A little girl was gardening. Neat little rows of meticulously mounded dirt. The trim of her dress smudged by dirt. In the grooves of her stockings flecks of dirt embedded themselves. Her yellow curls bounced on and off her shoulders as the ends of the yellow ribbon danced in the wind. Behind her were countless rows of seedlings in all stages of life. Forming an amphitheater of sorts, the little girl took the bright, shinning role featured Downstage Center. She finished the mound she was working on, one hand grabbing her silver bucket by the handled, in the other her spade, and took one comically large step forward. She placed the bucket down and tucked her spade under her armpit. Shaking the dirt from her frock she looked down and accessed the damages.
If Alicia was lucky, she would be able to return the white and yellow frock to its original order. If Alicia proved to be unsuccessful, a small vein pulsed across the top of Lillian’s eyebrow. Alicia would figure something out. After all, it was her means of living. That wasn’t Lillian’s fault. Her vein pulsed twice more before residing as Lillian leaned forward starting on the next hole.
Tension rolled in like a storm cloud, daring to ruin Lillian’s perfect gardening afternoon. Throwing her fertilizer and spade clumsily the ground, Lillian turned on heeled foot, huffing as she saw Alicia walking her way. Head angled toward the ground ahead of her. Her eyes flickering in the direction of the garden. Seeing Lillian’s petite frame facing in her direction, arms pinned to her side, Alicia felt her brow knit and her hands tremble. She stopped as she reached the garden entrance, doing her best to straighten up.
A moment of silence passed. Lillian felt her patience drain. The tip of her heeled foot tapped into the dirt. She cleared her throat. Alicia’s skin crawled. Her shoulders jumped. “… the sandwiches are ready… the parlor or the patio…”
“Alicia,” Lillian’s voice boomed. The young voice carried in all directions. It wasn’t angry, but it was stern. “If you’re going to speak like a church mouse don’t stand at the edge of the garden waiting for me to come to you.”
The wrought iron gate clanked as Alicia pulled it open. Lillian could hear as she sucked in her breath. Her own breath was building up in between her eyes, behind the bridge of her nose. Whatever patience she had mustered up with Alicia was apparently already spent.
“STOP,” Lillian’s voice rang out. In the distance a clatter of glass could be heard.
Alicia froze in place. In her periphery, small shadowed shapes began popping up. The fear held her in place. With each small step Lillian took, the tightness cinched Alicia’s chest in toward her spine. She could feel herself shaking, the soft, worn-in cotton brushing against her fingertips. She wanted to hold them still behind her back. The fear… a small dribble of warm liquid ran down her thigh.
Dirtied blonde curls, pulled back into a ponytail danced against the filthy yellow and white frock. The sunlight, now hidden behind the overcast, bounced off the white tips of Lillian’s shoes as she walked. Alicia tried to meet the golden amber irises boring into her soul. Instead, Alicia’s eyes locked onto the small, slight upturn of Lillian’s nose. Saliva traveled in a knot down Alicia’s throat. In all of her portraits, Lillian’s eyes were a golden brown, like pancakes layered with honey and maple syrup. Great flecks of green circling around her blackened pupil. Her nose was a perfect button. Sweat gathered on the nape of Alicia’s neck. Her nose had an upturn. It was slight, but it was there. Unlike the painted portraits lining the manner’s halls.
More spit forced its way down Alicia’s throat, raining over a small giggle that threatened to erupt. She was scarred shitless of a child. A little girl. One left to her own devices. Playing pretend. She wasn’t going to be murdered by a tiny imp. She would be fired, left to return to her home to fight off –
“What is so funny, woman?”
Alicia felt the corners of her mouth drop. Her teeth felt dry as she ran her tongue over them. There was no spit to swallow. The trim of the frock came into focus. The yellow color popping against the dark brown dirt. Small specks of red were visible…
The ends of Lillian’s nose flared. A fleck of dirt and blood sat on the bridge of Lillian’s nose. Already Alicia could see the amber taking over Lillian’s eyes. Alicia’s stomach dropped as her knees fell into the dirt.
