Welcome to My Room
by Kathleen Carbone
It grew late, but I ordered another beer. Lit up another Marlboro Light. The television above the bar was tuned into a Red Sox game, but the sound was mercifully turned off. Bonnie Raitt belted them out from the CD juke. I liked it here, liked it plenty. The thought of returning to the Bed And Breakfast and my fellow Bordenites did not attract me, and I planned to make my overnight stay just that. Overnight.
They were a serious lot, as are most aficionados of anything. They bickered, they snapped, talking over one another as each one obviously knew more than all the rest. Turning and overturning the minutiae of the trial, and the day of the murders as if they could solve the crime themselves, here and now.
I now found the murders and the trial of Lizzie to be the least interesting thing about her, after years of fascination. I had recently come to the conclusion that any one could be driven to murder if they felt trapped or desperate enough. The fascination I now held for Lizzie was purely personal, a fact that made me blush with shame.
I finally returned to Second Street, and stood before the house looking up so that it encompassed my entire vision. I had seen it pictured in books so many times, that it was almost like seeing a celebrity in the flesh now. I was stricken at how small it seemed in comparison to my own imagination. How…sad.
A narrow path led to the side entrance, and I silently traversed it. Knew it and the steps here very well too. I sat down on the third step to this back entry. Here is where she waited that morning for Mrs. Churchill to do come over (“Somebody has killed Father” the explanation for the request had been.) Here Bridget Sullivan had rushed out, down these very steps, throwing a shawl over her shoulders in the intense heat, going for Dr. Bowen.
Had Lizzie herself perhaps come to the porch on a night like this, as I did now? Sat here feeling lonely and desperate and unloved? Looked up at the rising moon, and touched this very railing?
I pulled a Marlboro Light from my jacket and reached for my Zippo. It was clamped to my belt in a clever leather case-a Christmas present to myself. The lighter itself was a collectors edition. A cartoon portrait of the Beatles from “Yellow Submarine” was enameled onto the front of it, along with that title. I loved the thing.
It clicked open with the unmistakable sound of a Zippo, and I inhaled the aroma of the lighter fluid before spinning the flint wheel into a flame.
“Put that OUT!”
Huh? I automatically obeyed the command, shoving the cigarette back into the box in my pocket and closing the Zippo. But who’d made the demand? It had definitely been inside my own head, in my own mind-voice, but it had not originated there. I felt sure of that. “Jesus, I’m losing it” I grumbled aloud.
“Blasphemer too, I’m not surprised. Is there a vice she does not indulge?”
“She’s not slothful” Another more sympathetic opinion from someone else.
“Bah! I’m going to bed” A third, this one a masculine presence. The others had been women.
The Bordens, arguing in my head. I rose from the steps and made my way toward the front of the house. Time to call it a night. At the gate, I lurched drunkenly, and crashed into the side of it. Something somewhere on it snapped. I didn’t’t dare look.
“Hhmmmmph! We’ll have to have THAT fixed now. Mr. Borden! We’ll have to fix THAT now!”
“ Dear God in Heaven, whichever place you send me to in the next life, please let there be no women in the house…”
“ Father! You don’t mean that!” Teasing, cajoling him. (Lizzie?)
“ Mmmmmm?” he grumbled.
“ Andrew!” Their voices faded into another spectral chamber, echoing slightly.
“ Andrew, the fence! That inebriated fool has broken the fence!”
I ran into the front door, suddenly very ashamed of myself. My inn-mates were still milling about the lower floor, touching the widow frames, wainscoting and other original woodwork reverently. Though part of me longed for the company of the living, I climbed the steep staircase to my room. Halfway up, I stumbled on one of the carpeted riser and I tripped forward with a crash.
“Good Lord!” (Abby again?) “That drunken fool will have the whole house down around us! Andrew! Andrew, the stairs!”
There followed the ear-tickling sound of a feminine giggle. A younger voice. (Lizzie?)
