My great Aunt Mabel won’t stop whispering in my ear.
When are you getting married, you’re almost twenty three, I’d had my fourth child by then, she buzzes.
Why are you wearing that dress, you look like a strumpet with your backside all high outside like a horse, she whines.
The bedsheets aren’t folded right…
That roast chicken looks as dry as dust…
You haven’t been to church to confess your sins…
On and on and on she shushes like leaves rustling rustling rustling in my head; a white noise neither soothing nor comforting, a tinnitus in my ear.
I suppose you could say I deserve it, Aunt Mabel’s endless murmurs, and I suppose you might be right. Perhaps if I hadn’t taken the carving knife and stuck it through her withered old heart, buried her under the apple tree in our backyard, so close that her ghost had no worry to find me, I wouldn’t be haunted by the old crone.
But she never let me do anything, anything at all! Lick the icing from the mixing bowl, like Grandma Hilde let me do, or have a friend over to braid each other’s hair, or go for a walk in the park like all the other girls, or have a nice dress made from Crepe de Chine or hold hands with John Parker, not anything, anything! What else could I have done? Her fault for leaving sharp implements so carelessly strewn about…
And I am now even more trapped, for she never ceases to judge and taunt and chortle and whine. Hiding my brushes and tipping my rouge to the floor and spilling ink on my new kid gloves. All I want is a moment of peace.
But I will have the last laugh! Because I found a solution. It left the hems of my new silk dress muddy and ragged, but sacrifices had to be made, just like Miss Sally sacrificing her life. She was a sweet old thing, Miss Sally, but she and Aunt Mabel hated each other with a deep and trembling passion. They could not go two minutes in each other’s company without bickering and quarreling like two old hens. So maybe it wasn’t the kindest thing to do, to slit Miss Sally’s throat like that and watch her blood run thick like syrup through the floorboards. But she was already old and I cannot continue with this noise in my ears, driving me insane! With Miss Sally around to fight with, Aunt Mabel will not have time for haunting and I will truly be free. So I buried her right on top of Aunt Mabel and drove a stake through both their hearts to join them for always in the ever after.
And then I heard it: Aunt Mabel’s wheedly voice, shouting: You! What are you doing here!
And Miss Sally said “Your good for nothing grand-niece slit my throat! I knew she was no good from the moment I saw her conniving little face!”
“You’re one to talk!” my Aunt Mabel replied. “I know it was you who stole my chickens!”
And I had smiled a secret smile at the time. I was so sure it had worked, you see? That they had each other now, so I would be left alone to live my life as I pleased.
But it has been three months and two days and I am driven insane by the constant bickering. I cannot sleep nor read a book in peace nor go for a stroll in the quiet of the ferns with the two of them at each other’s throats like wolves!
Why haven’t they left me alone?
They are both tied to me like millstones about my neck, dragging me down into the depths of their heated anger.
“It is because of you I never married – you stole my love from me!” Miss Sally shrieks.
“Your apple strudel tastes like dust and you are ugly to boot – who would have you?” Aunt Mabel snarks.
They fight like cats, their snarls bouncing through my head at all hours of the day and night.
John no longer visits and my friends have all abandoned me. The maids all left and the butler and coachman disappeared. And the doctor, who was so kindly before, has begun to treat me with cold indifference. They have locked me away ‘in the interest of my own safety’, they have said. I’ve told them all, I’ve explained everything – these women are filling my mind with their anger and I cannot hear over the sounds of their fighting! Accusing each other of treachery and betrayal, hurling insults and flinging barbs, a torrent of poison from one mouth and then the other. And I scream and scream at them to silence themselves! To be gone! The devil with you both! I shriek, as I flail my hands about my ears, trying to rid myself of their constant furor.
‘Get out of my head! Go away!’ I yell until my throat is raw and parched.
But on and on it goes.
I know now what I have to do. I’ve known it for some time. But this room is all padded walls and soft corners, there is nothing here to tear my flesh, to separate my soul from my body, to stop this unending torture. They will not even give me a glass to drink from, or knives and forks with which to eat.
But there are yards and yards of bedsheets. And bars on the window high up on the wall. And I am clever. And I will have my peace.