LOLA

I've often thought, there's nothing scarier than an empty glass. A full glass, or even a half empty one I can stare at for hours, watching the amber liquid swirl lazily, distorted slightly by the crystalline shapes of its container. It had to be crystal of course: the lines of it cut sharply, forming a pattern that makes my eyes water. And so very empty.

If I just let my hand relax, it would fall and shatter, with no liquid to protect me. I imagine the dry, hard little shards on the floor and shudder. But at the same time I am made giddy by my own sense of power. I would have made that happen. I could destroy something more successfully than I had destroyed everything else. Except this would be something that couldn't be put back together. There would be no pressure; no expectations.

Of course there would be consequences. My husband would be angry. At least, I hope he would. If I didn't call for a maid to clean the mess up, he definitely would. I feel another shudder, this time of anticipation as I imagine him grabbing me, shaking me: the warm breath from his shouts caressing my face. It's been so long.

The crystal flashes in the dying sunlight that bleeds through the cracks of the shutters in the day room. We bare a strange resemblance, me and my glass. We are both cold; both hard; both fragile; both part of a set, with dozens of other glasses ready to take over when we fail. The difference between us is that she hasn't failed yet. She is still beautiful. The sight of her next to my knotted, creased, hideous hands: their twisted veins grotesquely visible through the papery skin makes me want to scream.

I don't let her fall, I throw her, rejoicing when she shatters, diffracting the light around the room. She is broken, torn apart like I was. Nothing is bleeding out of her: she is dry. Put yourself back together, I order, my voice harsh and unexpected in the dusty silence. Go on. Show me. PUT YOURSELF BACK TOGETHER. I haven't shouted in over five years. It shocks me a little, and I laugh delightedly, clapping my hands like a schoolgirl. I hear a soft knock on the open door, but ignore the worried girl who hovers, unsure of what to say or do about her unusually aware mistress.

I reach for another glass. This would be the pretty one in London: the late nights spent at cheap hotels while I waited in this big, old house. It explodes into a million fragments on the corner of the dresser. I pick up another and another. These are all the excuses, all the missed phone calls. They shatter and shatter, taking other things with them. A collection of ornamental plates, a priceless vaseā€¦ They are all the glances, unsatisfied and scornful. I vaguely hear shouting and know that the maid has run to get someone. Little bitch. This glass is her. These glasses are the other servants: my wardens.

I wrench off my old woman's shoes and I dance. I waltz to the large bookcase and use my new found strength to dip and slam it to the floor, twirling in the cloud of dust which ensues. That's my guilt. I glide to the shutters and whisk them aside, hurling a desk-lamp through the plate glass so that it too breaks irrevocably, the shards raining down over me as duck and twist. That's my shame.

I leap to the centre of the room as the men burst in. Time for my big finale. I fly across the floor, the carpet of glitter and glass ruining my bare feet: ruby dancing slippers. I shine as bright as I did once, covered in powdered crystal: a precious gem, a royal star. For this moment, I am more Lola than I have been my entire life. I am more alive.

The men grab me and the dance is over. They lift me as if I'm fragile and breakable and beautiful, and now I am out of my crystal palace and in the cold caverns of the hall. The maids and the rest of the manservants are waiting for me: lined up against the wall, wringing their hands and bowing their heads. I laugh and order my men to set me down. I curtsey to my audience, and twirl one last time before turning to the box.

My husband. The guest of honour. Returning from work early for once. He stares at me for a second, his face soft with shock. I make my final, deep curtsey and look up to find him hard and cold. He says nothing, but after a second, he flicks his hand dismissively and turns away. My ladies rush forward, start to guide me towards the sweeping staircase. I crane desperately around one last time, and see him pause at the doorway to the ruined day room. For the first time in fifteen
years, I think I see him smile.