“Unnatural thing! Who can tell if it’s a man or woman? But I don’t suppose that would bother YOU in the least” (Abby again, addressing Lizzie?)
The silence that followed was so thick with unspoken hostility that I fled upstairs, not daring to look into the guest chamber, where Abby had been killed.
I opened the door to my room, Lizzie’s old room, slowly. To my relief, it was empty but I was now quite regretful of reserving it alone. I went to the small, newly renovated bathroom. There was no shower or tub but I filled the basin with hot water and the room quickly steamed over. After washing, I opened the cabinet above the basin, and found inside little tubes of toothpaste adorned with Lizzie’s face.
“My Gawd!” I said to myself, “Would she ever have imagined her picture on toothpaste?”
I closed the cabinet, and as its mirrored side swung back, I leapt. In the mirror, she stood behind me, her figure and profile unmistakable through the steamed glass. She turned and, peering over my shoulder into the mirror, she examined her teeth. When I turned she was gone. “Miss Lizzie…?”
“We will talk in my room”
I had thrown on a short bathrobe, but now longed to cover myself, prepare myself for…whatever. The only option was to put my jeans and sweatshirt back on, then I wrapped my under things in the damp towel and combed my hair down.
At the door to her room ( in my mind it had become her room again) I hesitated. Collecting a deep breath I pushed open the door and entered, pulling it closed behind me. I was afraid to look about me, and when I did I was not alone.
She sat at the small table by the window, prim and upright with a pleasant smile of greeting.
“Good evening.” Her lips moved, but still I seemed to hear her voice in my head. I whispered back.
“Good evening” I looked toward the closet and went to deposit my damp bundle. But first I clamped my Zippo to my belt. I was afraid to approach her.
“Please sit. May I offer you something to drink? Or eat?”
From where? I wondered. “Oh no thank you. I have beer in my back pack” Suddenly I craved another, “Would you mind if I…?” Her upper lip curled for the tick of an instant in distaste, but ever the hostess she quickly replaced her smile. I recalled that she had once been a member of the W.C.T.U.
“Not at all, I’m sure.”
I quickly removed one and twisted it open as quietly as possible. Alcohol in the home of Andrew Borden! I sat opposite her, and observed her as unobtrusively as possible.
She was faint, I could see the far wall right through her, but definitely there. There was color, the shiny deep plum of her silk dress (a bengaline?) a touch of pink face powder about her cheeks, and the famous clear blue of her eyes. They were not cold, or calculating or unnerving as I’d read. In fact she seemed slightly amused as she in turn observed me.
“It’s a lovely night.”
“Yes, quite nice. I love a full moon.”
“Its delightful. Do you find everything to your liking?”
“Here? Yes, its most comfortable. And beautiful.”
“I agree they’ve done very nicely with it.”
“I’m sorry about the fence.”
“Don’t mention it. The proprietors make enough money off of my name to repair it. I’m sure.”
“But I thought I heard Mrs. Borden say…”
“She gets a little confused sometimes. Really, you mustn’t concern yourself with it.”
I could not hold back a question. “Do you greet your guests often in person?”
“No, not often. Not usually even aware of them. Most are rather idiotic I’m afraid, haven’t any manners at all. Did you know that two of them got married here last year? In the very room where Father was killed!”
She seemed as incredulous as I had been when I’d first heard about that wedding. Suddenly I felt obliged to apologize for my generation. “People have strange reactions to you, your…memory today. They react unpredictably.”
“Some even write funny stories about me.”
I blanched. So this was the reason for this visit? Retribution for the writings I’d authored about her and that were published on the Web? Writings in which I thought I did not insult her, but I’d certainly never considered discussing them with her as I wrote them. Explanations gushed forth from me.
“I never meant any disrespect in them, Miss Borden. No disrespect at all, I assure you. I’m sick of the know-it-alls quoting the trial transcripts, and hypothesizing as if they were there when it happened, or that they can solve the fucking thing now.”
