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The Anniversary

Updated: Mar 13, 2021



Morning


This was supposed to be the happiest day of their lives. “Not just an event, but a beginning,” said the elegant priest. The cavernous church was packed. The smell of the lilies and roses wafted among the crowd, mingling with incense. Light shone through a pane of stained glass that ran from the floor to the ceiling; ancient dust floated sleepily in the sunbeam; eyes were brimming with happy tears; an organ played the mass parts while a small choir sang.


But Delia hardly heard the words or noticed the tears. She was in a different realm with Thomas; floating just above the floor, bodies and souls bound together by thread. Their hands were clasped and the space between their shoulders felt full, like even what separated their bodies had mass and weight. The guests and goings-on registered as no more than a delightful buzzing in her ears.


Thomas’ black hair fell softly over his eyebrows and his playful, honey eyes locked onto Delia as they exchanged rings. She heard muffled laughter as she absentmindedly lifted her hand to gently sweep his hair to the side; such an intimate gesture to do in front of all of these people, but she kept forgetting they weren’t alone. The music blared and cheers broke out as they kissed.


“Miss Delia? Are you ready for your tea Miss Delia?”


Delia was ripped away at the sound, and she suddenly felt her face against the glass pane of the French doors leading to her balcony. Delia turned to see the diminutive Anne, a quiet servant girl her sister hired from the nearby town a few months before. Delia appraised Anne’s thick stockings and high collar. She wondered why her sister insisted the servants dress like this, surely it was no longer in style? Anne was like the rest of the servant girls; from a large family, just trying to help her family until some boy married her, or she left to go work in the city.


“Miss Delia, are you alright?” Anne asked, trying to hide a confused frown forming in the corners of her mouth.


Delia realized she must seem very peculiar, still in her night clothes, face lined from where the muntin bars on the glass pressed into her face. Before she could answer, her sister marched into the room. “Delia pet, let’s get dressed now.” Delia could not remember when Cora started speaking to her like that, like she was a child or a simpleton. Something in her wanted to protest this tone, wanted to rail against her sister’s patronizing imperiousness, but instead she managed a weak, “yes, let’s do.”


Anne busied herself in the wardrobe while Cora brushed Delia’s hair herself. Delia noticed Cora’s hands, bony and starting to shrivel. It was how she remembered her mother’s hands toward the end, but surely it could not be so? If Cora was aging, then Delia must be too. Delia couldn’t remember the last time she saw her own reflection.


As Anne finished lacing Delia’s slippers, Cora took Delia by the forearm and led her to the sitting room where another servant brought out tea and small sandwiches.


Cora sipped her tea and said, “It is good weather for a walk on the grounds today, Delia. Do you want me to call Martin to escort you?”


Delia looked outside. The sun was shining over the gardens. It was spring and every tree was starting to burst with signs of life; flecks of white and purple and green poking from buds and shoots among the bushes and trees.


“Yes,” Delia replied. “Today is a good day for the grounds.”


Afternoon


Martin took Delia’s forearm just as Cora had done and led her to the gardens. Delia wondered why everyone insisted on helping her walk, but the thought was not strong enough for her to decide to challenge the arrangement. Martin guided her along her favorite paths. She could hear the brook babbling just beyond the hedges; the playful sound of the water lapping on the rocks; a rhythmic slapping that resolved into a low hum as the brook drained into a pond at the back of the property.


The string quartet in the ballroom finished a piece as Delia and Thomas entered the center of the room and began waltzing. Her feet barely touched the floor as Thomas moved her with strength and grace. Her twirling skirts felt like wings, like the air moving beneath them was lifting both of them up so they could dance up among the cherubs carved into the friezes.


With each turn of the waltz, her chest pressed against his and a burst of heat at once unbearably intense and profoundly calming washed over her. Thomas was smiling at her; the sun coming through the windows at the top of the ballroom revealing hints of deep red in his black hair. Delia’s heart caught in her throat at the thought of the two of them, finally alone that night. Delia did not know how long they were dancing but she realized at some point others had joined the floor, her skirts were mingling with those of other women who were also flying along the dance floor.


“Miss Delia, please, ma’am. Ma’am, please come this way, back along the path.” Martin was pleading, trying to hide growing panic.


