I haven’t posted a new short story for a while, and that’s because I’ve been working on my novel. So, I thought I should share with you the first chapter. It may not be the best one, and it might eventually be changed a little bit, but I found it was the most suitable one to publish. Everybody, meet one of the main characters, Evelyn!
The window was open, but light draught barely entered the room. It was warm, even though the sun was approaching its descent under the horizon. Everything was quiet, except for the crickets, chirping somewhere in the distance. Evelyn was reading, cosy in the sofa on the side of the bed, enveloped by the long sleeves of her gown. A grey cat curled next to her feet and slept peacefully. She allowed the book pages to take her to distant worlds she could never know and to make her life interesting and full of surprises since, in reality, it was nothing like that. She connected with the characters easily, felt all of their emotions, lived through all of their adventures, worried when they faced adversities. Once she would start reading, it was hard for Evelyn to let go of her book and it hardly left her arms, but at the same time she hated reaching the final words and saying goodbye to what for a while felt like a real part of her life. That was why she liked to write. She wrote poems to bare her soul and stories to live through.
Not everyone could understand her unusual needs, and therefore nobody knew about them, except for her father. But he didn’t understand either. Evelyn’s mother did, while she was alive, before Evelyn was left alone with the strict manners of her father. Her mother knew what it meant not to be free.
The Baron of Ashire was not a bad man. He was just a man of his time. He frowned each time he saw Evelyn with a book, let alone an inked feather in her hands. He used to say that it would be better if she’d never learned to decipher the words from those accursed black symbols. Literacy was not on the list of his priorities. It angered him that Evelyn was not interested in the normal things. He felt embarrassed. In his own way, he wanted what was best for his daughter, which meant that he was determined to make her embody his clear vision of a proper lady. After all, that was what was expected of her – to fit in. The baron knew that society looked askance at deviations.
He was now mostly worried by her disregard of the very thought of marriage. Her youth would not last her much longer and her beauty would soon fade away. The baron was a respectable man, but he was not uncommonly wealthy. Evelyn’s beauty was what he put his hopes on. And now, to the baron’s great fortune, she was given an opportunity to shine and make something of herself. He would not allow anything to go wrong.
“Always with a book in your hands”, his deep voice was saturnine and strict, even though he wasn’t particularly disgruntled. He just wanted her to know how important today was.
“Father”, Evelyn raised from her sofa and instinctively adjusted her gown. Father wanted her to at all times look presentable.
She waited for the onslaught of remarks, but they remained unsaid, as if father thought he would make a better impression if he kept her in suspense. And maybe he wasn’t angry at all. When he wanted them to, his words were sharp glass debris, at times cutting her deeply, and sometimes just scraping her skin, but always hurting all the same. The silence suddenly became heavy and dense, and the droning noise made by crickets seemed much louder.
“You know you should be getting ready. We were invited to the royal ball! This is not some nonsense like your books! I even got you a dress”, the Baron of Ashire finally started with his deprecation.
“I’ll be ready father, there’s still enough time”, Evelyn said humbly, allowing her voice to take just a mildly brash note.
“Other girls would appreciate this honour…” mumbled the baron as he left his daughter’s room, showing thus his disappointment.
The room was now quiet again, and the chirping from the outside became unbearably loud, as if the crickets were sensing the approach of some kind of mysterious danger, and were now screaming their warnings in despair. Evelyn was gripped by a sense of unrest. She closed the window to muffle the horrible voices, with a swift but somewhat clumsy movement, as if she needed to defend herself. The window, however, could not save Evelyn from everything. She had to get ready for the ball if she didn’t want to suffer through another discussion with her father. His words always found a way to make her feel worthless, but it was a sentiment she was now used to. Inside of her, insurgency started to grow. Why can her father order her around whenever it pleases him? Why can’t she be the tailor of her own life? She hated posh balls and being surrounded by stately noblemen. At times, she was saddened by her deep loneliness, but she took comfort in the company of her cuddly cat, named Daisy. Father didn’t like the cat. He couldn’t understand the purpose of that creature in his home. Several times he tried to kick her out in the street, but Evelyn fought fiercely for Daisy to stay, until he finally gave up. What Evelyn didn’t realize was that her father’s attitude towards Daisy changed on the day her mother died. The baron knew he couldn’t comfort his daughter, but he tried at least not to hurt her even more. He never shared these thoughts with her.