She flinched at the word, but I went on.
“Or else they’re totally mannerless idiots, like you said, giggling and posing on the sofa! I wanted to write something completely foreign, alien, to them, something half of them wouldn’t even understand the humor of. Something that excluded them… Miss Borden, I meant no harm to you or the memory of your family.”
She eyed me calmly throughout this diatribe of self-absolution, her eyes slightly slanted. It was impossible to read her expression.
Finally she replied.“You may call me Lizzie.”
I sighed, and wiped at my forehead which was now spattered with perspiration. “Thank you Miss Borden…Lizzie. You’re not offended then?”
“You’re very clever, aren’t you?”
I thought I detected just a hint of condescending sneer in her tone, but she continued to smile.
“May I call you Kathleen?”
“Yes, by all means. Call me Kathleen.”
“Very good then. So tell me what’s going on in your life these strange days, Kathleen?”
“What?” I answered lamely. Where to begin? I was having a conversation with Lizzie Borden for starters. What did she know about these strange days, as she called them? Was she able to comprehend the things that took place beyond the confines of this house? Or was she relegated only to things that pertained directly to her?
Did she know about World War II, Hitler and the Holocaust? Man on the moon? The Berlin Wall? The Internet? September 11? The scandal of the Catholic Church? I sighed .
When I was not forthcoming with any information, she looked about the room uneasily. Perhaps this was the reason she declined to greet many of her guests this way. It could be a nearly insurmountable obstacle just getting over the fact of her.
I had to try though. I cleared my throat, but still nothing came out. She brightened with a sudden idea though.
“So tell me what new colognes and scents are popular now. Do you have any?”
I was caught off guard by the banality of the inquiry, but I was nonetheless grateful for the distraction. She was clearly much more socially savvy than I.
“Colognes. Yes I have a small bottle of Geoffrey Beane, its my favorite. Shall I get it?”
“Oh please do.” She seemed delighted at the prospect.
I got up shakily and went to my backpack, withdrew the small spray bottle and brought it back to her. Instinctively, I knew not to try to hand her any solid object to hold. Instead, I squirted the cologne into the air near her, and she leaned forward inhaling.
“Oh how lovely! What’s it called?”
“How strange a name. But it’s a lovely scent. So citruses and clean”
“Please keep it.”
She smiled.”Non thank you. I couldn’t really. But I will remember it always, I can do that you know. Remember the scent of colognes very clearly. I will remember this one in association with you.”
“What’s that?” She indicated the Zippo pouch clamped to my belt.
“Oh that! My Beatles Zippo! Its a cigarette lighter.”
“Dreadful habit Kathleen…”
“I know, I know. But have a look.”
I unsnapped the pouch and placed the lighter on the table just in front of her. She elevated her head slightly by pushing her chin forward a bit, and lowering her eyes downward onto the object. It was a purely feminine manner of observing something new and unfamiliar.
“How very colorful!” She passed a spectral hand over it, a hand of remarkable grace and beauty.”Who are the young gentlemen pictured?”
Now here was a subject I could elaborate on!
“They were a group…a singing quartet in the 1960’s who were incredibly popular!! They called themselves ‘The Beatles” and were probably the most famous group of musicians of the decade. Perhaps of the entire Twentieth Century.”
She seemed dubious.“The Beetles? Like the garden pest?”
“ Well not exactly. They spelled it differently. Its a pun, actually.”
“Do you know any of their compositions?”
Compositions? Oh, she meant their songs, I realized. “Why yes, I think I know them all. They were very prolific, wrote and recorded hundreds of popular songs.”
“Please, would you sing one for me?”
Sing one? I felt myself blush in embarrassment, but she seemed quite at ease with the request. There were no radios and television in her time, I recalled. People probably sang and recited poetry for each other all the time back then. She raised her eyebrows expectantly.
