He slept quietly. Walter Jr. was a much calmer version of the wild–child boy when he was at rest. He nudged a bit. A simple toss here. A sigh there. But otherwise he was still.
A kind smile curved out of the corner of Eve’s mouth. A warm smile. A tender smile. A smile that one would not think could come from such an uppity dame like herself. Breathing deeply in and out, she could see him from the wooden breaks of the closet door. Oh, how she longed to wake him and hold him and tell him everything would be fine. She yearned to love him the way she wanted to, but she just couldn’t –or wouldn’t– be allowed.
Meanwhile downstairs, the quite-tired-from-entertaining Annabell said goodbye to her final guest.
“You sure did look purdy tonight, Miss Annabell,” said a neighborly fellow at the door. “I was wonderin’ why we didn’t see Theodore round?”
Annabelle took took in a polite sigh. “Oh, he probably had some working to do.” Can’t keep track of that boy, but he sure did miss out on a time.”
Annabell faked a smile and lead him out. Closing the door behind her, she leaned against it and wondered to herself, Why didn’t Theodore come tonight? He surely got the invitation… Did he mean to ignore it?
The clinking and clanking of glasses caught Annabell’s attention as she moved towards the kitchen. Nessie finished the final touches on the silverware, and the master of the house was fast asleep in his reading chair. Dorothy was sat, smoking a cigarette in the kitchen. She just sat there. Comatose. Not blinking. Annabell was about to enter when her mother suddenly spoke….
“I wish I could run away,” Dorothy stated simply.
“Pardon, ma’am?” Nessie was quite confused.
“Run away. Far. Fast. Never to be found again,” she repeated.
“We’d miss you too much, Madame. And, you shouldn’t talk like that. Entertaining is no picnic, but sure as day, it brings a little light to the house to have some company,” Nessie replied, trying to joke lightheartedly.
Dorothy burst into tears, and Ness turned the water faucet off. “Well, lady Dorothy– whatever is the matter?”
Her tears were cascading almost too quickly to catch with the tattered handkerchief Ness was able to hand her. “I just can’t. I just can’t!” Dorothy repeated in panic.
Nessie tried to understand. “Well, I don’t know what it is that you can’t do unless you tell me, Ma’am.”
“Oh, Ness. For years, I’ve tried to pull this family together. For years, I‘ve slaved to love a man who’s incapable of loving. A family I keep tied together by the weakest of threads and secrets. So many secrets…”
Dorothy wept some more. “I must collect myself because the children will wake up…. I just…. Oh, it won’t be long before things start changing around here. Our lives, our lifestyles, our hopes– soon enough, we’ll all be changed.”
From behind the banister Annabell sat quietly, much like a child would if they wanted to hear every word without being seen. She had never seen her mother lose it before…
Just as Annabell got comfortable spying, Dorothy shot up out of her seat and caught her breath. “That’s enough out of me,” she mumbled to herself. “Make sure the china makes its way back to the chest, Nessie. I’m off to bed.”
Nessie nodded, confused by the quick turn of emotions from the lady of the house. Something was off, and Nessie knew it. Annabell heard her mother’s footsteps as they grew louder by the stairwell. She scurried off down the hallway, purposefully stepping into the shadows that drew light from the candles left burning. Her mother caught her breath with every step upward towards the second floor. It was clear that she meant to compose herself as best she could. But, for whom?
Meanwhile, upstairs, a sudden urge had burst through Eve as she slowly turned the handle of the rickety knob to make her way into the room (because, after all, she couldn’t stay in there forever… there was work to be done). Just as the knob clicked, and the closet door inched open, Dorothy stepped into sight. Eve held her breath and sank into the shadows.
Dorothy stepped inside, dried tears still on the corner of her face. She opened the window next to her son’s bedside to let some fresh air in, and took a moment to drink in the vision of her only boy. As she caressed the forehead of her precious boy, her thoughts wandered.
“I love you, Walter Jr.,” she sweetly said under her breath. “I love you very, very much.”
From inside the closet a single tear made its way down the cheek of Eve’s face, her lip quivering. Forcing her hand to cover her mouth so as not to make a sound, she slowly sank down the corner of the closet wall. Carefully. Quietly. She held her face in the palms of her hands and let out the most silent moan anyone in this town would never hear. Yet, just then, Dorothy lifted her head up as if she felt a presence in the room.
Shhhhh, Dorothy thought to herself. She paused in order to second-guess the sound. Nothing. She directed her gaze to the closet, where female intuition hinted that the sound had made its way from that part of the house. Her eyes peered through the cracks in the closet door, sending a jolt of fear through Eve’s blood. Through that crack in the door, Eve looked up to find Dorothy staring back at her, quietly and unknowingly.
Nobody moved– neither Eve, nor Dorothy. That is, until Dorothy finally –and slowly– stood up and walked out of the room.
A sigh of relief for Eve. She waited a moment to hear the master bedroom door close, and then Eve reached out her hand to twist the latch and release the door. She shut it behind her and began to walk out when a voice behind her whispered, “Momma?”
Walter Jr. had awakened.
Eve took a moment to let it sink in. “No, my sweet boy. It’s me, cousin Eve.”
His hair was askew and he was in a pool of sweat. “I’m hot, cousin Eve,” he whispered.
Eve smiled and walked to the bedside. “Well, let’s cool you down, why don’t we.” She opened the second window and said, “Now, go back to sleep.”
Eve tucked him in one last time and held his face, giving him a gentle kiss on the forehead. “Goodnight, my son.”