The Silver Candlestick

Antoinette rubbed the candlestick with her thumb.

It was a solid object, silver plated and heavy, with ornaments carved along the rim of its round base. How old it was, she could not tell. It may been in the family for twenty, thirty years, or have been a part of Edward’s mother’s trousseau.

Or maybe Edward stole it from someone else’s house.

The candlestick was empty, the candle having burned out. A new one should be brought up soon; the grey daylight pouring into the room was getting darker. The sky was overcast, doubtless it would soon rain again.

The room was medium-sized, with mismatched pieces of furniture. A bed, a nightstand, a wardrobe and a dresser, two armchairs—at least those were of the same set—and a small table. Dull brown carpet. No mirror, no pictures hanging on the walls, no vases of flowers or trinkets. The wallpaper was an ugly yellow shade with a green pattern resembling leaves. She disliked it on first sight. One afternoon she found herself staring at it so hard, she could make out monsters hidden behind it. This was her life now. I shall go mad in here.

She stood up and walked to the window. Small, dirty, and could be open for only an inch, but it was a window. Window to the world. It existed, she reassured herself of it. A yard, an unimpressive garden, and beyond it—the moors. Stretched away to eternity, the horizon shrouded in a mist. Her feet ached with longing to get out, run out there, to those moors and run and run and run, never to return. But she would have to wait. That one time she tried to get away, they caught her before she could reach the main road. She hadn’t thought it through, she just ran. And she didn’t even have any warm clothes, it was so windy on the moors. She would have died of exposure. Next time, she would be cleverer. She would plan it out. She’d act as if she was resigned to her fate in the attic, and secretly plan her escape. He’d see. One morning he would enter the room and find the bed empty. She’d be gone.

The moors only looked like they stretched for eternity. They must end somewhere, England was an island. She also knew there was a city, Leeds, not ten miles away. If she could only get there, she would be able to contact Richard to ask him to come for her. She didn’t know which direction Leeds was. But she would find out, she would. He’ll see.

The wind rose, making whistling sound up in the roof. Antoinette shivered. It was so cold in England. She thought of Jamaica, of Spanish Town, the blue skies and palm trees. The St Jago de la Vega cathedral with its stained-glass windows. It used to be her favourite. Then she got married there.

She didn’t know that Edward was… like that, then. Nobody did. Richard was so certain it was a good match. “He’s from an old family, from Yorkshire in the north of England. The second son.” How could her brother have known? Edward presented himself as the perfect English gentleman, albeit not an heir. (She was the one with the wealth.) She had fancied she could love him even, despite his ugliness. Most of all, she believed they could make it work. She had been determined to make it work. Mutual respect and trust, if not love. So much she wanted to please him. Edward, dear, tell me what you want… just talk to me, please… She would have broken her back for him. But he only turned away from her, grumpy at the weather, the food, everything West Indian.

Edward became more withdrawn when the news of his father’s death came, yet he didn’t seem to mourn too much. The crease between his eyebrows deepened. She also suspected he hated his older brother. And then he died too, the brother, unexpectedly. Unmarried and childless. Overnight, Edward became the owner of Thornfield Hall. That was what the seat of Rochester family was called. One morning at breakfast he announced they would be leaving for England to settle there. “As you wish,” she said. Even if she had a choice over the move, why oppose it? Richard was often away on business trips and her parents were dead. Moving to England might be for the best. If nothing else, it would make Edward happy.

Her naivety would have been laughable if it hadn’t been so tragic.

Because he got even worse. Everything changed for the worse after that voyage.

Surely it was not her fault that she was so seasick, she didn’t want to be seasick. For once she stopped worrying about his moods, all her energy poured into surviving till the end of the voyage. “For god’s sake, Edward, no one chooses to be seasick!” she snapped at him once at dinner. An elderly couple at the next table stared at them. “Be quiet, woman, you’re causing a scene,” he retorted. All the better for you, she thought, reading sympathy on the faces of man and the woman, sympathy not for her but for the poor Englishman stuck with a horrible Creole of a wife. So this is how it’s going to be. By the time they finally landed in Liverpool, she had almost lost the will to live. In the carriage to Yorkshire, she leant her head against the window and alternated between dozing off and watching the countryside. England didn’t look that bad. She only needed to get used to the climate, that was all. It shouldn’t be too hard. She wouldn’t be like Edward in Jamaica. Everything would get better, once they got to Thornfield Hall.

