Chapter Eighty-Nine: History

 Black and white clouds over mountains and a lake. 
“What happened to you?” 

The woman’s eyes darted fearfully from the trees in the distance, then to my face, then back to the trees again.

Yet she remained silent.

I tried again.

“Why are you here?”

She grimaced, wrinkling her forehead, but never acknowledged my question.

Her brown hair frizzed out about her ears, the bits that had slipped out from the large braid that ran down her back. 

She seemed terribly normal. 

She fed herself. She didn’t make odd noises or weep and wail incessantly. She groomed herself as much as was allowed here, brushing her hair every morning and evening. I had watched her walking from one woman to the next, whispering God knows what into each ear, patting shoulders, offering encouraging smiles.

“What is you name?”

She sighed a great sigh, then closed her eyes.

“Zenobia,” she spoke softly.

“Zenobia? That is your name?” 

What an odd name.

She nodded slowly. 

It was quiet except for the birds in the trees.

Her eyes opened suddenly. “I gave myself the name. She was an ancient Persian queen.” The woman fixed me with a piercing gaze, waiting expectantly. 

My mind wandered, imagining her in rich Persian regalia, riding a great white horse, commanding vast armies. When I did not answer, she coughed, bringing me back to the asylum. “Well? You are…?”

“Oh!” My cheeks reddened. “I am Evelyn.” 

“That isn’t made up, is it? It’s rather plain.”

“No.” I shook my head. 

“You need a new name…” Her voice trailed off as the orderly came back through looking even more sour.

It was hot outside on the porch, but after several weeks here I knew that it was preferable to the suffocating wards and spent as much time out of doors as I was allowed.

I decided to try again. “Why are you here?” I asked tentatively.

She gazed at me suspiciously. 

“Why do you care?”

“I don’t think you are insane…”

She smiled sadly, pushing back a bit of hair from her damp forehead. 

“Depends on who you ask,” she replied, laughing.

We fell silent as a dour female orderly with a pinched face strode purposefully past, shoes clacking on the wooden veranda.

“How long have you been here?” I ventured once the orderly was out of earshot.

“Six years.”

My heart sank.

Six years?


Zenobia took a deep breath. “Because I would not give my husband what he wanted.”

“What did he want?” I pressed.

“A son.” 

She pointed to a stooped young woman with golden hair and vacant eyes. “She has been here three years. We call her Theodora. She sank into a deep melancholy after the birth of her first baby. Her husband took a mistress. She was placed here to keep her out of the way. Now another woman, her rival, is raising her child in her family home.” Zenobia shrugged. “She will never leave. Over there by the doorway, that one is Hippolyta. She had several lovers. The wife of one grew jealous and made a report. In the process she was deemed mentally deficient and imprisoned here two years ago. She had no family that would take her. She will also probably never leave.”

She paused to look around.

“That one, Hatshepsut,” she nodded her head to an elderly, wraithlike figure, “Refused to marry an earl. Her family had her committed decades ago.”

She turned back to me. “How did you get here?”

“I am not entirely sure. But Dr. Jenkins and I have…. we have a history.” I told her about Edinburgh, about the Crimea, about my daughter, about the surgery here. “Did… Did that happen to you?” 

“It happened to all of us, one by one, since that man arrived…” She spoke softly, her eyes darting around, watchful and guarded again. 

Zenobia rose from her seat. “Excuse me. I must go.” She started to walk away but stopped short suddenly and turned, smiling. “Hedwig.”

“I beg your pardon?”  I was confused.

“Your name. Hedwig. The Polish queen who crowned herself the King of Poland. That will do nicely for you, I think.” She paused. “We are not normal. We are exceptional. All of us.”

And then she was gone.

Chapter Eighty-Eight: Crumbling


I wept bitterly that night and every night after…

The days were spent in a stained jacket of sorts that wrapped my arms around the torso and held them tight. I was placed in a chair and then tied down, only to be wheeled out to the veranda to take in the air twice a day. I was fed by the orderlies as apparently I could not be trusted with utensils. 

