Imperial March: Episode 7

[This is what comes out of listening to inspiring music instead of studying for Stylistics – precisely this, this, and this. I wanted to make more out of this story, but I can’t afford to procrastinate any more at the time being – I’m intrigued, though, so I think I’ll definitely take up this story at some later point and develop it further.]

There was a movement at the front door. She pressed the power button of the coffee machine and heard the soothing gurgle of boiling water running through the filter into the enormous coffee pot underneath. She had often been reproached for drinking too much coffee, but if you thought about it, coffee was a fairly mild addiction – she’d be more understanding of complaints if she let other drugs run through the machine every morning. She cheerfully opened the door and nearly tripped over Felicity the cat – Felly, as she liked to be called – who decided to take the chance and run outside, steering elegantly in between her and the postman’s legs.

“Good morning, David,” she smiled. “Haven’t seen you in a while. I must be unpopular. What have you been up to?”

“Oh, this and that,” he replied, laughing at her little joke. “Wife’s pregnant.”

“You don’t say! How long?”

“Two months now. She doesn’t show it. She’s too proud of her body,” he explained as he rummaged through his bag to retrieve her mail.

“That’s women for you. Give her my regards, will you?”

“Most certainly.” He handed her a stack of letters. “I trust you have been well, too? You look happy.”

“Oh, you know. Husband’s on a business trip. Not that I’m happy about that,” she added quickly, seeing the expression that had emerged on his face. “But he’s coming home tomorrow. I’m planning a little surprise for him.”

“I’m sure he’ll appreciate it. Well, I’d better get going.”

“Do your job, good man.” She grinned. “I hope you didn’t bring me any bad news.”

“Oh, I never do,” he winked at her, mounted his bike again and was gone. She closed the door behind her and returned to the kitchen table. On days like this, the morning sun flooded the room with bright light, and it always reflected on her mood.

The letters rested next to her plate while she poured herself a big cup of coffee and sipped from it, nearly burning her tongue. She sat down, flipping through her mail. Bills, bills, and more bills – it was this time of the month again, it seemed. She was about to set them aside for her husband when another letter caught her eye, one that did not look official at all. The handwriting seemed familiar; she couldn’t quite place it. She turned it over, but couldn’t find a sender. She hardly ever got mail; her husband was the one with the friends in the family. She opened the envelope neatly and unfolded the lined sheet of paper.

My darling sister, read the first line.

She nearly choked on her breakfast and dropped the toast with honey, which promptly landed on the ground – buttered side down, and probably covered in cat hair by now. How very appropriate. It couldn’t be him. She gulped down half of the coffee to gather some more strength.

It has been – how many years? Far too many, I must say, and I should know – I’ve spent them locked up. Have you even thought about me all this time? I think not, else you would not have the surprised look on your face that I am sure you carry now. Had you ever cared at all, you would know that I was a good boy all these years. Don’t worry though; let me assure you that I fully intend to recover my bad reputation before the year is over.

 

She swallowed hard and pushed away the cup. She had spent years in fear of this moment, and had overcome it with some official help. She was fully aware of her own past, which didn’t show her, nor anyone, in any favourable light, but she had made a point of reforming herself, and so she did – or so she hoped. She had changed her identity, moved to a different country, cut all personal ties, and had spent years building up a new life. It had been hard and it had been worth it. This single crumpled sheet crushed all these efforts within seconds.

I was disappointed that you never visited me, although I wasn’t very surprised to see that you were gone soon. You were always eager to get away from me, didn’t you, although I taught you so well – we all did. Bad genes run in our family, I was told. I was eager to follow in our family tradition, and so were you – do you remember? Did it all go in vain? If you care for my opinion – and I know you never do – I think that your behaviour is very hypocritical of you.

 

She closed her eyes, remembering those times. Bad genes, he said. But she didn’t believe in that, or so she always said. It had taken many years until she did not wake up at night anymore, her conscience tinted with guilt. She had always thought she felt guilty for the unspeakable crimes they had committed – but she now feared that it was the other way around. That she had felt guilty precisely because of her abandonment.

You’ve never thanked me, you know, even on the day that I stood up to protect you, my little sister, as I had promised mama I would. I wonder how you must feel. I heard your defences and excuses, of course. I made a point of not being offended; you couldn’t help it, of course. Neither could I. And now, I’m afraid I cannot tolerate your hate anymore. The years have changed me, you see. I look into a mirror and I see someone else – someone far more dangerous than you have ever witnessed. I see a madman. You don’t know what it’s like to spend years in darkness; years thinking and planning and waiting for a kind voice to speak. The voice never spoke, you know – not after you had left. But others did. Other voices. My mirror shows a madman, but there is more to me than that. I am also your only blood relative left.

 

A painful realisation overcame her. Her stomach seemed to turn to ice. If this letter arrived at her house, she was not safe anymore. She shivered and grabbed the letter, got up, her knees shaking. She didn’t want to keep reading.

And as such, I am glad to hear how very fortunate you have been. A nice house, no children, but some in planning. How do I know? Why, because I have one incredibly charming brother-in-law, don’t you think? Of course you do. I would like to say that after all this time searching, it was cunning on my part that led to our encounter, but alas, it was mere chance. It was very sophisticated of you to marry a government official so that you would be protected even better.

 (Was it your ironic purpose, Mrs. Summers, to take on a name that stood in such a stark contrast to our own name? But then, summer and winter are parts of one whole, are they not?)

Heed my words, you should have chosen one that can hold his liquor, one that wasn’t as talkative when he was drunk and missed his poor wife. A charming fellow indeed; lost his jacket to me, and didn’t even think to empty his pockets. At present, he is asleep, although I’m afraid that he might not wake up. He must have drunk something… that was not quite right.

 

Her eyes widened, filled with hot tears as she read the sentences again. Surely, this was not true; could not be right. But it was not until the last lines that her face was suddenly drained of all colours.

You know, my little one, animals have always been more accepting towards me than you. In fact, I would love to introduce my new little friend to you, but I believe you are already acquaintances. I have given her a different name though. Felicity seems a bit far-fetched and uncharacteristic of our family, doesn’t it? I would advise you not to call anyone, either. We wouldn’t want our reunion to be interrupted, would we?

Pacta sunt servanda.

 

As she extended her hand to the telephone, the key turned in the front-door lock.

“Don’t say a word.”

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