I squeeze my now nearly grey towel into my metal pale so the soapy water won't drip on the newly polished tile. I bring the rag up to the highly embellished mirror and wipe rhythmically the invisible particles of dust like I do everyday. Day in and day out, chore after chore. Make the bed, mop the floor, sweep the stairs. It's like a wicked dance that Auntie Beatrice sings to gleefully. Sometimes I wonder if it's even worth carrying on. One day I could just, oh I don't know, swallow a sewing needle by accident or whack my head on the broom handle. As I picture that kind of pathetic death occurring to me, it makes me smile, the idiotic picture in my head. But no, I could never really kill myself. Somehow I knew my parents wouldn't approve of the idea, even though they are dead.
I squeeze my eyes shut and breathe in through my nose, once, twice, three times- just like Nellie taught me to. I couldn't cry again today. I've been crying for eleven years and it doesn't accomplish anything but pain. More pain.
I rub my eyes to try to dry my almost-tears, which isn't very smart because the soapy water from the rag just ends up in them, this time making them burn. Cursing, I slap the towel back on the mirror and clean more vigorously than before. As the stinging goes down, I make the mistake of checking my eyes in the mirror, which only brings me to looking at my reflection.
My raggedy blonde hair that hasn't been washed in days is tied into one long, loose braid. It's too willowy and sinewy to be anything but a marvel, though. My eyes (slightly red from the soap and tears) are a mix of blue and green and brown. Probably my only nice feature. I like to imagine my mother was quite a beauty and I received them from her. I daydream a lot. Already studying my face, I decided I may as well groan at my body as well. Get the curiosity from not seeing myself out of my system. I am considered uncomfortably tall for my gender and basically an anomaly that should be looked at as little as possible. That's what Auntie Beatrice tells me, at least. I wasn't one of those delicately built English girl's, either. I am a little more sturdier looking; curvier. Not the current fashion for a body, apparently.
I am hopeless.
But I don't care. I don't care one bit about what I look like because when I get out of here, I won't be husband hunting. I'll find real work that pays. Then I'll buy a ship, gather a crew and sail away. One day, maybe. This is all I have left, anyways. Hope. Dreams. If I didn't, I would be nothing but an empty shell of a person hobbling around with a grey rag.
I promised them, too. Swore up, down and side to side that I would try not to survive but live.
And I feel that hot liquid pool and swim down my cheeks again. Dammit. Clutching my gold, circular necklace (my only article left from my mother and father) I sunk to the floor, my fine leg hair spiking up against the cool tiles. I shudder and shiver, hugging my arms over my chest. I sit like that for a while, all balled up when I hear footsteps softly tap across the floor.
I exhale gratefully. If it had been Auntie, she would probably scream my ear off and then box it off for real. But it was only Nellie. I know it is her because she is the most fragile, gentle person in this whole great house. I also know because I see her crumple down beside me and wrap her pale arms around me, pitifully attempting to squeeze me tightly.
She runs her spindly fingers through my hair, pulling loose my braid.
"You know, I miss them too. I remember how much I always loved to see you and your parents. They were the kindest, most loving auntie and uncle I have ever known."
I look up to her warm brown eyes and give her a watery smile.
"I always forget that you remember them, too. Better than me, probably, since you're two years my senior."
Nellie only shook her head. "You have more memories, or at least more of a connection with them."
I guess she was just making sure I feel like I know my parents the best, even though I know I don't. I was only a little five year old when they died. Only five years old when my fate to live a life of a dull servant was put in order. This happy thought only shoots the reminder through my head that I still have chores to do.
I give Nellie another quick embrace before standing up and shaking off. She is the only one who seems to remember it's the anniversary of their death.
Her eyes grow big. "Wait, I can just tell mother you're sick or something and we can just spend the rest of the afternoon together. I bet we can even go down to the docks, look at the ships and all. Like when we were younger."
I only shake my head sadly. "Your mother would make me work if I were bleeding out my eyeballs."
Nellie sighs heavily. "You're right. You still have to go to the market though, right?"
"Because I'm coming with you." She replies factually, linking her arm through mine.
I grin, my tears already drying. I don't know what I would do without my dear old cousin.
I swiftly grab my whicker basket and some pennies from the kitchen while Nellie gets her shawl. I wrap the coins in cloth and stuff them in my pocket. Feeling that heavy clink of money is a good feeling, even if it isn't yours.
I meet Nellie by the grand steps to the entrance but instead of going out the servant's ally, she takes my through the giant, golden gates. There is no question of wealth at the Young's dwelling. I know that because I clean the infinite number of bedrooms and drawing rooms.
Nellie grabs my hand and pulls me excitedly down the street. I know she loves venturing out of the house (Auntie says the sun isn't good for her precious porcelain face) but she usually never breaks her ladylike demeanor.
"Why are you in such a rush?" I imply laughing as I nearly trip because she's yanking on my arm so hard.
"Oh, I do apologize!" She says genuinely. Then she stops, panting a bit and leans down to my ear. "I do believe Chrissie told me she saw Sir John pass our house in the direction of the market." She whispers thrillingly.
"Oh, so that's why you wanted to come with me. You wanted to goggle at Sir John's impeccable arms and handsome face." I say teasingly, nudging her.
