How can a woman sleep when the Master is in pain?
by Rosie Garland
In her room beneath the eaves, she listens. Laughter twists up the screw of the back stairs. The Master struggles to be heard above his wife’s shrill squeal. She knows how men are trapped in marriages; how women entice and steal what is not theirs.
Her cheek beats a heavy pulse against the Master’s bedroom door. She stretches the small hours with the pricking of her blood into the Master’s shirt cuffs. She unpicks the seams of the Mistress’s gowns, sews them a shade tighter. Slides a curtain ring along her finger.
The Mistress writes. It is poetry, says Mistress, although no question was asked. She heats the tongs; curls Mistress’s hair, peers at the dapple of ink on paper. She does not need the skill of letters to know the telltale shape of lies about the Master. All that twittering of the quill, when all a woman needs to do is spread her arms and cry, God. Yes.
She will show him. She will mend his prisoned heart. Will keep her eyes down and never laugh unless he draws it from her as a man persuades a shy beast to his outstretched hand.
When he is away, for men must go in order to return, the house-bones creak. At night, she sifts sugar into the ruts between the boards, loosens stair-rods, rubs the banisters with buttered paper, peels back the rug and polishes the floor. The half-hour before dawn finds her sharpening knives. She breakfasts on oats and water; doesn’t hold with honey, milk, things that distract the tongue’s attention. On the driveway beneath the yews, the crackle of rooks.