APRIL.

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When Mrs. Putnam opened the kitchen window in the morning the air smelled different, like new earth and budding grass. The cold, by afternoon, had wavered into a hesitant warm. This extra bit of brightness from the lingering sun seemed to perk up even the housekeeper, who broke into humming as she bustled around the house.

 

“Doesn’t this weather make you feel like singing?” Victoria asked Mrs. Putnam one morning, as she and Lena prepared the table for breakfast. 

 

“Singing? Dear me, no.” Mrs. Putnam shook her head and adjusted a plate. “I do not sing.”

 

“You were just humming, which is very similar.”

 

“It is not. Singing is for operas and people who have leisure time. Humming is for those who must work. Now, fetch the milk for Mr. Blaylock’s tea.”

 

After breakfast, Lena requested that Victoria sweep the kitchen while she saw to the ice delivery. She promptly left Victoria alone with the broom and a special admonition to not forget to clean behind the stove. Annoyed, Victoria went around the kitchen, collecting crumbs and brushing ash from the wooden floorboards. It was not the first time that Lena had shirked her share of the morning chores to get the ice delivery, and Victoria had figured that Lena was attending to more than just the ice. She’d also calculated the amount of time she’d have to allot to actual work (ten minutes) and the time left over to do as she pleased until Lena returned (twenty).

 

On the counter there was a bit of leftover angel food cake from Mrs. Blaylock’s visit to the Ladies’ Club the previous night and tucked in Victoria’s waist was a book she’d slipped from Maggie’s shelf that morning. She tugged out the book, pulled herself up onto the counter, and picked at the cake as she began to read. She discovered quite quickly that the book was not The Lady’s Everyday Book as proclaimed by the dust jacket, but Dracula, which was very exciting because it was the sort of novel that would never have been allowed inside of the orphanage. It made Victoria wonder what other kind of surprises were hidden in Maggie’s bookshelves.

 

“Stupid!”

 

Lena was rushing towards her. “Get down. What do you think you’re doing? We’re trying to keep the place clean, not dirty it up.” She grabbed the cake and tossed it into the waste bin. “You really shouldn’t be left alone.”

 

“Where’s the ice?” Victoria closed the book, set it on the counter, and crossed her arms.

 

Lena’s lips were pressed together in a very unseemly way. She looked as if she were about to be sick. “Mrs. Putnam is getting it today.”

 

“Ah, I see,” Victoria said, “it really isn’t a two-person job, is it? We don’t go through much ice here. But because you took so long, so I assumed—”

 

Lena grabbed the broom and poked the handle in Victoria’s face. “Enough. I don’t want to hear anything from you about it. Understand?”

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Victoria nodded. She hopped off the counter. “I won’t tell a soul.”

 

Lena’s gaze quivered distrustfully, but she dropped the broom, and neither of them brought up the subject again.

 

Later that week, Victoria was helping Maggie organize her wardrobe for Spring, sorting the garments into piles (“keep,” “charity,” and “Victoria castoffs”) when two sparring voices resonated from downstairs. One of them Victoria recognized right away as Mrs. Putnam’s, which was a terrifying sound; Mrs. Putnam normally operated on a base mood of mildly irritated, and when she was truly angry, she was vicious. Victoria’s jovial mood faded immediately. Maggie looked to Victoria, brows raised.

 

“I have to see what’s happening,” Victoria said, and excused herself from the room.

 

Victoria clambered down the stairs and headed directly to the kitchen, following an acrid smell. Inside Mrs. Putnam stood, brandishing in one hand what looked like a puck of ash before a sobbing Lena. Victoria’s stomach dropped, the worst scenarios rolling through her mind. 

 

Mrs. Putnam’s sharp eyes darted to Victoria. “What do you think you’re doing? This is not your business.”

 

“I…we could hear you from upstairs. I just wanted to make sure everything was alright,” Victoria stammered. There was a pause, a sniffle from Lena. “That’s all.”