Despite the fact that I owned countless Beatles recordings, not one song lyric came to my mind as I sat before her. I glanced about the room desperately, and my eyes fell to the lighter on the table. The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine.” Okay. I cleared my throat and she leaned forward.
In the town
Where I was born
There lived a man
Who sailed to sea
And he lived
Beneath the waves
In a yellow submarine
We all live in a yellow submarine
We all live in a yellow submarine
She pursed her lips, and her chin began to quiver. She seemed to be desperately trying to keep herself under control, and I feared that I had awakened some deep disturbance with ny singing. She covered her mouth with her hand, but to no avail. Try as she might to maintain her composure as a hostess, she suddenly burst out laughing. It was a rich contagious sound. I could not help but smile myself, as I continued my song for her.
So we lived
A life of ease
Every one of us
Is all we need
Sky of blue (Sky Of Blue!)
And sea of green (Sea Of Green!)
In our yellow (In Our Yellaeow!)
Submarine (Submarine! Yee-hah!)
We all live in a yellow submarine
I tapered off and the curtains near her quivered eerily as she laughed.
“Oh, you can’t be serious! Are you ever?” She looked about her at the curtains which still billowed. Her smile suddenly faded. “I’m afraid I’ve overstepped my boundaries,” she indicated the curtains. “Worn out my welcome…”
Before I could realize the import of her words, her visage began to waver. Then I knew; for some reason the movement of the curtains had been a spectral no-no.
“Wait, please. I know another song, a better one!”
But she began to disappear, smiling as though she might still laugh.
“Don’t go, please. Talk to me!”
“I’m afraid not, this is how it has to be.”
“It’s my lot, my atonement.”
Atonement? Had she just unwittingly confessed to the murders to me? Atonement, here? On second thought I considered that we all had things to atone for, every one of us. And sitting here chatting in one’s old room did not exactly seem a proper atonement for an ax murderer. Seemed to me that there should be some fire and brimstone involved. Maybe she was indeed innocent.
“Women like you are a torment to me”
“A torment? How?” I was flooded with sadness at this thought. Did my writings, my many hours of contemplating her, imagining her life, looking at her photographs, wondering about her, did all of this somehow affect her, hurt her from beyond the grave?
“I’m sorry Miss Borden. Very sorry to be a torment to you. I never meant to be. I won’t write anymore of those stories about you”
“Silly thing, that isn’t a bother. With all the tripe that’s been written about me over the years! Its companionship and friendship I desire. Worse than before, don’t you see? One can be forgiven for almost anything they’ve done. Its what we haven’t done that we must atone for. I could never quite grasp that either while I was whiling away my hours alone. Behind locked doors in my mansion”
She smiled a little self deprecatingly. I considered what she told me.
“What about Nance?”
She seemed incredulous; somehow I had blundered. One mustn’t bring up past lovers, even to spirits.
“Nance! You fool! I pursued Nance for her …unattainability! I knew it would never last. My God, an actress touring from city to city, a slew of lovers in her wake?! I knew I would never have to account for anything with Nance. I just kept my pocketbook open, and she opened …well her heart, shall we say.”
I was shocked silent, and felt that I should apologize for my stupidity. She seemed to sense this, and relented.
“It’s women like you who make me long for a second chance.”
She reached out her lovely white hand again and passed it over my wrist. I felt nothing, but shivered nonetheless.
“See? Nothing, we can never really touch each other. Never.”
She became a shade paler and her voice (still in my head?) faded as well. The last I heard of it was a lilting mockery of the song I’d sung for her.
“Sky of blue
And eyes of green
Has my silly friend Kathleen…”
© 2002 Kathleen Carbone
“Lizzie dear, have you drowned?” asked a woman’s voice from somewhere beyond the closed bathroom door.