Oh, how foolish she was!

No more did she harbour those illusions. And she could kick herself now for being so stupid the time she attempted to escape. That was when he locked her in the attic. “You’re unwell, Bertha,” he said. “You need to stay indoors.”

He called her Bertha now, he said it was more English. She suggested that he used Antonia instead of Antoinette, if he wanted an English name. He gave her a confused look.

“Is Bertha not your name?” he asked.

“It is but you know very well I’ve always been called by my middle name.”

“I don’t know any such thing. Bertha is a perfectly good, respectable name.”

She didn’t deny that. She just didn’t like it. “It was for my paternal grandmother,” she said.

“And your paternal grandmother was English.” That apparently settled the matter.

It couldn’t have been as long ago as it seemed. In the attic, time measured differently. Days were weeks, weeks were months.

Sound of steps outside the door, key in the lock. Edward entered to the room.

“Your dinner will be here shortly,” he said.

She wouldn’t thank him for not starving her to death, but still, food was some comfort. “I will need a new candle too,” she said.

“I will bring you one.”

He spoke almost kindly. A stranger overhearing their conversation—the elderly couple from the ship, for example—might conclude Edward was a caring husband. “I have hired a nurse for you, a Quaker,” he continued, “she will be here tomorrow. Her name is Grace Poole. She will look after you.”

“I don’t need looking after.”

“Yes you do. You know you do. She will be a company for you as well. I have to be away a lot.”

“You didn’t mention that before.”

“I did. You forgot again.”

He didn’t. She would have considered that good news, and she heard no good news since her arrival to England.

“Where is it that you have to go?”

“London, the Continent. Places.”

“You should take me with you.”

“You know I can’t.”

“I am your wife.”

“Which is precisely why I can’t risk you getting any sicker.”

She put the candlestick on the table. “That’s not the reason.”

A faint smile appeared on his face. “What is the reason, then?”

“You want to act like you’re unmarried, so you can seduce women.”

He laughed. “My dear, you truly are unwell. What the devil gives you such ideas?”

“Tell me then,” she lowered her voice, “why have there been no visitors to Thornfield? Why has no one come to greet me, as the new lady of the house? Where are your other relatives, friends?”

“You’re making up tales, Bertha. The staff know you’re here.”

“What staff? A footman and a housemaid, who’s clearly new here. A cook, who never leaves the kitchen. You don’t even have a housekeeper.”

“Hear, hear! Is Thornfield not good enough for you? I don’t remember having a legion of servants in Jamaica.”

“Don’t pretend you don’t understand what I mean!”

“What has got into you, Bertha?” He sounded almost amused. “This is not you. I cannot believe it. Look, here’s Mollie with the tray.”

He stepped into the corridor. It took all her willpower to remain sitting in the chair.

Edward put the tray with food on the table. “Here you go. Eat some, it will make you feel better. Let me go get you a candle.” He went out.

She sighed. What got into her, indeed? It wasn’t that she was wrong about what she said—she knew she wasn’t—but why say it out aloud? He’ll think you even crazier now. She rubbed her temples. Oh, to hell with it. What did she care if Edward chased other women? She didn’t want him anyway. They stopped sharing the bed a lifetime ago. Was it worse than locking her in the attic?

I need to get out of here. Richard, I need to send a word to Richard, he will come for me. It was pointless to write him letters from here, Edward would never send them.

And then her chest tightened, and her heart stopped beating, and the blood froze in her veins, you stupid, stupid-stupid-stupid-stupid, you are not getting away anywhere, ever again, you will never get out of here, and she let out a cold, bitter, menacing chuckle that scared even her own self.

She missed her chance. That Grace Poole creature was coming to keep a watchful eye on her. She would stay in the attic forever.

She grabbed the candlestick and clutched it till her palms ached.

The door opened, Edward returned with the candle.