 

“Everything is fine, except for Lena’s blatant laziness,” Mrs. Putnam spat. “This is the third day this week that she has neglected her morning household chores—or done them poorly—because she’s too busy talking up the ice delivery man.” She shook the blackened object at the air.

 

Victoria stifled laughter, but an uncomfortable smile betrayed her.

 

Mrs. Putnam’s face burned pink. “What could you possibly be laughing about?”

 

“Sorry,” Victoria said, exhaling slowly. “It’s just that what you said sounds funny.”

 

“What isn’t funny is Lena’s negligence leading to a whole batch of burnt tarts,” Mrs. Putnam said. She slammed the smoldered tart on the countertop. “Cook told her to put them in the oven and to watch over them so that they wouldn’t burn, but of course she was outside chatting instead of watching the oven. The entire kitchen could have gone up in flames.”

 

“Why wasn’t Cook watching the oven?” asked Victoria.

 

“What?” Mrs. Putnam’s flushed magenta.

 

“Why did Cook make Lena watch over the tarts? Isn’t she the one in charge of the food?”

 

“Cook can tell Lena—or you—to do whatever she wishes in her kitchen, if she is otherwise preoccupied,” Mrs. Putnam sneered.

 

“Well, what was preoccupying Cook?” Victoria questioned.

 

Pardon?

 

“Where was Cook—” Victoria peeked around the room, “—where is Cook? Does she usually go missing before lunch like this?”

 

“Only on Tuesdays,” said Lena with a sniff.

 

“Tuesdays? What’s on Tuesday?” asked Mrs. Putnam.

 

“We get our sugar delivery on Tuesday mornings,” Lena said. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “Around eleven, usually.”

 

“Yes, you’re right…what time is it now?” Mrs. Putnam asked aloud, answering her own question in glancing at the wall clock—eleven thirty-five. She then marched out of the kitchen like a general, her apron strings flying behind her. Lena and Victoria hurried at Mrs. Putnam’s heels down the hall, through the foyer, and out of the front door. The delivery cart was stationed at the curb, its horses snout-deep in a bucket of sugar cubes.

 

“What in the world?” Lena mumbled under her breath, as she and Victoria continued to trail Mrs. Putnam, who swiftly rounded the corner—and there was Cook embracing the sugar delivery man against the side of the house. 

 

Lena gasped in delight. The couple broke apart. Cook let out an angry yelp.

 

Aha!” shouted Mrs. Putnam, wagging a finger as she stomped closer. 

 

“Get away, you nosey old hag!” growled Cook as she made a run for the sugar cart.

 

“Don’t try me!” Mrs. Putnam screamed after her.

 

Lena and Victoria scrambled to the front porch, where they stood observing the scene from a safe distance.

 

Cook had flung herself inside the sugar cart. She reappeared with several bags of sugar wrapped in her arms, which she hurled, one by one, at the rapidly approaching Mrs. Putnam. Lena winced as the first bag crashed against the housekeeper’s legs and burst open at her feet, scattering fine crystals across the Blaylock’s walkway.

 

“I’ll ask that you don’t ruin any more of the pantry essentials,” demanded Mrs. Putnam. “It’s extremely wasteful—”

 

But as Mrs. Putnam made her case, Cook had already ripped open a bag of sugar, which she promptly tossed into Mrs. Putnam’s face. Mrs. Putnam inhaled a decent amount of the stuff and sputtered as she shook drifts of it off her clothing. The sugar delivery man hopped into his vehicle and whipped his horses into action. In a flurry of shock and confusion, the animals bolted away, knocking their basket of briberies into the street. 

 

Cook and Mrs. Putnam had relegated to a much quieter—though, from the looks of it, still intense—conversation. They leaned toward each other, foreheads nearly touching, Cook’s arms gesticulating wildly, Mrs. Putnam’s hands firmly on her hips.

 

“That was fascinating,” breathed Victoria, restraining an urge to applaud.

