When are you getting married, you’re almost twenty three, my Great Aunt Mabel buzzes in my ear. I’d already had my fourth child by then, she says with a harrumph.
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 will have peace and quiet!” I murmur with conviction, but she acts like she doesn’t hear me, calling out her list of aggrievances, her voice like cracked dust.
I suppose you could say I deserved Aunt Mabel’s endless mutters 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 had 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, or eat boiled sweets, not anything, anything! It isn’t ladylike, she’d said. It isn’t the done thing. What choice did I have, then?
Her fault for leaving sharp implements so carelessly strewn about…
But I am now even more trapped, for she never ceases to judge and taunt and chortle and whine at all hours of the day or night. Like a fly trapped in a room smashing itself against a window, buzzing angrily in frustration.
“I will have peace and quiet!” I say under my breath, but Aunt Mabel only chuckles and carries right on.
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.
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! I must have peace and quiet.
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 one day 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! I cannot concentrate long enough to bake a cake or play the piano or write in my journal while they screech and heckle so!
Why haven’t they left?
They are both tied to me like millstones about my neck, dragging me down into the depths of their heated anger.
John Parker will have nothing m ore to do with me and my friends have all disappeared. The maids all left and the butler and coachman have not been seen for ages. And the doctor, who was so kindly before, has begun to treat me with cold indifference.
I’ve told them all, I’ve explained everything – these women are filling my mind with their inconsequential 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.
Why will no one believe I am being haunted? Why will no one help?
‘Get out of my head! Go away!’ I yell until my throat is raw and parched.
“I will have peace and quiet!” I cry out at the top of my voice.
But still they cluck and peck at each other, ripping my own sanity away in the process.
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 give me glass even 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 and quiet.