Feature: Issue No. 15, Winter 2015

Emily and the Silent City
Rebecca Harrison

Chapter One

They told us to save our words, but we didn’t know how. Clara tried to bury hers. She dug a hole and whispered into the ground. When her words were gone, she became cold and still. I kept mine inside me, so I could stay warm. But I felt too full. These are my words. I’ll write until they’re all used up

Emily stared at the paper scrap and ran her fingers on the torn edges.

“Mrs Gables?” she called. “The front door was open.” She inched down the hallway. The house smelled of Sunday afternoons. “It’s me, Miss Thorne, the Governess.” The walls were heavy with silence. She sat her bag by an umbrella stand and stared down the corridor.

She felt small from her journey. The steam train had been empty. As it had hurtled through green and gold scenes, she’d gazed out the window and remembered watching distant trains with her father. When she was a little girl, she’d imagined that clouds began in engines. Once, she’d asked her father if the skies had been empty before the trains came.

“Clara? Annabelle?” She gripped the hand rail and moved up the stairs. Portraits peered down at her. She pushed open a door. Stale light squatted on two beds. Dolls and teddy bears crammed the corners. She yanked the wardrobe open: it was full of silk dresses. Jewel colours swayed. She thought of her last night before her family home was sold: she had stayed in the library among the books she had to leave behind. The following day, after she’d had to move into her Aunt’s cottage, she’d lingered on the hills gazing upon her lost home. When her Aunt had told her she was to move to London and become a Governess, she’d stared at her blackberry-stained hands and imagined crawling through a city of smoke.

She ran to the next door and peered at ebony and gilt. The room was like a held breath. “Where are they?” she murmured. She had expected London to be bright with noise: factories and market sellers, machine roar and chatter. But she’d seen few people. The silence had felt like snow hush. Her new shoes had pinched as she’d walked the chill streets past closed shops and abandoned coaches. She’d glimpsed horses roaming alleyways.

Suddenly, she heard a clamour of steps from outside. She opened the front door. City folk, young and old, squeezed and hurried through the street. “What’s happening?” she called to a girl who looked like she was harvesting a field of ashes. The girl stormed past. Emily wondered if the widowed Queen was addressing the palace crowds. Remembering her promise to her Aunt to write if she glimpsed her, she stepped outside.

She was swept along. Her corset dug into her. Women pressed against her as they strode. She glanced up at rooftops and clouds. “Where are you going?” she called into the crowd. No one spoke. She heard only footsteps and puddle splash. The men had eyes like sore pebbles. She wanted to scrape the silence off. Suddenly, a tall woman grabbed Emily’s wrist.

“She is there,” hissed the woman.

“Who?” Emily gasped. The woman let go. She didn’t answer.

 

 

If Emily stays with the crowd go to Chapter Seven

If Emily flees the crowd go to Chapter Two