Saturday was my last day of teaching until after Labor Day, which means today is the day I’m overwhelmed with the false hope of getting SO MUCH accomplished during the next month of supposed freedom. At this moment, my mind is brimming with thoughts of cleaning the entire house from top to bottom, even those pesky chores like scrubbing behind the knobs on the stove with a toothbrush, and also writing an entire book and reading twenty others, taking the kids to the park every day, teaching them an entire grade’s worth of curriculum, and baking cookies and cupcakes and muffins every afternoon while also concocting glorious dinners every other night.
Yeah, we all know what will really happen, and how I’ll be smothered with disappointment over how much time I’ve wasted once the end of August rolls around. But let me have my aspirations towards glory before the inevitable fall, okay?
Meanwhile, it is just over two weeks (!!!) until the release of The Half Killed, and while I have some more educational posts planned about Spiritualism during the Victorian era and so on, since today is my first official day off, I’m presenting to you another deleted scene (you will not believe how many deleted scenes I’m often left with after finishing a story) from the youth of my protagonist, Dorothea Hawes. So read and enjoy, because I’m about to go bake some cookies.
Marta was quite adamant that you should come with her, though you’d never seen her before that day, and you thought her breath smelled strongly of the old fish at Hyde Market.
Her hands were rough on your skin, tugging at your jaw, and then she told you to open your mouth, and you looked over at the matron, but she only nodded. So you opened your mouth, and Marta said that you had good teeth, and a nose that might not do so well, and what was to be done with your hair? But the rest of you was tolerable, and hadn’t they been feeding you? And then the matron lied, saying that she offered you all sorts of good, wholesome foods. But she said that you were a naughty child, wasting your dinner because you didn’t want to eat it.
Marta laughed then, saying she would be glad to keep someone who did not eat her out of house and home. And then she took hold of your arm, and you remembered the firmness of her grip, and you wondered if there would be marks and bruises left on your skin where she had touched you. Her hand remained on your arm as she led you outside, into a black cab led by a horse that shifted restlessly as you approached, and she sat quite close to you, as if she were afraid that you might fling open the door and run away from her. But you allowed her to lead you, your head as clouded as it was, and still she fidgeted with you, pulling at the ends of your hair, tilting your head back so as to take a long look at your throat.
You thought that Marta might be taking you to her house, and she did, much later. But first she said there was a visit that needed to made, and you would be a good girl and indulge her, wouldn’t you? So when the cab finally stopped some twenty minutes later, Marta pinched your cheeks to make them rosy and took you to a small house, tucked between two other small houses, but all of them leaning against each other, their walls bowing outward and inward from the strain of so much weight.
The woman who answered the door did not smile when she saw you, and Marta gave you a nudge when she realized that you were staring quite boldly at the woman’s eyes. Different colors they were, one pale blue, and one black, and the blue one never fixing on anything, but twitching this way and that, looking all around while the black one gazed directly at your face. You were still staring when Marta chivvied you into the house, your feet tripping over layers of rugs, your eyes adjusting to the dim, sooty light. The woman lit no extra candles or lamps, the shadows growing thicker as she took her seat in front of the cold fireplace, pulled out a small tray from behind her chair and laid it across her lap.
The tiles rattled as she spread them out on the tray, small squares that she turned and turned until they all faced the same way, the black of the crudely drawn letters standing out against the rubbed whiteness of the wood. And then she passed her hand over them, her fingers seeming to dance in the air, and yet her face showed no indication that she knew anything of the movement. And while her fingers moved, she spoke to you, asking your name, how old you were, everything so innocuous, and you couldn’t help but glance at the tiles, wondering why she didn’t look for her answers in them.
Marta said nothing. All through the interview, she kept herself to the shadows, but you knew she was listening, that she would never miss a word, even when the fat woman with the tiles lowered her voice to a whisper that was difficult for even you to hear, as close as you stood.
The woman’s fingers began to move in more of a pattern, and soon she began tapping against the tiles, spelling out words, entire phrases, before she would pause, close her eyes for a moment, and pose another question to you.
It all ended so quickly. Marta returned to your side, and the woman began gathering up her tiles, dropping them one by one into a small canvas sack that she wore on a string around her neck, the bag tucked into the front of her dress. And she saw you watching her, and for the first time, she smiled at you, all of her hideous teeth on display. And then she patted her ample bosom, where the little bag of letters was hidden, and she told you that they would be yours one day, only she hoped that you wouldn’t leave them to burn with everything else.
But you didn’t have an opportunity to ask what she meant, because Marta was already speaking again, asking the woman if you would be any good, if you would be worth the investment she was ready to make. And something in the woman’s face changed then, a dark look passing over her features. And when she raised her eyes, both the black and the blue at once, they swept from Marta’s face to rest on your own.
You wanted to look away, and you did, after a while. But she held you for a moment, and you wondered, you wondered how much she knew, if she could sense what was even then in your mind, how the voices screeched, so much louder to you there in the silence of the cold, dark room. And when she opened her mouth to speak, it was her voice vying for attention with the ones that were always with you, but you heard her tell Marta that you weren’t like the others, and you heard the warning that underlaid her words. But Marta laughed again, always laughing when she shouldn’t have been, and she said she was glad for that, that she hoped you would be different, that audiences were tired of the same old thing, and wouldn’t they be willing to pay for a glimpse of something new?
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