 

“Well,” Lena said, facing Victoria, “in a strange way, I guess you got me out of trouble—for now, at least. So, thank you.”

 

“No problem,” Victoria said.

 

Lena sighed and shook her head. “Mrs. Putnam sure is a nosey old hag though, isn’t she?”

 

“She’s a squasher of joy.”

 

“I’ve never even heard her laugh. Have you?”

 

“No,” affirmed Victoria. “I think she forgot how.”

 

Mrs. Putnam bustled toward the porch, wearing a deep-set frown, and shedding sugar with each step. “Victoria, get back upstairs and tend to Margaret. Lena, we will continue our talk tonight. Presently we have some burnt tarts and an ashy oven to see to.”

 

“And what about Cook?” Lena asked.

 

The three of them glanced briefly to the woman stomping around the front walk, kicking up sugar and muttering angrily to herself.

 

“She’s decided to leave us,” Mrs. Putnam said, curtly. “And just before Easter, too. I’ll have to advertise for a new cook soon, or else Mrs. Blaylock will be left without her favorite glazed ham.”

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As it happened, with Cook’s departure being so close to Easter, neither Mrs. Putnam nor the Blaylocks were able to acquire a new cook in time. Fortunately, the Aldridges opportunely extended an invitation to an Easter dinner with the Sanders—Mr. Aldridge’s sister’s family—which was a great relief to Mr. and Mrs. Blaylock.

 

“This is awful,” bemoaned Maggie, flinging herself down upon her bed. “Another terrible dinner with Simon’s family—and God knows who else will be there.”

 

“Maybe the food will be worth it, at least,” suggested Victoria.

"Probably,” sighed Maggie, as she rolled onto her back and faced the ceiling. “Although the Sanders probably have expensive taste and, in my experience, expensive taste is not always good taste.” She recalled the dinner at the Aldridge’s last month that featured pickled oysters and a savory jelly. 

 

“Did you ever hear back from Simon?” asked Victoria, sitting on the edge of Maggie’s bed.

 

“Oh, yes. I did.” Maggie sprang up and went to fetch the note from her desk, which she read aloud:

         Dear Maggie:

               Looking forward to seeing you and your family on Easter. 

               In response to your last letter: everything is fine.

                    Regards,

                    Simon

“Hm,” said Victoria. “A little unexciting, but at least he wrote back.”

 

Maggie had already written a response, which she didn’t divulge to Victoria, as it was as plain as Simon’s had been:

          Dear Simon:

                I will be seeing you as well.

               Hope the dinner will be good.

                      -Maggie

“Did he write back to you as well?” asked Maggie.

 

"Oh, no,” said Victoria, but that was a lie, which she was sure Maggie sensed, though neither addressed it. The truth was that Victoria had received a letter from Simon, but it hardly prompted the continuation of a conversation:

          Dear Victoria:

                I did not expect to receive this letter from you, but thank you for writing. Don't worry about           what happened at the theater.

                  Regards,

                  Simon

She also didn’t tell Maggie that she’d already penned another letter to Simon which she’d folded and stuffed into an envelope before the ink had dried so that Lena wouldn’t have a chance to ask any questions about it if she woke up:

          Dear Simon:

                 Thank you for writing back.

                 Sorry if this is a bit messy; I had to write it in the dark because Lena was very tired and                 said she could not bear the lamp light. She's very melodramatic.

                 I hope your Easter is marvelous.

                         Sincerely,

                         Victoria

Maggie thought to herself that perhaps she’d had too many expectations about exchanging letters. 

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After a mid-morning church service, the Blaylocks were ready to set off for their Easter dinner. The family was dressed finely. Maggie’s Easter dress was pale blue, a color which suited her well, and Victoria told her so.

 

Maggie sighed. “Thank you. Although I feel sort of like a china doll.” She awkwardly tugged at her custom matching jabot, twisting it away from her throat to no avail.

 

“Enjoy your day off, Victoria.” Mrs. Blaylock smiled as she slipped a fur stole over her shoulders and adjusted her hat. And in a quiet rush, they left.

