Photo by Yuliya Ilkovych from Pexels.
Here for Throwback Thursday I have a short piece I wrote exactly six years ago. At the time I had set myself the goal of writing at least 500 words each day in the summer that I could manage it, and this was one of the results.
The window is cold against my hand and I trail my fingers down the glass, letting it sink in until they begin to grow numb. This is my corner, the one in the study farthest from the door. The dark blue curtain hides all of me except maybe my toes, but if I draw them up I’m completely hidden. No one can see me unless I want them to, and I usually don’t. I’m ugly. Everyone always says so, and I know so, better than I know a lot of things, and I know a great deal because I read. Books cannot criticize how their readers look.
Snow starts to plaster the glass and I pull away to look at it. It falls through the dead branches of the maple trees and mingles with the weedy earth that hasn’t been gardened in years. None of it has been tended since my mother died. All the bushes and plants are dead, just as the house is dead. Everything is dead, including my father’s eyes. Not that I see him much; he mostly keeps to his room, secluded behind a door behind another door far from my room. (It is a big house; sometimes the maids talk to me when they clean, and I learn things from them.) My aunts say he is ill, but I don’t believe them. He’s only ill with grief, and she died years ago!
There’s a voice calling me. The book drops from my lap and thuds. Surely they’ll hear that and know where I am. But it’s too late to grab it. Quick footsteps sound just outside the door.
“Isobel! Of course, there you are. Reading as always. What is it that you’re putting in your head?”
My aunt, whose dress is black and whose face is sallow and lined, snatches the book. It is a collection of Tennyson’s poems, and I’ve turned down some corners, marking the ones I particularly like. But she doesn’t like this.
“Your mother’s book!” she exclaims. “All bent and spoiled! Naughty girl!” She swats my hand. Of course I don’t flinch. I’m too angry to flinch. What does she know about my mother? She never loved her. I say this and instantly wish to cut off my tongue.
Her face reddens and she seizes my wrist. “How dare you? Such insolence! And your poor father so ill!” She thrusts the book under her arm. I don’t say anything. I do not ask her what I’m to do now. My eyes grow hot.
“You will have supper alone tonight. In your room. Go.” I haven’t done anything. She has no reason to do this to me. But I don’t say anything. Clearly she thinks her sentence on me is a punishment. How much time everyday do I spend alone? I am used to it. I like quiet, most of the time.
Now there is nothing to do but obey. I do so silently. The stairs creak under my step. I watch all the open doors, looking for the maids. I want to catch their eyes. I want to catch Emma’s in particular, so she knows where I’m going and could maybe keep me company. But I don’t see her at all.
I reach the door of my room—which lies at the end of a long hallway—and go in. The air is slightly musty and smells of dead flowers. I have roses on the dresser, ones I took from some wild bushes on a walk, but now they droop over the vase and rattle when I brush against them. There’s no fire in the grate, only ashy coals, but I sit anyway. Cold from the outside leaks down the chimney around my legs. Something rattles in the door; a key turns. I jump up, ready to lunge at it, but realize I can’t do a thing. Someone sobs. The sound is quickly squashed and she goes away. I am utterly alone.
No, not utterly. I have forgotten something. The snow has stopped and when I cross slowly to the window I can see out. Black snow-caped branches block part of the view but past them a narrow shape rises above the trees. I call it The Tower, but I know nothing else about it. I don’t dare ask either. So I content myself with gazing and thinking. It can’t be too far from here; there must be thick woods before it but not so thick that a small girl couldn’t find her way. I shudder a little at the thought of the woods, but stop quickly when the door is unlocked and someone enters. Bringing my supper, I hope. My hope is not in vain: the bread is thick and soft with butter and strong tea accompanies it. I’ve almost taken a large bite when I remember.
“Thank you, aunt,” I say.
She frowns and dusts off her hands. “Emma made it. You don’t deserve it.” That is all she says. I stick out my tongue at her retreating back and plunge into the food, chewing loudly so I don’t hear the door being relocked. I keep my eyes fixed on the tower as I eat. Emma didn’t come up after all. I will go to bed alone. That is nothing new, but tonight is somehow different. A rising wind groans down the chimney, blowing bits of ash into the room. The fire has still not been lit.
I take my shawl and sit at the window until the stars peer out of the firmament and my legs are stiff. Father will have taken supper in his room long ago. I wish I could see him. I stole a picture of him and my mother from his study just after she died, and I look at it now. I wish I looked like her. Maybe people would care for me if I were pretty. But I’m not. My reflection glares at me from the window. My tower is just visible through the reflection.
I bite my lip hard and turn away to prepare for bed.