It is half past midnight, and all of London is still.
Everyone but me.
A savage orphan, a poor little girl, some might describe me as. Usually the socialites. But to me, there’s nothing little about myself at all. I am 17 after all, and I am not poor, so I don’t need your mercy. I am not savage either—I am simply just Margot. With a silent “t”. Margot Rose Brimble.
I can feel the stillness reverberating in my bones. When I close my eyes, I can hear the distant howling winds and the gentle pitter-pattering of the rain thrumming on the gloomy roof of the orphanage. The loudest sound, however, is Valerie, the girl behind me who I swear, snores louder than a truck. I stare at her gaped mouth as it opens wider as if she’s taunting me and trying to keep me up all night. I glared at her as if that would help, but surprisingly, she rolled over and quieted a little bit. I cannot sleep, and I have pulled my flimsy sheets up over my head to cover myself and my precious copy of Romeo and Juliet. It is the only book I actually own, because otherwise, I will borrow them from the local bookstore in town.
“How doth thou, Romeo?”
“Ah, madam, ‘tis I whom the causes of your heartaches.”
A wonderful escape and distraction from my insomnia. My goofy cat, Priscilla, is clawing at the drapes of the windows yet again. She does this every night, and it is quite bothersome. I sigh as I twist around in my sheets and hiss,
“Oy! You dumb cat! Lady Ann is going to hear you! You’ll get us both in terrible trouble if you don’t shut up!”
The cat doesn’t answer. Just skids under the bed as if afraid of me. I mutter under my breath,
I tear my hands through my crazy orange hair that I refuse to brush. I have to squint to see the black print typed neatly on the pages. Oh, how I wish that I had a flashlight or lantern somewhere, but of course I don’t, being the poor orphan that I am. Besides, people would be shocked if they knew I could read, considering I was a woman. But I learned a little each day.
Soon, I give up on it and slide it carefully under my pillow that gives me aching neck cramps that’s almost as bad as my menstrual cramps that have been killing me for days now. That’s another one of the reasons why I can’t sleep. Being a woman was awful at times, especially with discrimination and inhumanity. But there was a much worse fate waiting for me tomorrow, my 18th birthday. You might be thinking,
What’s so bad about your birthday, Margot?
I’ll tell you what. When someone turns 18, they must leave the orphanage because they are considered “grown ups.” I don’t mind leaving the dreary orphanage at all. In fact, I’m more than glad.
I don’t feel like one though. I’m expected to find my way in the world. And how exactly am I going to do that when I’m a woman? I can’t get any real jobs or high enough pay. Sure, I could be a seamstress or maid, or something, but those jobs are rubbish. I’ll have to marry to support myself. But I don’t want to get married. I don’t need nor want a man, but really, how am I supposed to get any money?
By a bloody man, is the answer. Suddenly, I heard a noise. Footsteps. I quickly plopped my head back down on my pillow and closed my eyes. I opened them a peek, squinting at Lady Ann standing primly in the doorway with her white nightgown on. Her sharp spectacles examined the room precariously, resting her gaze on me. I shut my eyes all the way, but I could still feel her gaze bore into mine, and, eventually, she left and closed the door. I let out a sigh of relief as I realized that tonight was my last night I would spend at this dreadful orphanage.
In the morning, I’m the first to awake. I always am. Valerie and I are the eldest of all the orphans, so it is our responsibility to wake up the earliest, dress the little ones, and clean them up for breakfast. I am shivering as I realize my flimsy dress doesn’t do much. I try to ignore it as best as I can and force myself up as I stretch.
When I stand up, I catch myself in one large full-length mirror near the window that has a large crack straight down the middle. As I rise, I realize how small I am. No more than five feet, surely. I tilt my head as Priscilla does the same, because she just loves to copy everything I do. I am stout yet somewhat lean from hunger and years of housework. I have crazy curly orange hair that is such a bother sometimes. It is all the way down to my waist and is usually tied loosely in a braid. I have bright blue eyes that look huge on my oval shaped face. My lips are normal, I suppose, and if you are wondering, no, I haven’t kissed anyone because that generates a disease called mono. I read about it in a medical book once that I had snuck into the orphanage. And also, because I don’t love anyone, and I never will. The only people I’ve ever loved are Valerie and Daya, who are like sisters to me. We understand each other, although we are polar opposites.
