A New Life
The red leaves of autumn fell around her as she sauntered the wooded trail that led home. Nothing had gone right that day, from hemming Mrs. Clancy’s gown the wrong way, to her mother yelling at her for not bringing enough income from her work. She kicked a tree branch and gritted her teeth, sighing through her breath. Why had she agreed to become a seamstress for the richest woman in Manhasset? Ruby tilted her head upwards and frowned as she looked at the clear twilight sky; purple and dark cerulean ribbons intertwined with each other, as if dancing their final waltz before moonlight. What was life in the sky like? Was it free unlike here in Manhasset? And even life in Manhattan, was that free too? With its sprawling buildings growing exponentially by the second. What kind of life would she live in the big city? All she needed was the confidence to tell her mother about her wildest, most ridiculous dream of life on the island.
In truth, there was no way that Ruby could have done something like that. After all, her mother had four other mouths to feed in their little cabin, enough for nearly two people. The mere thought of home caused her to drag her feet along the trail again. She never wanted to leave it, but she had to. Her siblings needed her. It was feeding time soon.
The cabin was unsightly to the eyes, but to Ruby, it was all that she had ever known. After her Pa’s death, there was nothing that they could do but remain in that tiny place forever.
The tantalizing aroma of roasting beef from Mr. Carson’s most recent hunt filled the entire cabin as Ruby made her way inside it. The candle on the dresser of their small foyer had already been lit, exuding a pale mustard-yellow glow around the daguerreotype of her father. Every time she would gaze at his portrait and see his eyes gazing intensely into her soul, she knew that her father was simply egging her on for a better life than Manhasset. He had always wanted the best for her. She smiled, blowing a kiss at him, saying a silent word of thanks. She knew now what she had to do.
And as they sat at the dinner table, her little siblings stuffing their faces with beef and potatoes, Ruby cleared her throat and looked directly at her mother. It was time. It was time to let go of this life.
“Ma.” Ruby’s voice floated through the silence. “I have something I want to say.” She straightened, making herself look more refined and mature, like her mother.
“And what is that, child? We don’t have all evening.” She drank from her tin.
“I’m leaving in a fortnight.”
Her mother’s eyes widened. “Leaving, for where?”
She blinked. “I’m making a new life for myself in Manhattan.”
Her mother grinned widely. “It’s about time, child. I’ve been waiting for these words for ages!”
We never expected it to be like this. On the day of Edgar's death, when they came to our doorstep and gave us the news, the sun rays were shining like diamonds in Frank's den. The sky outside was a brilliant blue and Charlotte prayed a quiet, tender Hail Mary as tears, like a river, fell down her rosy cheeks. The birds were chirping in that cliché laissez-faire fashion that sometimes would drive us nuts when we were trying to sleep.
But Edgar always liked the sound of the little ones chirping in their nest. When he was a boy, he would press his nose against the window and stare at the nest from one of the bigger shrubs outside the window of our receiving room. When we heard the news of his death, our hearts shattered like the vase that fell, turning into a million shards on the floor of our den. The house was silent without him. The sky, though painted such a beautiful cerulean, was nothing without him. Without his presence in our lives.
Frank, always being a man of resolute character, did not show a shred of emotion that day. We always joked about it, That one day, when he would marry, that he would not even show a single hint of joy for the woman that was to be his. Even Edgar joked about it too from time to time. But God, the pain of thinking of Edgar and all of the jokes he used to make, from the jokes of weather to the joke about the old man who lived down the street from us in his little shack. It was so much to bear.
We always thought that Edgar would be the one to outlive us all, with his vigor for life and his never give up attitude. But we supposed that, in the end, it was his fiery passion for his country that led him to his death. Charlotte said that it was all for good in the end, that his death a war hero, meant that we would get a medal of honor for his death. That his death was not for absolutely nothing.
We walked down the path that led to the grotto, the one that mama and papa discovered when they first built on the estate. We could feel his presence there strongly, as if he were walking down the natural trail with us, taking in the smell of growing jasmine. Of petrichor just as soon as the rain began to fall. We had tears in our eyes as we slowly made our pilgrimage to the grotto, hoping beyond hope that we would find Edgar there, greeting us with that excitement in his eyes. The passion that could not be contained.
As my mum and I walked near Hyde Park on an icy Saturday in December, I thought of the moments Henry and I shared together. The time when the both of us vacationed in Paris. The golden-yellow aroma of baking bread in that bakery that was mere walking distance from our hotel room.
I thought of the time when we stood at Westminster Bridge, the white sound of Big Ben resonating around us. He glanced over at me and his cerulean smile glanced past me, perhaps into some vermillion unknown that I could never be able to tap into. He was so close yet so distant. He drew forth a sigh and looked down at the River Thames, saying absolutely nothing but also saying everything. I knew it then like I knew my own name. Our time together was coming to an end. There would be no more late-night purple jam sessions with whiskey and the Beatles playing Eleanor Rigby until three in the morning. Those days were over. As I reached for his hand, he drew it away as if my alien hand was too green and ugly for him.
Until the moment I saw him walking about of Harrod’s with a new beautiful girl on his arm, I had not seen him in a year. Mum told me not to talk to him, or even to look in his direction. The girl was pregnant. Hot, stinging blue tears pricked at my eyes. He was adamant about not having children, and every month, I had bought a cheap pregnancy test from the chemist down the road, hoping beyond belief that it would read a positive, just so that I could hold onto him a little tighter. But there he was, with that girl. He seemed happy, I supposed.
I regretted the decision to make a bit of eye contact with him because he saw me and began walking up to me. I felt my mother’s quick tugs, the white, agitated whisper in her voice. Pulling me away, my body fought by keeping my feet planted to the ground. He was coming closer. The girl was no longer attached to his arm. Perhaps he was coming to see me? My heart could not take it anymore. I walked up to where he was standing, but then noticed that he was preoccupied with the pretty girl. After putting the bags of probable Christmas gifts on the floor of the car, he gave her a passionate kiss goodbye. He did it in public–something that he never did with me. He always rushed me into the cab, like I was a burden to him. And perhaps I was.
As he stepped into the cab with his wife, I watched as it drove away. I saw them both in the window, huddled close together as the blue snow began to fall.