 

In the kitchen, Mrs. Putnam and Lena sat chatting at the table. An assortment of liquor bottles had been opened, half-full glasses before them, even though it was barely eleven o’clock. When they noticed that Victoria had joined them, they turned suspiciously mute. Lena flashed a devious grin.

 

“What?” questioned Victoria, suddenly self-conscious. She glanced down at her clothes to check for embarrassing stains.

 

Mrs. Putnam cleared her throat as she rose from the table and grabbed a basket off the countertop. 

 

“Victoria,” she began, as she approached with said basket, “Lena and I have come to a unanimous consensus that you are to bring this Easter dinner next door to Mrs. Gibson.” 

Mrs. Putnam extended the basket Victoria’s way. 

 

Utterly confused, Victoria accepted it. “Who is Mrs. Gibson?” 

 

“Mrs. Gibson is Maggie’s grandmother—Mrs. Blaylock’s mother.” Mrs. Putnam returned to the table and replenished her glass with the large amber bottle amongst the collection on the tabletop. 

 

“Why have I never heard of her before now?” Victoria asked. “Why hasn’t she ever visited—doesn’t the family ever visit her?”

 

Mrs. Putnam, the glass hovering at her lips, frowned and set it down. “If you must know, Mrs. Gibson is not at all fond of visitors. She rarely, if ever, leaves her home. But, honestly, Victoria, you ask far too many questions for your own good, and I suggest you put an end to them at once and do this small kindness for a woman who doesn’t experience much human interaction.”

 

“Yeah, yeah. Which way is it?”

 

“It’s the big grey house next door, Victoria, the one that looks as if it could desperately use some upkeep. Really, Victoria, the way some things need to be spelled out for you…”

 

Once outdoors Victoria ran, at first, in the direction of the house in question but was forced to slow her pace due to the mud, which was so sticky and thick that one of her shoes was nearly left behind. Confound Mrs. Gibson, Victoria thought to herself, as she trekked through the mire, and Lena and Mrs. Putnam, too. The area surrounding it was poorly maintained: weeds nearly as tall as Victoria herself decorated the backyard and the front lawn, sprawling dead trees shadowed the house, and ivy smothered the whole half of one side. 

 

Once Victoria made it up to the front porch of the abode, she saw that the house itself was not at all frightening or strange; in fact, underneath the weathered exterior, it bore the evidence of good design.

 

Victoria rapped the door a few times, whereupon a muffled voice shouted at her from within. She couldn’t understand if it was inviting her in or not, but she entered anyhow because she found that the door was unlocked.

 

Stepping inside Mrs. Gibson’s house was most jarring, as it was as pristine and polished as the outside was not. Glancing to her left, Victoria saw a quite welcoming sitting room, complete with walls of tall, well-stocked bookshelves and a fireplace. To her right was a wooden staircase—and directly before her was a woman, presumably Mrs. Gibson herself, who frowned at Victoria. 

 

Mrs. Gibson then swiftly turned and bustled towards the dining room, which lie straight ahead down the short, narrow hall. Victoria tripped after her, lifting the basket.

 

“Mrs. Gibson,” Victoria began, “sorry if I appeared startled just now. I’m Victoria, I’m the newest member of the Blaylock’s household staff. Well, not really new, I’ve been there since January—”

 

“I know who you are,” Mrs. Gibson replied gruffly. She promptly sat at the farthest head of the dining room table. “Is that my dinner?”

 

Victoria suddenly felt as if she had arrived at an unexpected evaluation. “Yes.”

 

“Bring it to me.” Mrs. Gibson was very serious. Victoria had thought she’d never meet another person as serious as Mrs. Putnam, but clearly, she’d thought wrong.

 

Victoria did as she was told. Mrs. Gibson set the basket down on the tabletop, lifted the lid, pushed back the cloth covering, and methodically riffled through its contents, nodding with an indifferent, “hm.” Victoria lifted her head to peek at what Mrs. Putnam had packed, but Mrs. Gibson hovered her hands protectively over the comestibles.

