After Samuel’s ultimatum, I found myself captured in a sort of limbo between what I felt as though I should do and what I wished to do.
Come with us.
How could I? How was it feasible for me to leave all that I knew- all the responsibility I had to my Father and my family name- behind and begin completely afresh?
Part of me wished to be incredibly angry with him. Part of me craved an excuse to cast away his offer and see it as no more than the wild proposition of a fool yet… yet I could not. I could still see the sincerity in Samuel’s eyes when I thought of him as well as his anger at the knowledge of my Father’s heavy-handedness.
As if to reinforce the memory, my wrist continued to throb, the joint becoming more tender as each hour passed.
My Father’s volatile temper had done nothing but worsen when he finally escaped the clutches of Mrs Miller and made his way over towards me. I thought that he may strike me, his fingers seeming to twitch as he approached before he took a firm hold of my wrist once more and tugged me along almost as though I were no more than an errant balloon.
When we returned to the house, he tore his hand away and fled to his study, his arrival there marked by crashes and shouts.
Unsettled by the memory, I turned my attention to the window, my eyes settling on a small cluster of pigeons. My Father was still a good man, I knew with a certainty that words cannot describe, yet the man who had raised me remained buried beneath the pain of losing my Mother and the memories of the war.
A hearty knock drew my attention and I invited the visitor in. Mrs Buxton entered the room. Her wide hips concealing the door, she barricaded the exit. Her usually rosy cheeks were luminous, her tight button up collar causing the rolls of her neck to spill over the stiff cotton.
Unwilling to engage in conversation, I looked out of the window once more. “Good afternoon.”
“Anna, girl, what is it that you are doing?”
My fingers clenched at my sides. “I am sure that I do not know what you refer to.”
“Look at me when I am speaking to you!”
Tampering my annoyance, I glanced over my shoulder so that I might see her better. As I looked at her, and the way her hands clutched her hips like pincers, I could not help but think of her laws and realise that I had, during the past few days, broken each and every one of them.
A lady must always be polite and courteous when speaking to others.
A lady must always be respectful of her father, brothers and husband.
A lady should never put herself in a position which may disgrace her family, her father or her husband.
I fought back a cynical smile.
The woman sighed heavily, the tension that had caused her shoulders to be pinned beneath her ears melting away. “What is happening with you, Anna? You have been acting strangely, even before that accursed circus arrived.”
The floor held my gaze, my eyes tracing each chip and mark in the wooden panels before I found the words that I needed. “Mrs Buxton, have you ever felt as though you were meant for something greater- that there is a whole other life that you should be living?”
The tight line of her mouth softened slightly, the fingers that had been clenching her sides loosening. “Once, when I was a young girl but then I learnt that I had a duty to my family and that my place was at home.”
“Were you happy?”
She didn’t answer. After a few moments of brooding silence, she went to leave.
“Wait,” She did, lingering near to the handle. “Please promise me just one thing: promise me that no matter what happens- whether it be in one years’ time or ten- that you will look after my Father.”
She remained rigid, her stance ramrod straight in an imitation of what I had been taught. A wrinkled hand settled on the doorframe as she looked back. “Only if you promise something in return. I want you to remember that you Father is a good man- despite his many faults, despite his temper and how you feel about him during this particular time, know that he loves you and that he loved your mother very much.”
Tears prickled my eyes as she finished but, despite the emotion that was becoming lodged in my throat, I gave a small yet sure nod. “I swear.”
“Then I shall swear too.” The corners of her mouth flickered upwards in a rare resemblance of a smile. It wasn’t a happy a smile for it did not quite reach her eyes but it was a twitch of the lips, all the same. “You do look like her, Anna, I think that it is difficult for him sometimes.”
I continued to watch the door long after she left, the room around me swimming before I managed to clear my vision with a few sharp blinks.
With a shuddered sigh, I redirected my eyes towards the sky littered with wispy clouds. I thought of my Mother, of her warming presence and her never-ending patience and wondered what she would say to me if she were there, stood next to me, at that very moment. I ached for her, for the comfort which I knew that she would freely offer and for her presence to piece everything back together again.
“Oh, Mother, what would you have me do?”
Finding myself in a desperate need to be closer to her, I pulled myself away from the window and out of my room, my strides long and quick as I hurried towards my destination. So set I was on my destination, I almost missed the sudden whiff of cigar smoke and faint creak of the study door as it was pulled open. I faltered, the sight of my Father hindering my steps.