I stretch and fumble to the drapes that are flooded with sunlight that hurt my eyes. Or, that could be the fact that I stayed up late straining my eyes by reading Shakespeare. Either way, I was ready to leave. Maybe. First, I had to say goodbye to everyone.
I creep to the powder room and grab a bucket of cold water to wash the children’s clothes and faces. If they ever wake up. I spot Daya from the small mirror in the loo. She is waking up, her little brown face peeking out of her bed head hair. Daya is the only thing that makes me smile. Her little face and large brown eyes make me grin everyday. She is only seven, and has jumped from foster home to foster home, practically used as a slave by racist white men just because she’s black. I am the only one who protects her, and I wish to take her with me. We could survive, me and her. I could keep her safe if I wanted to. I walked over to her and wrapped my arms around her.
“Good morning. How did you sleep?”
She smiled and her whole face lit up with delight.
“Good. But you’re leaving today. I don’t want you to.”
Her little voice cracked as her big eyes welled with tears. It broke my heart to see her this way.
“I know. But I will come visit you when I have time.”
Her eyes lit up.
“You’re going to marry a prince one day, and live in a big ol castle and I’ll come to your wedding and you’ll wear a princess gown for your wedding.”
By now, she was jumping up and down excitedly.
I smiled sadly.
“Sorry. I’ll leave you the princes for when you’re older. I’m not getting married. Ever.”
“Yeah, she doesn’t want to go through that trouble, D. Or it’s because she doesn’t want to wear a dress.”
I turn to face beautiful Valerie standing up with her hair perfect. How does her hair stay like that? She’s only 17 and her birthday is in five months, so she’ll come with me today because Lady Ann is too bloody lazy to take care of her for a few more months. How pathetic, I know. Valerie is smirking her beautiful glossed lips, and believe me, I have no idea where she got gloss from at all. Must’ve stolen it from one of the socialites. She is taller than me, at least by five inches, and her figure is leaner and dainty and her feet are pinched and as small as Daya’s. Her sharp emerald eyes are squinted and sexy. She looks much older than myself. She is much prettier than me, and has always been. Her black hair is so long and wavy like a princess’.
I scrunch up my face in a way that makes Daya giggle.
“Whatever. Maybe I can be the prince. Really, imagine it.”
I strut across the room in an odd way in my terrible imitation of a handsome prince.
“Ladies and gents, presenting yours truly, Prince Margot Rose Brimble, your very own handsome prince.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Valerie rolling her eyes, and Daya is on the floor laughing and clutching her stomach, trying to catch her breath. I smile and stick my tongue out as I plop on my bed. I know it annoys Valerie terribly, and that is the reason I do it.
Valerie tries to shush our laughter but we act as if we are deaf.
“Oy! Shush your mouths. Lady Ann will hear us. Quickly, I hear her footsteps!”
Honestly, I don’t know how her hearing is so well, but I suppose she is right.
I roll my eyes and straighten myself up and nod seriously, but I am trying very hard to contain my laughter. We walk around helping the poor little orphans get ready for breakfast downstairs. There is lots of crying and tears, and hugs, and my last stop is by Salina, the fourteen year old girl that will be taking charge when Valerie and I leave. She is responsible and quiet, and I lean into her ear as I whisper,
“Take care of Daya. She is my family, and you must protect her, got it?”
Salina just nods sadly yet firmly, and I realize that I am squeezing her arms knuckle-white and I loosen my grasp and clear my throat.
When everyone else clears out, us two just stand in the middle of the room, unsure what to do now that we realize that we would be alone for the rest of our lives. Well, alone, but together.