t get into fights and kept ourselves clean. ‘Keep yer nose clean’ was one of her sayings when we were growing up, and I used to think she meant having a clean handkerchief with you at all times. There was always a big stack of them by the door to the laundry, so we had clean ones whenever we wanted them.
Things changed around the time the bank manager was found hanging in the old barn, hanging by a spare bit of rope he’d stuck his head through and then carelessly fallen off a cart. I knew Irene had been unhappy about something, but didn’t know what until the day some customer, maybe it was Young Jed bringing in the laundry from the ranch, had come in and she’d left her books on the table, just open, like. I’d seen them there, and taken a careful look. I told Irene that maybe the bank manager wouldn’t like to see them, and she’d given me a funny look.
We talked that night about a lot of things, and after that Irene started to sew the town up real tight. A little whisper there, and little gossip here. A private announcement in the Wentworth Gazette was followed by old man Garbutt kicking his younger son off their land and I heard he’d gone a’gambling way west in Nevada or somewhere.
Irene told everyone straight what their business was, and how they should mind it, without ever hearing anyone say she should mind hers.
Of course there are a few things she’d like to improve.
She’d like to get Clarrie out of her father’s hands, for a start, but since her mother died of the same thing, it’s hard. The mayor’s keeping an eye on him, though; he’s warned him off on a few nights.
She’d like to get a real haberdashery store here, so she didn’t have to send to Claxton City for little trimmings, especially when they have to match something that’s torn in the wash. She says it’ll be good for the womenfolk, too, and provide alternative employment for the bar girls. I think she means Clarrie, but I think I’d like the haberdashery store as a change from laundry.
Maybe I should open one. I’d know exactly what Irene would need in stock. Nothing else would change. Irene would run the town.
I’d just have more space to think.
© J M Pett 2015
Hm. I still don’t really know what a Termagant is 🙂
Dic. def. Termagant: An overbearing or brawling woman, a virago or shrew.