In The Details – Final

The small drawing-roomIt had not always been a drawing-room, though a new visitor would never notice this. Madame had ensured the transformation was complete: even the elaborate fireplace and bay window had been torn out and made unrecognisable through the skilful efforts of Mr French and his apprentices. Only the sofa, a Victorian monstrosity without charm or comfort, remained untouched, a jarring reminder of that fateful night.
was exquisitely neat and smelled of burnt lavender. There were some Dresden shepherds and shepherdessesSo, one story could be that that little shepherdess, the one with the battered nose and faded skirts, is secretly a princess. The daughter of a powerful, handsome, and talented King, lost in a far away land. One day, he will ride onto the mantelpiece on his fine horse and pick up the little shepherdess with paint-stained hands (in Emily’s mind, the King is invariably a very fine painter), swing her onto the front of his saddle, and take her far, far away from this dreary drawing-room.
That’s just one possible story, of course.
, on the mantelpieceFaux-greek columns soared arrogantly around the cavity of the fireplace, filled with meticulously arranged, skillfully dried, artfully lifeless roses. So flammable, Emily often thought. So very flammable., simpering sweetly. There were framed water-coloursDark, mysterious landscapes where twisted roads soar up endless cliffs, and ancient trees reach upwards as if to pierce the firmament. The signature is a twisted scrawl, starting with a “Z”. They are very valuable, Madame always says, but she does not sell them.
, two samplersBoth the Gothic and the Cursive Alphabets lack the “E”.
Emily has repeatedly apologised for this, but nonetheless she has been banned from any further embroidering by Madame.
, and three needlework picturesFine works; Madame is acknowledged to have exceptional skill with the needle. They are for Emily’s dowry, Madame says: “The Sleepy Cat”; “Girls Playing”. “A Forest Encounter”.
Emily tries to be grateful, truly, but she finds the pictures disturbing. In her eyes, they are subtly subversive: the Cat, seemingly dozing in the sun, appears dead to her. And what is that… thing… the Girls are so merrily throwing?
The forest thing, hiding in the tree branches, comes to her in her dreams. It is not a pleasant Encounter.
on the wall. There were some photographsConrad and Julia Cuttner – straight-laced and narrow-toothed, just like Auntie Anne.
Richard and Robert Phillis-Smythe – specially scrubbed for this photo, no doubt, gleaming with gleeful guilt. In the background, Louis the Cat, petrified as per usual.
Gwynneth Smythe – perfect, polished and marketable. Madame simply adores this photograph.
There are no pictures of Emily, of course.
of what were obviously nephews and nieces and some good furniture – a Chippendale deskA grand old piece, taking more space than the drawing room affords it. It sits, fat, in it corner, glistening in stray sunlight, its surface clear except for that one, elegant volume. Madame’s diary.
Emily has read it a million times in her imagination. Her mind supplies staggering secrets, weaves clandestine narratives, reveals the truth of the lumpy sofa, the mysterious painter, the unwanted child.
She has never dared touch that desk.
, some little satin-wood tablesRefined, sophisticated, delicate.
Madame will probably leave them to Cousin Gwynneth one day.
– and a hideous and rather uncomfortable Victorian sofaIt is a summer evening, sixteen years ago. Madame is a young girl, perching on the edge of the lumpy, large sofa. Her soft eyes are locked into the gaze of a young man, handsome, carefree and in love. The house is silent in the setting sun, all potential bastions of propriety and responsibility miraculously drawn away on serendipitous errands. Two hands, one marked with paint, touch: hesitantly, then urgently. Fate, merciless and swift, ties two lives together; and creates a third.
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Posted in 2011-10-24 to 2011-11-13 - In The Details | 2 Comments

2 Responses to In The Details – Final

  1. andrew says:

    I really liked the way you got narrative – a proper story is revealed and the character of Emily come out of the story naturally and very sympathetically.

    It is all so horrible and proper – and sad. Like the way from the very first drawing room comment you lead to the sofa at the end (and beginning) of the story.

    ‘it’s surface clear except for that one elegant volume’ – is so cool and emotive.

  2. jo says:

    Thank you – when I wrote the first one (the drawing room) I was under the impression that we would all be collaborating on the keywords, so I quite carefully did not have a story in mind. Which came to bite when I realised I’d be doing the whole thing as a stand alone. Temptation was to make the fateful night a murder – glad it came out more unexpected than that.