They were probably right.

Time passed slowly. 

I thought about all of the ways I could hurt that man with a spoon: evisceration would be difficult but if he held still long enough maybe with some chloroform or ether, I could ram the handle up a nostril and do some damage to his brain, I could scoop out each eyeball or maybe even his testicles, I could shove the handle into each ear and render him deaf, I could use that same handle at his jugular and maybe make him bleed to death….

I asked everyone I came across about my daughter but was only met with blank stares or shrugs. I begged for answers, news, any bit of information. 

None came.

Dr. Jenkins himself was a specter, flitting in and out around my periphery. How lucky he must have felt when I fell into his lap here. Had it been orchestrated, his little charade? Or purely chance? What were the odds anyway? 

I had no uterus. No ovaries. No child. He had robbed me of everything I had left.

Everything but my hate.

It was not a strong enough word, really…

After a week I was pinned down for an exam by him, my legs spread wide and held in place by two male orderlies as he painfully probed with his fingers. All the while he watched my face with a grin, clearly enjoying himself.

I held his gaze until he looked away.

If I could only kick him.

But I could not. I had already tried. 

Hence the male orderlies.

They leaned heavily on my legs, forcing them still. I could no longer feel my feet, the circulation had been disrupted for so long.

I wiped away all outward emotion. I resolved that I would not give him the satisfaction of having control of me in that way any longer. There were places in my mind where he could not touch me. I escaped there until he was done. 

A female attendant stood silently to my right, shifting her weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other. She had little to do besides serve as an observer, a witness to my humiliation. I wondered what she must be thinking. Whenever I looked at her she looked away.

He moved up to my abdomen and removed the sutures. They had been terribly itchy. Restrained all day and all night, I could not reach the area to scratch. That fact alone was enough to drive me mad…

He was rough but the removal was a kindness, after all. My quality of life would be vastly improved. I hated him all the more for making me feel even this small amount of gratitude toward him.

Soon enough it was all over. 

I should have killed you when I had the chance, you bastard.

My legs were released as he stepped back, my chemise pulled back down to my ankles. The blood rushed back into my toes, a wave of prickly pain that excruciatingly crescendoed and then died away. He walked up to the basin and pitcher placed on the table next to the head of the bed. He washed. 

As he dried off his hands and rolled his sleeves back down he leaned in close to my ear and spoke softly. “I hear your daughter will be adopted out by a nice family. They needed extra hands to labor around the farm. They have adopted six other children from other unfit mothers already. I hope the girl does not mind cow shit…”

I closed my eyes and let the hate wash through me. I could feel it in every hair of my body, every pore, every fiber.

For now hate was my hope.

Chapter Eighty-Seven: Tethered


There were voices: a man and a woman, speaking in hushed tones. I tried to focus, to listen to their conversation through the fog in my head.

“The incision seems to be healing well now, Doctor.” The woman, whispered.

A man’s voice responded, softly, “Excellent. Maybe now she will not endanger herself by moving around.” 

“Shall we remove the restraints?” 

Were they referring to me?

“No. Not yet.”

I could hear the nod of the crisply starched cap, even though I could not see it.

Did I dare open my eyes?

It was then that I realized they were moving away. My opportunity to ask questions…

“Where am I?” I blurted out, looking about.

The man had turned away and was walking toward the bed across the ward, his back to me.

“You are at The Royal Asylum For Women.” The nurse spoke kindly, brushing hair back from my forehead.


“You had an acute attack of abdominal dropsy brought on by a neurosis.”

“Where is my daughter?” 


“What does that mean?” I demanded.

“She is being cared for elsewhere.”

“By whom?” 

“I do not know.”

“Bring her to me!” Anger crept into my voice.

“I cannot. You are not able to care for her in your condition,” she said sternly.

“My condition.” Fear suddenly replaced anger. “What is my condition?”

“You have had a surgery.”

“What kind of surgery?”

