An Incident Upstairs
"Out, damned spot!" I frowned, attacking the lavatory mirror once again with my washcloth. It seemed that every time I managed to tidy something up, someone would stroll along and undo all my hard work. After all, I had already scrubbed the tiny blue bathroom that very morning, and I simply could not comprehend why somebody would want to leave greasy little fingerprints all over my nice clean mirrors. Without a doubt, it must have been Mrs. Green, my employer, with her high and mighty ways. Servants must never stop working, even for a second, you know. We make life comfortable so that people like her never have to lift their delicate little fingers, and then, we die.
"Hell is murky! Fie, my lord, fie!" I yelled at my reflection, giving up on the damned spot and tossing my cloth to the floor, across which somebody in lady's shoes had already gleefully left a trail of mud. With a groan, I slumped into the bathtub, musing about Shakespeare. Struggling, I rubbed a grimy hand across my chin as if it would help me remember Lady Macbeth's next line. "Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?" I said firmly, deciding it was correct, or at least close enough. Though, I was certainly no thespian, and certainly no Lady Macbeth. Confident Scottish women like her were able to plot murders and seduce husbands. Obedient little English women like me were made to clean lavatories and grow into old spinsters.
"Emma! Emma!" shrieked a horribly shrill voice from the hallway, as Mrs. Green herself strolled, or rather stampeded, into the room. "What are you doing? Why are you sitting down? Up! Up!"
"I apologize, Madame," I said hastily, climbing to my feet and giving a small curtsy to the pudgy pig of a woman standing before me. She was a true woman of the 1800s, indulgent, elegant, and fat. As usual, she was dressed in all her finery, which included every jewel and fur she owned. In fact, she even had some of her own fur above her thin little lips and on what one might call her chin. In truth, it was not at all a chin, but a piece of flesh that had merged with her chubby neck two hundred pounds earlier.
"I have a chore for you, Emma," Mrs. Green said, lingering on each word as if savoring its flavor.
"Yes, Madame?" I asked, plastering the dutiful smile of a servant on my face. I stared at her neck, wringing the cloth in my hands. Perhaps I'd strangle her.
"Don't you ever brush your hair, Emma?" Mrs. Green abruptly changed the subject, clawing at the wiry black strings on my head with her sausage fingers. "Oh well, never mind. This is a very important chore, and it must be done absolutely correctly. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Madame," I nodded.
"Good," Mrs. Green said, revealing an ornate dagger that she had hidden in her bosom. The glimmering hilt was studded with tiny rubies and a carefully engraved golden snake, which spiraled up the knife, as if to pounce on the blade. "Mr. Green is in his private study. I want you to take this knife, and drive it through his back. Do you understand, Emma?" I stared at her, mouth agape. She'd said it so casually, as if such awful business was common for the wealthy.
"I don't understand," I said quickly, glancing around so that my eyes would not be forced to meet hers.
"Did I not speak clearly enough? Go drive this through Mr. Green's back. And be neat about it."
"No. I won't," I said, wavering and stepping backward so that I nearly tripped into the tub. I glanced at my reflection, which was staring back at me with wide, frightened eyes. "Do it yourself….I'll…I'll have you arrested."
"You will do what I ask, Emma," Mrs. Green said firmly. "Or perhaps you would like to end up on the streets. Hm? Mr. Green doesn't control your fate. I control it, and I suggest you listen to me very closely. I'm a very powerful woman, Emma, and I can make very terrible things happen to poor little maids."
"Why? Why are you doing this? Why me?" I asked, looking around for a way to squeeze past her and escape into the corridor. However, her enormous frame filled up the entire doorway.
"It is none of your concern. Servants must know when to hold their tongues," Mrs. Green snapped, forcing the knife into my hands. "Now, to your chores."
"….Yes, Madame," I said, clutching the cold hilt in my tiny fingers. Like usual, she wanted me to do her dirty work, clean up a failing marriage nice and neatly like I clean bathrooms. She'd been adulterous. Her husband had been too. Yet, why was I stuck with the greater crime?
"I'll be in my chamber. Report to me when you're through," my Mistress said, turning and squeezing out the door and down the hall, the sound of her enormous feet fading until it was nothing more than an echo. With a deep breath, I closed my eyes, grasping the dagger in my hands and wandering into the dark windowless corridor. I could run downstairs and warn Mr. Green, though he would not likely believe me. For some strange reason, the adulterer trusted his wife, and would certainly not heed the words of a mere servant. I could perhaps have Mrs. Green arrested, though once again, would I be heeded? After all, her word was more powerful than mine. There was a third option, of course, and that would be to actually creep into my master's study and finish my chore. Though, that option would leave me trapped forever alone with the horrid woman I called 'Madame,' without Mr. Green, whom I preferred. A home and wage was certainly not worth that. Suddenly, however, I was struck with a realization, an option I'd overlooked that was certainly the most preferable.
Turning and creeping down the hall, I clutched the bejeweled dagger to my chest, my heartbeat resonating in my ears. I slid across the wooden floor, completely silent, dreadfully and inhumanely silent. I could not change my mind. Now, I had, as I suppose people say, "crossed the Rubicon," and could not turn back. Finally coming to a halt in front of one of the myriad of doors that lined the grey walls, I extended a shaky hand and clutched the glistening silver doorknob. Inhaling deeply, I gently turned it and poked my head cautiously into the room.
Blinking, I allowed my eyes to adjust to the sudden brightness. The imposing white chamber, whose walls were dominated by three overly grand windows, smelt chokingly of exotic perfume and tobacco. Swallowing hard, I struggled against my reflex to cough, in fear of revealing myself. Across the bedroom, Mrs. Green sat at her desk, which was two sizes too small for her body, which was four sizes too large. When I was certain that she had not noticed my presence, I slowly crept inside, shutting the door behind me with a quiet thud. The sudden noise startled me, my mind whirring as I stood frozen, waiting there for my Mistress to turn and see me. However, she was more concerned with whatever she was writing. Holding my breath as not to make a peep, I slowly and methodically stepped closer. The comforting weight of the dagger was held close to my chest. Why did it feel so painfully hot? Or were my hands merely cold, clammy with excitement?
With one final step, I finally allowed myself to breathe. I was no more than a foot away from Mrs. Green, who was still merrily writing in blissful ignorance. Closing my eyes, I slowly lifted the knife, raising it high into the air so that it caught the glint of the sun through the windows. And with a horrible, animal like shriek I brought it down and felt it plunge deeper and deeper, through levels of clothing, levels of fur, levels of skin. When it was done, I looked down at my splattered apron before slumping onto the overstuffed bed. It was much larger than mine, and much more comfortable. I would need a short nap, just a little rest. After all, when Mr. Green discovered the mess I'd made, I'd have a lot of cleaning to do.