Saturday, December 27, 2008

Blood is Thicker than Water: Polly Becomes Independent

Chapter 5: In Which I Declare My Independence

Oddly, I was the first to arise in the morning. I felt thoroughly depressed. I felt old and manipulated. As I washed myself, I saw myself in the curved surface of my room's mirror. I was old and I was a waste. No man had ever wanted or loved the flabby body I had, and while men weren't everything, well, having one want to sign your dance card didn't hurt. I put on my dress, methodically buttoning it, and I put on my shoes, which were just as straight-laced as I was. I had done the best I could, showering love onto my brother and his family, and while I had loved them as much as I could, I could see in their eyes, in Abby's eyes, that I was just a servant to them. I was dependable Aunt Polly, only good for serving their purposes.

When I was young, I had been much too timid. I had tried to fly, less high than Abigail, but my wings had been tied down. I had ultimately allowed other people to rule my life. With trembling hands, I carefully pulled my ugly, graying hair away from my face. Miss Pauline Raintree. Poor, plain Pauline. Pauline was fast approaching fifty. Her life was almost gone. I placed the chain holding my spectacles around my neck, and went out to the dining room.

The sideboard had little to appeal to me this morning, so I took a cup of coffee and a roll.

I had been poking at my food for only a little while when Juliet joined me. She entered the room, her hand clamped on her forehead, shuffling rather than walking. “Good morning, Miss Raintree.”

“Aunt Polly,” I said, wincing at the “miss” this morning. “Call me Aunt Polly.”

Juliet sat quickly at the table, avoiding the sideboard entirely. She sat rigidly, trying to appear alert, but she abandoned this idea in seconds and caved in completely.

“I'm so very sorry, Aunt Polly! I've been so dreadful! I know you deserve to have my job! I won't blame you if you speak to Miss Pettijohn!” Unable to face me, she lowered her eyes to the tablecloth.

By all rights, I should have had this woman's job. My mood was gray this morning, however, and I was more inclined to pity than anger. Why should I destroy her life when other people were so busy destroying mine?

“Juliet, your behavior was intolerable. But we all make mistakes. I do not intend to mention this to Miss Pettijohn.”

“Oh, thank you, Miss Raintree! I don't know how to tell you how grateful I am!”

“Yes, dear. Now, try to make yourself more presentable for returning to your post today.” As Juliet left, I decided to add a piece of advice. “Juliet?”


“You might do yourself a favor and avoid my niece. She is a decidedly bad influence.”

“You mustn't say that.”

“Nevertheless, it is true. Now, go.”

Abby passed Juliet as Juliet left the dining room. My niece appeared fresh, as if she'd spent an uneventful night in blissful sleep.

“Good morning, Juliet,” she sang. “Good morning, Auntie.”

Juliet was too hung over to smile, and she acknowledged the greeting with a moan.

Abby sat opposite me after grabbing one of Sarah's sticky rolls. “Poor Juliet,” she said. “Looks like she had a difficult night.”

“You might say that.” I sipped at my coffee.

“Poor old girl. Looks like she had too much to drink last night.”

I clinked my coffee spoon onto my saucer purposefully. “Of course she did, Abigail.”

Abby peeled off the outside of her roll, oblivious to my growing anger. “You know, you might have a chat with her. Tell her what she's got to look forward to.”

“I beg your pardon?"

“You know, about being a spinster, that sort of thing.”

I threw my own roll on the table in disgust. It bounced in Abby's direction. “That's enough!” I roared.

“Why Auntie,” Abby looked at me in wide-eyed amazement, “what's wrong?”

“Don't you 'Why Auntie' me, you odious child! You know perfectly well what's wrong. I won't let you blackmail me! I won't!”

Abby was astonished. Frankly, so was I.

I stormed away from the table. She followed in shock, still holding her breakfast.

“I want you to write to your father! No, wait, why don't I write to him? I will not put up with you a moment longer, you selfish, ungrateful, hateful child!”

“Wait one moment!” Abby's eyes flashed angrily. “If this is about last night—”

“Oh no!” I grabbed my hat from its stand. “It's about everything! It's about your whole ungrateful family!”

Abby's bewilderment caused her to bluster. “Us? Ungrateful? We've given you everything!”

All I could do was glare at her. “All you've done is use me! Well, no more! Aunt Polly is on her own!”

“Fine. I'll just write to my ungrateful family, tell them about your actions, and let them boot you out. You'll be penniless.”

“Good! Do that!”

“I shall!”

I opened the door just as Juliet staggered in to see what the trouble was about. “I wanted to leave the whole hateful lot of you anyway! Just see how long you get your way when your parents send you to a convent!”

“We're not Catholic!”

“If they're smart, they'll put you in one anyway!”

“Where are you going?”

“To live! To really live!”

I slammed the door, and had the pleasure of hearing plates and photos crash to the floor on the other side. Not until after I was out in the sunny street did I realize that I had no plans. I only knew it was time for Pauline Raintree to loosen her corset.

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