The Lamp - part I
“Right!” Tom suddenly remembers his mistress’s request of that morning as he walks through the dimly lit corridor with an oil lamp in his hand. She asked him to fix the doors of her wardrobe. They had been shrieking lately, a rather annoying sound. She wanted it fixed. Tom just finished repairing the plumbing of the first floor bathroom and was on his way to his quarters, just around the corner. A wardrobe door can be an easy thing to fix; even with guests in the house he won’t be bothering anyone. He quickly changes direction and walks towards his mistress’s chambers, when he hears talking downstairs.
The guests are leaving. Tom can see them from the mezzanine as he enters his mistress’s bedroom. She is accompanying them towards the hall all dressed up in a long petrol-blue silk gown covering everything but her hands and her head. The dress’s upper part is tightly wrapped around her upper body delicately enveloping her female curves. On her shoulders she wears a pastel orange scarf complementing her ginger-red hair nicely tied in a knot. She's walking alongside a man also dressed for the occasion. They whisper words of goodbye as they leave the dining room.
It’s already 10 ‘o clock in the evening. The light in the entrance hall illuminates the red rough and ornamented wooden furniture just enough to cast faint shadows of both figures walking towards the front door.
“Thank you for coming. It was a pleasure having you at our table this evening,” she says as she discretely kisses the man on the cheek. Her guest, an old colleague from the school she used to teach at, smiles at her with a certain tenderness.
“The pleasure is all mine,” he says while putting on his hat and accepting his coat the maid so carefully offers him.
“Caroline, you should consider coming back to school. We miss you,” he says while putting on his gloves.
“I'm a married woman now, I have other duties that require my attention.”
“Married or not, a talent such as yours is rare. Your husband should let you get back to work. I can tell. Teaching is your calling", he adds charmingly.
She blushes. He notices. He has touched a sensitive subject. How else could he express his admiration for her. It is unheard of that a man should express anything in the open to a woman, especially a married man to a married woman. He is being unmistakably bold, almost adventurous. She senses it.
He reaches for her left hand to kiss it. She pulls away momentarily, but then allows it with a smile.“I bid you good night ladies.” He turns on his heel, nods at the maid who holds the door open as he walks out into the dark of the night.
Caroline stands there, watching him get into his carriage and drive off.
The maid closes the door and looks at her mistress with a searching expression that speaks louder than any voice could. Caroline notices and averts her gaze rather clumsily. Is it that obvious?
“Will you be needing anything else from me M’m?”
“That will be all, thank you. I’m going to bed.”
“I’ve prepared a clean nightgown for you M’m.”
“Thank you, Emily. Good night.”
“Good night M’m.”
Caroline wraps her scarf around her shoulders more tightly as she walks back towards the dining room. The cold is entering the hall. Autumn is clearly settling on this country. Nights fall quickly, days become shorter. Soon it will be New Year and snow will be cutting them off from most of their surroundings. Just a few more weeks and they can start to prepare their apartment in the city. It’s much smaller, cosier and warmer.
She enters the dining room to find her husband smoking a cigar all by himself. He sits near the fireplace reading today’s newspaper. His high chair’s back turned towards her, she can only see smoke rise above it and the tips of his feet near the heavily burning fire.
“I’m off to bed dear.” She says from a certain distance.
“Sweet dreams my love.” He answers plainly with his cigar between his lips, not granting her one look.
As she walks through the hall she passes in front of a large mirror. She stops for a moment to look at herself. The soft candlelight makes her look many years younger. This is what she looked like when she was still teaching, only happier. She smiles as she thinks back on her teaching years: the children, the faculty, the field trips and ... him, tonight’s guest. She had tried to write down her memoires, but without success. Something inside her keeps her from writing anything about herself. Nostalgia perhaps, something her husband disapproves of. According to him emotions are wasted on all of us, there is only one true emotion: the uforia following a victory. Winning a trade deal. Nothing is more fulfilling in life than winning access to an international trade route.
She takes an oil lamp from the cupboard across the hall and lights it. As she goes up the stairs on the thick red carpet pulling up her dress slightly, her shadow is cast upon the warm ornamented wallpaper. She usually doesn’t go to bed this early on a Saturday. But tonight feels different, she alters her habit. Something Tom wasn’t counting on.
She enters her room and puts the lamp on the bedside table. The dim light of the lamp shows a rustic wooden bed frame with white linen sheets carefully covered by a thick woollen blanket. The curtains aren’t closed and the window is slightly open to allow fresh air to fill the room. She loves a cold room, it helps her sleep better. She takes off her pearl earrings and puts them in the wooden bowl on her bedside table. Then she unfolds her long ginger hair from the knot. Her curls fall over her shoulder. She opens the ivory brooch that keeps her collar closed and starts to unbutton her dress. Unlike many women of her age she’s not wearing a corset. It enables her to breathe normally, only on formal occasions will she go through the agony of a corporal “prison” as she calls it.
The blueish silk gown slightly carefully laid on a large chair next to the door reflects the fiery light of the lamp. “A fabric worn only by the highest aristocracy of the Orient”, her husband had said when he had presented it to her. The family tailor had turned it into a dress unique in its design. And tonight she had worn it to welcome the man whose warm presence she had left when she stopped teaching to get married.
She reaches for her long white nightgown on the bed and pulls it over her head. The linen cloth is slightly see through. Unlike her dress this design does not flatter her curves. There’s no need for that, she likes the space it gives her.
On her bedside table in between the oil lamp and the wooden bowl lies a book. A novel, one she reads when she’s underneath the sheets, it helps keep her thoughts from darkening before going to sleep. It’s part of her evening ritual. But tonight is different. "He" had come to diner, her own home was blessed with his presence. She hadn’t seen him in a while. This made the mere sight of him at the start of the evening send a fiery delight through her. As she stands next to the bedside table, she takes a careful look at the book cover and analyses the curvy embedded print. She caresses it with the fingertips of her left hand, following alongside the curves of the imprinted typeface. Her gaze starts to lose focus, her thoughts wander vividly. “He” is all she can think of. But why? She withdraws her hand from the cover. There will be no reading tonight. She takes a deep breath and draws back the covers. They’re quite heavy for a single bed, due to all those layers. For sure they will keep her warm. She pulls up her robe, climbs onto the bed and slides her legs underneath the covers. She piles up her cushions behind her and sits up straight. Folding her hands over her lap and looking at them, undecided if she should turn off the oil lamp. Nobody will bother her tonight or any other night.
Although married on paper, the couple has been sleeping apart for some time now. For over two years if she can recall correctly. It was quite obvious they would not be having any children. Nature has decided otherwise. They never got into the matter. Even if they would have been able to have children, her husband wouldn't be around much. She easily made peace with that thought, she’d be there for her children no matter how many she would have, she’d love them equally. But it is not to be. These thoughts undoubtedly contribute to her melancholia.
Tonight however, something else is keeping her awake. Something mystical, something her guest of honour had loosened within her. His presence, his boldness, his charming look. She surely misses being looked at that way. She sighs deeply and closes her eyes as she lets herself slide deeper underneath the covers. She pictures him beside her; a fantasy that drives her into an abyss of delight.
author Grietje Y. M. François
edited by Christopher Dunkley - chrisdunkley.biz