W small

This is a story my daughter wrote for the “W” in the letter series I have done.

She turned quickly, shying away from the blazing yellow script. Of course it was time for W again, although in all honesty it had seemed that the time for W was perpetually upon her. How could she have forgotten? How could she have missed the signs? She picked up her pace, scurrying home to begin the preparations for the ordeal that would consume the coming night.

Stepping gingerly over the corpses of vermin that littered the two short stairs that separated her small tenement from the noisy, cobbled streets, she hurried to the cracked washbasin beneath the dingy mirror. With a few practiced moves she stripped the muslin bands from her hair and face, the contrast between her uncovered skin and her recently clothed further accentuating the filth that lay over her like a caul. Eyeing her naked visage through the fog of the old mirror, she nodded quietly to herself. The rest of her garments, rags really, quickly followed her bands, and she stood exposed. Grabbing up the aged sponge, she began to scrub her limbs, her face, leaving only her hair untouched.

From a case in a darker corner of the room, she withdrew her costume, her role in W made material through silk and fine tatting. Although much finer, and ages cleaner, than the bands and clothes left piled on the floor, her muscles rippled involuntarily as she pulled its drapes and stays on, the result of her skin crawling away from the terrible, tender touch of the fabric. That was what W did. It made all things beautiful into frightening reminders of W and its sweeping power.

As she secured the last of the drapes, tugging harder than was necessary in the small but sole act of defiance available to her, she began to brace herself. Stepping back towards the door, she drew one of her last untainted breaths of the evening. Steely cold began to grip her from within, and she moved into the fear, and flung open the door…

Decades later, she hangs the stained glass panel in one of the many floor-to-ceiling windows gracing her private dressing room. Light bathes the space, picking out the golden threads of her morning gown, and glinting from the precious inlays that dominate the textures of her furniture. Kicking her train in a practiced move, she stepped to the far side of the generously apportioned room, the better to regard the panel. 19 1/4 X 19 1/4, rendered in stained glass, and framed in solid oak, the gothic W blazed in the morning sun’s rays.

“Now I’ll keep you in a frame,” she murmured to herself, the hint of satisfaction almost too low to catch. Turning away, she left the panel to hang, glorious but cold, a perfect encapsulation of those terrifying days so long ago.