The Language of the Blood
"Love takes us in strange ways. It's the language of the blood. It's neither cold nor indifferent. It's either agony or ecstasy – sometimes both at once." – The Agony and the Ecstasy
"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by any other, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life—"
I looked up from my book, startled slightly. It seemed as though I had only just sat down with my book a minute ago; was it already suppertime? Just how long had I spent staring at the cover of David Copperfield and flipping through its pages, relishing the unique scent of a new book? I had saved up for this book for months, secretly doing small chores for the neighboring farms – painting fences; feeding horses and cows; climbing into foul-smelling chicken coups, holding my breath and dodging territorial roosters to collect eggs – saving each penny until finally I had enough.
I rolled over onto my back and climbed out of bed, placing the book down carefully. I pranced to the top of the stairs and called, "Yes?"
A deeper voice answered sternly.
"Esme Anne Platt, you come when you're called, do not holler for all the neighbors to hear!"
I bit my lip. I hadn't known my father was home yet.
I descended the staircase, but not before dashing back around the corner to my bedroom and hiding my book under my mattress. My parents didn't approve of my reading novels. My mother said they were improper for a woman of good breeding and my father said they were responsible for the libertinism in the world today. No use provoking them, I supposed. I stepped back and surveyed the lopsided corner of my bed critically. A little obvious, yes, but it would have to do for now.
I joined my parents in the kitchen. I had always loved our kitchen. It was very cozy, undoubtedly the most homey room in the farmhouse, but it wasn't so small that it seemed to suffocate you, as I'd found the kitchens of the other farms to do. It was a soft yellow, and there was a wooden stool in the corner by the stove that I used to sit on every afternoon after school, shelling peas or watching my mother prepare supper, waiting for my father to return home from work. The door into the dining room was right across from the staircase of which I now reached the bottom.
I found my mother at the stove, removing her delicious, golden-brown cornbread from the oven, and my father watched her work, enjoying the scent as much as I.
"Yes?" I repeated, softly this time.
My father's brow creased when he saw me standing there. "Esme, how many times must I tell you not to use that staircase? Use the main staircase – the proper one. That's the servants' staircase, child. Are you a servant?"
I lowered my gaze. "No, sir." When my father asked a question, however rhetorical, he expected an answer. Nevermind that we had no servants, and that it may have been more correct of him to say that it used to be a servants' staircase years before we bought the house; to my father, once a servants' staircase, always a servants' staircase.
My mother straightened up, closing the oven door, and gave me a sympathetic smile.
"Esme, dear," she said, "go wash up and get dressed for supper. The Evensons are calling, so why don't you wear that white dress with the green sash, and do try to do something with your hair – it's all tangled."
"Her hair is fine, Miriam. Just make sure you wash your face, Esme. The last time we had guests, you had filth all along your hairline; it was almost as though you had spent the afternoon in a stable. You haven't been playing in your uncle's stable, again, have you, Esme?"
I was fairly certain that my heart had momentarily frozen, mid-beat. "No, Father," I answered. It wasn't necessarily a lie; I certainly hadn't been playing in my uncle's stable that afternoon.
"Good. You are simply too old for that kind of behavior." I turned to go.
"Esme!" My father barked.
Forget about merely stopping; this time my heart plummeted to the bottom of my torso, leaving a hole in my stomach. I pivoted slowly on my heel, desperately trying not to look guilty. "Aren't you forgetting something?" He spread his arms wide, expectant. Relief flooded my entire system and I tried to let the breath I'd been holding out slowly.
I quickly closed the distance between us and put my arms around his neck, kissing his whiskery cheek. My father smiled indulgently at me and then spun me around 180-degrees, sending me off with a light pat on my backside, just like he'd done since I was seven.
My mother called after me as I tried to make good my escape. "Oh, and Esme, darling? Try to start getting more sun – you're whiter than a sheet." I let out an involuntary giggle of terror as I scampered towards the stairs.
"The other stairs, Esme." I skidded to a halt and virtually raced for the kitchen/dining room swinging door.
Once I made it through the door, I broke into a run, dodging around our scrubbed wooden table, which was covered in a white tablecloth for the occasion, around the corner, and up the spiral staircase to my room, almost slamming the door behind me. I briefly leaned against the door, slightly winded.
I darted for my bed, retrieving David Copperfield and hugging it to my chest for a moment. Then, I hit it up under my bed, perched on the bed frame. The dust ruffle would be more than sufficient to conceal it from sight. I sank onto the quilt and leaned back.
It was then that I realized that I felt a disproportionate amount of relief from this simple act to my actual situation. Had my parents discovered the book, I would certainly have been punished, which would have been bad, and the book would have been confiscated, which would have been worse. Yet I had been so jumpy in the kitchen, so discomfited. It was a feeling reminiscent of the time I had gone flying off of a galloping horse. A feeling of fear. Fear for my safety. I went over our conversation in my head, and when I got to the part when my mother told me to dress for supper, my stomach lurched unpleasantly. Why should I be nervous about dressing for supper? It was completely absurd, laughable, even.
The clock struck six o'clock downstairs, breaking into my reverie. I blinked, shook my head, and then stood. I crossed to my wardrobe next to the door and selected the simple white garment my mother had suggested. I headed for the washroom to prepare to greet our guests.
But I just couldn't shake the feeling of unease.
Author's Note: So, what did you think? Like it? Hate it? Constructive criticism is very much appreciated, but this is my first story, so be gentle, please. ::cringes::