Archive for the ‘!What’s New!’ Category

The Bridge That Would Not Burn

Sunday, February 28th, 2021

by Christina Rauh Fishburne


Defenestrationism.net presents
a serialization in 14 parts






Week Ten:
in which Charlotte does not address Dr. Ridgeway as Daniel; Alice the chimneysweep girl is found bleeding in the alley behind Number 14 K Street; and Mrs. Fellows provides comfort with her green travel coat.






 “Miss Worthington?” A voice from beyond the crowd reached her. It was Dr. Ridgeway. He came down from his carriage and made his way through the people. “I’m a doctor, please stand aside.” The people parted, and he stood before her. His face was at once relieved to see her not the victim, and perplexed as to what state she was in.

Charlotte was not sure what etiquette would call for in this situation. Doubtlessly, pillowing a man’s head on her lap in the middle of a public street was frowned upon. Surely, having one suitor come to the aid of another suitor (if that is indeed what he was) was awkwardness itself. She had the nonsensical urge to laugh.

“Ridgeway,” the face on her lap said, “Forgive this display.” Atchison tried to raise himself. Dr. Ridgeway ignored him and dropped to his knees beside them.

“Can you move your legs, sir?” Dr. Ridgeway felt gently around the calves, knees, and ankles while taking the pulse at the neck and assessing the entirety of the patient with calculating and concerned eyes.

“Not quickly,” Atchison sighed. His mouth was a hard line. Charlotte knew he was beyond humiliated.

“Do you require any of these people, Dr. Ridgeway?” Charlotte asked very softly.

The doctor paused his evaluations at the sound of her voice. “Ah,” he turned his eyes up to hers and read all he needed to know in them. He gave her a small kind smile, then glanced around briefly. “You, sir,” he pointed directly at a well-built gentleman already on one knee beside them. “Would you be so kind as to assist me in getting Mr. Atchison into my carriage?”

“Of course, Doctor.”

“The rest of you, thank you for your concern, but we have things well in hand. You may go about your business.” Dr. Ridgeway had never been so commanding.

 The man gave Charlotte a questioning look and moved to take Atchison under the arm. Her face felt on fire and she gently removed herself as the two men took Atchison very gently and got him to his feet.

“I’m grateful, gentlemen.” Atchison, leaning heavily on the arms of both men turned to the side and gave Charlotte a sad half smile. “If you’ll excuse me, Miss Worthington?”

She lowered her eyes and tried to calm her breathing. They got him into the carriage and Dr. Ridgeway returned to her on the brick walkway. He removed his hat and smiled the small kindness again.

“I’ll take him to my clinic. Please don’t worry.” He paused awkwardly, then donned his hat and nodded to her. “Good day, Miss Worthington.”

“Doctor Ridgeway.”

He looked wounded but smiled.

*

Several evenings later, Charlotte went straight to her room. Little Alice accused of theft and turned out, Atchison dismissed under some shade of untrustworthy business practice before disturbingly public injury right before her eyes, and Margaret away to New York. She couldn’t identify what hopes had been dashed but she tasted their ashes. Her woolen shawl lay draped over her desk chair and she wrapped it around herself as she slid into the chair. She sat looking out of her window, through the panes. She did not write a word. She already burned.

*

Charlotte passed the next two weeks with inner dialogue which spiraled frequently into condemnation, freakishly romanticized notions of carnival life, and a daily bracing walk. Margaret’s return to the city was welcomed. She called on Charlotte and proposed a trip to Woodward and Lothrop for some shopping and a bit of lunch. Pennsylvania Avenue had been flooded again the week before and Margaret longed for a bit of Woodies’ distraction. Perhaps some new gloves. Did that not sound restorative?

Five floors of distraction later, and a light lunch consisting more of pastries than anything else, did find Charlotte’s spirits improved.

They returned to Number 14 K Street to find it in uproar. Mr. Worthington shouted, Ursula cried, Lavinia and the two kitchen girls stood at attention looking terrified.

