Fun fact: I created this blog years ago when applying for a writing internship with the idea of using it to post my short stories. I forgot about it for a few years, and eventually came back to it and began making fashion and art posts.
Although I write very frequently, my stories are a bit more personal to me than my artwork or my outfits (perhaps because both of those are visual.) Either way, I’ve decided to post more of my stories and fiction work on this blog. After all, I’ll never improve if i never let anyone read my writing. If you follow me for my fashion posts: not to worry, there will still be plenty of those.
This story is actually something I began in college. I came back to it recently, and felt inspired to revise and finish it.
Hope you like it!
“Catharine the Poised”
by Paula Gallagher
Her exceedingly calm temperament in the face of chaos had been praised by most of the other ladies at Versailles. “Catharine the poised”, some of them would call her as she stared out the window waiting, wishing for the thunder to sound while other woman sat huddled in their beds. Her disposition had given her trouble as well; like when she was a young girl and her mother had died after a long sickness that only she had been able to recognize, but her reaction to the entire thing had caused the court to become suspicious enough to question her.
And as she sat in court once again, her back perfectly straight, her hands delicately folded into her lap, and her gaze set directly in front of her, she knew she was at that stage once again in which her nature would benefit her. Some of the less refined ladies would glance around, wide eyed with confusion, but she knew how she would appear if she did so.
To her left, came a raspy breathing that she had stopped trying to ignore years ago. That had been when she still tried to pretend. As a small child would have looked at a hallowed out tree and seen a castle, she had looked at her husband and seen a man. But the façade had ended now, because her eyes were too old to try any longer. And even though she couldn’t name a single occasion in which he had wronged her, she despised him and his loud breathing most of all.
The entire room was somewhat bleak. The walls were a dull red stone, and two blue flags, so faded the almost looked grey, and hung opposite each other. Each had a single white centaur, clutching a bow and arrow.
The clothing was bleak, including her own, which consisted of a cream colored corset, over a pure white blouse and a deep green skirt. Her favorite color was red, but seeing as it was the color of commoners and harlots, she wouldn’t dream of wearing it in public, especially to the court. But she owned a single red ribbon, and she wore it tied around her waist, underneath her corset to remind herself that sometimes, she could have things she wanted.
But these occasions were few and far between, and they seemed to dwindle as she grew older. The last she could remember was a week and a half ago, the first of December, and the first day it snowed that year. Her husband’s stallions-he only ever used stallions when hunting, never mares-had been shut away inside the stables, a short building, the color of rust red, and lacking the grandeur most of their household bared proudly. He had never been one to put much thought into animals, even the ones he was supposedly fonder of than the livestock.
That day, no one had been paying attention to her. Her husband was by the fire in the study, a book on his lap though she doubted he actually read any of it. The maids were in the kitchen, and the gardener had been sent to his quarters. Feeling the odd unsettling knowledge that no one’s watch was on her for the first time in possibly months as she settled by the window, needlepoint in hand, she got the sudden urge to do something. She wasn’t sure what, just something, for the reason that when it all came down to fact, she never did anything. And so she walked quietly to her room and put on a dress that she hadn’t worn since before she got married, and pulled over it a brown suede coat that she had bought for her husband long ago that he had never touched. And then on her feet she had laced a pair of riding boots that she had worn all of two times, both of these during which she had been sitting sidesaddle, her horse led by a man and her hands gripped on the main with more strength than she knew she had.
She slipped out of the house delicately and expertly, feeling that all her life had been training for this exact moment. All the etiquette, all the waiting, all the precise minimalistic, seemingly inconspicuous acts she had been taught had prepared her for one thing and one thing only: to be perfectly ignored.
As she stepped outside, the snow was falling in light small clumps, and the ground was littered with smooth whiteness enveloping every tree and bush in sight. Quickly, she made her way to the barn, unlatched the lock, and stepped inside, shutting the door swiftly but quietly behind her. Inside was warm from the body heat of their animals. It smelled like hay and manure, though she didn’t mind it as much because of the heat.
She reached into her pocket and produced a small green apple that she had taken from the pantry before exiting the house. She had only one, and because of this, she knew she had a verdict to make. One by one, faces with long snouts, big eyes and prominent ears leaned over their wooden doors and sniffed, reaching out as far as they could. She cast her gaze over each one, counting as she went along. Twenty-three. Her husband owned twenty-three horses. She was considering each one when she got to the third one on the left. It was black, but was beginning to grey at the base of its nose and traveling up towards its ears giving it a wise and ancient look that the others seemed to aspire to, but could not quite reach.
She held her hand out flat, offering the apple to it. Its nose sniffed up her arm first, the fuzz rubbing against her skin almost making her laugh until it finally put its mouth over the apple and took it in its teeth.