“You haven’t touched your dinner,” he remarked.

She threw the candlestick at him.

It barely hit his shoulder. He looked at her with shock. “So is this what you are like? Violent, is that it?”

He picked up the candlestick and placed it on the table. She had never seen his eyes this cold.

“Now you listen to me, Bertha,” he said slowly, in an icy tone, “I will not tolerate this kind of behaviour. If you attempt to attack me again, I will put you in restraints. I shall not have any disobedience. Do you understand?”

“I understand more than you think,” she said, in equally icy tone.

“Good.” He put the candle in the candlestick and lit it. “Now eat. Mrs Poole will arrive early in the morning.”

He walked out of the room and locked the door.

The wind threw first drops of rain against the window. The candle was burning, the flame dancing on the wick like a young maiden at a ball. Once, long ago, that was her too. It was at a ball she was introduced to Edward Fairfax Rochester, a ball organised by the Elmbridges for their youngest daughter, who had just come of age. “Handsome he certainly is not,” Cecily whispered to Antoinette’s ear and giggled. He wasn’t, Antoinette agreed, and had no fortune either. But that didn’t matter, because she had. He was so charming at that ball, a flawless nobleman, and not a bad dancer, he even made her laugh once or twice. The only thing she wondered about was why he had to cross the Atlantic to find a rich bride, whether there weren’t any heiresses closer to home. But she didn’t dwell on it. More likely he just longed to travel to West Indies. This landscape was so different from his own, he told her, fascinating. And she believed him. Everyone did. Even Richard was fooled, her brother that was so sharp in business matters. Edward played his game well.

The new master of Thornfield Hall needed no inconvenient Creole wife any more. He was free to go about his life pretending she didn’t exist. Seducing good, unsuspecting women, then discarding them like an old newspaper, once he got bored. He would dismiss Mollie and the footman and hire new servants who would never learn of any wife. The only who would know would be Mrs Poole, her gaoler, paid to keep her locked and to her mouth shut.

Could she, with time, turn Grace Poole into her ally? Make friends with her, talk to her about things. Tell me about your family, Mrs Poole. Where did you grow up? That sort of stuff. And with time… Which way is Leeds?

Unlikely. Edward would sure pay Grace Poole a large salary, there would be nothing in it for her to break her loyalty.

She was trapped.

Torrents of rain raged against the windowpane, but it was a storm she wanted. Wild, like her rage. Her eyes would stay dry from now on, no more tears, only rage. Trapped. An attic room with forgotten furniture, small window and horrid wallpaper, this was her lot. Death would be her only absolution.

Death…

Unless Edward dies first.

How? A healthy man of not yet thirty?

Unless

She didn’t exactly imagine killing him—difficult to accomplish in her situation and besides, she would never get away with it—but there were always accidents. If she could earn Grace Poole’s trust, after a while, she might let her out of the attic sometimes. Quakers were supposed to be good people.

Antoinette looked at the candlestick. The poor thing didn’t deserve to be thrown against Edward. “I’m sorry I misused you like that,” she said and caressed it. How beautiful the dancing flame was! Fire really had a beauty in it, now that she thought of it. Accidents

She sighed.

She picked up the fork and tucked into her dinner.


Author’s Note: As you no doubt were able to guess, the protagonist of this story is no other than the madwoman in the attic from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, a character that has long had my fascination. In the book, her name is Bertha Antoinetta, in Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’s prequel, she is called Antoinette (after they marry, Rochester starts calling her Bertha). I simply combined the two. As it is technically a fanfic, I tagged it as such. I like playing with these characters and imagine different scenarios and headcanons, though this is the first time I’ve written a story from her POV.

Thank you, Short Story Generator for giving me an idea! (A seriously useful and funny website full of generators–try it out!)

The detail about wallpaper is from the short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which I jokingly refer to as the Madwoman in the Attic Origin Story. Like Jane Eyre, it’s also in public domain and you can read it for free here. (I’ve just realised that the writers are both Charlottes.)

