“Mummy, look! A princess.” Harold pointed to the horse-drawn cart rumbling past, a queue of traffic behind it. The dray had been decorated with white sheets and racemes of hawthorn and cherry blossom. On a garden bench sat a young woman, dressed in a simple white shift and a wearing a crown of ox-eye daisies and candytuft.
“Yes love.” Ada stood behind him to watch her trot past. “It's the May queen, off to give herself in honour of the Oak King.”
“What do you mean, 'give herself'?”
“It's symbolic, Harold. The Oak King will ravage the maiden and plant the new sun in her, then she'll give birth to it in six weeks time.”
“I thought it took nine months for a baby?”
“So it does, love. Nine long, arduous months. But a sun takes only six.”
“Were you hoping for a sun?”
“A daughter, actually.” Ada looked down. “Not that I'm not happy with my beautiful boy.”
“What does 'ravage' mean?”
“Making a baby. Or a new sun, in this case.”
“Mr Atkins says it's all superstitios rubbish.”
“That's your form teacher, isn't it?”
“Yes. He's ever so clever. Much cleverer than any woman. He told us. He says it's hardly even worth teaching the girls anything other than cooking and housekeeping.” He shut up then. He could feel his mother's fingers digging into his shoulders.
“Right, well, Mr Atkins believes a lot of rubbish himself and we know better, don't we? He'd be the first to complain if the sun didn't come up in the morning. Where are you off to?”
Harold looked round. His mum's friend, Mr Jax was pulling on a long green coat covered in rags and tinkling with tiny bones.
“I've a meeting to attend.” Mr Jax winked. “Don't wait up, eh?”
May Queen image by Emily Soto