Delia looked down and saw the brook washing over her shoes and the hem of her skirt moving softly among the current. Martin was standing on the embankment, twisting his hat in his hands, sweat forming on his brow.


He pleaded again, “this way, ma’am. Back this way, ma’am, please. It’s not safe, ma’am.”


After a pause, Delia clambered over the rocks and back to Martin. He desperately clasped her hand and helped her up the embankment and he escorted her back toward the house at a mangled pace somewhere between a run and a trot.


As they approached the house, Cora and Anne were rushing toward them.


“What happened?” Cora demanded. “I lost sight of you and heard yelling.”


Martin was nearly overcome and managed to sputter, “Got away ma’am. Into the brook. Just standing there, swaying.”


Cora was furious, “how did she get away? What were you doing? You are supposed to keep your eyes on her!”


Anne’s eyes were orbs of fear. Martin simply hung his head in shame and exasperation. Delia knew she should speak up and say something. She had wandered off, hadn’t she? It wasn’t Martin’s fault. She couldn’t remember going to the brook, but that was happening more and more. There were gaps in the day she couldn’t remember. She would look up from where she was sitting and realize she was eating with Cora or that she was in mass on a Sunday.


Cora looked coldly up at Martin. “We’ll speak later,” she said. “Come, Delia. You must change.”


Delia looked at Martin as she walked toward the house and saw that he was stricken with grief and fear.


Back in her rooms, Anne started a fire in Delia’s fireplace and started laying out new clothes to replace the wet ones Delia was wearing.


“You scared us, miss. We didn’t know what was happening, miss. Please don’t scare us like that,” Anne said fretfully, as she helped Delia into her skirts.


Delia knew that Anne would never deign to reprimand Cora, but somehow this was how everyone treated her these days, like she could break or explode at a moment’s notice.


Evening


Sunset over the grounds and Delia joined Cora and her nephew, Teddy, who had just arrived from the city. The gleaming polished maple dining table was lined with candles.


Teddy chattered happily with his mother, telling her about the people he met and the discussions he had at his club; the war finally won and the markets open; exciting business opportunities in Europe. Some of the names Delia recognized from what seemed like a lifetime ago, the Chestertons, the Miltons, the Van der Weydens.


“How old are you now, Teddy,” Delia asked. The question clearly shocked both Cora and Teddy, as both fell silent and stared at Delia, mouths agape. Or was the shock that she said anything at all?


“I’m five and twenty next October, aunt Delia.” He smiled, slightly bemused, and seemed to wait for Delia to say something next.


“Will you be marrying soon, then?” Delia asked.


Teddy laughed and replied, “would you have me married off so soon, aunt? Perhaps in a few years.”


Cora looked at her son playfully and said, “surely not too many more years. Right, Teddy?”


Teddy said, “how many more years would be acceptable to you mother? Or you, aunt Delia?”


Delia had no reply. She wasn’t really sure why she asked the question in the first place. After the silence lingered for a few moments, Teddy and Cora went back to chatting, but Delia noticed that now Cora was occasionally stealing glances at her, as though trying to keep her eye on her.


After dinner, the three of them retired to the sitting room in front of the fire. The flames were dancing on the walls, making terrible phantoms out of the shadows.


Thomas came into the room. She was sitting on a divan in the corner waiting for him. Her heart was pounding so hard she could barely breathe and she could feel her cheeks burning with anticipation.


In the weeks leading up to the wedding she thought the desire might kill her. Every moment they could steal away from prying eyes, he would move his hands over every inch of her that he could manage to touch. She would grasp what she could and he would gasp with pleasure until, inevitably, someone would call her name and they were forced to emerge, one slightly after the other, to answer the call.


But tonight they would not be interrupted. Thomas was silent as crossed the room to her, seemingly in one stride. He stood in front of her, lifted a lock of golden blonde hair, and deftly twirled it in his fingers. She turned her face into his hand and kissed it, breathing in deeply.


He gently pulled her up so that she was standing at full height and kissed her so deeply she wondered if she would emerge from the other side of him. She pulled her gown over her head, standing before him as he had never seen her. He stepped back to drink her in and seemed ready to weep from the sight of her and the weight of his longing.


Thomas grabbed her by the waist and pulled her on to him and they moved as one, dancing more fluidly than they ever had. The rhythm beat on as she quivered and whimpered from the pleasure and he finished with a roar forceful enough to wake the dead.


