The Lamp - part II
She is so caught up in her thoughts that she doesn't notice the dimmed oil lamp standing next to her wardrobe at the foot of her bed. The one Tom brought with him to fix the doors. The one he is sweating about in the closet as she lays there, submerged by tantalising thoughts about an old colleague.
The mere idea of being in the same room as his mistress as she gets undressed adds to his sweating. Now he is only praying that she will go to sleep quickly so he can get out before his presence is noticed. But something tells him he won’t be off the hook so easily.
With the light shining through the keyhole, Tom feels an urge to take a look at what is happening. This gets him into an inner fight. Prudish as he is, a great deal of him refuses to take a peak. That’s not him! Besides, that’s his mistress laying there, doing whatever makes her happy. That would be considered a breach of trust, even if she would never find out, he would not forget. The thought alone is unforgivable.
He can hear her breathing getting heavier. Should he cover his ears? He surely isn’t immune to her looks, hearing her express excitement in such a way does not leave him indifferent. He can barely look at her when she requests his assistance around the house. Let alone say good morning when she’s dressed in her morning robes.
He feels a certain arousal take over his senses. His rational side is losing his inner battle. He gets down on one knee clumsily, knowing the limited space he is stuck in, and lowers his face to the height of the keyhole. His left eye closing in and adjusting to the light, he gets a clear view of his mistress’s face. He will surely burn for this.
The electric vibe that is taking over her body makes her skin feel susceptible to the slightest touch. She pulls the covers closer to her. The warmth feeds her fantasy of having “him” near her. Of having his naked skin touch hers. She gasps for air and smiles. She pulls up her knees and pushes her head into the cushions while caressing her thighs with her hands as she slips her left hand in between them. She holds her breath for a second and lets slip a delicate moan from between her lips.
Tom swears he can see a cloud of warm breath escape her mouth, that’s how cold the room is. He surely notices the expression of joy on her face. One he doesn’t see that often. She deserves a better life than this. He would give it to her if he were in a position to do so. He wouldn’t stand in the way of her ambition to teach. He finds it rather attractive to serve an ambitious woman, especially a kind and beautiful one as she.
As she lets slip her left hand underneath her undergarment she feels a wetness that startles her. She pulls back her hand and opens her eyes. “What am I doing?” she murmurs. A feeling of guilt takes her hostage. “Insulting the image of a righteous and handsome man who encourages my ambition to teach?” Tom instinctively closes both his eyes ridiculously expecting that this gesture will make him disappear.
She can only sigh and be angry at herself. The ecstatic energy leaves her. She turns facing the lamp and caresses her wedding ring with her thumb, slowly falling asleep. Tom notices and sighs with a mixture of disappointment and relief. Finally, he can get out of that damned steamy wardrobe. He carefully plans his “escape” as he takes off his shoes. He pushes the door open securely. Lucky for him he fixed it, the shrieking sound would surely have awoken her. He slowly pushes one foot outside of the wardrobe and puts it gently on the wooden floor while fixing his eyes on hers. “Please don’t open them M’m!” The sweat drips from his forehead as he enters the cold room. With both feet out of the closet he carefully closes the door, grasps the doorknob, turning it to the left and slowly pushing it into the lock without averting his eyes from her face. He even stops breathing to hear the door close firmly. He tiptoes towards her bed and dims the oil lamp. The last thing we need is to burn down this magnificent mansion. He takes one last look at her and tries to imprint this view of her beautiful peaceful face into his mind before turning off the lamp entirely. “Good night M’m,” he whispers and tiptoes towards the door trusting his visual memory to guide him towards it in one straight line.
With the utmost precision he turns the knob to the right, allowing the light of the mezzanine to enter. He must prevent this light from shining onto her face. He pulls back the door just far enough for him to slip outside while listening to his surroundings. No one coming up the stairs? Imagine the face of his master if he caught Tom emerging from his wife’s bedroom. They might not be sleeping in the same room together, but he would never allow his wife to enjoy the company of any other man at this hour of the night, especially a servant, no matter how faithful and trustworthy. Working for a man so possessive and envious of others has a price. He would be sent straight to prison and be lucky if he wouldn’t be hanged for it.
But there’s nobody in sight, no master coming up the stairs. His heart skips a beat when he hears his master laugh out loud and comment on a newspaper article about augmenting servant labor wages. “No raise this year either” he thinks, slowly closing the door behind him and tiptoeing downstairs towards the kitchen.
“Tom, is that you?”
Tom freezes as he stands there at the bottom of the stairs. “… Yes, Sir. Can I be of service Sir?” he answers hastily with a deep voice as he enters the dining room with his shoulders straight, his chin firm and his shoes behind his back.
His master turns his head towards him and takes a good look. “You look sweaty, have you been running? And why on earth did you take off your shoes?” he says pointing his cigar at his feet. His thick eyebrows fringe and a piece of ash falls onto the carpet.
“My feet… they hurt… new shoes.”
“Be grateful and wear them with pride.”
“Yes… of course Sir. Can I be of help Sir?”
“Put your shoes back on and bring me some more wood. The fire is about to go out. That will be all.” His master turns his attention back to his newspaper and mumbles something about emancipated women and servants or something of the like.
Tom puts his shoes back on and hurries outside to get wood. He feels the pile searching for the driest pieces, without his lamp … the lamp! He forgot his lamp in her room! He quickly takes the driest pieces and runs back inside, his sweat cooling him down rapidly making him shiver. Back inside he takes a dry cloth and wipes off his face, locks the kitchen door, sighs, coughs, straightens his back and walks confidently towards the dining room to feed the weakened flames.
The next morning Tom enters the kitchen at an early hour carrying his toolbox ready to fix the sink when he sees his lamp standing on the wooden table at the center of the kitchen. He’s not mistaken he recognises it by the broken glass at the bottom of its iron foot, it's the same lamp he took to Caroline's room the night before.
author Grietje Y. M. François
edited by Christopher Dunkley - chrisdunkley.biz