LETTER TO ANDRE.
Albertine picks up the pen and turns it between fingers and thumb; senses the stiffness, smoothness, and hardness. It reminds her of Andre. She is going to write to him. She begins to scribble. The pen is dry. She dips it in the inkwell and begins again. He will not write back. He never does or on the rare occasion he writes just a few lines. She could count them on the fingers of her hand. She pauses. Sounds along the passage. Maybe Hargone. He is always snooping on the servant’s quarters. She listens. Footsteps passing. Gone. Hargone is a snoop. She knows he snoops, goes to Monsieur Douglas and says things about her. She writes again. She will tell him of her work. Being a maid. Not what she thought she would be doing but beggars can’t, as Mamma would say. Monsieur Douglas watches her like the hawk; his eyes follow her whenever he sees her. She knows the thoughts of men. Knows what they think. If eyes could undress. If thoughts could ravish. She scribbles words to Andre. The pen leaks; an inkblot forms. Messing up the paper. She screws it up and throws it across the room. Try again. She takes another sheet of paper and begins to scribble. Dear Andre…what next? Tell about the work. No, it will bore him. Talk of Monsieur Douglas and his eyes? No, he will become jealous and think I cause it. She bites her lower lip and thinks. Madam Douglas? What of her? He will not care. She dresses Madam Douglas; bathes her; brushes her hair. No, he will not be interested. He will write only a few lines in return. Write of his paintings; his shows. Not about me or the work here. She bites the end of the pen. The handwriting is small. Like spider’s shit, Andre says. She smiles. Lowers the pen to the paper and scribbles neatly. Dear Andre, I have to rise early…what would he know of early? He sleeps until noon. Late nights. Painting until dawn. Night is his lover. He embraces night as if it were his fondest love. She crosses her legs. She imagines Andre beside her looking over her shoulder, his breath touching her ear. How long since? Too long. She sighs. Mademoiselle Douglas talks to her kindly. Speaks French. Smiles frequently. Chatters about Paris. Andre would like her. Do not tell him of her. Your secret. Write of other matters. Hargone for instance. Yes, that will anger him. Andre would promise to come to England and cut the throat of Monsieur Hargone from ear to ear. Promises always. Things, gifts, letters. He is a great promiser, as Mamma says. Words are cheap; promises unkept are fraudulent cheques, Papa often said. She sighs. Poor Papa. So ill. The breathing difficult. Cannot speak too long. Mamma writes in her neat pen. Writes of home, of Paris, of Papa and when will I come home again. Albertine bites the end of the pen. Puts her tongue over it. Sucks. If only Andre were here. Her bed is lonely without him. The attic is cold. The bed is noisy. Hargone knocked on the door one night and when she opened it he stood there trying to peer into the room. Who is there with you? He asked. No one. Who would be here? She had replied. I heard voices, the fool said. Come and see, no one here, she said to him pushing open the door so he could see. What voices did I hear? He asked. Inside your head, she had said to him and closed the door. He wanted other things. Thought her a foreign fool. Easy prey. One of the English maids left because she was with child she heard amongst the other servants. Who was the father? Monsieur Douglas? Monsieur Hargone? No one knew. Or would not say. She writes again. Dear Andre, I rise early and light the fires in the rooms to be used and prepare the table for breakfast and go to the cook and wait until she tells me what to take and to whom…the pen leaks. An ink stain on whom. She screws up the paper and throws it across the room. She puts the pen down. Scratches her thigh. Itches. Feels the skin. Andre would touch her thigh. Rub gently. His skin on hers. Warm. She sighs. If only he was here now. With wine. The bed is not good. The room is cold. He would warm. Kisses. Embraces. His arms about the waist. The lips on the ear. On the cheek. Albertine rises from the chair and sits on the bed. She will write tomorrow. Andre must wait. She listens. Footsteps outside. Is it Hargone? A slight tap tap on the door. Who is it? She asks. Lucy, the voice whispers. Mademoiselle Douglas. Albertine goes to the door and opens it. The daughter of the house stands there in her nightgown. She smiles. Her eyes sparkle. She speaks in French. Albertine nods and allows her to enter and closes the door. Promise kept. Andre can go to hell. The great promiser of fraudulent cheques. The candle is blown out; the room is swallowed in darkness; the bed eases out the sound of springs moving; the soft whispering voices exchanging promises and the letter to Andre must wait for another day, for the tomorrow that never comes, as Papa would say.