Funny how he only noticed me when I'd done something wrong.
I'd always been at his back, unafraid, willing to do whatever it took for him to achieve his ends. An old friend, ever faithful, ever obedient. His to command. His to love or hate, accept or condemn, hold close or cast away. His to use until I was of no use anymore. And I was fine with that.
Even young and married as I'd been before Turpin had him sent away for some unfounded crime, I'd admired Benjamin Barker. He and his Lucy had lived above Albert and I, and a lovely family they were at that. Ben was a kind man. Mild-mannered. Hardworking. Attentive to his pretty wife. Polite to me whenever I happened to stumble across his path. We forged a distant kind of friendship, him and me, enough so that our few conversations were easy and companionable, and that my husband and I became party to certain aspects of his life. As hard as I tried to come off to him as distant and disaffected, to this day there is no happier memory in my mind as the day Ben's daughter Johanna was born. I'll never forget the frightened way he held her that first week, how reverent and awed and so very gentle he was with his perfect baby angel. He adored her like no other, and he was beautiful.
Though there was always a twinge in my heart when I spoke to him or his wife or cooed at Johanna, I knew Ben loved his family with every ounce of himself. He'd had everything I'd ever wanted and would never know. Even though I knew I'd never have a child of my own or feel such a love for myself, seeing him so happy had been enough for me then.
Ben was this exquisite ideal to me, a genteel wonderful man with a storybook life I'd always dreamed of. I myself had only married Albert Lovett to settle a debt between our families, and as far as mine was concerned, I was no longer their problem. As affable as Albert was, he never wanted to know more than the dimensionless face I put on for him. I was never expected to love him, and seeing as my husband had been almost old enough to be my grandfather at the time, well, he wasn't up to having any children running about the place to say the least. So I'd content myself to watch the Barkers at a distance, speak to them when spoken to, and admire the kind of life unfitting the likes of me.
I never exactly hated the lot I had, but neither can I say I ever enjoyed it. I got by, some days whether I liked it or not. After Johanna was born, the days I tended not to like were the ones Lucy spoke to me while Ben was working. Albert was oblivious, of course; the extent of his concern lay with making sure our upstairs neighbors paid their rent on time. So Lucy came to me as a last resort for company. I remember the wistful look in her eyes as she gazed out my windows at nothing, the emptiness and regret beneath blue irises. Every so often she would voice the thoughts she harbored not-so-hidden back behind those crystalline eyes. She spoke of wanting more than the life Benjamin had given her. Wanting finer things, to be more than a mere barber's wife. A higher station than the pedestal the man who loved her from the highest heavens to deepest rings of hell and back had placed her on.
I'd seen Judge Turpin with his Beadle and his flowers under her window. So, I believed, had Ben on more than one occasion. And I learned that Lucy Barker would throw away her sun, while I'd have sold my soul back then for but one brush of his warmth against my face! Not a fiber of my being understood how she could feel anything but love for Ben. Less of me could fathom why she'd betray he who'd die for her, and all for a lecher with a handful of posies.
Still, I'd sighed and smiled the sympathy Lucy had craved those rare times she came to me. Though all the while I hated her inside.