Lizzie Borden’s face, with just her eyes, mouth, and nose visible, looked like a mask floating upon the surface of the water. Her feet, ankles, and part of her calves were exposed, propped against the far end of the tub. The rest of her was joyously submerged.
“I shall be there anon,” she responded in her best Shakespearean tone. Through the water, her voice sounded almost ethereal to her own ears.
Oh, how she adored bathtubs! They were like her own personal pool where she could go to float away on her dreams. Claw-footed tubs. Tubs encased in wooden frames. Marble Roman baths! She loved them all. Filling them up, hot water steaming from the taps, enjoying a good soak. One pull of the chain to release the plug, and gallons of water easily drained away, ending with a magical little whirlpool, and that marvelous sucking sound. Lizzie would soak for hours if it was possible. She loved the way her long auburn hair flowed and floated just beneath the surface beside her eyes. She imagined herself a beautiful sea creature, relaxing underwater, and watching the fishes swim by.
Europe was a world so far away from Fall River. Back home, there was no bathroom, nor elegant tub for soaking. Lizzie could not bear to think about it, for she would be back there in little more than one month’s time. Here, there were toilets painted with delicate designs, just like other fine porcelain. One did one’s business, then one pull of the chain would flush it all clean away. One could even use the facilities in the middle of the night without having to climb stairs. No stinking slop buckets to empty come morning. And yet, none of her lady travel companions found the hotel facilities any better than those they enjoyed at home. Some even complained about having to share with the other guests. If Lizzie could, she would stay right here in Europe, and live in hotels and pensiones for the rest of her life. Life would never be the same again for Miss Lizzie Borden of Fall River. She was nearing the end of the most vibrant, exciting summer of her life. She had seen Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London; walked along the Champs-Elysées, and stood transfixed before great works of art in The Louvre. Palaces and churches–sights whose majesty were beyond her most imaginative dreams. She had attended the theater, seeing some of the world’s most famous actors and actresses in the flesh, before her very eyes. Such grandeur and beauty was almost too much to absorb. Each day had been more exciting than the next. How colorless and mundane Fall River would seem after the rich history and glamour of Europe. No, Lizzie could not bear to think about it.
“How can you do it, Lizzie?” Anna asked upon her return to their room. “Your hair is soaking, and it shan’t dry before bedtime. You shall catch your death.”
Lizzie ignored the admonishment, and began to comb out her clean hair. “Did you ladies enjoy the opera?”
“Oh, it was absolutely wonderful,” Anna gushed. “Such a shame you did not feel well earlier. Did the bath help?”
“Yes,” Lizzie replied. “Tell me about the hall, was it as grand as they say?”
Anna slid beneath the counterpane, pulled the covers up to her chin, and went into the details of their evening.
Lizzie had not gone to the opera, but had chosen to stay behind at the pensione. She had feigned illness, but the truth was, she had not been able to afford the ticket. Her funds were running perilously low. She had telegraphed her father to send money, but that had been three days ago. She had not yet received any response. Lizzie was growing worried. From the start, she knew she did not have the spending money her companions had. She tried to budget herself, and had succeeded for the most part. Instead of lavish souvenirs and objets d’art, she had settled for pictures and books. All the better to remember the experience, she told herself. When the other ladies ordered exotic, expensive dishes from the restaurant menus, Lizzie chose more modest fare. A few times, she had indulged herself, but later felt guilty, as she knew the extravagance meant that much less in her budget. She tried not to let on to the others how careful she was being, telling them her stomach was delicate, and not used to such rich food. However, she suspected they had all noticed how little money she was spending. Sometimes, she was certain they exchanged glances when she ordered so lightly. They had all questioned her when she did not buy that statuette in Paris she had so admired. How could she admit to them that although Andrew Jackson Borden was a man of some wealth, he considered their journey to be a scandalous waste of money?
The following morning, the group of ladies stopped off at a little Italian café for a light breakfast. The sun was bright but not oppressively hot. Lizzie seemed unhappy, silent, while the other women chatted on.