He appeared almost gaunt. Dark circles lay thick and heavy beneath his eyes as the usual air of self-assurity that surrounded him like a cloak was absent. His hand was clinging onto the table besides him, fingers rigid and tense as they were splayed across the wood. His expression was tight- a deep troubled frown creasing the skin beneath his brows and narrowing his eyes.
No words were exchanged, no smiles or gestures of greeting passed through the air between us. It almost felt as though the universe itself was waited with bated breath before releasing an almighty exhale as my Father diverted his gaze, his face becoming more troubled before the door was shut with a resounding click.
Mrs Buxton did not have to share with me the resemblance that I had to my Mother. Even when she was alive, we would often be admired within the same sentence along with a constant flux of comments about how I had been fortunate to inherit her beauty. Now, after she had passed on and all that was left of her memory was the echo of her presence in the house and the odd trinket or possession, I was painfully aware of how the resemblance tortured my Father. While he had never divulged the truth or admitted as to how my looks affected him, I had caught him in the odd unguarded moment. I would see the way his eyes would shutter and the shake of his hands.
In a way, we were sad imitations to the other: I the bitter teaser of what may have been and what he was now missing, he the empty shell and faded memory of the loving man who had been my idol.
After I had finally convinced myself to step away from the doorway, I had wandered to the library before taking a moment to battle with the stiff handle and pressing my weight against the entrance. It had always been my Mother’s favourite room and we had all stayed away, almost as if we might be able to lose ourselves in the delusion that she was really in there just waiting to make one of her grand appearances.
Finally, after giving the handle a firm twist, I was able to enter. Despite the dust in the air and the limp curtains hanging in front of the thin window, the room was almost exactly as I remembered it. A large arm chair rested in the corner, a book splayed open on a small table next to it. Various shelves lined all but one of the walls, which had a small desk pressed against it, littered with paper. Behind the desk was a tall backed chair and I found myself drifting towards it, almost stumbling as I approached on an old toy. Surprised, I looked down and picked it up: it was a small ragdoll. I used to carry it around with me everywhere.
Finding myself suddenly overwhelmed, I lowered myself into the seat, the soft cloth of the doll gentle in my hands. The air seemed stale, tickling the back of my throat and irritating my nose. A thin layer of dust rested on top of the desk besides me and I ran a finger through the dirt, tracing imaginary shapes. In the distance I could hear a faint twitter of birds, probably in one of the large trees that were near the window. Light pooled across the carpet, illuminating my pale hand on the desk and highlighting the numerous coloured binding of the books around me.
I exhaled quietly, the sound oddly disruptive in the silent space. As I sat in the room that time seemed to have forgotten, I knew I had to make a decision. No matter how much I wished for my Mother to appear and guide me, she was gone.
Hollow at the admission, I looked down at the doll, its black beaded eyes staring back at me. No matter how much I wished for someone to take the burden off me and tell me what I should do, the decision had to be mine.
I placed the doll on the desk and shut my eyes. I could almost hear my Mother’s voice in my ear.
You must trust in your instincts, my darling, you have them for a reason.
A shuddering breath escaped me as I looked at the room once more. Reaching into the top right hand drawer of the desk, I drew out some paper. Taking another moment to steady my hand, I began to write.
Colonel Draper found his gaze enraptured by the full moon as he nursed a large glass of whiskey. His knee was bothering him, yet appeared as nothing more than a slight menace as he savoured the bitter taste of his drink as it hit the back of his throat and his thoughts wandered.
His heart was heavy, the agonising loss of his wife, Amelia, still overwhelming as he looked out over the night sky. Swallowing another large gulp of the alcohol, he took a moment to embrace the burn that came with it before placing his glass down. Despite how much he drank, guilt still gnawed at him, the feeling that he should have somehow stopped the death of his wife prevalent as each day since her passing slipped away from him.
Checking the large grandfather clock nearby, he took a moment to recognise the lateness of the hour before, with a sigh, grabbing his cane and leaving.
He had yet to have heard from Anna since they saw each other earlier on that day and he could not help a small slither of remorse. Despite the love for his daughter, each time he saw her was like a knife to the gut, her vibrant, all knowing green eyes the very rendition of Emilia’s.
He supposed that he ought to check on her and make sure that all was well before he settled down for the evening.
Steady taps marked each step, the hollow wood of the cane echoing through the hallway, as he strode towards her room. Further on down the corridor, he could see Mrs Buxton walking towards him, a large silver tray in her hands. He cleared his throat. “I am just about to check on Anna, if you could be so kind as to place the tray in my study, I shall join you there for a moment. I assume that she is improving with the piano?”
