I huddle in the corner of my bedroom, curled in the blue velvet chair, wrapped for warmth in my dressing gown. The hardwood floor is so cold underfoot, when once again, I cross the room to peer at the clock. How much longer must I wait, alone, on this wintry night? How long have I already waited? Six hours? Seven hours? Eight?
I cannot sleep, and I am too nervous to read.
I long for a cup of tea, and consider slipping downstairs to the kitchen, for by this time of night, all the servants should have departed. I don't go, for fear of meeting someone, unexpectedly, at this crucial last stage of our plan. Surely, I cannot have much longer to wait!
My eyes have begun to ache with fatigue, and still I stare at the ice-encrusted window, at the door, and inward, to the abyss of my own confusion, my enforced solitude allowing me to realize the magnitude of my mistake.
Why have I believed my choice signifies control?
Many times over these departing hours, I have paced the length and width of this room, battling claustrophobia. The space seems to grow smaller as daylight, then twilight fades into a gray fog, leaving me to reflect upon my life, what it has been, and never again will be-free of secrets, free of guilt.
Hour by hour, I strive to push away reflective thoughts, but they return to lancinate optimism. My heart sinks; confidence sours into a melange of gloom, giving way to another deep inhalation, gathering every vestige of emotion, which I expel as sound, an outburst of accumulated dissatisfaction and failure.
Anyone overhearing me will believe this is a most difficult birth. It will, much as did the previous two, change me in unforeseen ways. I put on a convincing performance, per Malcolm's instructions which I obey, though they are ludicrous, for he knows nought of the travail he would have me mimic. Real childbirth, strangely, was not so agonizing. It did not tear such an intensity of grief and rage from me, even through its numerous indignities.
I should have insisted Malcolm wait here, with me, appreciating the havoc his uncontrolled, lustful behavior has wrought. But he will hear me, wherever he is, I will make sure of that.
To which corner of the house has my traitorous husband retreated? Perhaps to the library, in an attempt to take refuge in normal activities. Or... or is he with Alicia, as she reminds him of all I cannot do? My heart aches, at the thought. But he has never been witness to a laboring woman. I am glad-glad it is Alicia he will see, if only briefly, in that shocking, supremely undignified state.
For a moment, I am disarmed by sympathy for her, and what she must endure, this night. I am frightened by the knowledge of all that can go wrong, matters of which Malcolm has little awareness. I can only hope that the midwife he has hired is well qualified.
Still, once this terrible night has passed, the gates of Foxworth Hall will open and release Alicia into a world which promises her freedom. How I envy her!
If I follow her, seeking the same freedom, if I should leave Malcolm, what would become of me? To what unfortunate fate would I be consigning Mal and Joel? Would any court in Virginia permit me to remove my sons from their home and their father, a man highly regarded, a man well acquainted with other men in positions of power? The burden of proving Malcolm's adultery would be on me, and what proof could I hope to produce? Unimaginable humiliation and scandal would be created, shameful truths exposed, should I endeavor to gain a separation.
Yet why should I fear scandal, or feel guilt? Am I so indelibly bound to this man that I must carry the burden of his shortcomings, and all the emotions he cannot feel?
My acquaintance with suffering is not new, , yet the degree of moroseness I feel now seems unlikely to abate. There is no end to the gradations of anguish my husband is willing to inflict, no limit to what I tolerate... And this is the thorn, the truth buried deep, with which I must live.
My voice is hoarse from forcing out a sob, a shriek, a lie.
Yet I will see this charade through to its next phase, at dawn. But tomorrow means a beginning I have ceased to believe will benefit any of us, or bring rejuvenation to our ailing, compromised marriage and our broken home.
Bitterness wearies me, and I try to cast it aside.
When finally he pushes open my door, the soft look my husband gives me does little to salve my troubled spirit, or to revive my crushed pride. I have seen this expression of his before, but in my inured state I forget that he has ever thought me the author of his happiness.
In all these months, I have dwelt only within the shame cast upon me, Malcolm's sin and betrayal; I never considered the reality of the baby, itself. I never imagined my reaction to seeing the product of this betrayal, and what could happen if I were to reject it, feel nothing whatsoever, rather than a mother's instinctive protectiveness, when the child is first placed in my arms.
Malcolm's beaming face reveals the fact that he has, once again, gotten his wish. The child is a girl, a Corinne he can punish for the wrongs his mother committed.
I am now the mother of a daughter-a sweet, frail creature who I determine I shall raise to value self-reliance, and to believe in her own capacity for strength. I shall see to it that she grows into a woman unwilling to surrender herself and her dreams to the first handsome man she meets, in exchange for a life of false security. I will not allow Malcolm's harsh regulations to influence my daughter the way they have influenced my sons.
But these resolutions are hours away, a scene burgeoning in imagination, time yet unlived. When it comes, Malcolm's tendresse will do little to move me toward absolution.
I am paralyzed. I have gone on, existing within this disbelief and emotional paralysis, since the afternoon when I witnessed this man-whose ways I know intimately, whose affections should belong solely to me-undressing by the lake, pursuing and harassing another woman. Why, then, had I not raised my voice to object, or come forward from my hiding place at that instant to stop him-to stop all of this?
Alicia can not be more trapped than I; I live in a lie of my own making, in which I am a prisoner of my own collusion, of a misspoken agreement, a misplaced faith.
Oh, I am no better, no stronger than Alicia! What right had I to judge her, to blame her for allowing Malcolm's obsession to grow into violence? Each of us had the prescience to know what might happen, and we had both hoped the feminine habit of passive endurance and turning the other cheek would somehow see us through, and restore safety.
Well, no more will I stand by and pretend ignorance. No longer will I tolerate Malcolm's explosive violence or indifference-this I resolve, through those twelve laborious hours.
Wherever in this great house he is, Malcolm will hear me, and his confidence will be shaken. He will hear, and recognize my purpose. He will, at last, understand my anger, my regret and unhappiness, and my determination to cease to be his victim.
Silence is expected, concealment must be thorough, but not for me. I will not hide any longer. I will not be caged by sin, nor remain cloistered by doubt, and so I draw air deep into my lungs.