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.

A Daughter’s Fever

Miranda looked down at the small crib. It was without ornament – nothing like the wonderful crib she had at home, with the painted bars and the bright sheets and blankets. Hospital cribs don’t have to be pretty, merely functional, just like hospital beds. It was strange that she’d never thought of hospitals having cribs before. Of course, when she’d given birth there was a crib, but it was small, it was near her own bed, and her daughter hadn’t been in it much; Miranda had preferred to hold her in her arms as she slept.

Miranda stirred, tearing her eyes away from the sight of her little golden-haired girl red with fever. She’d been sick for five days already. When Miranda saw that the fever wasn’t going down, she’d taken her girl to the hospital. It was a throat infection of some sort, that’s what the doctors said, but the fever was still so high… Miranda couldn’t stop worrying. She hummed with nerves.

She looked at the lone chair that could fit beside the crib. There were others in the room, but they were occupied by other parents watching their sick infants. What a dismal place to bring a child, Miranda had thought when she’d first walked through the door to that room. Her opinion of the cheerless place hadn’t improved since. Her husband was in their chair, fast asleep; the poor man. He’d borne with Miranda’s worries and unfounded fears and had tried to calm her, but she wouldn’t calm. She couldn’t calm. She’d exhausted the poor man.

Miranda thought of her work. She was needed, she knew. Real people, everyday people, depended on her. She knew some of them would be in agonies without her support and encouragement. She felt bad for not being there for them, but that feeling was in a very small corner of her mind. She really mostly felt bad because she was worried sick and still her little girl’s fever raged on.

She looked back into the crib and wiped the sweat of her daughter’s forehead with a small white towel. The doctors said that she needed to wait and let the medicine do its work. She waited.

Lucy’s Diary, May 27th

May 27th, Night, Library

Dear Diary,

Something is going on with R. I’m getting worried. He was supposed to be getting better, but when I visited him today I found him trying to claw his way across the floor. He was sweaty and feverish and I’m positive he was delirious at the time. The doctors aren’t telling me much, because they don’t have proof that I’m a relative.

Diary, I’m scared. I’m terrified, in fact. I feel like every flicker of a light or creak in the floor is someone coming to… to something – kill me, poison me, force me to tell them about R or about how far my parents spread their research on the Parazelli.

Forgive me, my thoughts are completely scattered tonight. I feel a knot in my stomach, and I’m pretty certain that if I try to get up now my whole body will cramp up due to my muscles being so tense.

I don’t know who to ask for help – I don’t know how to help R. But I have to help him. I have to find out what’s

Oh no. Oh no. This is too much. This is just TOO much. My phone just rang, and I answered it, thinking it was R calling me for reassurance that I’ll be there tomorrow morning. Instead, it was his doctor. He said he found my number on a note next to R’s phone and called me. R’s being poisoned. The doctor said that the police are coming in first thing in the morning to interview people at the hospital, because he was being poisoned with snake venom, which is not something that could accidentally have gotten into R’s food by a negligent nurse.

The doctor says R is going to be fine, they’re pumping antidotes into his system. But that’s not what I’m worried about anymore. The Parazelli must be very close, and they’re obviously sending us a message. It’s not like they thought R would die of poison while he’s IN A HOSPITAL. No, this is a warning.

Ok, I have a plan. Not a very elaborate plan, but a plan nonetheless. Something to get me through the night. The plan is this: talk to R tomorrow and figure this out. Yes. Good plan.

I think I better go to my room, Diary, and try to catch some sleep. And tomorrow I shall set my brilliant plan in motion.

Yup.

Lucy

Lucy’s Diary, May 23d

May 23d, Afternoon, Grace Hospital, Room #304

Dear Diary,

I’m thoroughly exhausted. I cannot even explain to you the levels of exhaustion I have descended to in the last few days. My cousin, the one who sent me here, said before she sent me away that I was wild and lacked responsibility in my life [stupid cow, she didn’t know one thing about me nor my life, she just decided that, being sixteen, I MUST be wild]. Well, she would have been proud of the responsibilities I’ve taken on in the last week.

But I’m confusing you, I’m sure. Let me begin again, my dearest, and you shall have the story entire by the time I’m done writing.

The morning after I wrote in you last time, I got a phone call on my cell. It was during history class, and of course I couldn’t pick it up right then and there. It was buzzing in my pocket, and I was so shocked at the fact that it really WAS ringing for once [silently, though, obviously] that I immediately raised my hand and asked to be excused to the ladies room. As I’m a good girl and have never asked to be let out in the middle of a lesson since arriving at Pratt and Smith, the surprised teacher let me leave at once.

You can guess my utter astonishment upon seeing the name “Michael” on the screen of my cell phone when I escaped into the hallway and took it out of my pocket. It was Michael! The guy from the diner! I took the call, and all I could hear at first were some garbled noises. Then, I heard something like “help” and then “ouch” and then some monumental swearing. Then, just as I was starting to really panic, I heard him yell out “Oh god!” and then the line went dead.

Oh, Diary, I stood there in the hallway with the phone pressed to my ear even after the line went dead. I was in utter shock for a few moments and could only stand there, trying to figure out what I should do next. Eventually, my mind began to function a little and I dashed to the offices of P&S – a long run from where I had been, to be sure – and breathlessly had the kindly old secretary there call emergency services.