 

She snapped shut the lid and looked up at Victoria. “You may leave now.”

 

Victoria nodded. “Okay. Thank you.” 

 

But before Victoria budged an inch, Mrs. Gibson asked, “How is Margaret?”

 

Confused, Victoria hesitated before answering. “She’s well.” She wasn’t even sure if this was the truth.

 

Mrs. Gibson’s eyes narrowed. Clearly, she wasn’t convinced, either. “Is she still seeing that Aldridge boy?”

 

“To the best of my knowledge, yes.” 

 

Mrs. Gibson rolled her eyes. “When I was her age, I was married three years with a child.”

 

“Times have changed, Mrs. Gibson.”

 

“Yes, it seems that they have. They’re always changing, aren’t they? It greatly concerns me. Does it greatly concern you, Victoria?”

 

Victoria considered it for a moment. “Maybe a little, yes. I think there’s always something to be greatly concerned over.”

 

“Are you married, Victoria?”

 

“Oh, no—”

 

“Good. A maid should never be married. She cannot possibly manage her own household and that of another woman’s.”

 

“I’ll keep that in mind, Mrs. Gibson.”

 

“I saw you looking at my library, Victoria. Do you read books?”

 

“Not as much as I’d like to, Mrs. Gibson.”

 

“I don’t read them myself. Most of them are novels, you see, and I don’t read novels. I don’t believe any woman should. Not an ounce of truth in them. Why anyone should dedicate their time reading about things which don’t exist baffles me. They were my late husband’s. Men have time to occupy themselves with novels, you see.”

 

“I see,” Victoria replied.

 

“My husband was much older, you understand; it’s very good to have an older husband because he provides for you, but it’s also very bad because he dies when you’re thirty-five and leaves you alone with a single, precarious child and too many books.”

 

“I’m very sorry to hear it, Mrs. Gibson.”

 

“Oh, go on, Victoria. Stop being so shy about it. Yes, you may borrow one of my books—even one of the novels if you want, and I’ll pretend not to notice. In fact, I’ll look away completely.”

 

Victoria hardly knew how to respond. “Oh…of course, Mrs. Gibson. I’d love to. I promise I’ll return it in a timely manner.”

 

After that, it seemed that Mrs. Gibson was finished with Victoria; she opened the basket again and began to unpack its contents. Victoria drifted away, thinking she should leave Mrs. Gibson to eat her meal in privacy, and headed straight for the bookshelves. There, she had a moment of strange panic. She could see in her mind’s eye Mrs. Gibson gazing at her from down the hall. Her mind fell blank, and she grabbed a book off the shelf in a flash and fled the house. 

 

It wasn’t until she was halfway back to the Blaylock residence that she even glanced upon the book she’d blindly chosen. She flipped it to the cover and let out a groan. It was, indeed, a novel—the third in the once-popular Timothy Knave books by Cornelius Tripp, published originally in serial form back in the ’50’s, in which a plucky orphan boy living on the streets of London performs magic tricks just to get by. At the end of the series, he marries his assistant, and they go off to live in North country where they reside in a spacious mansion amidst the moors.

 

Despite not particularly enjoying the books, Victoria had read the entire eight volume collection as a child for lack of better options. Flipping through the faded pages, she searched for the sensational ink and pen drawings that illustrated Timothy’s outrageous antics. And although the story seemed even more ridiculous to her now than it did as a child, a warmly nostalgic feeling snuck in, and she promised herself she’d reread at least a few chapters—just to spite Mrs. Gibson, if nothing else.

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Dinner had been comfortably normal, with a ham and a turkey and a plentiful array of side dishes, shared amongst the guests at the Sanders’ expansive dining room table. There was also a surprising number of young people present, including a handful of children under the age of six, which made for quite a noisy dining experience—though Maggie didn’t mind, as all the jabber and havoc allowed her an excuse to ignore Mr. and Mrs. Aldridge’s initiations of conversation by feigning difficulty hearing. She and Simon had made eye contact perhaps four times throughout the entire meal, mostly by happenstance. Mama had been too preoccupied with cooing at the babies to offer any distanced criticisms. 