She thought for a moment that she had just made a friend. Maybe the truest, most untainted friendship she would ever have in her life. She would bring the horse apples and carrots and weeds, and whatever else it sought after and it would love her in a more real way than anything ever had before.
She learned the following day that her husband had the horse shot. “Not twelve years, and the old boy was already going blind in its right eye” She had overheard him saying to the groomsman, “Before next summer he would have lost his sight in his left one as well, and then what would I have done with him?”
And now, as she sat in her chair without a hint of her thoughts playing on the mask that was her expression, she almost startled as the same voice sounded from the seat next to her. Suddenly she was back in the bleak courtroom, seated in the same old wooden chair, and staring ahead of her at the tired but wily looking representative of the king.
“These instillations will directly influence our amount of income, has your King considered this in the least?” he said. His voice always reminded her of the sound of a rusted hinge creaking open. Something no one wanted to hear, but could not avoid to get to what they needed.
“Your King” the representative said, taking a step forward as he spoke, “Has considered you in his decision significantly more than he should have. He asks not for your coin but for a small percentage of your crop. Something you can manage.”
“Much of the fief is already promised to men. A percentage of our crop is already owed to our vassals. And on a land such as my own, there are far too many to spare even a bit of wheat.”
Catharine internally scoffed at this. She could smell the stench of rotting wheat from one of their storage sheds almost every day of the summer. And she saw the vassals staring enviously at their piles of crops as they grinded their share in their kitchen and went about the rest of their preparation to make the dark, hard bread that they lived almost completely on.
Her husband narrowed his already tiny eyes as he continued to make more statements about their “difficult lives” that were not true.
And when they finally returned home, and she had sat in their carriage pulled by horses that were not her friend, and passed a barn full of creatures she did not know, and walked into her own house full of servers that did not call her “Catharine the Poised” like the ladies she once knew had done, she went to her room and sat in front of her mirror.
Her face had once been beautiful, and although only four years had passed since she had been called this, she somehow couldn’t name a single similarity between herself then and now. No lines had begun to show on her skin because she never smiled and her hair never grayed because she never worried. And somehow it seemed that everything about her had been dulled. Sanded down until there were no more sharp points, only smooth rounded edges. And it was then that she thought about breaking the mirror. She could have picked it up and thrown it across the room so that it shattered into a million expensive little pieces glittering on the floor like diamonds.
This was in her power. This was plausible. But this was not what she would do. And somehow without reason, without mercy, guilt, fatigue, endearment, or any other aspect of humanity that she knew must reside somewhere within her, she knew one thing only to be true: her dissatisfaction, her anticlimactic life, her misery could all boil down to the results of the man she married; and without question, she knew he had to die.
Walking down the hallway of her manor was like listening to echoes of her younger self, rebounding things she had once said off the walls and into her ears. With every painting she passed she could see herself, directing someone to hang it at the exact angle she wanted, thinking that surely beautiful things made one’s life beautiful.
One in particular stood out to her. It was a painting of Le Lac Fin, a lake she had gone to with her sisters when she was young. It was small and hidden, an easy place for children to slip away to and make all the noise they possibly could without anyone knowing. There was a large rock protruding from the ground, and arching over the deep part of the water. Her younger sisters had jumped off of it, and into the water, screaming and laughing as the dark blue liquid swallowed their bodies as easily as a cat swallowed a mouse. But Catharine stood over the lake, looking down at the transition from the pale blue of the shores to the deep, almost violet part of the lake that her sisters were so fond of. She had been able to lean forward, and put one foot out while the other stayed stiffly on the rock, but she had never been able to go any further than that.
But now, now she knew if she were standing in front of that rock she would have leaped off of it with a running start. She would have welcomed the unknown, begged for it, because even what was only pretend had to be better than practicality.
As she walked down the hallway, her feet were bare and the floor was slick, recently cleaned. Since it was nearly midnight the furnace had been shut off, she was shivering. There was something her hand was gripped around, and it wasn’t until she looked down that she recognized the kitchen blade. The same one the cook used to slice up pork. No ridges, just smooth and sharp. So sharp that she could see a bit of redness trickling from her hand, and three single drops staining the white floor. Somehow, she felt no pain from it at all, a strange feeling she contemplated all the way to the bedroom, and for a few moments as she stared down at the pile of blankets and listened to the sound of shallow breathing beneath her.
In the darkness, it did not look human. Not a trace of blood, bones, sinew, muscle, or even skin, but just a clump of mystery with a heartbeat. All she could see of his face was a closed eyelid, half covered with hair, and the rest of him looked blue in the small bit of light that the moon cast. It was dark, like a shadow. So dark, that it too reminded her of violet.