The bit about Antoinette wanting a storm wild like her rage was inspired by the line “she wanted a storm to match her rage” from A Feast For Crows by George RR Martin. The she in question is Cersei Lannister, another one of my favourite characters, who also happens to be hated (sometimes so viciously it worries me) by the fans of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire.

And last but not least, many thanks to tnkerr of The New, Unofficial, On-line Writer’s Guild, one of whose weekly prompts have, erm, prompt me to write this. The prompt was “it might burn down your house”. In the end I didn’t use that line, it didn’t fit the story, but it definitely sparked my imagination, so credit where credit’s due.

So Much For Nostalgia

It’s always like that when you go back there. The place where you spent your childhood. You immerse yourself in the memories as the years come flooding back; you and your friends are climbing the trees, playing hide and seek, chasing each other in the little grove. The grove is still there, so are the houses, but strangers live in them now, and the old playground has been rebuilt. You used to have a sandpit. Kids these days have no such thing. It was a different time back then, with no smartphones, no video games. The summers you spent outside, returning home only to eat and sleep. You didn’t need technology to find each other, because you always found each other.

But things have changed now, you’ve all grown up and lost touch. Everyone moved away. You don’t come back often, you’ve got more interesting places to go, but sometimes, just sometimes, when you’re in that mood to visit the ghosts of the past, you make your way there, careful to avoid people. You don’t want any intruders.

And then, once your cup of reminiscence is full, and you’ve seen everything you needed to see, you walk away. Return to the present. You take your smartphone out of your pocket and scroll down the updates. You answer emails. You may video call your favourite nephew when you get back home, he’s excited to tell you about the new things he built in Minecraft. You listen attentively, and end the call hoping to see him soon. You get your Deliveroo app on, make an order, and, when it’s delivered, you settle down in front of Netflix.

No time like the present!

I Fall In Love With You Every Day

I fall in love with you every day.

I fall in love with you every morning. It helps me get out of bed. 

I also fall in love with you every time I’m having my breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, they say.

I fall in love with you multiple times throughout my workday. There is no regularity to it, it may come at any hour, any minute. One thing I know for sure is that it happens when I’m not concentrating. And you can bet there will always be a time when I’m not concentrating.

I fall in love with you when I’m preparing my dinner, and then again when I’m eating it. I fall in love with you when I drink coffee or have a snack. I drink a lot of coffee and I eat a lot of snacks.

Then I fall in love with you when I watch a movie or an episode of a TV show, and I have to press pause, so I get to experience that moment again. When I’m reading a book, I have to pause my reading to fall in love with you, before I can continue. 

To be sure, I fall in love with you while doing even the most boring tasks. Doing my shopping at the supermarket, or cleaning the house. Washing the dishes, always when I’m washing the dishes it is the best when I fall in love with you. 

When I exercise I fall in love with you too, and it helps me exercise better. And that is a good thing because exercise is good for you.

The weekends are the best, of course. They give me plenty of free time to fall in love with you.

I fall in love with you every day. 

You see, I need to.

Because if I didn’t, life would become unbearable.


Written for the OLWG prompt. Thank you for reading!

The Camera Smiles

It has been sitting quietly in its bag for months now, untouched. The bag, covered with dust, has blended so much with its surroundings, I no longer see it. It’s become invisible. The reproachful look of why you not love me anymore is gone. It has given up.

You might wonder what it’s been like for it, the emotions it has been through to end up in this state. First there would be confusion, what is happening, why am I not being used? Then fear. Has she found another one, a better one, does she not need me again. Then anger. After all I have done for you! Followed by sadness. So this is how it will be now. It ends with—nothing. Just emptiness.

Look, I swear it’s not my fault. What was I to do, with the year we’ve just had? Nowhere to go and nothing to do.  Better people than me have succumbed to hopelessness. It’s not my fault.

Or so I tell myself.

There is always something to do, it used to tell me then, before it stopped talking to me.

I think it might be dead. Even though it’s never been alive because it’s not a living creature. It’s still dead.

It’s a tragic end.

Then comes that Saturday.

It’s winter and it’s cold. I open the window in my living room to get some air in. The flock of starlings have finished their weird loopy team flight thing they do and settled themselves on the tree next to my house.