“What on earth?” Margaret said as they walked down the entryway tiles to the scene at the back of the house.

“Absolutely not!” Mr. Worthington was shouting. “We will let the police handle this!”

“Father, what’s happened?” Charlotte asked. Ursula covered her mouth with her smooth olive hands.

“That chimney girl has been robbing us blind and got herself near killed in our alleyway.” Her father strode back up the hallway toward his study. Over his shoulder he shouted, “Ursula, ask for Sergeant Crane, he will be discreet. I have an engagement at 7:00 that I must prepare for and I want not a HINT of this hanging about!” He slammed his door.

Charlotte turned to Ursula. “Alice? Where is she?”

“She’s still out there, Miss!” Ursula sobbed. “It’s terrible! Terrible!” It moved Charlotte to see the woman so affected. “Her body’s out there for anyone to see as they pass! Mr. Worthington won’t let her be covered or moved until the police arrive! The scandal!” Ursula wailed. Charlotte pursed her lips and stepped back.

“Have you already called the police?”

Ursula shook her head. “We’ve only just discovered her!”

“Is anyone out there with her? Is she alright?”

Ursula covered her mouth with both hands again, and Lavinia lowered her eyes, while the girls bit their lips and stole glances at each other.

Charlotte pushed past them and hissed over her shoulder, “Mrs. Fellows, do NOT let them call the police! Send word to Dr. Ridgeway quickly! Lavinia, come with me!” The girl scurried after her and Margaret’s calming voice asked Ursula for a writing implement.

Alice’s little, crumpled shape lay against the back stonewall in the late afternoon light, slumped over on her side. Charlotte fell to the cold gravel by her and stifled a sob. The little face was already bruised and swollen, the cut above her eye clotted, but not before bleeding down to mix with the still wet blood from her clearly broken nose. Her matted hair was dark with clotted blood on the side above her left ear. Charlotte touched Alice’s cheek gently. “Alice? Can you hear me?” Her face was chilled. She had been here a long time. Alone. In the damp and cold. In an alley where the garbage was discarded and the dirty things were kept. Her chest rose and fell very slightly.

“How do we know she was stealing?”

“She had a small packet of spoons and a necklace chain in her hand, Miss.”

“Why would her attacker not have taken those?” she began to unbutton her own coat.

“I,” Lavinia stammered, “I don’t know, Miss.”

“What was she even doing here? I thought she’d been dismissed?” Charlotte lay her warm coat over Alice. “I’ll stay with her until the doctor arrives. Go prepare the guest room for her. She’s staying with us.”

“Miss? Your father…”

“Will be going out shortly.”

“Yes, Miss.” She returned to the house, and Mrs. Fellows came down the steps slowly and carefully.

“My dear,” she managed softly.

Charlotte turned around, still kneeling in the gravel with her hand on Alice’s bird-like chest. Margaret was an optical illusion: a fine cream dress, corseted and bustled, deep forest green travel coat with silver buttons at the sleeves, standing in the gray alleyway with a near corpse.

“She’s so small.” Charlotte took her hand off Alice’s chest. A rustling behind her and then the deep forest green travel coat fluttered down over her own shoulders.

“It could be a while before the doctor arrives,” Margaret said turning back towards the steps. “I’ll organize some tea and hot water for when he does.”






Join us Sunday of the Fourteenth, for Week Eleven:
in which Alice the chimneysweep girl does not know if she is 12 years-old, Lt. Atchison does not propose, and Charlotte has now no longer never said a proper goodbye.

You may enjoy more of the Bridge That Would Not Burnhere.

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Announcing the Finalists for the inaugural Lengthy Poem Contest

Saturday, February 27th, 2021


We have one binger of an inaugural Lengthy Poem Contest
coming up in April.

