One Day in August



This is what a day is like with Tom: she stirs at dawn, restless, unable to sleep any later because first light hits like the kicks to the ribs her father used to give her if she dozed too long. She watches Tom sleep, hair like ink in the white, white sheets; watches the light round the edges of the curtains, bright through the lace, and she'd never seen lace before she came here. She trails downstairs and makes his breakfast, with the belladonna and the beetle scales, as the servants make signs against the evil eye and mutter.

He wakes late. She leans in the doorframe with her fingertips trailing down the smooth bright paint on the wall and watches him eat, watches the way his eyes unfocus, sometimes catching her, sometimes not, until at last he sets aside his lacewing coffee and sees her proper, and something hazes in his eyes as a bright, beautiful smile spreads over his face, as she becomes the center of his world.

He kisses her and goes riding.

She washes his shirt, slowly and lovingly.

The morning stretches on. The servants are busying away, giving her a wide berth that makes her think of the way all the hounds shied away from the rabid one. Tom will bring his horse in with foam on her soon, and his parents are gone, rarely about now, always on vacation, probably because of that awful girl. She looks at the pictures on the mantle of Tom's two elder brothers, both dead in the war, and keeps thinking they should be moving for some reason.

She tries to mend his shirt, and pricks her fingers. Blood on the collar.

The stable boys are rubbing down Tom's mare, and he comes in peckish with color in his cheeks, and takes her in the kitchen, fierce and dissolute, propping her on the heavy table and leaning in close against her swelling belly, and running his hands up and down her body, which almost makes it feel good, and the heat of him is pouring into her, and the maid is muttering behind the door, and he curses at her not to insult her mistress.

She stares at some water in a pot for a while, after he leaves, and dozes in the pantry.

His mother drops by for afternoon tea and asks him why that awful girl is still here, and Tom snarls that she's his wife and doesn't answer when she asks why. He paces the length of the parlor, back and forth between the shadows, passing before the mantle as his mother decries his dishonor of his family, his brothers would never be so decadent, they were upright men and soldiers--though one had shat himself to death in fever and the other been shot in the back as he ran screaming from the trenches when the shell shock got to him.

It's not my faut I was too young, Tom snaps.

And it's not my fault you don't put her back in the gutter where she belongs, Mrs. Riddle says demurely, sipping her tea.

Merope listens from the hallway, frozen with her back to the wall and her eyes very wide. Her mother-in-law spits between her feet on the way out and hisses. I hope you miscarry.

Nervous, she sweeps, and the servents don't even try to stop their mistress from doing their job.

Tom hits her when he finds the shirt.

She drifts about with a candle after dusk, tired and watching the flame. When the cook makes the sign against the eye again, Tom laughs harshly.

She falls asleep before him. His weight on the mattress rouses her when he comes in. He kisses her, long and tender and burning with scotch, and as he pulls away he pauses, as if realizing something, as if shreds and pieces of his mind are resurfacing, blurring in and out of heady water, and mutters that her eyes look daft, and rolls over and goes to sleep.

She lies awake for a while after, with her hand on her belly, feeling their baby shift, and loves her life so much that it hurts.

This is what a day is like with Tom: at least until she stops making him breakfast, and tries to explain.


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