“Dr. Jenkins performed a hysterectomy.” She looked at me pityingly. 

Oh, God.

Surely not. Why? And not the Dr. Jenkins I had known from another life… Stuart Jenkins? Surely there were plenty of other Dr. Jenkins in this world. 


At the sound of his name the man turned around and began to walk back to my bedside.

His face.

It WAS him!

He smiled pleasantly as he approached.

My mouth filled with bile.

“Ah, Mrs. Aspern. Awake are we?”

“You had no right!” I screamed at him. Others in the ward shifted in their beds uncomfortably, taking notice. I tried to sit up but my arms were tied down to the bed. I jerked at the leather wrist restraints so hard that the bed frame rattled. 

“Oh, yes, I did. I have every right as your treating physician.”

“You hack!”

“I have removed hundreds of uteri in my career. In fact, every woman in this ward right now, has had this same procedure by me. I think I am able to judge well enough when one is causing problems.” He stared down at me haughtily. “And yours most certainly was causing all manner of infirmary.”

He reached a hand into his pocket and pulled out the old pessary, dropping it onto my abdomen. It hurt greatly as the heavy, metallic weight hit the incision. The padding from the bandages was not enough to break the fall.

I winced.

“It was probably simply pinching the vaginal mucosa, causing your pain, but it was easy to see that your uterus and ovaries were sitting too low in your pelvis, causing you fits of hysteria. You should feel much better from now on.” Another smile spread across his face.

“You did not ask my opinion!” I hissed through clenched teeth. 

It was rape. It was worse than rape. This man had had his hands inside of me, stolen from me without my consent.

A glint appeared in his eye as he leaned in close to my ear. He whispered slowly, threateningly, “The feeble minded are never able to make their own decisions.” 

Chapter Eighty-Six: Out


My eyelids felt weighted with lead, heavy. I willed them to open but they would not. I decided to focus on my other senses. 

There was an odor. That smell. I knew it from somewhere…

From where?

The Crimea! I was back in the Crimea.

Footsteps faded away to the left, echoing off of hard, antiseptic surfaces. 

I tried again on the eyelids, this time they opened a bit, revealing a long crack in the stained plaster overhead. It was a rusty red, like blood. My heart shot out of my chest, racing into my throat. This was not the Crimea.

Panic dragged me awake and I bolted upright.

Where was I?

Pain slammed through me, suddenly, and I cried out, falling back onto the bed.

Pain? From where?

I moved a hand down to my abdomen and pelvis. There was a large bandage there.

Oh, God! What did they do?

The walls of the long room were an odd greenish gray. I could not tell if that was because of the fading light filtering through the dirty windows or from some terrifying paint job. I looked around. There were other beds, other women.

A hospital ward.


The woman to my right stared unseeingly at the ceiling, unresponsive. She was almost translucent. Her gray hair was thin and carefully arranged about her head, combed out over the pillow.

Was she dead?

I wanted to touch her waxen skin but that was impossible from where I lay.

Hello?” I ventured, a bit louder. No movement. Not even a blink. I gave up on her and turned to my other side.


The woman to my right had bright orange hair. She stirred, looking over at me, but her eyes were glassy and vacant. 

This was not going well. 

A moan escaped from somewhere. It echoed off of the bare walls and floor. I went back to examining the crack in the plaster overhead. Surely someone would be through soon?

Anne! Where was she?!?!!?

I swung one leg and then the other over the side of the bed, doing my best to ignore the pain that seared through my pelvis. Standing, my legs felt unsteady. I took a tentative step forward only to have the knees buckle and I tumbled to the floor. 


Try as I might, I could not pull myself back up. I felt warmth gushing from between my legs as redness soaked through my white shift and pooled around me on the cold floor. Short shallow breaths were all that I could manage. Colorful bursts of light flashed into my line of sight then closed off into a lengthening tunnel of dark gray.

Get up, damn it!

Thoughts grew fuzzy then faded away. 

Blackness overtook me again.