 

When the meal ended, the guests drifted into separate spheres; the men with their wines and whiskeys remained in the dining room, the women with their coffees and their small children wandered to the sunroom patio, and the young adults meandered to the parlor for games. 

Present were two daughters and the son of some of the Sanders’ friends, whom Maggie had already forgotten the names of except for Sophronia, the eldest, as she was the most notable, with her outspokenness and artificial curls.

 

Simon’s cousins were nice enough. There was the gangly and quiet thirteen-year old Albie, whose contributions to most conversations was a crooked smile and a disjointed laugh, and his sister, seventeen-year old Rose, who was a bit of a braggart—like presently, in the midst of their third game of Old Maid, which she was winning yet again. 

 

Simon had declined participation. He sat cross-legged beside Maggie around the small table in the parlor where the game was being held and observed with silent indifference.

 

“Simon doesn’t like to play cards—he thinks it’s boring,” Sophronia had announced with an odd confidence before their first round as she’d doled out cards to the players, as if she had an intimate knowledge of his preferences. 

 

After Rose had been officially declared victorious again, Sophronia plucked the cards from everyone round the table. “Maybe we should choose something now that everyone wants to play.”

 

“Forfeits!” shouted Rose.

 

Sophronia rolled her eyes. “You always want to do forfeits.”

 

“Plus, the last time we did forfeits, you ended up crying.” Albie grinned smugly at his sister, who promptly huffed and crossed her arms. 

 

“How, what, where, when,” said Sophronia, decisively.

 

“What?” asked Maggie.

 

“Exactly,” replied Sophronia. “What, how, where, and when more specifically, but not in that order. Here, I’ll ask first. Someone think of something, but don’t tell me what it is.”

 

“I’ll go,” volunteered Albie.

 

“Alright. How do you like it?”

 

Albie was thoughtful for a moment. “Exciting.”

 

Why do you like it?”

 

“It’s fun.”

 

When do you like it?”

 

“In the summer, preferably.”

 

Where do you like it?”

 

“Outside.”

 

“Baseball,” said Sophronia, nodding in satisfaction.

 

“Hey!” cried Albie.

 

“You made it too easy to guess,” said Rose. “Everyone knows you love baseball.”

 

“Alright, let’s see you come up with something more difficult.”

 

“Well, give me a moment to think of something, for heaven’s sake.”

 

As Rose pondered the very arduous task at hand, Maggie let her mind wander and her eyes drift about the room. The Sanders’ walls were papered with a slightly overwhelming floral pattern in deep reds, pinks, and gold. Dried flowers in ancient vases sat upon nearly every flat surface, filling the air with a dusty sweetness. A phonograph stood on a wooden cabinet in the corner. Maggie wondered how often it was used, and what kind of music people like the Sanders favored. She was half-tempted to get up and inspect their record collection.

 

“I’ve thought of something,” declared Rose. “Who wants to try guessing?”

 

“I will,” volunteered Maggie. “How do you like it?”

 

“In a bouquet.”

 

Maggie suppressed an eye roll, which sent a twitch through her eyelid. “It’s roses.” 

 

“Oh, come on!” Rose pouted. “I thought because it was so obvious someone would overthink it.”

 

Before anyone could comment, Sophronia chimed in. “I’d like to go. Who hasn’t yet guessed?” Her eyes fixed on Simon.

 

Simon, shifting uncomfortably, asked, “How do you like it?”

 

Sophronia tilted her head. “Tender.”

 

“Why do you like it?”

 

“It makes me feel beautiful.”

 

“When do you like it?”

 

“Anytime.”

 

“Where do you like it?”

 

Sophronia with a small smile, answered, “On the lips.”

