Another installment of my creative writing project for the semester. This one is from Jane Eyre, and it’s a longer-form short story. It’s 22 pages in a Word document, so I’m going to break it up into parts. Also, it’s not G-rated. It’s not R-rated, either, but this is just a heads-up that you will encounter some parts that, while artfully handled, are more mature than in my flash fictions.
Part One: The Whirlwind
I am certain that my parents stopped loving me around the time that I turned fifteen. They would never tell me that to my face, but I could see it in the way my father looked at me whenever I left the house with my ankles bared, and I could hear it in my mother’s silence the many times I returned home far too late. I suppose they didn’t quite know what to do with me. The days of punishment by the switch had long since passed (though I imagine if it would not be extremely frowned upon, they would gladly have exercised that method), and because society had never considered that young women of my age could possibly have become anything other than well mannered ladies, it had never dictated rules for how parents ought to check misbehavior. The rules of society were my parents’ religion. They worshiped at the altar of class and conformity, and their rosary was the polite, witty chitchat that had lately come into fashion. If society ordered that they hold a lavish ball to announce their daughter’s coming out, they would do so. If society did not tell them how to discipline that same daughter, they would not.
My mother had always seemed to be convinced that once I came out, I would be instantly transformed from a reckless creature into a paragon of grace and feminine virtue. “You’ll understand when you’re a lady,” she always told me, “the joys of coquetry and of pleasant conversation. You’ll feel what it is to be beautiful, and then you’ll understand.” She spent months trying her utmost to prepare me for that night. She tamed my hair (a battle in and of itself), forced me to confine myself beneath layers upon layers of undergarments and to struggle to breathe within a corset’s iron hold, made me sit in a chair for an hour with a tumbler of water upon my head so that I would learn proper posture and how to hold still, and subjected me to all manner of other tortures deemed to be ladylike. Every day she would tell me how lovely I was becoming, but I could see in her eyes that she was terrified that I would shame our family on the night that I was expected to prove the excellence of my parents’ upbringing.
I performed splendidly. My hair was arranged into a perfect coiffure, I wore the stiff bodice and voluminous skirt of my russet satin gown as finely as any mannequin, I did not step on the toes of my dance partners. Everyone complimented my mother and father on what an elegant young lady they had turned out. My parents were so preoccupied with glorying in the lavish praise that they did not even notice when I slipped away.
I felt unbearably stifled, and I was not sure whether that was more the fault of the dress or of the company I had been in, with the flattery they were obliged to give and their affected smiles and pretentious talk. I walked through the darkness as quickly as my piles of finery would allow, neither knowing nor caring where I was going. My feet protested against the dainty heels in which they had been trapped all night. My mother had spent a fortune on those shoes, but I did not think of that even for a moment as I removed them and hurled them into the undergrowth lining the road, followed by my silk stockings and gloves. I kept walking, more quickly now, tearing the pins from my hair. I was becoming overwhelmed with a desire to be free that was more powerful than anything I had ever experienced before. After my hair was liberated again, I began to fumble with the lacing in the back of the dress, my desperation almost feverish now. It only took a moment to realize that unlacing the dress myself was an impossibility. I hesitated for a moment. Only a moment. And then took a firm hold of the skirt and tore the seams that attached it to the bodice. The skirt detached, I let it fall, along with the three petticoats that had given the skirt its fullness. The bodice was next, ripped in two by a single strong tug, and then the corset. Oh, how horrified Mother and Father would have been to see their daughter, who had earlier that same night they had presented as a holy sacrifice to their goddess, standing on the side of the road clad only in a chemise and bloomers. In that moment, however, I not only did not care what my parents would think, but the thought of how scandalized they would be filled me with a peculiar sort of delight. It was then that I knew that my first ball would also have been my last.
Intoxicated by the thrill of utter freedom, I walked more quickly now, barely aware of my surroundings.
“Oy there, lovey!” The voice penetrated my exultant delirium, and I realized I stood in front of the tavern. Disoriented, I could do little but blink at the slovenly man leaning over the railing of the tavern’s porch, mug in hand. Seeming amused at my silence, he asked, “What’s a pretty creature like you doing dressed like that out here at this hour?”
