My mother endured her prison, isolated for several months. She became more and more reclusive and her world gradually shrank from the entire house to only her room. I had thought that as spring started to bloom that she would start to venture out more, but the opposite was true. She grew more and more withdrawn.
The servants brought food and left it for her outside the door. I attempted several times to try to gain admittance but my rapping on the door and calling her name was met only by silence. She had barricaded the door with the bureau and only moved it when the hallway outside was empty and she wanted to exchange trays or chamber pots. I was not sure she was bathing as she did not lay out any laundry. I shuddered to think what state her personal hygiene was in. It was particularly upsetting knowing how fastidious she had been about her appearance previously.
Rumors of her seclusion were running rampant about the town. It was interpreted as a symptom of her devotion to her late husband. Only I suspected the truth….that she had looked at the empty abyss of her future freedom and realized that youth had fled, leaving her with nothing, no hope for joy.
Eventually, one day, she stopped retrieving the food trays. It went on like this for several days. She could not keep this up. She would starve. I decided to intervene.
“Mother!” I yelled outside her door. Silence.
I rapped firmly and insistently on the door. No uncomfortable shifting or rustling.
“MOTHER!” I pounded on her door. No breathing, sniffling, or coughing.
Somehow I knew that something was terribly wrong.
I ran to find John and begged him to push open her door or break it down. He was reluctant. A look of terror crossed his face as he stood outside her door.
“Are you sure you want me to do this?” he whispered.
“John, she is not going to dismiss you, if that is what you are worried about!” I sighed, exasperated.
“Yes, Ma’am, that’s what I am worried about.” He whispered back.
“Just do it!” I demanded, finding myself whispering, too.
He turned the knob but it was locked.
“I will have to break down this door.”
I nodded. “Do it!” He hesitated again. “John? Do it!”
He shoved all of his tall weight against the door. With the lock and the bureau, it held fast. He tried again and again, but it didn’t budge.
Without a word, John held up a finger and ran off down the stairs, bounding three at a time.
“MOTHER! You open this door right now!” I demanded as I pounded again until my hands burned and ached.
John appeared again with a large axe in his hands. He looked at me with a raised eyebrow, silently asking permission.
I nodded assent, panic catching in my chest. I stepped back.
It took one blow to split the door and a second to tear open a hole. Splinters flew and hit the opposite wall. I ducked, covering my eyes. He reached through with both hands, pushing over the bureau. It hit the floor with such a crash that all of the household staff and William come running. John reached around through the door again to turn the lock. As the door opened I stifled a scream.
My mother’s naked body was hanging by her neck from the crossbar between the bedposts that formed the canopy. She had torn her nightgown into strips and fashioned a noose. Her eyes were bugged open, unseeing, and her face was deep purple. A puddle of urine and feces marked the floor beneath her. She must have been this way, dead, for a several days. She had not had second thoughts, no scrambling trying to save herself as the bed was neatly made, there were no scratches on the wood, and her fingernails were intact.
Her black widows weeds, the dress she wore for the funeral, was folded neatly on the chair in the corner, topped with her white widows cap and black mourning veil.
As I fell sobbing to the floor, William and John quickly cut her down, laying her on the floor and covering the body with the woven coverlet from the bed. The rest of the household stood silently outside the room staring.
No one said a word.
And then, all I felt was anger. How could she be so selfish, to leave me alone like this? How dare she! I felt an incoherent sound escape my lips and I reached over to shake her awake. Her body was limp and frighteningly cold through the coverlet. I drew my hand back rapidly. It was real. She was dead.