She gave a small nod. “Of course, sir, I shall discuss it further with you once you arrive.”
The lack of confirmation didn’t escape his notice. He would have to speak to Anna further on making more of an effort with her lessons.
Just as he opened the door, and was about to broach her about this, he found the room to be empty. Suspicion and alarm building, he felt his temper about to flare back into being and call Mrs. Buxton for assistance in finding her when he noticed a small envelope addressed to him on her dresser.
His gut tightening, he shuffled over and grasped the flimsy paper before opening it. After reading the first line, he took a few steps back before his knees hit the back of her bed and he sat down against the mattress.
I find myself not knowing how to begin this letter. How do I begin to find the words to explain how I am feeling and what I know- what I feel deep inside of my very soul- that I must do?
I am leaving. Even though I know that this is a fruitless ask, please do not be too angry, or at least allow me to explain in the best way that I can before you burn this letter- it is a measly goodbye, I am aware, yet I know of no other way that you would let me leave.
Please know that I do not make this decision lightly and that I bear no ill will towards you, despite our differences you will always be my Father and I shall always love you.
I have known for a long time that my place was not here yet, despite all of my hidden anguish, I tried to continue and be a part of society. I strongly believed that I could somehow find a way to support us, to try and keep us breathing as we desperately tried to find a way to live without her. I realise now that I was naïve. No matter how hard I tried, there is always going to be a whole in our family.
Father, I cannot remain immobile anymore. I see the world and it calls to me. I ache to see it.
I do not mean to hurt you, I knew that I have not been the best daughter to you and that you have tried to protect me from the cruelty in the world, although I may not have always seen it, yet, no matter how hard I try, I cannot be the lady that you wish me to be. All I can be is Annie, the little girl who wished to dance.
Perhaps this is what is best for the both of us, we both know of the pain that we cause the other. We do not mean harm, yet all we see in each other is the person who is missing.
I hope that you understand, or at least understand enough to let me go.
I love you, Father, I truly do- neither time nor distance will change that, yet if you feel deep inside yourself that I am mistaken, that we should resume our parts and pray that our circumstances will improve, I will be at the circus. You shall find me there and I shall try to be the daughter that you need.
I have scarcely described the wealth of emotions inside of me as I write so I shall end with the hopes that somehow my feelings soak into the paper and you may understand.
Although it may seem asinine, I think the circus is where I have always meant to be and after many years, it has finally called me home.
His eyes stung and his throat seemed to be held in a vice-like grip as he held onto the thick paper with trembling hands. Although he knew that he had the chance to go to her, deep down he could not argue with her words, his only regret were that he had made his pain so obvious to her.
He was so engrossed by the words on the page that he flinched when a hand landed on his shoulder. He looked up to see Mrs. Buxton besides him, a soft smile on her face. “I think, perhaps, that we should have some tea.”
He gave a soft snort as he tried to lift himself up off the bed, the cane wobbling in his grasp as he tucked the letter into his pocket. “I need another drink.”
“No,” Surprised by her insistence, he paused. “I think we need some tea.”
Considering her for a moment longer, he relented with a small nod before allowing her to look an arm around his elbow. “Alright, tea it is.”
She merely gave a swift nod in reply.
I ran as quickly as I could. My heart was a rapid staccato in my chest, my legs aching with the strain as I raced on, the sight of the lowering tent coming into sight.
There was a lone figure nearby, my heart picked up a notch. “Samuel!”
The figure paused, the familiar face looking up as I closed the distance between us, a wide grin coming into place. “Annie?”
Barrelling forward, he barely caught me before I wrapped my arms around him. He held me close, his face burying in my neck. I squeezed him just as tightly.
Blue eyes found mine as he eagerly searched my face. “Have you decided? Are you really coming with us?”
I felt breathless, the overwhelming excitement and freedom thrumming through my veins and making me giddy. “Yes.”
He beamed, joy leaking from every pore, as grabbed my hand and placed a kiss on the back of it.
Right then, stood there in that field with Samuel next to me and his family all around, I felt something click into place. With the shouts of men and the faint glow of lanterns I felt as though I had shaken off the shackles of my old reality and that I had finally slipped into the role I was always meant to have.
It felt right. It felt as though I could sing and dance once more.
Nearby, I thought that I could almost see my Mother, her long flowing skirt twirling around her as she danced and laughed, the approval evident in her eyes.
It felt like I had finally arrived home.