Curtains and Loud Curtsies

The curtains were drab, dyed a dark, oppressive brown that hurt Miranda’s eyes as she took in the room. The bedstead was plain and the lamps dull, but it was the curtains that made the whole of the room so depressing. Miranda imagined how cheerful the room could be made to look if only the curtains were yellow, but the brown ones were so undeniably present that she gave up trying to make herself feel better, and sat on the bed with a heavy sigh.

There was a soft scuttling sort of sound inside the wall that made her cringe. Mice and rats and spiders and filth, she thought acidly. She was about to cry out, but the maid entered her room without knocking at that very moment.

The girl was as neglected as the small inn. Her apron was singed in places and her little white cap was askew and rather grayer than it should be. Her face was still fresh and young but there was no rosy tint to her cheeks nor a bright glint to her eyes. She looked defeated and tired, as if she were up since dawn and wouldn’t be abed until the small hours of the night. Miranda looked at her with distaste, feeling that maids ought not to look like this.

“Please knock in future,” she said coldly to the girl.

“Pardon me, mum, didn’t mean no disrespect, mum,” the girl curtsied nervously, knees cracking and elbows sticking out awkwardly. She didn’t sound very sincere, but rather tired. “What can I do for ya, mum?”

“My baggage is in the carriage downstairs, as you no doubt saw already. I’d like someone to bring it up. I won’t have it left in the stables for anyone to rob. When is a meal served in this… establishment?” Miranda asked haughtily.

The maid lowered her eyes before answering. She didn’t want the grand lady on the bed to see that her eyes were prickling with tears of shame. “Ya just missed dinner, mum, but tea’s at four and supper’s at six. O’clock,” she added hastily.

“Good, so there is someone civilized here,” Miranda nodded approvingly. She felt that tea should always be at four o’clock and supper should always be served promptly at six. However, she’d lately stayed at rather nicer and more modern – she winced mentally at the word – hotels where they served tea at five and supper at seven. She supposed this inn may have once been a fine place but that it had gone to the dogs when the larger and smoother road had been built a few miles away.

As the maid curtsied loudly again and left the room, Miranda stared at the ugly curtains and reflected on her bad luck. It was no use – she would have to ask her husband to spend the money they’d been saving, and build a road between their estate and the main road to London. She was tired of taking this small, pathetic byway. Every time she visited her sister in London she feared that the carriage wheels would get stuck in the seemingly ever-present mud, and this time it finally happened. Her driver was downstairs, probably getting drunk already. He’d promised that the wheel would be fixed by tomorrow and that she’d be able to get home. It was lucky, he kept telling her, that they broke down near the old inn and that she would have a warm place to sleep that night. Miranda had solidly ignored him, as she often did.

She checked to see if the door to her room had a lock. Thankfully it did, and so she felt able to take off her outer clothed and wash her face and hands in the basin in the privy that lay behind a not-so-discreet door. She touched the handle gingerly and went in. The water in the basin looked and smelled stagnant. She sighed heavily and put her face in her hands. So, she thought to herself, nothing is to go right for me today.

Combination Lock

Three turns to the right. Stop at “Guilt.”

Two turns to the left. Stop at “Self-loathing.”

One turn to the right. Stop at “Guilt for the narcissism of self-loathing.”

Open the safe. Inside, you will find another, small safe.

Three turns to the right. Stop at “Anger.”

Two turns to the left. Stop at “Impatience.”

One turn to the right. Stop at “Self loathing for feeling angry and impatient.”

Open the safe. This time, you’ll find a drawstring bag inside. Open it, and out will flow dozens of small, egg-sized capsules. Each is clear, with a folded up piece of paper inside of it. You can open the capsules look at the writing on the papers if you like. One will say “Happiness.” Another will say “Misery.” Another will say “Oddball.” Another will say “Unique.”

There’s something else in the cloth bag. If you reach right to the bottom of it, you’ll find a needle. The moment you try to pull it out, you’ll find the cloth bag unraveling. But if you leave the needle in place, you’ll be able to put all the capsules back inside. Then you can draw the strings shut tight, and even tie them. You can put the bag inside the first safe, and put that back inside the second. You know the combination now, so it’s no trouble going in and retrieving the bag whenever you like.

But what if you lock both those safes and throw them into an ecologically correct trash heap? Melt them down, use the metal to make… not bullets or guns, no… not spearheads either… and not jail-bars… how about wrought iron railings, delicate and beautiful, the kind you can train vines and flowers to grow around? Then you can still feel safe, but you don’t have to look at a cage or a weapon. You can’t use the railings against yourself, because you can step over them and make them beautiful. Forget the flowers – even without them, they’re beautiful. Just wait, see if other people admire them. I’ll bet you they will.

