I stand on my balcony in my nightgown, face unpainted and loose, gold-spun curls falling like a silky waterfall down my shoulders. The night is black and white, the darkness only interrupted by the white moonlight. My father's town lies quiet, splayed across the horizon. I shiver, despite the wool shawl draped across my shoulders. Half bloomed white roses grow in a pot fastened to the railing. They're my favorite, Mama knows. The biggest of the roses catches my eye and I take hold of it's stem and tear it from the plant. It's perfect. I rip it to pieces and throw it's petals away to float away in the wind. For some reason my mood is sour and I walk off my balcony into my room, making sure to lock the door behind me and close the drapes. When I turn around I feel the loneliness of the room, desolate and neglected, descending like fog over my head. It's nearly impossible to sleep in. But even while knowing that I clamber back into my bed, the sheets carefully embroidered by Maria and Gladys, the favorites of my maids. Maria is the town baker's third daughter, the youngest, and has an agreeable disposition and clever hands. Gladys is older and has seven grandchildren, but is beautiful for one who is so wrinkled and gray. She reminds me of my grandmother, always smelling of fresh cut grass and citrus rinds.
A brown moth flits against the windowpane, it's tiny wings beating frantically. It rams into the unyielding glass over and over again. After a minute it finally drops, exhausted. My half-closed eyes follow it, my toes and fingers still chilled and my head foggy and tired. Through the strained shadows I tiptoe out of my bed and crack open my window. The moth, bewildered, ventures cautiously into the night. I watch it flutter away, unaware that I too am being watched.
Clarence, my only manservant, stands in the doorway, a mere silhouette against the hall light. I turn, only slightly startled. He hears me bumbling around my bedroom often and checks up on me each time without fail. His face is soft when he cocks his head, his voice gentle.
"Why don't you sleep?"
Ready to help myself, I step into my slippers. If I bring someone with me it is acceptable to be outside my bedchambers after dark. Meaning I won't get in trouble if I get caught. That much trouble.
"It's this confounded room. It just feels so... foreboding."
Clarence nods understandingly. Seeing my slippers already on my feet he realizes my intentions and scoots into the dimly lit hall, waiting me to lead out first. Clarence is the only male servant I have. He is also the only one to treat me like a person instead of the greatly influential mayor's daughter. Even sometimes I like to think he treats me like a friend. I told Papa to hire him because he reminded me of a girl, with his porcelain skin and long lashes. He had a way of lowering his eyes whenever I passed, like how a girl would do when a man passes. Even at nine years old I found his strange femininity and pale fairy hair alluring and out of nearly thirty other children I chose Clarence to be my caretaker and playmate. He is only three years older than my sixteen years, but has the composition of a much older man.
Clarence leads me into my dressing room and, while I wait on the sofa, removes my fur lined Russian coat from my winter wardrobe. He carefully slips it over my shoulders and helps me put on my seal leather boots.
"You are starting to make a habit of these late night escapades."
Clarence is being ridiculous, to his knowledge I've only been out at night three times this month and it can't possibly be that late, only about nine-thirty. Not surprisingly, I still find myself making excuses.
"These days I'm finding it kind of hard to get to sleep. Abilyn says I'm cooped up too much. That I don't get enough air."
Abilyn is my aunt, on my mother's side. She is considered the black sheep of the family and no one likes her that much except for her husband. She eats too much and laughs too loud and whistles like a man. But she is also married to the town doctor and knows a lot about health issues so Clarence doesn't question me when I tell him this. Once I am fitted we march through the hall, into the kitchen and go out the back door to the garden. It's the vegetable garden, relatively less pleasant than the rose garden in the courtyard, but I'm not here to smell the flowers anyway. With purpose I stride through the squash and lettuce rows and only stop to make sure Clarence is still behind me. The stone wall that separates our property from the rest of the town soon looms in front of me, ivy seeping through the cracks.
His silver eyes are lit with moonlight as he looks up. Needing no explanation, he reaches into his pocket and without skipping a beat pulls out a key. The key I knew he had. The key he knew I knew he had. I snatch it from his hand and murmur a quick thank you. He wouldn't speak of this to anyone. He hadn't before so why would he now? I sidle along the wall searching. Once I find what I was searching for, a vine-ridden door unintentionally hidden behind the leaves, I turn around to wave Clarence away. When I am beyond the door I am no longer in need of an escort. But when I turn around Clarence's back is all I see, already retreating back towards the mansion. I am thankful to him for allowing me my small bursts of freedom, but we both know that when I am not Miss Roslyn I am nothing to him. I know that because, although I turn and watch him until he disappears behind the slam of the kitchen door he never even turns around. Not once.