By Vita Forest
What was left when the charm was gone?
Anna sat in the darkness and rubbed the jewels at her throat. She gripped each one in turn between her fingers, feeling the cold, hard stones. The famous opera singer had taken the stage and no-one was watching her. What a relief to be out of the spotlight for just a few minutes. She slunk back against the velvet of her throne. Could diamonds be worry beads? she wondered. Or weren’t you supposed to need them if you had a whole string of jewels weighing down your neck?
But she did feel worried. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t supposed to be like this…
She was not even sure what had happened. Or when. It had been a slow creeping change, barely perceptible. But things had altered somehow. Ian had changed. Or perhaps he had simply taken off the charm. She was sure she wouldn’t have agreed to the marriage if he had been like this back then. Back when it was all balls and bouquets, poetry and jewellery. Perhaps it was exhausting to be so positively delightful, so thoughtful. Perhaps it was unreasonable to expect the person you married to continue on as they had seemed. There was no one she could talk to. She was alone. Alone in this far off place teeming with his people. No-one would believe her. What would she even say?
“There is something… not right with Ian. He is not… normal.”
Normal? What did that even mean? How would she know what was normal?
And so she was beginning to say nothing. It was easier to suppress her own voice and go along with his. It was so hard to articulate her thoughts with his voice in her head arguing against her instincts.
She was wrong! She knew nothing! She was selfish for daring to criticize! Anyone else would be grateful. The castle, the trips abroad, the carriages, the clothes. What kind of person wanted more?
“I want…” she whispered, “I want…”
But it was so hard to know what it was. What with his voice in her head talking over her, muddying the waters, and listing the things, all the things that made her lucky. So lucky!
But, surely. Surely it shouldn’t feel like this if life was so good, so perfect.
There were no scars on her body, no bruises. None that anyone could see. And yet she felt injured, dimished. She was… it was hard to think clearly. She couldn’t trust her own thoughts. She knew what he would say, how he would dismiss her concerns, her “frivolities”.
The jewels ground into her fingers and she squeezed and twisted and turned them in upon themselves. Until all at once, in the dark, as the soprano hit the high note and everyone applauded and the spotlight was turned away from her, Anna wrenched at the necklace, and the chain snapped, and the jewels were flung from their orbit of her neck, strewing the table, hitting faces as the applause thundered around them. The table erupted into action, bending down to retrieve rubies from soup bowls, catching emeralds in laps. And Anna blinked. Awake.