By Ashley O'Neil
Her satin wedding dress was smooth against her soft thigh. It slid against her as she paced within the confines of her room.
The material swished around her ankles. It was always touching her in some way. When she sat down, the beautiful thing enclosed her. The fabric constrained her, even when she shifted from foot to foot, or when she uncrossed and crossed her legs. The satin tightened and tightened around her, making it hard to breath.
She lifted herself back to her feet. She shook her body and twisted her arms to grab the ties of her bodice. She pulled and tugged at them with jerky motions. When the strings wouldn’t unfasten, she began to hyperventilate. The strings knotted even tighter against her pulls, almost mockingly.
When her small, useless hands began to tremble, she brought one hand to her mouth and the other to her stomach. She tried to take shallow breaths.
Amelia choked, her hand jerking away from her stomach. She turned to face her lady’s maid, who was standing in the doorway. She straightened and kept breathing shallowly.
“What is wrong, Francesca?” Amelia asked.
“Your mother requests you.” Francesca answered hastily, her concern obvious.
“My mother? Is she not visiting my fiancé and wishing him a good trip? I would be quite surprised if she decided not to see him. She was interested in being one of the first on the street to see an automobile after all.” Amelia said, her voice hushed.
“She returned early.”
“Well then…shouldn't keep her waiting, should we?” Amelia said. She looked away to calm herself, and didn’t notice as Francesca moved from the doorway. It was only brought to her attention when the young girl reached for her waist.
Amelia jumped away. “F-Francesca! What are you doing?”
“Just fixing your bow, my lady,” Francesca said, her voice high-pitched with nerves. Her hands were hesitant when she reached out again.
Amelia looked behind her. She sighed at the sight of the crooked red bow resting on her backside instead of her waist. The red sash had slackened in Amelia’s fit, and rested just below her hipbones.
Amelia continued to take deep breaths.
Francesca patted Amelia’s side as she retightened the sash. “It will be all right.”
“No…it will not.”
The cook looked up from her stove to watch Amelia enter her kitchen. The girl was pale and green, like the dress she now wore. “Martina, may I have some ginger tea?” she asked.
“Of course ma’am,” the soft-mannered woman said.
Martina began to work.
She was filling the bronze kettle with basin water when the lady of the house entered the room. Her body was poised and stiffened unbecomingly when she noticed her daughter.
“Good morning Martina. What did my daughter ask for this time?” Mary asked.
“A cup of ginger tea, my lady,” she answered.
“I see…Not feeling well Amelia?” Mary tilted her head to the side. She stared at her daughter like an animal observing its prey. Amelia looked like she was prepared to flee.
“Ginger tea is for stomach upset. Would you say that your stomach is upset?”
“Well,” Amelia’s eyes shifted around the room, “No.”
“No? Good. You may have your ginger tea at teatime. Your aunt is joining us, so be sure to attend.” Mary said shortly.
Her daughter’s hands clenched, “Mother—”
“You cannot try to avoid this with excuses. You are coming.”
Amelia opened her mouth, but before she could say anything her lady’s maid came to the doorway.
“Lady Amelia and Lady Mary, Mr. Harmon is present.” She said, fidgeting as she stood between them.
“Mr. Harmon? Is he not supposed to be working with my husband?”
“I do not know. He is requesting to go into Mr. Daughtry’s study.”
Mary did not look happy, and motioned for Francesca to let Mr. Harmon in. She then turned to Amelia, who was watching the maid leave.
“Amelia, please treat me with courtesy. Now, pardon yourself to your room and lie down until Francesca escorts you to tea. Are we understood?”
Amelia looked at her mother and nodded. She gave a small "excuse me" before she turned and slowly climbed the steps. The lady of the house smirked in the girl’s direction before she turned and walked towards the entryway.
“Thank you,” Mr. Harmon said as he stepped into the house.
“May I take your coat, sir?”
“No. I am visiting only briefly.” He smiled at Francesca. Her only response was scurrying away.
“What do you require, Mr. Harmon?” Mary asked as she came forward.
“Some patient files, my lady. Your husband was too preoccupied to retrieve them himself, so I offered to do it in his stead.”
Her mouth curled with distaste. “How kind of you. Shall we?”
“Yes, of course.” He nodded and followed Mary as she began to walk down the hall. Amelia watched from the staircase as they passed her.
Mr. Harmon seemed to notice, and slowed to a stop. He watched Mary carefully as he reached up through the bars of the stairs. Amelia looked at him and the strong hand that was reaching for her. She stood still when he finally moved closer and gripped her hand. He smiled at her.
Her stomach fluttered and she gave a wide smile. Mr. Harmon looked pleased, and squeezed her hand before letting go. When he did, something fell into her open palm. She went to look at him with a furrowed brow, but he was already gone.
Tea was a quiet affair. Amelia’s mother and aunt sat on the sitting-room sofas and spoke. Amelia only pretended to listen. Instead, her mind was on the content of the paper. She had just enough time to read it before tea, and she felt ill. The tea relieved her stomach somewhat.
