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The International Writers Magazine: Revolution - From our archives

The Fall of Me
Tessa Foley

did care for them. You learn to care for anyone you work with every sunlit hour God sends. I watched the children grow like weeds in Spring. I would be lying if I said it didn't touch my icy, red heart when they smiled or cried on my lap whilst their mother rustled away in all her finery. I cared for their mother too. She was so beautiful in her pale, haughty ignorance and she carried herself with such grace that you had to redefine the term "lady" when you first met her.

I know she never thought of me. She knew my name, at least, but she never looked at me. She asked me nothing about myself and really there was nothing to know. I belonged to the family and they were my life. Despite caring for them, I wish they had died alone and hadn't taken me with them. Chuffing towards a mercilessly unflickering dawn, belonging to each other and not carrying me along for the poorly met ride. I wish they had not been my life and I wish they had not been my death.

Now that I look back on it, I could happily blame Elizaveta for all of this. It was she who put in the good word for me with the family. She rambled on and gathered up my pulse in to beads of pure optimistic energy.
"Nyuta!" She pattered. "Nyuta, we will be able to work together! The greatest family you could possibly be in the service of! What did you go to school for? What did you train for if it wasn’t for this? This is a girl’s dream".
I listened, my head darting to follow her bounding words. She was right at the time, of course. I did want to be there and it was what I had dreamed of. Cushioned by opulence, I would be seen and envied all over the world. Of course, my father would be so disappointed if I had refused.

When I came, there were just two children. Two frillied girls who played like any others. They squabbled and I broke them apart and took their petulant abuse. It stung at first. So tempted was I to backhand them across their plushly draped rooms and smash their rocking horses and dolls houses to kindling and when I showed burning on my face, Elizaveta would hiss at me from her station.
"They’re children," She whispered once as we carried piss pots in mirrored hallways. "They needn’t show respect when they have titles. You and I, we’re here to show respect."
"To two rotten dressed up dolls?" I replied. I said this, but I was fond of the children. I knew the real reasons for their grizzles and snaggles. They had been given everything they wanted from birth.

It was a year before another one, another girl came along and time passed in clothes laid out on beds, tea served to the Mistress in her frothy pillows, the Master nodding curtly at me on the landing. And then, he came along. The little boy. The joy rang through the walls, the country and through my veins and it was then that I knew I was part of them. I felt their pride at this tiny child and I shared it as I would share their end.

It was clear from the off that the boy was sick and somehow that made me love him more. I saw in him something kindred. He was part of their family, but he was powerless too. He was bound by his physical limitations as I was bound by my station. Though he was treated with kid gloves and I was handled by callous fingers, we weakly, silently shared a bond from the first purple bruise that mooned on his tiny body.

Whilst physicians poured past me and the boy grew in tiny pieces, something was unraveling outside. I could say that the family were wrapped up in themselves, that the sickness of the boy distracted them from the external world. I don’t think, however that they ever knew much beyond their silver teasets and cherubic carvings.

In the January of the year after the son was born, I watched from a window as thousands of people, my people, my wintry people rivered through the streets and grew ever closer. Pictures of the master were visible high above heads and voices were elevated in cheery song. When you see a crowd like that, some dim part of you wishes that you could be part of it. The powdery cold did not seem to penetrate their unison and for one moment, I believed I stood among them, elbow crooked in to the next man’s arm, a part of something that I cared that I was there. Not just a fragment of something that didn’t even know my last name.

I would not know how it began. I just saw the blood in the snow. It shone. It shone in the Winter Sun. If I am honest, I knew that more blood would come and I knew that the family would suffer one day. I knew nothing of politics, but I saw the future in the pink footprints outside the city gates. It was the herald of something bloodier.

There was an unease that never went away after that. The walls dripped with paranoia and the children were quieter. They had been hidden from details, but children are more perceptive than the parents who put hands over young eyes and they knew something. Something was threatening them.