And all at once I know. I know I have to get that dusty bag and open it and get it out.

So I take up the dusty bag, open it and get it out.

The lens cap got stuck, I struggle with removing it, but eventually I do. I point the lens at the tree and take a picture of the starlings. I take multiple pictures. And not just of starlings.

It’s alive. It’s alive!

And finally, the camera smiles.


OWLG prompt

The Journal

This year, I vow on the first day of January, I will keep a journal.

No, not some pretty pastel-coloured notebook, its pages filled with drawings and calligraphy and glitter—nice as that is, it’s not really my thing—but a digital one. I install an app on my phone and resolve to update it at least once a week. Most of the time, I manage to keep up with it. I log my thoughts and feelings, inspirational quotes, make lists of movies and TV show I’ve seen, upload pictures and videos, and more importantly—inspired by the guy with orange skin almost starting a World War Three on Twitter on the second day of the year—the world events. Though most of that is not in any way uplifting. Fires, floods, human rights abuses, narcissistic leaders, events strangers than the fictional plots I watch on the screen. Rich old men sending army of trolls after a teenage climate activist. From the Far East, news of a novel virus emerge. A once great nation commits an ultimate act of foolishness, based on campaign of lies and manipulation. The world shakes its head and I keep typing and tapping on my phone, snapping, screenshotting and saving pieces of news from the media, all media, real or fake; I’m creating an archive. Sometimes I save bits of conversations from WhatsApp, or texts, I talk to people. Some are concerned, some aren’t. Some can only respond with emojis, others with reaction gifs. Everyone’s glued to their phone anyway. The virus is moving closer. Then the panic buying starts and into my journal I add a photo of empty supermarket shelves.

It takes me some time to finally realise that I’m chronicling the end of the world.


Author’s Note: This short piece of prose was inspired by the song Doom Days by Bastille, particularly the line “I think I’m addicted to my phone, my scrolling horror show, I’m live-streaming the final days of Rome”, lyrics by Dan Smith.

Daily Dystopian

You have now settled into the routine. You get out of bed, sit at the computer for seven hours, working remotely, you chat with your colleagues on instant messenger, send and receive a hundred emails daily, watch the senior managers’ speeches on video. You eat and drink anytime you want. After work you do a bit of cleaning, then go for your government-permitted short walk a day. Every other day you do your shopping at the supermarket, never not worrying that you won’t be able to get all the stuff you need. Toilet paper has become a precious commodity, nobody knows why and nobody asks anymore. Other than that, you stay at home. Just like everyone else. Your cat is your only companion. You catch up with family and friends only by technology. Books and streaming services are what’s keeping you sane. Just like everyone else. It’s been a while since you’ve seen the city centre. Last time you were there, it was already emptying, more pigeons than people. You wonder how the pigeons will survive now, with no people there dropping crumbs for them to eat. Out of your window you see magpies and crows, unconcerned about the human world, they go on flapping their wings and cawing. You watch TV a bit, then go to bed and in the morning it starts all over again.

You’re used to it by now. It was not the apocalypse you expected, but it is the only one in which you think you may survive.

They Laughed

They laughed. It was a good joke.

Truly you couldn’t blame them. They were tired of constantly hearing the same thing on the news. Look, it was a mess but the vote took place and that was it. The will of the people had to be honoured. What else do you want to do? It’s dragged on long enough. It was time to move on. Even though the new leader was a bit of a clown, he could get it done. Done and dusted. Got out of way so they never need to hear about that thing ever again.

Little did they know that those were the first days of the apocalypse.

Ode To A Passport

Over the years, you’ve not thought much of it. You’ve always just had it, because you had to have one of those. After all, it is a necessity for most people. But it’s not a thing that anyone spends a lot of time thinking about. Not most people, at least.

The first one you ever had was not like the one you have now. Later it changed again. And of course, you need to regularly renew it. But it’s still yours. It will always be yours.

Sometimes you considered changing it to a one issued by a different authority, but you never did. Too much effort. Unnecessary too, though ultimately advantageous. In the end, not important enough for you to go through with the change. So, you let it be. Lived your everyday life, focussed on other things.

