‘Taking leave of the census’
By Kiley Dunbar
Elsie sat in Vita’s embrace, squeezed into the parlour armchair, on that chilly April evening.
‘Shouldn’t we turn out the light?’ Elsie asked.
‘We’re not hiding; we’re refusing to be counted.’ Vita fixed Elsie with shining eyes. ‘The enumerator must know we’re at home, we refuse to open the door, and then–’
‘We’ll be fined five pounds and risk being carted off to prison?’
‘They can’t stick us all in jail. There’s women spoiling the census all across the country tonight. Mrs Pankhurst says–’
‘I know what Mrs Pankhurst says,’ Elsie cut in. It felt as though Vita was forever away at WSPU rallies or lectures.
‘One day when we’re classed as voting citizens, the enumerator will call and I’ll gladly declare our names. Hell, I’ll tell him the Misses Rouse-Nelson, wives and suffragists, live here!’
Elsie’s slow smile was cut short by the heavy knock and someone calling, ‘Census!’
A streak of scrappiness told Elsie to shout, ‘If women don’t count, neither shall they be counted.’
They heard expletives muttered wearily outside.
‘Votes for Women!’ Vita cried, just to be sure he got the point, throwing her head back with a laugh before bringing her mouth down to Elsie’s, the momentousness of uniting in defiance sending her nerves sparking.
They had no way of knowing that one hundred and ten years later they would be forgotten, their love erased, in a world where women in their millions can cast their votes and be counted.