“Lizzie,” said Anna, “You look as though your father just died and the world has cast you into mourning.”
Lizzie drew her eyes up and half-smiled. “I suppose I’m homesick,” she lied.
It wasn’t long before the women started out on the day’s journey. They would cross the Tiber over to the Vatican City. In spite of their early start, there was a long queue of people waiting to arrange for guided tours. The ladies stood in line to patiently await their turn.
“Signorinas!” a group of jovial young men called out to them invitingly.
The younger girls, Carrie and Elizabeth, turned to look at the robust, stalwart Italians, and giggled in response.
“Aren’t they handsome!” Elizabeth whispered to her companion.
The young men laughed, and continued to flirt.
“Ladies!” reprimanded Ellen, the eldest member of the group. “Remember yourselves. You will only encourage them by acknowledging their presence.”
Carrie, who had been to college, and understood a little Italian, said, “They are calling out to Lizzie! They said something about her red hair.”
“Gracious,” Ellen glowered. “Lizzie, don’t you dare turn your head.”
“Now that’s quite enough,” Ellen scolded the younger girls. “Pay them no mind. You are in a holy place; conduct yourselves accordingly.”
The line started to move, and so did the men, who gave up, and turned their attentions elsewhere. Lizzie could not resist a surreptitious glance back at them over her shoulder.
Lizzie’s troubles were forgotten during their day at The Vatican. She could barely take in all the wonderful sights as she strolled along slowly, absorbing as much as she could. The magnificence of the architecture; the sculptures; the stained glass; the tapestries; the breathtaking ceiling of the unexpectedly small Sistine Chapel.
It was only upon their arrival at the Gift Shop that she felt her problem wash over her again like a dark, hot wave. She prayed her father would wire her the money soon. Lizzie spotted a beautiful album of Roman art and flipped through the pages, wide-eyed; she knew she must have it. Lingering through the store, she decided to go ahead and purchase several items.
Upon their return to the pensione, their hostess approached them with an envelope in her hand. “I have a wire for Miss Borden,” she said.
“Which Miss Borden?” Anna asked.
“Scusi,” the woman smiled. “Miss Lizzie Borden.”
Lizzie’s heart leapt with joy. At last, here was the news for which she had been waiting. Her prayers were being answered after all. Lizzie excused herself to read it in the privacy of her room. Much to her annoyance, Anna followed.
Lizzie tore into the paper, and eagerly began to read. Almost instantly, her excited expression dropped to one of horror. Her heart began to race. Andrew Borden had refused to send her the money. The amount she had requested was excessive, he said. She’d had more than enough for her trip, and it was time she learned a lesson on the value of money. Lizzie’s legs gave out from under her, and she barely made a clumsy landing on the edge of the bed.
“Lizzie, whatever is the matter?!” Anna sprang to her side. “Is it bad news from home?”
Lizzie could no longer contain herself, and burst into tears. She relayed her predicament to Anna, confessing how hard she had tried to budget during their trip, but all to no avail. Her father had decided to teach her a lesson, and did not seem to understand how badly she needed more money. She had barely enough left to take her back to England for the steamship home, and had no idea how she would manage to get through the next month.
“Oh, how simply dreadful!” Anna exclaimed. “Do not worry so. I will help you, Lizzie. I have more than enough, but I am certain my parents will send more if need be.”
“I would repay you as soon as I can,” Lizzie promised. “Please, dear, don’t tell anyone about it.”
“Do not give it another thought,” Anna smiled, giving her friend’s shoulders a gentle squeeze. “Now let us dress for dinner, so we may rejoin the ladies and enjoy ourselves.”
But Lizzie could not enjoy herself. All she could think about was the humiliation she felt, having to borrow money from Anna. Why must she be taught lessons about money like some errant child, when all the other girls’ parents made sure they had as much as they wanted? Her own father had left her without funds halfway across the world. He’d left her to sink or swim, drowning in debt and dishonor. How could a father do that to his own daughter?
