It was a loud crack of thunder that finally woke Emilia. Or was it her piercing headache? Either way, when she awoke her bedroom was still dark; curtains shut out any light that could have escaped into the room save for the moth-eaten blotches.
Before she even opened the curtains to look out she knew it was raining. The air smelled like rain, musty and bittersweet. She did not get right out of bed. She lay still just staring at the ceiling, absorbing the pain of her headache. It was not until she heard muffled chatter and clinking of glass and metal downstairs that she knew it was time to propel herself out of bed.
She sat up slowly and blood rushed to her head making her wobble backwards from the impact. She threw her legs over the bed and stood up. Her body felt limp and heavy, as if it were not her own. She shuffled over to the window and put her hands on the curtains, not wanting to do what she knew she was going to have to, but after a breath of preparation she threw open the curtains and her head sang, or rather screeched, from the impending glare. She shut her eyes and threw her hand over her face with a moan, and with her eyes still closed she walked over to a small dresser and felt around inside for her garments for the day.
About a half an hour later, Emilia had reached the bottom of the stairs, her headache still resonating but not to the degree it had been earlier.
"Well look who finally shows her pretty face!" said the black-haired woman from behind the counter.
"What time is it, Madame?" she said, her hand still lightly clutching her forehead.
Emilia sighed and pouted, "Why didn't you wake me?"
"Look at you, love." Madame Tille replied, looking her up and down.
"Do I look that bad?" she asked frantically, smoothing her hair and rubbing her face.
"You look sick, sick as a dog."
"It passes, it always does. You should have woken me up anyway," she looked around the shop, "and Josephin?"
"She went out to sell for a bit."
"And you let her?"
"So you were down here working all on your own?"
"You should have woken me up, Madame! If you had told me I would have come down!"
"Well, you're here now. So be a doll and take these to table six, will you?"
The rain began to cease at around twelve forty-five, but the ceasing of the rain did not yield the ceasing of Emilia's nerves. She would not be satisfied until her daughter walked through the door safe and sound; she never was. She did her chores, but not without glancing out the windows every few seconds. She steeped tea behind the counter without even glancing down, her eyes stayed fixed on the windows.
"When was it again that Josephin came back injured?" asked Madame Tille casually, sticking her head out of her inventory closet.
"Wha-? Um," Emilia started at Madame Tille's voice, "She never-"
"Exactly," Madame Tille cut in, "She's a tough girl, and she's never had a problem. Ease your nerves a little."
This calmed Emilia for maybe a second. "But it's wet out there, what if her leg slips out or breaks or-"
"We both know all of that is ridiculous, and impossible."
"I used to think a lot of bad things were impossible…" mumbled Emilia.
"Just wait, love, just wait; patience," After peering, unsatisfied, into a copper jar behind the counter, she looked up and said, "I'll be right back," before retreating through a wooden door under the stairs with the copper jar in her hands.
Emilia watched Madame Tille's every step as she walked through the door before turning her head back toward the window. She shut her eyes, breathed deep through her nose, and ran her hands over the top of her head. The shop had been quiet for a bit, but she knew that it would not last for long. The quiet, if anything, aggravated her nerves, so in an anxious tizzy she flung around the room absently wiping down tables, and that's when she heard it; the tinkling of a little bell and uneven footsteps, as if someone were limping.
She felt a leap in her chest and briskly turned her body, her face went hot as if it were flushed and she forgot she even had work to do. "Josephin, thank God,"…
As soon as Josephin shut the door behind her, Madame Tille and Emilia glanced at each other.
"Don't." said Emilia, tossing the rag on a counter and taking two mugs from a shelf.
"What?" Madame Tille replied with a smirk.
"Don't!" Emilia said again, louder this time.
Madame Tille attempted to hold in a chuckle, but let it out quietly, "but I did tell you…"
"I know!" Emilia could not help but smile too. In hindsight, her anxiety over her daughter always seemed silly.
"She's always come back safe, but you never listen when she's out."
"I know, I know, but I can't help it. She's my daughter, and in the moment it's…well, it's scary!"
"I know, love, I know." Madame Tille said, walking over to her friend and putting a hand on her shoulder. "You're lucky to have her, you know."
"I know that. It's the only thing I'm sure of anymore." She bowed her head slightly.
"She's stronger than you give her credit for, Emilia," said Madame Tille, quietly, as she went back behind the counter. "You underestimate her, far too much so. She's strong for a woman, let alone a woman in her condition. Not even for a woman, she's stronger than any man I've ever known."
