by Kirsty Cowan
Afterwards, while Richard bathed I walked about touching my fingers over her things. Richard's wife was a Lady. I touched her silver-backed hairbrush, her jars of lotions, her perfumes. There was a picture of her on the bedroom wall and I wished Richard would take it down, I asked and he said no and that I was to be quiet. The picture looked down at me as I did what I was told. I wished I was a Lady. She had a good life, she was always abroad. There was a picture downstairs of her with a croquet mallet, another of her on a horse. It looked a nice horse. Those pictures gave me a strange feeling and once I hit one and it was smashed when Richard came home. I said I'd knocked it accidentally. Silly billy, he said, sliding his hand up and down my back.
I stayed in the house whenever she wasn't there, and when he travelled he said I was still to stay. It was a big house away from the town with shadows of trees dark at the windows, but I knew if I went home Father would turn me back. You're a woman now. You need to accept how some things are. Avoiding my eyes. He owed money, a lot.
The first night Richard wasn't there the wind banged the windows and I was frightened being alone. To distract myself I touched the Lady's things. I slid my hands along her writing bureau, her books, her armchair. I touched her coats, her handkerchiefs, I stroked the insides of her shoes. Then I opened her wardrobe and dressed myself in layers and layers of her clothes and talked to the mirror. I said, Get out! in a Lady voice that felt like marbles in my mouth. I thought what I'd say to Richard. Get away! Don't put that thing near my face! I looked in the mirror and felt pleased. There was a difference between being a woman and being a Lady.
Inside one of the cabinets Richard kept port and wouldn't let me have any. What they say about girls who drink. Ladies were allowed to drink, so I drank. In a cupboard I found the Lady's horse things. I tried a whip, I brought it down on the rug and it leapt up in the air as if I'd scared it. Even rugs obeyed Ladies! I ran up and down the corridor, imagining myself on the Lady's horse. I whipped the pictures of the Lady and Richard and they came crashing to the floor.
When I met the Lady on the landing I thought for a moment it was myself in a mirror in my new clothes. But she was wet. Rain from the storm outside had gathered at her feet. I wondered what Richard would say but I didn't care, I was the Lady now so I lifted the whip and cracked it right across her face.