Evelyn did not want to hurt her father either. She wondered whether she was the one who was wrong, the one with a problem. She could never fit the strict social frames, not even when she tried to, while everybody else did it with ease. When she thought about her life, she would always come to the conclusion that there was no reason for her to complain. She was born in a wealthy, respectable family which was the golden key that opened all doors. Many are less fortunate and have to make painful sacrifices only to survive. She was given all she needed, served on a silver platter. She resented being spoon-fed, but she couldn’t help it. Sometimes, she felt like she was being held under the water and slowly drowned, trying hard to fight for breath. It happened mostly when she was surrounded by a crowd of people. People never suited her and after some time and many acquaintances made, she knew it was no use trying. Yes, she certainly had a problem. And it wasn’t even caused by the fact that she was only ever surrounded by the nobility. She fit nowhere, as she found out on a walk with her parents which went all wrong.
Little Evelyn sometimes got so enthralled by the images which appeared in her head that she would forget to pay attention to the surrounding reality. It took her a long time to learn to keep her lack of attention under control. She would get involved in a flurry of strange thought, creating in her head a world of her own, filled with somewhat silly characters. They knew her secret desires and were always willing to talk about the book she was reading. Sometimes she told them she wanted to change the ending. Evelyn always found the endings particularly interesting since she never knew how to finish her own stories. She didn’t want to destroy the lives of the characters she’d created and loved dearly. Even the bad ones had a story to tell. But at the same time, she never liked when serious books ended like children’s tales. Evelyn felt like there are no truly happy endings in life. Even after the last page, life goes on. No one speaks of what comes next. What happens to the princess after she marries her prince? The rest of their lives won’t necessarily be happy. After all, the real end of everybody’s story is death, and death is such a horrible thing to write about. In the end, Evelyn’s stories were always left unfinished.
Since she was a child, Evelyn feared the future. For her, however, the future was not something unpredictable. She knew exactly what was expected of her, which seemed to her more horrible than vagueness. Her life would not be like one from a book. She would have to marry whomever her father found as an appropriate suitor. She would bear his children. He would not appreciate her unusual nature or her books. Her cat would die and he would not allow a new one. She would be lost in bleak monotony. Evelyn was aware that she could not avoid this future easily, but she was determined to hold tight to any possible straw of escape and do her best to at least postpone the inevitable.
Lost in such, or similar thoughts, young Evelyn lost her parents during the famous walk – or they lost her. She started to look around in panic, searching, but she couldn’t see them. Terrified, Evelyn looked at every face which passed her. Grey, bleak expressions made her even more scared. And then, there were the falsely smiling ones which resembled theatre masks. These were even more frightening.
Evelyn walked in an undetermined direction, just to keep moving and to create an illusion of getting towards someone or something that could help her. From the corner of her eye she noticed a pair of children. She wouldn’t normally turn to face them, but she was intrigued by their gleeful shouting. The girl was probably around Evelyn’s age, wearing a dingy brown dress which reached the ground in frowsy drapes. Her hair was down, disorderly but free. The boy was a bit younger than the girl, and even more covered in dust. They didn’t mind playing in the dirty street, trampled by countless shoes. They didn’t worry about their clothes or the almost black fingernails. And as unpresentable as they were, Evelyn found them beautiful in their freedom and childish disregard.
The girl noticed Evelyn staring and directed her piercing gaze at Evelyn’s eyes. Evelyn looked down, as if she hoped it would make her invisible.
“What are you looking at?” shouted the girl at Evelyn.
“Nothing… I’m just… Looking for someone”, Evelyn found it hard to articulate the words.
“You can’t play with us”, the boy said. “You are one of those in nice dresses. You can’t get dirty. My mom says those like you don’t ever play.”
Evelyn had to admit the boy was right. It seemed as if he felt a bit sorry for her, and even the girl didn’t look hostile anymore.
“Do you even know how to play?” the girl asked.
Evelyn did not know how to respond. She was scared. Those children were so different from her. As much as she wanted to talk to them, the words got stuck in her throat and she couldn’t speak. She looked at them in awe. They were elusive deities and she was just a weak little girl. In the end, she did the only thing she could to save herself. She ran.
Soon afterwards, she met her mother’s caring arms. Evelyn was safe, but quite sad. She knew she would never be able be herself around other people. She was born into a world of nobility in which the social norms determined how you should behave and what you should think. Maybe that was why she was so scared of those children. Maybe the social rules she so disliked suited her after all. Evelyn was trapped between the two worlds, not belonging to any of them.
Evelyn could hear the crickets through the closed window glass. She sighed deeply and closed her book.