Anonymous

Laura

CHAPTER ONE

I know what they want-why they stare after me. The sea ruffles the small pebbles, stirs them, forgets them, and retreats. Boys run along the chain pier. I hear their boots, their clattering, the singing sound of their laughter. The lamentations of the seagulls cut the air. Come now, watch now, come.

There are watchers-I know of them-the aunts tall and lonely on the stairs, waiting for the postman who will never come. The laurel leaves grow dry, the sheets rustle. Breasts to breasts the slow coming and going of breaths.

I have watched them at daybreak in their lonely ways. They have come upon me as shadows, signs, portents. I have pasted smiles upon my lips and stared. My eyes, it is said, are brown, my thighs are long.

“Do not sway your hips, girl,” I am told. What a nonsense is this. I am the lure, the catch, the key, the lock. My arms bind as seaweed binds, as grass curls round the cutter after rain. Come now, here now, kiss.

A breeze stirs the ribbons of my bonnet. I cross the promenade and skirt the Royal Pavilion. The streets extend, the clock strikes four. Shall there be toast for tea? Jingling their harness as they trot, the horses gravely nod. The proud and the foolish note my passing. Their carriages bob upon their springs. Turning I stare towards the distant beach. Too vast the sea, too deep, too wide. I shall speak of this to others and to Julian, but they will not respond. Their memories have curled, grown brown-tired in the sun. I have watched them in their breedings under the elms, beneath the sunshades, in the summer-house. Shall I become as they? Break the mirrors into which they stare-and run.

Julian would not come with me. I wished him to. We are such a short time wed. He is self-conscious in his goings with me. How strange.

“Let the men look at you,” he remarks. How sadly surly is his tone. I wish not to speak of such matters. I disregard his eyes that search mine for denials.

“They will perhaps, yes.”

I am curt in my responses. Why do I speak of things of which I do not wish to speak? I linger at the window of a dress emporium. The brown gown, the brown gown of silk would suit me best. Reflections of the passers-by come and go like ghosts, like people who were lost at sea, far in the deep waves ever falling down. A girl laughs in passing, hanging upon the arm of a man whose hat is at a tilt. He cares not for her, I feel sure. She is but a neat appendage to his goings, his arrivals, his watch chain glittering.

“She is nice. Did you like her-like her nice?”

Her face turns towards me-a roundish face endeavouring to become oval. I am regarded, looked upon. The meeting of our eyes is without purpose. She speaks of me, I believe. In turn he stares-a down and upward look. I am possessed, turned over, done with in his eyes.

“All right, she's all right. A swell, I'd say.”

Gone, they are gone, into their nothing knowingness of unknowing. The pavement slurs beneath their feet, grey, gritty. Memories of the sea that it has never seen. Will Julian have missed me? I shall wear my shy look or perhaps my austere. The austere fits me better, I believe. Father always told me so to look. Let my eyes bewilder and the sun shall dance. In my childhood on the garden swing, father would tell me always to sit upright, my hands high up upon the ropes, the apple blossoms falling on my hair. Sometimes I would throw my head back, going with my eyes into the sky the blue sky but not the grey for the grey was too regarding of me. Perhaps like cobwebs it would touch my hair, entangle me, draw me inwards, upwards. There would be moisture then upon my lips, father said, for the grey sky was the moist sky and the blue the dry.

In between the shadows and the light I move, the faces of the walkers seen and never seen again. They are drawn to the beach, to the sea, to their perdition.

“Where is Perdition, father?” I would ask him often. Not replying, he would shake his head, perhaps aware of my becoming. One day when I had asked too often, he replied.

“It is a place, Laura, where the shadows deepen and the doors are closed. It is a place of supplication, of remonstrance, yielding, and desire.”

I grew not frightened but drew the drapes of the study window against the sun, the seeking light, leaving a thin gap where the particles of dust could dance.

My voice was dull, look solemn as his own. Motionless we stood. Downstairs the clicking of my mother's knitting needles pecked at wool. We were alone, there was a quietness. A cart rumbled past below, rough voices sounded, such voices as sound foreign to one's ears.

“Perdition is within you, veiled. Do you not seek it, Laura?”

I did not know. Sometimes he would know my knowing even though my words had not appeared like players on a stage before him.

“I do not know, father.”

“You must know of it, for it will come upon you-the wanting of release, yet wanting not release, the burgeoning of blossoms in your hair, the air that cools your limbs upon the swing. You are grown too old now for the swing. Your summers count eighteen. When the moment comes upon you in its coming, you must fall. Into perdition. You understand?”

No air brushed my lips within the room. Was there air? I would have moved back to the curtains, but his hand stayed me.

“You understand.”

The question mark had slipped, slipped from his voice. It had hidden at our feet, a small black twist of sound between my toes. My silence was a tunnel in which secrets flowed. I knew the dryness and the summer heat, the far faint sounds beyond, voices floating, passing the house like small clouds urgent in their going.

“Yes.”

I knew. I felt the cold, the warmth. The shadows deepened and the door was closed. Could I be saved? The people would be hushed, the eyes would watch, the woods be searched. Iron railings rusting in the grass would be turned over for the footprints that might lie beneath.

“In the second left-hand drawer of the desk, Laura, there is a strap. You will hand it to me.”

Through a mountain of stillness moving I moved. The drawer squeaked faintly as if surprised that it was I. Only a strap lay within, brown-coiled and broad, a serpent in its waiting. Its surface was subtle, smooth. My hand trembled not. In my handing it to his hand my hand was steady.

Upon his word the desk received me. The leather stung, burnishing my burning. In Perdition there is only the receiving. I yielded, fell far faint, received. Forlorn, the furniture would not look. The inkstand stood busy in its inkness, uncaring of my cries in my undoing.

“Go-brush your hair,” he said at last. Eternities had passed. I smoothed my dress. Our eyes tangled like thorns, fought like rapiers, then I dropped my head. “Walk proudly, Laura, for you shall otherwise be known. The burning of perdition has received you.”

“Yes.”

I had accepted, received. Father drew the curtains back. The street had emptied. Solemn as forgotten sentinels the laburnum trees stirred not. A cat prowled by the railings, descended steps and sat upon the flagstones. My eyes were the eyes of the cat. My hips stirred, moved, fought their rebellions and then were stilled. I of the empty swing, the blossoms from the branches that would fall no more across my eyes.

“There will be moments of proudness, Laura-the high reach of your being.”

“Yes.”

“Even so you shall not refuse.”

My chin was taken, my eyes absorbed. The toys of my childhood were put away, the cupboards locked. A tumbling of dolls-a small unsqueaking silence-then the turning of the key.

“I did not know.”

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