“Auntie Delia! Auntie, please move from the fire,” Delia heard Teddy say.


She looked up and saw she was standing so close to the fire it could easily catch her clothes. Cora called frantically for Anne, who pulled Delia toward her rooms.


“It’s time for bed now, miss. This way, miss.”


Night


In the room, Anne helped Delia into her sleeping gown and into the old bed, which had once belonged to Delia’s parents.


“Anne,” Delia asked, “What day is it?”


Just like Cora and Teddy, Anne seemed surprised that Delia spoke to her.


“The 18th of April ma’am,” Anne replied.


The date felt significant, but Delia could not place it. When Anne left, Delia opened the drawer next to her bed, pulling out a rosary that she said half-heartedly, Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee.


Giving up on the rosary, Delia rifled through the drawer more deeply, looking for something, she wasn't sure what. Her fingers brushed against something smooth; wresting a thick, leather-bound diary from the back of the drawer. Delia could not remember the last time she wrote in a diary, or if this was even her diary, but she rifled through the pages anyway. It looked like her writing, but she might have been reading a fantasy for all she remembered of the contents; dinners, parties, appointments, none of which she recognized.


She opened the back cover of the diary and a card made of luscious, thick cream paper fell onto her lap. She lifted it up to the dim lamp by her bed. “Mr. and Mrs. Henry Fitz… request the honor… of their daughter… Thomas… 18 April 1894.”


Thomas sent for food and they lay on the floor in front of the hearth, playfully and absentmindedly feeding one another. A flush came over Thomas again, and Delia was prepared to take him once more. She moved in to kiss him, but after a moment, she realized his flush turned splotchy and was emerging in splattered pools across his stomach, chest face. The playful light in Thomas’ eyes was replaced with something else, panic.


Now he was grasping at his throat, Delia was calling out for help, but the wait seemed interminable, as Thomas started gasping and wheezing. Finally, people rushed into the room, Delia could not tell who, but Thomas was convulsing now. A servant was trying to wrench Thomas’ jaw open. There was so much screaming. Thomas was blue now. It took so long, so much longer than Delia could have imagined, but eventually he went still. His eyes wide open, with the twist of fear carved into his last expression.


Cora and Anne whispered quietly in the sitting room about Delia. Getting worse, can’t contain, even stranger today.


“She asked me a question today ma’am, out of the blue like, about the date. Wanted to know the day” Anne said.


Cora looked up sharply, “the date?”


“Yes,” Anne replied, “the date. I don’t think she’s asked me a question like that, ma’am, in months.”


“She asked Teddy a question too, at dinner,” Cora responded hesitantly. Then realization dawned, and Cora was running through the house at full speed, calling Delia’s name.


Thomas woke her with a gentle caress of the cheek. Delia turned over, smiling at him.


“You came back,” she said, running her fingers through his hair. “Will you stay?”


Thomas said nothing, but kissed her deeply.


“I missed you so much, you were gone for so long,” Delia said, almost crying, but Thomas still did not answer. Instead he gently brushed her hair and face.


He pulled Delia out of the bed and they began to dance, a waltz again. She was floating once more, weaving a thread through the air with him. The French doors flung open and they danced under a gleaming moon on the balcony, flying higher and higher. But she could feel him starting to pull from her, away into the sky.


“No,” she cried. “Please, stay! Please, don’t leave!”


But Thomas was floating up further into the night and Delia was desperately trying to pull him back.


“Please, Thomas, stay,” she begged.


Cora was screaming for Delia as she ran toward her rooms, with Anne, Teddy and other servants following on her heels. The corridor seemed to triple in size as they ran to the end where Delia’s rooms were.


When he was just out of Delia’s reach, Thomas held his hand out and said, “come with me.”


Delia’s eyes welled with tears at finally hearing the sound of his voice. She reached out to him and took one more step into the air toward him.


“Delia, no!” Cora screamed, as she burst into the room.


She saw Delia teetering on the rail of the balcony, her grey blond hair lifted by the wind and illuminated by the moon into a mad corona.


Delia turned over her shoulder to see her sister screaming, Cora’s arms outstretched. And at the last moment, comprehension washed over her.


By then it was too late.



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