“Madame,” a tired voice came from the side of Alicia. “You must b-“
“MUST,” Lillian roared. “You MUST remember to whom you are speaking, Bernard.”
“Yes,” the voice sunk lower to the ground. “May I suggest this…”
Lillian’s white shoes neared Alicia’s face. Veering to her left, Alicia winced as the heels dug her hair into the ground. “pour nous pécheurs, maintenant, et ŕ l’heure de notre,” Alicia whispered into the ground. Pieces of dirt clinging to her lips, sliding into her mouth. The smell of the earth on her breath, “je vous salue, Marie, pleine de grâces.”
Bernard bowed his head as he extended a polished, family heirloom. A small kettle from the times of the revolution. A pain shot up his forehead, thinking about whether or not he should be so concerned with his duties. His stomach growled. “Please, Miss Lillian,” he whispered softly.
Pain seared through Alicia’s head as her body was whipped onto her knees. She was facing Lillian, whose eyes were now glowing. The pain pulled her backwards keeping her face pointed toward the child. Tears rolled down Alicia’s cheeks, mixing with the soil as they entered her mouth. A hard, rounded object jammed into her spine pushing her stomach up toward the sky. The sound of fabric tore through the air. The warm touch of the sun caressed Alicia’s mid-drift. A cold metal tip traced across her abdomen; chills followed in its wake. Alicia’s thoughts raced through her mind avoiding the patches where a numbing cold was settling in.
Lillian drew a sharp breath in; her shoulders arched as she pushed harder into Alicia. Alicia’s breath shallowed as she felt her heart being pulled downward. The sky bled into the trees, as the bright green edges of the forest blued, Lillian’s face stood out against the light blue sky and the deep sapphire of the forest. Alicia was drawn once more to Lillian’s eyes, now radiating in the sunlight, glowing brightly. Two small fiery suns – bright yellow with veins of orange flared in front of Alicia. Heat radiated from them, drawing Alicia further into the light. She shuddered as the cold blue wrapped itself around her, turning her last breath to frost.
“Madame,” Bernard snapped in a harsh whisper.
The handmaid’s body slummed onto the ground. Lillian whipped around. Her heal digging into the ground; the pupils of her eyes clouding over the rays of her irises. A rosiness flushed the balls of her cheeks.
“Here,” her voice squeaked. Extending the kettle toward Bernard, she added “lightly heated. For a cup of peppermint tea.”
“Yes,” Bernard said softly, taking the teapot. No longer weighed down by the antique, Lillian’s arm bounced toward the sky. “Cook made you cucumber sandwiches. Might I suggest him adding egg salad as well?”
“Will there be biscuits,” her small voice pipped up?
Bernard bit the inside of his lip. Clearing his throat of the impending smile, “I will have him prepare some.”
“Thank you,” Lillian said curtly. Her feet slid in her shoes, pitching her forward. Flailing her arms, she regained her balance. “And Bernard?”
“Bring in the replacement. Start her by laying out a new set of clothes. I think we’ve dropped a few years on that one.” A large goofy smile overtook Lillian’s face. A shadow crossed her chest, small red droplets trickled onto the front of Lillian’s frock. Lillian bent down, snapping up, her tiny arm pointed toward the sky. The light glimmered off the slimy tooth. “Bernard,” Lillian said softly, her amber eyes widening, “thank you for your, erm, thank you for your suggestion. Now,” she said straightening up, “don’t forget to also have the butcher come by and prep the fertilizer for the garden.” Her hand waved off in the direction of the handmaid’s body.
Bernard nodded. A small smile teasing the corner of his mouth, “of course, Madame.” With the small, elegant kettle emanating a blue glow, Bernard headed back to the main house. Quietly wondering to himself if it would have been better to let Lillian- the teapot shook violently. A familiar ache in his shoulder began throbbing. Bernard looked up to the sky and cleared his mind, refocusing on the tasks at hand. Throwing a glance over his shoulder he watched as Lillian returned to her silver bucket, clearly packed to high and weighing her down.