I lacked knowledge in politics, but I knew the basics. Obvious when you think about it. Obscene sights funneled down the ordinary man’s streets stamping starvation and misery on to the children. Parties happened where I lived and worked. It doesn’t take the leader of a country to know that something must be given back. Something must crack. Something must bleed.

Oh yes, the laughter was quieter, but the gay life still danced on. It was years before the laughter stopped entirely. I busied myself with eyeing Charles, the tutor of the young children. I looked at him every time there seemed to be that crackle in the air and he seemed so Englishly calm that I could not bring myself to panic. He was polite to me, he noticed me and he spoke to me. I would sing his name when I sat in my little room. I passed so much time this way. I should have been paying attention to what the master was involved in, what my country was involved in, what my beloved people were involved in, but by the time I tore my face from the English dash, the war had started and was roaring out of control.
I had forgotten what it was like to be really cold, but I remembered when I heard that boys I had gone to school with had frozen to death in their boots. I remembered optimistic smiles that would now be grimaces of hunger. The master was out there too somewhere. I remember him leaving, pride barely stretched over a cataclysmic fear on his face. I was convinced he would die out there too. It never happened. Something worse happened.

The master was out of range, doing his misguided duty. He couldn’t have stopped what was happening. My people, those of whom I was born and nourished turned and refused.
I knew something so bad was coming that I spoke to Charles.
"What are they going to do to us?" I mewed at him, hoping he would collapse in love with at the distressed female act. I was scared, but not as scared as I pretended to be. He merely looked at me and smiled, reassuringly and so, so English.

I went with them, but Charles stayed. I stared at him in awe as we left. How brave was the man I had spent name-singing for years. I went with them. What else was there to do? It had been so long. I knew nowhere else to run to. Leaving the building that had been my home for so long was as much of a blade to me as it was to them. There were tears. Tears, not blood.

The Governor’s Mansion was comfortable, but not as comfortable. I sulked inside my head for some time, whilst smiling at the children and comforting their poor little hands. The boy still looked to me with his big, drowning eyes and he still commanded most of my love. I wished that we could run away together, that I could be his new mother and that whatever lay in store would never affect us. We would live together with a new name and maybe Charles would join us and play the father. Passing time in these daydreams and reassuring the mistress as she wring her suddenly weathered hands, I was surprised when the mood took a black turn.

They took me! I didn’t understand it. What did I matter. What could I say at the time? I couldn’t yell that I was nothing to do with this family, not in front of them, especially not in front of the boy. They took me with the family in rough grips and hurried barks. They took me to that house in that place. That horrible, cold, withering house.

It was the middle of the night, that was the ultimate indignity for me. They pulled us out of bed and they lied to the children. They gave them the idea that they should smile for posterity, when really they would closing their eyes. The lady had given me a pillow, a heavy pillow. I knew that their only wealth lay amongst feathers and I held it tightly. I knew that something was about to turn straight over and that to help me win favour after it had all happened, I could use the pillow. I could show these militants what I had to bargain with.

I didn’t know it would happen to me. When they began to fire, I held the pillow in front of me. The boy, my boy was next to his mother. I should have been next to him. There were so many shots. So many shatters. I moved again and again and they hadn’t hit me. I shrieked as one body after another hit the floor, but my heart leapt when the last one fell and I still stood.

They looked at me. Men in big stern coats. I looked back at them and when I saw one coming toward me with a blade, I started to run. I even started to laugh. I held out my hands to them.
"Look!" I yelled as one and then another advanced upon me. "Look at my hands. See my hands. I’m one of you." I showed them years of servitude as they came closer. I even met eyes with one and he seemed to falter.
He hadn’t faltered, he had jabbed. At me. I was cold stabbed in a roomful of death. He came at me again and again with the same weapon.

I didn’t want to die. I had no business being there. When I fell, I saw the boy and his weakness. My weakness was there too. It didn’t hurt. It just felt like weakness.

© Tessa Foley Jan 20th 2008

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