“Did you hear of Leslie and her daughter?” Aunt Emma asked. Her eyes danced with mischief and her mouth twitched. Needing a distraction, Amelia looked to her.
“Do not keep me on the edge of my seat dearest.” Mary said, smiling.
“Leslie has thrown herself down the staircase. Again.”
Her mother gasped and her aunt nodded frantically.
“You mean, she…?”
“Yes…well, she was anyway.”
“What is going on?” Amelia asked. The two startled and looked at her, before they turned to each other again.
“She is a child herself. We cannot tell her!” Emma argued.
“Amelia is practically a married woman. She is old enough to handle this subject matter.”
Her aunt sighed.
Mary began to explain, “Leslie threw herself down the stairs because…she was with child.”
Amelia’s eyes widened.
“Since women are no longer permitted to rid themselves of the children in their wombs, some have acted drastically to avoid the law. This includes throwing themselves down staircases.”
“How do you know it was not an accident?” Amelia asked.
“Because this is the fourth time it has happened,” Emma answered.
“And do remember, your father is Leslie’s doctor. He knows a great many things.” Her mother’s eyes twinkled.
“Oh,” Amelia whispered, her white teacup clenched in her hands.
“Indeed. Leslie’s mother is absolutely beside herself. She knows of the rumours that are circulating, and has become a hermit in the hope that it will pass over.” Her Aunt Emma laughed.
“That is absolutely terrible. And that poor child.” Mary tsk'ed.
“What about Leslie?” Amelia couldn’t help but ask, her tea sitting forgotten on her lap.
The two women looked at her, baffled expressions on their faces. “What do you mean?”
“She must be injured.” Amelia said.
Her aunt’s eyes widened and her mother’s lips pursed. She looked faintly disappointed. “It does not matter darling.” She remarked uninterestedly, looking away.
“Perhaps you are too juvenile to speak of this. Leave us.” Mary said shortly, her hard eyes finding Amelia’s.
Amelia nodded and rose from her seat.
Amelia stood at her window and looked at her family’s garden. In the dusk, she could barely recognize the willow trees that lined the fence. The grass was tall from the lack of care it was given. Her mother and father always seemed to forget to order someone to take care of it.
In her hands was Mr. Harmon’s scrap of paper. She played with it, her mind torn between the note and the yard. Amelia had read the thing over and over again through the night. By now, she knew the message by heart.
My Beloved. Your wedding is in a month and I cannot bear to see it. Please, do not do this. You know you don’t want to. Come away with me. We shall leave here and never come back. When the moon is high, meet me in the courtyard. We shall climb the fence and flee. Your Love, Matthew
The courtyard was the best hiding place. The grass was long enough and the leaves were low enough to hide the worlds’ secrets between them. At least, they used to be able to.
“My lady? Are you prepared for bed?” Francesca asked from Amelia’s bedside.
“Yes.” Amelia nodded, and moved towards her bed. She sat down gingerly.
“Is that a letter from Mr. Harmon?” Francesca whispered, taking advantage of their close proximity.
“Yes…He wants us to run away together.” Amelia whispered back, not looking at her.
The maid’s eyes widened. “Will you do it?”
“I…I do not know. I am already promised to someone else. My mother…” Her voice stuttered and drifted off. She turned back towards the window.
“Matthew loves you, my lady. I cannot say the same about the stranger you’re marrying—”
“I no longer wish to speak about this Francesca.” Amelia crumpled the note.
“Of course…my-my lady, do you remember playing among those trees as children? How I did enjoy those times,” she whispered softly, with a small, cautious smile.
Amelia took pity. “I did as well.”
“I especially enjoyed dressing up as a lady. It is one of my most fond memories.”
“I remember. You would dress up like a lady, and I would dress up in father’s robes.” Amelia’s voice was faint.
“That you did. We dreamt up such silly things, didn’t we?” Francesca’s eyes were sparkling in the candlelight.
Amelia’s smile dropped. “Yes, we did.” After a moment of silence, she said, “I would like to go to bed now.”
Francesca nodded, and began to blow out all the candles around the room. Her maid left the candle near the doorway burning, and turned to take her leave.
“Sleep well,” Amelia bid, her voice trembling in the dark.
“You too, My lady.” Francesca said before closing the door.
After she left, Amelia tossed and turned. When she finally settled, she looked over towards her satin wedding dress, hanging beside the window. The moon was slowly starting to rise on the horizon. Both the dress and the moon shone in the night. If she reached out, they could both be in her grasp. If she wanted to, one could be hers. But could she reach high enough to even touch the moon?
She did not know. And she wasn’t brave enough to try.
When the moon was at its peak, Amelia left her bed.
She moved delicately down the hallway like a ghost. She tiptoed past her mother and father’s room, her father’s study, and her old nursery. She didn’t dwell.
She walked to the top of the stairs. They were steep and a deep, dark red. She clenched her fists at her sides and bit her lip. She looked down with dry eyes.
Then, she fell.