Then it happened. Something very ugly, hateful, monstrous. Accompanied by sadness and anger and depression. For you it was tied to that thing, the thing you didn’t ever think about, just like other people never thought about theirs. Now more and more people started thinking about theirs, just as you started thinking about yours. Yours would work against you; that was sure. But you still didn’t change it. You were determined you would not change it, ever.

Everything was horrible. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. No silver lining on this cloud. Just a sense of a loss.

But you still have that thing that was always yours.

And then, one Friday night as the clocks strike eleventh hour, it becomes your most treasured possession.

A Good Hunt

Weekday night, your usual routine. Pick out the outfit for work tomorrow, prepare breakfast and lunch. For breakfast, you decide to fry two slices of bacon medallions. Once that’s done, you leave the medallions in the frying pan on the stove to cool down, before you put them away later.

So you potter about a bit, watch a bit of TV, then you go back to the kitchen to take care of the breakfast. You walk to the stove and—there is only a single bacon medallion in the frying pan. The other one has disappeared.

Gone.

Without a trace.

(Does bacon even leave a trace?)

You sigh. You suppose you’ll have to replace the missing medallion with something else.

In the living room, your cat is unassumingly licking her paws. It was a good hunt.

The Dream

It took me till about ten o’clock to realise it.

The day was not significant by any measure; the most regular of regular Wednesdays in the most uneventful time of year for me. Nothing was going on. My work was as steady as ever and there wasn’t anything particular to look forward to. So where did it come from then, this feeling of warmth around my heart, this unexplained giddiness?

And then it hit me. It was because of that dream.

I think I must have dreamt it sometime earlier in the night, otherwise, as it’s usually the case with my dreaming, I would have known straight away and not at bloody ten o’clock. It was quite… intense but not in any way extraordinary, if you get what I mean. Dreaming about being together with someone is probably one of the most common things in the world. You may have a dream about your celebrity crush or someone whom you used to know a long time ago or your actual life partner. But Manny was just a friend. Not even that close a friend. Sometimes we wouldn’t see each other for months. His family ran a small café in my area and that’s where I knew him from. One day I was there in my Star Trek t-shirt and he said he also liked Star Trek and that’s how we got talking. I hadn’t been there for a while, though. A mutual acquaintance told me Manny now worked in the café full time as his father was recovering from a heart attack. But that was over a week before the dream so it couldn’t have been what brought it on.

I hardly ever thought about Manny. He was a great guy and not bad looking, but I didn’t ever think about him, not in that way anyway. I don’t date. But that dream was, how should I put it, well, dreamy. It wasn’t sexual at all, but very romantic. I didn’t remember what went on in the dream, I knew only that it was the two of us together and this strong feeling of passion. Where it came from, I have no idea. Like I said, I never thought of him that way and I wasn’t interested. I imagined he wasn’t interested in me either. He once said he ended his last relationship because he had too much other shit going on in his life—of which there would be now even more. So why then?

A Wikipedia article informed me that dreaming occurs mainly during the REM stage of sleep. Not that it helped me in any way. Freud would have said that the dream was an expression of my repressed sexual feelings towards Manny. Yeah, Freud would have said that, I bet… It was emotions the dream evoked, not horniness. But I wasn’t in love with Manny, I could tell as much. I just found it intriguing. Mind you, I like things that intrigue me. Before, when I had dreamt about men, it was either a boyfriend (when I used to have those) or someone I had a crush on. This was new. In the dream, Manny was a romantic hero. In real life, he was just Manny. Not anything lesser. Just a normal dude.

It was all nonsense.

I went on with my day.

I needed to do some supermarket shopping after work. As Manny’s café was nearby, I thought I’d check it out. I didn’t intend to talk to him, unless he saw me, I just wanted to see if he was there. If he really was a romantic hero.

It’s likely they would be closed by now anyway.

So I walked over to the café, acting all inconspicuous, and looked inside. Sure enough, it was already closed. Manny was still there, closing up.

And he was, in a very prosaic and practical manner, mopping the café floor.

I almost burst out laughing right there on the street.

Well, even romantic heroes have to make their living somehow!