Lizzie watched as Anna chatted easily with the other ladies, the whole incident seemingly forgotten. Lizzie knew Anna did not understand how important it was to her that she keep her embarrassing money situation a secret, and knew she would probably mention it to someone later, nonchalantly, and without thinking.
Lizzie made a vow to herself. Never again would she be placed in such a humiliating position. She was thirty years old now, no longer a child. She deserved to live as any other respectable lady. Why should she be forced to live in shame? How many people in Fall River had crossed the ocean and journeyed to Europe? Very few. She should live in a house where she could entertain her friends properly, and hold her head up high. There was no question about it. Father simply must buy a new house, or at the very least, purchase some decent modern furniture, and fit them with a proper bathroom.
On their final evening in La Citta Eterna, the ladies came down to dinner early, for they were catching a morning train to the beautiful city of Naples, from which they were planning to make a special side trip to visit the ruins of Pompeii. From there, they would journey back up north to Venice, their final Italian destination.
After dinner, they headed to the Trevi Fountain to toss coins. There was a legend that visitors who tossed a coin over their shoulder into the fountain would someday return to Rome. The enormous fountain graced the front of a large palace. The spectacle was so theatrical and imposing, it almost took Lizzie’s breath away. Columns and niches of the palatial facade formed the background to a marvelous composition of marble statues perched upon rocks, with gentle cascades of water descending into a large aqua pool.
The ladies quickly dug into their purses to fish out their pennies and other small coins to toss.
While her companions gleefully flung their coins over their shoulders and into the water, Lizzie Borden closed her eyes and made a wish.
Trevi Fountain © 2001 T. K. Rouse
Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Thursday’s child has far to go
Friday’s child is loving and giving
Saturday’s child works hard for a living
But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
is bonny and blithe, and good, and gay
— Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme
“Oh no, not today!” Lizbeth closed her eyes tightly as one hand moved up to support her temple. Up until then, she had been enjoying the warmth of the mid-May morning. Sheltered as she was within her glassed-in porch, the child’s voice carried far, and the unmistakable melody of the old song reached her ears loud and clear. She tried not to hear the words, but instead, imagined the original tune, “Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-Der-E”. Sometimes it worked, and she could dismiss it. Sometimes it didn’t.
“Should have been long forgotten by now,” she muttered to herself. “It’s 1927; that song belongs to another century. Why must people insist upon dredging up those old songs, teaching them to their children?”
The aging woman braced herself with both arms of the chair, and pulled her heavy body up with some difficulty. Everything was becoming a supreme effort now; her once-graceful form now seemed determined to defy her, resolved to pull all of her being down toward the earth. Inside the entrance hall, she placed one hand against the rosewood newel post, steadying herself for the slow ascent of the staircase.
Almost at the top, she had to stop. Her heart was beating its own strange rhythm deep beneath her ample bosom. She clasped one hand over it, as though she could somehow calm it down, and will it to settle back to regularity. Arrhythmia, the doctor had called it. Her heart was making up its own songs now. Wild and maniacal beats from some far off place she herself had never known.
Lizbeth took a second to get her bearings, then walked toward the back of the house, toward her summer bedroom. Having only just made the seasonal move, she had been momentarily confused. She made her way to the bed, and sat down heavily upon it with a sigh.
She would read today, in bed. She needed to rest, and try to forget that spring smelled so sweet outside the window. Outside, where truant school-children were free to run wild, singing songs whose words they did not truly understand. But Lizbeth could not read, could not concentrate on the strings of words laid out on the pages before her. One minute, the world could be so peaceful, but the next . . .