What about the bag, you ask? Well, that’s still with you, isn’t it? Tie it to your belt. Let people look into it sometimes. Let the people you love go in deeper, and sometimes maybe take a risk with a stranger. Don’t worry, they can’t steal anything. Even if they take one of those capsules in there, a new one will pop back instead of it. But more importantly, spend some time with that bag yourself. Look into it. Sort it out. See what belongs and what doesn’t. See, this is the magic about it – if anyone else tries to take something away, it’ll pop right back. But if you give it to them willingly or get rid of it yourself, it’s gone for good.

Careful, though. Don’t throw away “Compassion,” or “Love,” or even “Fear.” Don’t let yourself throw all of it away, both good and bad. Keep most of it. Just sort out things like “Pointless Guilt” and “Worthlessness” and you’ll have a good start going.

But remember the combination. If you don’t know how to open that first safe, you’ll never get anywhere. What if the combination changes, you ask? Ah, well, if it does, I trust you’ll be able to listen to that little click-click when the wheel hits the right place, so you’ll crack it in no time. Just make sure to try.

Rosy Thoughts

“Plink-plink-plink”
The metal chimes of the pretty mobile touched each other lightly in the almost nonexistent breeze. Rosy stared sullenly at them with her ice-blue eyes. The sound always bothered her immensely. Why have wind chimes when there was never any wind? The air was always as still as a boulder in the summer, and Rosy hated it.
As if the tiny breath of wind had heard her thoughts, it ceased to make even the merest attempt at cooling the stifling room, and the plink-plink of the chimes stopped. Rosy shifted her position a little bit so her neck wouldn’t hurt as much, and settled down again, closing her eyes. She let out a long, slow breath.
If anyone were to look at her at that moment, they would see a beautiful, sleeping girl, her shortish hair spread around her face like a chocolate-colored halo, lips slightly open and face perfectly calm. Little would they know the turmoil of thoughts and internal conversations that went through the mind of this silent angel.
Rosy felt as if her mind was filled with a whole crowd of people.
The part of her that was a little bit wicked was saying “Keep pretending to be sick, what do you care? All that matters is that Mama and Papa keep paying attention to you.”
Then the sensible part of her would interrupt with “But you can’t go on like this forever, and once you do get up, you’ll have to deal with them.”
The self-pitying part would meekly put in “It makes me sad to think of that though… Can’t you just stay in bed and have them keep feeling sorry for their poor daughter? You are their poor daughter after all, and you are very sad and tired now.”
Wicked would interrupt with an eager “Yes, exactly, that’s exactly right!” but not long after that, Self-Loathing would rear its aggressive head and yell “You disgusting, wicked, ungrateful little fiend, how can you be doing such a thing? You make me sick, you know that? What you’re doing is just so wrong and pathetic that-”
Sensible would then try to sooth everyone with soft words, “Come now, that’s a bit harsh, but yes, you must stop this, Rosy, because it’s not going to help in the end and you know it, dear.”
Wicked-self-pitying-sensible-self-loathing Rosy snapped her eyes open once more. It was no use. No matter what she did, no matter how hard she tried to sleep and look properly sickly, she couldn’t shut out the stupid voices in her head, nagging her about what she was doing or not doing all day long. All Rosy wanted was her parents to stop fighting. They had stopped, for the past couple of days, and she knew it was because they were worried about her complete and utter collapse that led to her staying in bed all the time since. Rosy also knew that the moment she seemed to be feeling better her parents would resume their bickering and their harsh conversations, filled with grim words like “lawyers” and “bank account” and “custody” – words Rosy was thoroughly sick of.
So now instead of hearing her parents fighting, Rosy had to endure the bickering inside her head and try to deal with it. She often dreamed, when she got tired of fighting with herself, of a day in the future when she would feel fine and dandy about everything, a day when things would feel normal, no matter where her parents were. She knew  a day like that, a day where all this was behind her, was somewhere in the future. Rosy waited impatiently for that day. She wanted the present to be all over and done with.
Whenever she lapsed into that dream for too long though, her voices would pick up their arguments and she would sigh, adjust her position, and live in the now in her mind. Occasionally the wind-chimes would clink against each other, puncturing her thoughts, and giving her something fresh to be angry with, but the air always stopped moving soon, and the dead air of the summer would grip Rosy’s heart in a vice-like grip, and her thoughts would continue in their turmoil.

I have no clue where this came from. I started writing it months ago, completed it tonight. I don’t even know if I should call it a short story or not. It’s just… something.