Penelope sat in the front parlour and watched Simon Prendergast walk gingerly up the garden path. He was wearing his Sunday suit and was clutching a propitiatory bunch of tulips.
Penelope was wearing her best tortoise shell comb, a souvenir from Paris from a long-dead uncle and never yet worn. She’d taken down an equally vintage frock from its tissue-papered reliquary perched on top of the wardrobe. The stage was set.
She could hear her mother hovering outside the door, panting as heavily as Towser, the family’s asthmatic bulldog they’d locked in the kitchen for fear he would slobber on Mr Prendergast’s trousers. Her father would be hiding amongst his roses. Both parents would be on tenterhooks about the morning’s outcome. The impossible achieved; a home to themselves after long years. A spinster transformed. A daughter finally fledged.
Penelope thought of the little terraced house she and Simon would aspire to. Of knitting while Simon read of an evening, beside their own prudently banked coal fire. She allowed herself a glimpse in the clock glass. She was, admittedly, not in the first flush. Not a slip of girl. But she’d got the lipstick to behave eventually. She felt she could afford to think of herself as a catch, just this once, on her special day.
Her mother ushered a nervous Simon into the tiny parlour before retiring with unnecessarily theatrical discretion. Penelope stood up. There was a moment’s silence
Then, without warning, Penelope felt her colon relax. As she struggled, poker-faced, to control it, she gave vent to a loud, lengthy and keening fart, owing more to Wagner perhaps than Purcell. They both stood transfixed as the noise reverberated around them, rattling the clock casing. Towser, being locked in the kitchen, was too far away plausibly to be blamed.