“I am…” I stumbled for the right answer. “I’m escaping.”
The man chuckled. “Escaping, eh? How far away?”
I shrugged as I approached the stairs. “As far as I can, I suppose.” I wasn’t sure why I was drawn to this man. I knew I ought to have been frightened, or at least ashamed of being seen by a man while so inappropriately dressed, but I felt nothing resembling fear or shame. It would be too much to say that I trusted him, but somehow I knew that he could offer me something I wanted, though I couldn’t identify what that something might be or why I wanted it or why I knew he could fulfill that want.
I had climbed the stairs now, fully aware that his gaze was inspecting me up and down, inch by inch. I found his scrutiny far more exhilarating than the deluge of accolades I had withstood while festooned in my frills and lace.
“You are a sight, to be sure,” the man said, the left corner of his mouth twisted into some sort of smile. He reached out and stroked one calloused finger along my cheek. “Bloke like me sees many things in his day, but I can’t say as I’ve seen anything quite like you.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of such a remark, but I didn’t have time to consider it before he produced a flask from the pocket of his trousers and extended it to me. “If it’s an escape you’re looking for, poppet,” he said, “you won’t find much better than this.”
Perhaps on another night I might have been given pause by his gesture. The thought of escape, however, was all too tantalizing. I accepted the flask, took it to my lips, tipped my head back.
The liquid burned a fiery course down my throat. I sputtered, coughed, surprised at its strength. And then, with a head-reeling rush, came my escape.
Gone were all thoughts of confinement, of Mother and Father, of satin, of tumblers of water, of coquetry, of society. Here was a freedom greater than anything I could ever have fathomed. I laughed unbridled laughter. I danced with many, many men. The fiddler in the corner played a song that I recognized, and I stood on a table and sang, and they all applauded me. For the first time, I exchanged kisses and caresses with a man—with several men. And on the same night that society had tried to force me to become a lady, freedom and some faceless lover’s embrace made me into a woman.
Thus became the way I lived. Mother and Father were furious, of course, when I staggered through the door the next day. How dare I! they said. What in the name of Blessed Mary had I been thinking? They ranted and raved at me over how much worry I had caused them, how much humiliation and anxiety they had been through when everyone at the ball had discovered I was gone, over what an ungrateful excuse for a daughter I was. And what on earth had become of my dress?
I had looked them in the eyes unflinchingly as the railed at me, and now answered them that I had torn my dress and left it on the side of the road, that I had been inebriated, that I had willingly surrendered my virtue, and that I was not sorry. I left them in stunned silence.
They barely spoke to me save for when absolutely necessary after that. They would have thrown me out of their home, but then they would have had to confess their grievous sin of producing a wicked daughter to society, which of course they could not do. It mattered little, though, because I was out courting my vices more often than I was at home. After a time, I began to notice that it was my father alone who cast me censorious gazes whenever I appeared, and my mother was most often nowhere to be found, but I paid that no mind. If I had learned she were dead, I would not have shed a single tear for the woman who had been my captor for the first horrid fifteen years of my life. Of all my freedoms, I was perhaps the most thankful for my liberation from feeling any sort of obligation, emotional or otherwise, to my parents. They had successfully groomed my elder brother; I left any care or concern for Mother and Father to him, supposing that, as the trophy child, that was his duty.
Some years passed—I really couldn’t say how many—and I became quite a favorite at the tavern. I would sing, because they always loved it (although I think it was perhaps more because my performances gave them full permission to ogle than because they actually took pleasure in the sweetness of my voice), and I could always expect at least one or two of them to show their appreciation in the form of whiskey or rum, or absinthe if I was especially lucky. I depended upon them to fuel my nights of escape, because goodness knew I hadn’t the money to do so myself. Most nights I would also express my thankfulness to my most generous beneficiary by my own particular methods, though sometimes I refused so as to remain a temptation rather than an easily won prize. Furthermore, I swore I would never reward the same man two nights in a row, ensuring that no one would begin to think that he could claim me as his own.