• Vol. 05
  • Chapter
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An Education

Christine taught me many things.

A loyal servant to our family for two-dozen years, she reared my three older siblings before I was unexpectedly thrust into her care. I was a surprise. I shouldn’t have existed. But when mother fell pregnant at 48, my existence came to be at the expense of hers.

“It was just her time,” my father said once without much conviction, on one of the rare occasions he acknowledged me.

My two older sisters had been married off long ago, so I rarely saw them, but when I did the cavern between us was made plain. My brother still lived at the house as he was the heir. He tended to communicate in grunts and coughs. It wasn’t personal; he spoke with everyone that way. Still, the burden of being my mother’s murderer was one I bore my entire life. They didn’t have to say it. I knew that’s what they thought of me.

I suffered episodes of rage, or “hysterical fits”, as father called them. First I cried. Then I screamed. Then I hit and attacked anyone who tried to calm me.

When I got like this Christine always did the same thing. She would remove my shoes and stockings. She would fetch a basin of lukewarm water and a small jug. Then she would sit me on her kneeling lap as she used the jug to slowly pour the water over my feet, washing them. Then came the soothing refrain of her gentle whisper.

“Try not to thinking about anything else. Focus on the feeling of the water trickling down.”

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An Education

I always did as Christine said. I couldn’t drown out the sorrow completely, but it became less of a din; more muted. I acknowledged my feelings; made peace with them, although it was impossible to discard them entirely. But I don’t think that’s what Christine wanted. She just wanted to comfort me.

When I was 15, Christine died and I was beside myself. The one good thing in my life was gone; what was I going to do? At the funeral, one of its few guests – a middle-aged stone-faced woman – approached me in my sorrowful state.

“Hello, my name is Gertrude.”

Behind the steady stream, my face was a question mark.

“I am Christine’s daughter. I’ve heard much about you. All your family. From Mother’s letters.”

I had heard nothing about her, but I thought it would be hurtful to say.

“I’m sorry,” I managed to stammer, and in Gertrude’s face a rage flashed so rapidly you’d be forgiven for missing it. But in that millisecond there was familiarity. Her feelings I knew well, but now I was the target. How ludicrous. I wanted to reach out and shake her. “I didn’t do anything!” I wanted to hiss. “How could you possibly be mad at me?!” But I resisted and we parted ways. Later, I was glad for my newfound restraint.

Sometimes there’s nothing more shameful than learning one’s fortune.

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