Lizbeth loved this time of year; springtime so lush and green, a bounty of new hope. Yet, something so seemingly innocent as a child’s sing-song voice could shatter the tranquil harmony so completely. If her will was weak, and it was weakened now, along with every other part of her, she could easily tumble down into that place of pain. She could feel herself slipping. She had come upstairs to escape it, but there was no sanctuary. Ghosts were walking around inside of her, turning a fine May morning as cold as the darkest and most bitter All Hallows Eve.
Emma. Sometimes she longed for her sister, even wept. And yet, people cannot go back into the past and erase what has been done. Words are said, and once spoken, cannot be taken back. Words can cut deep and leave scars. Scars may be flesh that has healed, but the mark is the reminder of a wound that will never fully heal. And blood. Shared blood, once shed, bleeds the most profusely.
There had been happy days. Nance. Oh! Those carefree times they had shared. How free she had been, her vivacious friend. Such energy and youth she had brought into Lizbeth’s life. Nance was like eternal spring. Her golden hair, creamy porcelain skin, sapphire blue eyes, and lips like rosebuds. Such a command she held over her audience once onstage, holding them transfixed with her performance. Nance knew everything, everyone, and had been everywhere. Nance was Lizbeth’s life not lived. But for a moment in time, one that had seemed as brief and as sweet as spring, she had given so freely of that life, and Lizbeth became that girl she had never dared to be. What a space Nance had left when she was gone, onward to seek new adventures. Her letters came for a while, filling Lizbeth with joy. And then, the letters had stopped coming. Along with Nance went a piece of Lizbeth’s heart. But she could not dwell upon that. Who could contain such an exotic bird within the stuffy confines of New England? Lizbeth herself was a part of Fall River, rooted to the soil through generations. Blood ties that bound her. Nance had such freedom as Lizbeth would never know. Even with all of her money, it was beyond Lizbeth’s means.
Lovers. Love. Was it ever so sweet? Love existed in books and the theater. It belonged to a world where all is simple, and everything is possible. In real life, maybe love came to the lucky few, and stayed for a while. Love for Lizbeth was merely a dream. Sometimes it had been so close, but she dared not reach out to touch it, for she knew it would always elude her. In her youth, it was a promise that never came, though she waited through endless nights and days until at last, she espied herself in the looking glass, and found it was gone forever. Something she had missed along the way. Perhaps she had failed to see it because her mind was elsewhere. Loves lost. Loves that never were. Love for Lizbeth? Not so much in this life, not so much. Just a dream in a book. A wonderful book that makes the heart sing; a magical song that really belongs to someone else.
Lizbeth was born on a Thursday. The nursery rhyme says, “Thursday’s child has far to go.” And, she had gone far. Journeyed far across the sea. Journeyed through the land of the free. Journeyed into hell and back again. One long, long adventure. And yet, it was all too short. Here she was, mere miles away from Ferry Street, and the house where she was born. That had been like another world. Lizzie may have been born there, but Lizbeth now lived on The Hill. She had traveled to the continent. And now, Lizbeth of Maplecroft lived on French Street.
She had seen so much.
The world was moving faster now, far more fast than she had ever dreamed possible. Motor cars and airplanes. Machines to do everything. Girls now showed their hose on the street, cropped their hair short, and wore no corsets. Moving picture shows like dreams made visible.
Dreams. She had put her book down. And now, as Lizbeth slept, she saw her mother. Her real mother. “Mama, is that you?” she cried. A woman, whose colorless face came from an old photograph, held her arms outstretched. “Are you coming to take me to heaven?” Lizbeth cried out in her sleep.
Her mother faded away, leaving behind a trail of tears.
Lizbeth woke from the nightmare, bathed in sweat. The sun shone high in the sky outside, and it was noon.
“Miss Borden,” her maid, Nelly, gently patted her shoulder. “Lunch will be ready soon.”
Lizbeth’s rheumy blue eyes were swollen and red.
“Oh mama,” she said. “Do I still have so far to go?”
(c) 2002 TK Rouse. All Rights Reserved.