I had no idea where Michael was, of course, but I told them that I believed he was at or around a place called “Gaitec’s Reach.” The man from the rescue services made loud exclamations at that, and asked if I thought he’d been there during the night. When I said that I supposed he had been, the man got very nervous and then very business-like, and I gather that the area is quite traitorous to one who’s not familiar with the terrain.

You may wonder, Diary dearest, how I dealt with P&S on this whole matter – for of course, Michael was found, and I wanted to get to the hospital to see him as soon as I could. P&S are now laboring under the delusion of his being a distant relation of mine, one who was coming to visit me and who I was very worried about because he had been a dear childhood friend of mine, from the days when I still lived with my parents and not with my evil cousin [this lie was necessary to explain why my cousin has no idea who he is].

All in all, the school has been cooperative and my roommates have been life-savers – Sophie and Maria have been bringing me the homework every day, and Peggy even brought me some makeup [“because you look SO dreary, my dear”]. I’ve been spending most of every day here in the hospital, because poor Michael looks so frail, so very weak. I don’t know why, but I feel responsible for him. I can’t, just can’t leave him here to wake up all on his own! I heard his English accent last time we met, so I know he must be so very far from home, the poor thing.

The doctors say he had a bad concussion, and they think he should wake up in a day or two, but I’m worried. He’s been in and out, mumbling nonsense sometimes and groaning from the pain at others.

Diary, Michaels’s stirring, he may want some more water, so I shall have to resume my conversation with you later.

I am ever yours,

Exhaustedly,

Lucy

P.S. Oh, one other thing – I’m going to tell him my real name when he wakes up, if he tells me what he’s been doing here.

Rosy Thoughts [Part II]

“Damn wind-chimes,” muttered Matt as he closed the door softly on his daughter’s sleeping form. She was genuinely asleep, finally, and Matt didn’t want the “chink-chink” of the dishes clinking against each other in the kitchen sink to wake her. He stood outside the closed door for a moment and sighed, then braced himself and walked into the kitchen.
A dark-haired woman, Laura, was standing at the sink, soap running through her fingers and steam fogging up part of her glasses as she bent over the sink and washed the few dishes that were in there. She heard Matt walk in, and her shoulders stiffened slightly. She wished he would move out already. Even though he slept on the couch, his presence in the house seemed to fill her every waking moment with an itch she couldn’t scratch without making it bleed.
“Coffee?” Matt offered quietly as switched on the electric kettle. Something in Laura seemed to break, and she turned off the water-tap.
“Yes, please.”
Matt reached into the cupboard and took out two mugs as Laura dried her hands on the dishtowel and sat down at the kitchen table, burying her face in her hands. They smelled lemony from the soap. She hated the smell of lemon. Stupid grocery store, she thought, why do they always run out of the good smelling soap?
“What are we going to do about her, Lor’?” Matt set a steaming mug of coffee in front of Laura and took the seat across from her, taking a long sip from his own, equally steaming mug. Laura’s shoulders stiffened and then slumped again as she picked up her mug. Her shoulders were aching, she was making that move so many times each day.
“I don’t know…” she murmured. “Do you think there’s something seriously wrong with her?”
“Um. Yes?! She’s been in bed for a week, goddammit! She’s hardly eating, she hardly responds to us! How can you be so calm about it?” Matt spoke barely above a whisper, still afraid to wake his daughter, but his tone was clearly one of a man who very much wanted to shout.
“Oh Matt, give me a break – she’s upset! It’s natural! She’s drawing attention to herself. I love her so much, and I’m worried about her too, you know, but I’m worried about how she’s going to be when the divorce is final more than I’m worried about her now.” Laura couldn’t bear to look at Matt. She felt somehow that his worry was an insult, as if he cared more for Rosy than she did. She knew the thought was ridiculous, and also knew that Matt was being disgustingly naïve, believing Rosy was really sick when Rosy was obviously sick at heart but not in body.
“I don’t want to leave while she’s like this. I can’t do it, Lor’,” Matt voice broke on the word ‘leave.’ He seemed on the verge of tears for a moment, but then he pulled himself together and looked at his still-wife-soon-to-be-ex-wife defiantly. “I won’t leave her. It’s not fair to her. It’s not fair to me. I don’t want to divorce her.”
“Matt!” Laura’s face turned red and she seemed to be close to yelling. Her voice was getting louder with every word. “We had an agreement! We cannot, I repeat, CANNOT keep living in the same house. All we’re doing is making Rosy more and more upset. She can hear us fighting, she can hear us talking to the lawyer, she can hear every damn word and THAT is why she’s hiding in her bed. We need to have some time apart or we will not be able to work this out for her!”
The two adults glared at each other for a moment. It was Matt who looked away first, taking another angry sip from his mug. This conversation would continue for a while, and he had no idea who would win the argument. Laura usually won, but Matt was determined in this. He could not leave Rosy when she was lying in bed like a little ghost of the bubbly twelve-year old girl he remembered from just a few weeks ago, before she had gotten wind of the divorce.

Rosy lay in bed all this time, truly asleep for the first time in days. Her hand was curled around the pillow and her dreams were of her childhood, when there weren’t any worries past which stuffed animal was missing an eye and how much the bruise from falling over hurt.