Red flowers instantly on her cheeks but she beams. "Well, I love walking with you, my dear friend but I would NEVER pass up an opportunity to see him."
"John and Nellie sittin' in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G-" I start to sing when Nellie clamps her hand to my mouth, her eyes nearly bursting.
"SHHHHH! I think I see him over there, in the tall hat."
I just shove her in his direction as I make my way over to the vegetable stalls. I pick out the ingredients for the meal tonight (after thoroughly inspecting them for any sign of specks-Auntie would have my head if there was) and as the seller groups them for me, I look over my shoulder.
The sea was full of ships, as we are just a few minutes away from the port. Shirtless men load barrels and supplies as captains negotiate alternative courses. The vessels bob up in down in the gentle water like little corks. Each one is designed with a unique figurehead, whether a mermaid or a shield or a woman, they all looked so brave and majestic.
I was so lost in my thoughts I didn't realize the seller was thrusting my collection of foods at me.
"C'mon lady, I aint got all day for this!" He exclaimed ruffly.
Humiliated, I grab the bundle and rapidly speed away to try and find Nellie.
She was a pretty easy find as I saw her nearly kissing Sir John. Before she could get any closer (and any more in trouble- several people were looking at her) I yanked her away with much strength. We left behind a very confused John
She wasn't happy.
"What was that for?" She hisses at me venomously.
"What do you mean? Your mother would kill you if she heard that you were even looking at him. Remember her goal of you marrying an even richer man than your father was?"
Nellie's glare softens but that doesn't stop her from pouting half the way home. The next half though, she just ends up gushing about his dreamy eyes. I think I might throw up.
Finally we round the corner and I walk through the back way and she goes through the front. Once we are back in the house, we can't really talk to each other all that much in risk that her mother and my Auntie would see us.
When I enter the kitchen, the rest of the servants are already hot and sweaty from the heat of the cooking. I spot Blanche, a scullery maid in the corner and hurry over to her, apologizing profusely about me being late and the food I collected a little too warm.
She shuts me up quickly, though with a worried look on her face.
"What is it? Are the vegetables really that bad?"
"No, Emma. Your Auntie demands to see you at once in the main drawing room." She states solemnly.
I feel the color drain from my face because when Auntie 'demands' something, it only means one thing. A beating.
Blanche nearly has to push me to get me in motion before I start walking numbly towards where Aunt Beatrice waits. I run through all the things I could've possibly done wrong when I realize she probably found out that Nellie went with me to the market. Me, taking Nellie, her most prized and beautiful daughter to a sunny, filthy market place. I will probably die tonight.
After like seeming an insanely short amount of time, I turn into the main drawing room of the house. Aunt Beatrice sits upon a prim, golden rimmed seat like Hades on his throne. Her sewing needles resemble pitch forks and her scowl like a dragon's smile. I stand at the entrance feeling like a young girl who just rolled in mud.
Without looking at me, she begins to speak. "Emma, my dear, have you seen my ruby hair comb, anywhere?" She inquires, too sweetly.
I was suddenly more confused than anything. Hair comb? What is she talking about?
"Emma?" She asks cruelly in the wake of my silence.
I start stuttering, unsure of what to say. "Hair comb? Auntie Beatrice, I...I'm sorry to say but I'm not entirely sure what you're speaking of."
Her pudgy face whips towards me, eyes squinting evilly at me. "You know very well what I'm talking about, you little thief!" She screeches.
I flinch, unable to speak.
Auntie suddenly raises a fat finger and makes a beckoning motion, but not to me. Out from behind her walks one of her younger daughters, her long black hair streaming wickedly around her. Desiree smiles savagely at me and I know at once she framed me for something I did not do.
"Desiree tells me that as she was walking by one of the study rooms you were cleaning, she saw you holding me hair comb, which she returned to me earlier this afternoon." Auntie says, her voice dangerously quiet.
Breaking out from my trance of confusion, I felt fury whip up and down my whole body. This was the third time now that the little harpy got my in trouble to cover up for herself. And this time, it was on the day my parents died.
"I can't believe you think this little...snitch is telling you the truth!" I screamed. "I have done nothing but work these eleven years and you haven't paid me a penny or even a word of thanks. So if you think I am going to take the blame for the action of your spoiled shrew, you, Auntie are surely mistaken!"
Silence followed. Pure, dead, deafening silence. That kind of raging silence that is so loud it might burst your eardrums. But then, Auntie started to rise from and everything was amplified. The groaning of her chair settling into its normal position, the ragged breathing from her flaring nose, the booming steps of her shoes on the wooden floor.
Her face was directly in front of mine, her mousy brown hair tickling my cheeks. "You dare speak to me... in such a manner. I have housed you, clothed you and fed your whining mouth and now I shall discipline you." She spat.
Grabbing my shoulders, she spun me around harshly and ripped open the back of my dress, exposing my scarred skin. Distantly I heard Nellie yelling not to hurt me but it was too late.
Auntie raised her whip like the devil on his black chariot and struck me, it's withering tail untying the loose seams of my skin. At first, it was just a dull burn but a second later I felt fire licking up and down my spine. Another crack in the same place. I heard someone screaming, a bloodcurdling sound and realized it was me. Crack. Crack. Crack. The last thing I thought of was climbing aboard a ship and escaping before the world spiraled out of view.