Truth be told, I could not just rush out, find Mr. Aspern, and demand to know about the inscription. Instead, I penned a brief letter to him.
I am most grateful for your attention to my mother during her party and for the gift of poetry, particularly given the interesting reputation of Mr. Burns. I look forward to discussing the poetry and your inscription in the near future.
Ms. Evelyn Douglas
Now, I would have to wait until he felt a decent amount of time had passed to allow for complete recovery from my illness.
Meanwhile, I was becoming more and more anxious as each day passed. Not because I was waiting for Mr. Aspern. More because I was waiting for my menses. I was never one to chart it faithfully, and I was left wondering exactly when it was due and if it did not come, how I would be able to weather the storm. I began pouring over the Mariceau book again, looking for some clue but found nothing new. Ordering the pills was out of the question.
When my first period had come almost two years ago, I had no idea what was happening to my body. My mother had chosen to protect me from any inkling, lest I should be driven mad by the knowledge. In her defense, this has been advised by the family physician, as I discovered later. But why she thought watching parturition would be fine but knowing about my own menstruation was not, I will never comprehend. Granted, many physicians believed that the menstrual flow was tied to a woman’s psyche and any disruption during that time could result in psychosis. In fact, bathing was discouraged lest the young woman take cold and end up insane.
When I began bleeding, it started with uncomfortable cramping and then I noticed the dark stains on my drawers. At first I was worried that I was pregnant. But I did not have a belly. How could that be possible?
I realized then that I was dying. The icy grip of death was on my shoulder. It would be a beautiful death, I decided. I began fantasizing about the poignant moments I would share with my mother and father as the life ebbed from my poor body and I eagerly waited for further signs that the end was nigh. Those signs did not come.
Afraid to tell anyone quite yet, in case I was wrong, I began staunching the flow with rags I stole from the laundry. I took the soiled cloths to the field and hid them beneath rocks. Things went on like this for several days until one morning I awoke to realize that I had stained my nightgown and bed sheets. Those would be impossible to hide.
I sought out the laundress, a broad, red faced but kind hearted old woman and begged her to help me. She gasped, a hand coming up to her mouth. With fear in her eyes, she dashed off without even uttering a word.
Shortly, I was summoned to an audience with my mother. The laundress, her large nose even redder than usual, had been crying when she appeared to retrieve me. “Your mother would like a few words with you, Miss Evie.” I followed her with trepidation.
As I entered the drawing room, I observed my mother perched on the edge of the sofa, ensconced in the opulent room surrounded with velvet cushions and silk drapery. The bright patterns of the fabrics clashed with the scrolled wallpaper, the effect was always dizzying and disorienting. She was visibly shaken, dabbing at her eyes with a delicate lace handkerchief. When she caught sight of me, she quickly tried to compose herself, hiding the delicate square beneath the folds of her skirt.
As I approached my mother the laundress let out a small sob behind me. After a stern look from my mother, she whispered an apology, then she softly slid the pocket doors closed.
“Come here, dear!” My mother beckoned to me, sadly. It was then that I realized that I did not want to die. I wanted to live. When I did not move, she stood, and drew me to her heaving bosom. I stood there awkwardly in her embrace as she cried, not sure what I should do. Console her? I am so sorry, Mother! I am sure I will not suffer long… Make a run for it? Her grip on me would prevent that.
At long last, she relaxed and held me out at arms length by my shoulders. Her tear stained face was contorted and dread filled my soul as I awaited the pronouncement of my fate.
“My little girl is growing up…”
I stood there in shock. At first relieved, then embarrassed, then angry that I had wasted so much time convinced of my demise…I wanted to cry, but if this was a rite of passage to womanhood, I did not feel I was allowed tears like that any longer. I wanted to ask questions, but I was not sure that was allowed either. So I just stood there. Waiting.
“Lavinia will help you with the proper accoutrement…” she said once she had composed herself. She gave me one more brief hug, then patted me on the shoulder. And with that, I was dismissed.
I ran up to my room and sobbed into the pillow for a good ten minutes before Lavinia knocked softly on the door.
She was a tall beanpole of a young lady with blond hair, freckles and an easy smile. She served as lady’s maid to my mother. She showed me the pads that she made for my mother, showed me how to pin them into my drawers, warning me to take care last I move in such a way that I stuck myself. She told me stories of what her own mother had used…pieces of sheepskin, greased with lard on the smooth side to prevent leakage. It sounded ingenious but she assured me that the smell was less than desirable. She let me ask questions, without passing judgement.
And now, here I was, with more anxiety about not having the flow than I ever had at having it, even that first time. But now I did not have Lavinia, or anyone else, to shoulder the burden with me.
So, I waited.