 

“A kiss?”

 

“Is that a question, Simon, or your answer?” Sophronia tilted her head again.

 

Simon, for a moment, was quiet. “It’s my answer, Sophronia,” he replied, finally, with no lack of annoyance.

 

No one spoke or moved for a few moments until Rose stood and said, “Well, I’m hungry. I’m going to get some of that cake I saw.” She left the room, and Maggie followed her. She didn’t look behind to see if Simon was coming along.

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It took Victoria four nights to read the Timothy Knave book, in the lamplit hour or so that she and Lena spent in mutual silence before one or the other fell asleep. Once she finished the final page, she stared at the TO BE CONTINUED until her eyes lost focus.

 

“Where’d you get that?”

 

Victoria startled. Lena was staring at her over the top of her issue of White Lily, the women’s story magazine she received secondhand from Mrs. Blaylock. The cover featured a young couple standing several feet apart before a blazing fireplace.

 

“Oh. Mrs. Gibson let me borrow it.”

 

Really?”

 

“Yes,” Victoria said, “but I’ve already read it. I’ve read all the popular books about orphans—which, by the way, is most of them.” (Our Lady of Second Chances kept a high inventory of orphan stories. Whether that was either cruel or comforting, Victoria had never been able to decide.)

 

“Hm. Well, I’m shocked she let you lay a finger on one of her belongings, let alone take it out of her house. She’s not a very kind woman. The Blaylocks don’t associate with her, you know.”

 

“But she lives next door.”

 

“She’s lonely, I suppose—although she hardly does a thing about it.”

 

“Does she have any help?”

 

Lena shook her head. “She refuses any domestic aid. Every so often, Mrs. B sends someone over to check on her, but they’re almost always sent back immediately.”

 

“Hm.” Victoria suddenly felt restless, as she always did when an idea gripped her. “I noticed that her yard would be so beautiful if it were tidied up, maybe decorated a bit. You know, with some flowers or one of those fancy stone statues. I’d like to do that.”

 

Lena laughed. “Good luck with that. If she sees you so much as approach one of her hedges with a tool, she’ll chase you away in ten seconds flat.”

 

Victoria jumped out of her bed and roved to the desk. She didn’t feel very tired now; she felt as if she should write a list or draw up a plan.

 

Lena shook her head. “What is the matter with you right now?”

 

“I must have eaten too much at dinner. I feel strange.”

 

“Well, that I believe,” Lena sighed, returning to her story. She fell quiet and flipped a page.

 

Victoria sat at the desk, staring blankly at the surface, her focus wandering to the small stack of envelopes in the corner. She riffled through them, observing the dates. Most of them were Lena’s, but there was one of hers from Simon. She realized that Simon hadn’t yet replied to her last letter. Immediately, she stole a fresh piece of stationary from Lena’s stash and penned a few short lines, in which she simply gave a standard greeting and said she hoped his Easter was fine. She felt odd about it, but still she folded it up. On an afterthought, she tossed it onto her bed to remind herself to hide it before she went to sleep so Lena wouldn’t pry into the matter.

 

Next, she pulled out another new sheet of paper and readied her pencil, intending to start a to-do list—but instead, when her instrument hit the paper, she was drawing vines and weeds and crooked trees, and somehow it felt as if something inside her had just been opened. She glanced over to Lena’s bed; her roommate had fallen asleep, White Lilyopen-faced upon her chest. Victoria crept over and lifted the magazine away, set it on the desk, and turned down the lamp. 

 

Trying to settle, Victoria rolled over and heard a crinkle. She fumbled blindly on her coverlet and her fingers landed on her letter. Eyes half-opened in the dimness, she read her own words and, dissatisfied with them, balled up the paper and threw it underneath the bed.

© 2022 Angeline Walsh

The Reign of Victoria; or the Year That Everything Changed is a work of fiction. Any resemblances to real persons or events is coincidence. Thank you for respecting the original creation of the author by not reproducing or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. 

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