"Don't even say that to me, Madame," said Emilia with an odd amount of passion, "You know how the thought terrifies me. If a man were to attack her while she was out one day I-"
"I am not a fool, Emilia," Madame Tille snapped, "I don't mean physically."
With a sigh, Emilia swept down into one of the wooden chairs at a vacant table. She put her hand on her head again and moaned quietly. "These damned headaches…"
"Are you alright?" Madame Tille's tone was somewhat empty.
"Yes, yes." Emilia said, attempting to stagger to her feet.
There was an empty pause as Madame Tille prepared a handful of tea bags. "My God, Josephin turns eighteen next week."
"What?" Emilia sounded flustered still.
"Next week, on Thursday, Joséphin turns eighteen, doesn't she?"
"Oh," Emilia thought for a moment, "Yes, I suppose she does."
"Ah." Madame Tille turned part of her attention back to the tea bags, but for a moment only before she turned back to Emilia. "Emilia. We've talked about this."
Emilia's face became skeptical, "What?"
"She's a strong girl, and if anyone can handle this," she opened her arms to the room, "it's her."
"No," Emilia said, shaking her head, "She's not ready."
"How can you say that?" Madame Tille swooped in to sit beside her.
"She's too young; she will not be able to handle that kind of responsibility."
"Yes she can."
Emilia's face grew hot, "I think I know my own daughter better than you."
"Oh, come now," Madame Tille almost laughed, "She's just as much my daughter as she is yours. If it were not for me where do you think the two of you would be right now?"
Emilia's eyes darkened. "Don't patronize me, Madame."
Madame Tille took Emilia's hands in her own and spoke gently, "I'm not trying to, love. You know that. But I know-we know, that she is ready. Frankly I think she has been for a long time. And if the reason you're saying otherwise is because of her condition than don't, it's only made her stronger."
Emilia was still conflicted, her eyes were averted and she was deep in her thoughts. "Alright, we will do it," she looked up into Madame Tille's eyes now, desperate and pleading, "under one condition: we don't give her the recipes. Not yet. Not until the day we retire." Madame Tille seemed unwilling to make the deal. "This is the only condition in which I will allow you to tell her, it's this or nothing."
Madame Tille sighed, but then held out her hand, "Fine. If it's the only way." The two shook hands. "Now," she continued. She stood up and went to a corner of the counters, where she began drying tea cups on a rack and putting them away, "How and when should we tell her?"
Emilia stood up, retrieved her rag, and joined Madame Tille, huddling close to her so they could speak quietly, "As soon as possible. Tonight."
"Tonight?" Madame Tille sounded surprised, "But when?"
"After the Gala. It's late but I want her to know now. We can't just throw this on her the moment she turns eighteen."
"Well, you're her mother. So be it."
At that moment the hard sound of wood hitting the floor brought the two of them to their senses…
The night was nothing more than colorful blurs in Emilia's eyes; no nights were. It started with a glass of strong green liquid, than another, than another, and it went on and on. Scents and colors and sounds infiltrated her fragile mind and made her erupt with pleasure, if only for a moment. It took her back to the days of her youth; her sweet, reprehensible youth. And even if it only came back for a moment it was worth it; it was worth it to get away from this life; this life lived in blacks and whites and grays where beauty is depleted and even her own daughter was-no. She hated herself for thinking such thoughts. Her daughter was…lovely. In her way. Yes, in her way. When it all is torn away, the only thing Emilia excelled at was living in the past. Poor, deflowered women and rotten booze breath and the looming scent of hashish everywhere-it was all here, in her mind, and she would only awaken when she fell asleep-or rather, was knocked asleep by the power of substance. And every day, the next thing she knew, she would be in her bed, head aching, sun shining, and all the color gone.
Emilia did not wake up in her bed this time. She was awoken by a shake, by a hand on her shoulder.
"Emilia? Wake up, love."
She opened her eyes, her sight still hazy, but more focused still than they had been. She was in a wooden chair, slumped over a table. The room was empty and calm. Everything was a memory. She sat up and blinked her eyes hard several times.
"Are you ready?" Madame Tille asked, her hand still on Emilia's shoulder.
"For what?" she yawned.
"To tell Josephin," she observed Emilia's eyes, "maybe you should just go to bed and I will tell her-"
"No!" Emilia stood, however unsteadily, "No, I have to be there. I'm coming."
Madame Tille smiled and nodded, "Alright." She put her arm under Emilia's to steady her, and up the stairs they went. The clock on the wall read twelve twenty-eight.