For this contest, and this contest alone,
we have a sleek, distinguished, new parchment scroll.
Be sure to check it
at Defenestrationism.net/lengthy-poem-contest/

But you need never have a fear, for
our retro navigation panel will not only remain for all previous content,
and return the day the Lengthy Poem Contest winner is announced,
but also continue throughout

Christian Rauh Fishburne’s “The Bridge That Would Not Burn”
as the novelette continues in serialization, every Sunday.
Catch up with Week Nine,
in which Alice the chimneysweep girl lock-picks in her sleep, calling Charlotte’s attention to Lt. Atchison’s emptied wardrobe.



The finalists, in order of publication:

Publishing daily in seven parts, April 5th- April 11th,
enjoy
“Napping Nathan” by Mark Henderson

Then, head down the rabbit hole with
“The summer house of the Old Ones” by Clarice Hare
publishing daily in nine parts, April 12th- April 20th

And explore
“begin with the stone” by EA Kane
live in its entirety April 21st.


FAN VOTING will open last Wednesday of April, which is the 28th,
lasting four days until the final moments of Saturday May 1st.
Winners will be announced Monday May 3rd.




View the Lengthy Poem Contest Guidelines.
Meet contest judge, Paul-Newell Reaves.


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The Bridge That Would Not Burn

Sunday, February 21st, 2021

by Christina Rauh Fishburne


Defenestrationism.net presents
a serialization in 14 parts






Week Nine:
in which Alice the chimneysweep girl lock-picks in her sleep, calling Charlotte’s attention to Lt. Atchison’s emptied wardrobe.





Part III

She had overslept. The dawn already stretched over the horizon, and Charlotte’s eyes opened to a clear aspect of the decorative plaster coving around the perimeter of her room. She always thought they looked like lettuce leaves. In the morning light they looked at first like shells, then feather fans. Turning on her side she made a point of staring at her door, the top corner, the glass knob. The floor beneath. The pale blue note was where she willed it to be, and as she was alone, she smiled.

It was cold enough to delay her retrieval of the page. She burrowed deeper into her bolster. When she could take it no longer, she dashed from her bed, swooped up the note, and dove back into the warmth before it disappeared. Which was unnecessary, as it turned out, because there was no returning to the shape she had made before leaping out.

I must go. Forgive me.

*

The night before, Atchison had stood in the entry hall. Mr. Worthington called out from the study, “Come in, my dear fellow, come in.” He motioned to a very inviting couch near the low burning fire. “Come, sit. A brandy?”

Atchison waved him off, “Thank you, no, sir.” He tried to smile, suddenly sure what he needed to do. “I’m glad you asked to see me, as there’s something I must tell you as well.”

Worthington looked pleased and gave the large iron paperweight shaped as a knight chess piece a pat on the head. “Splendid,” he poured himself a drink. “Devilish cold tonight,” he winked and sipped the brandy. “I’ll go first, if you permit me. I noticed you and my daughter tolerate each other’s company rather well.”

“Yes, sir.”

 Then at the same time the men spoke:

“I’d like to give you my blessing to marry.”

“I’d like to move away.”

There was a great silence. Worthington’s befuddled expression would have been comical, had his rage to follow not been so certain.

“The difference in age—” he began.

“Sir, please,” Atchison winced and lifted a hand, vaguely grateful he’d chosen to tolerate the discomfort of leaving his stick behind.

Worthington placed his glass on the side table gleaming in the firelight, “You’re concerned about propriety. I admire your decency, Atchison. However, I assure you that chaperones and all codes of modesty shall be observed from now on. There won’t be a hint of scandal so long as you’re under my roof.” Atchison stood and moved toward the center of the room.

“I’m grateful for your generosity in providing such hospitality and… accommodation. But, as I won’t be marrying Charlotte, it’s inappropriate for me to stay.”

One man remained impassive. It was not Mr. Worthington.

His face darkened. “May I ask why?”

“You may.” Atchison had the sudden urge to toy with him. “We aren’t well suited, in all honesty, sir.”

“In what way?”

“Charlotte is impeccable. It’s me that isn’t suited to marriage.”

“I suppose the prospect of being linked to such a well-connected, well-propertied family has no appeal to a man as fortunate as yourself.” Worthington stood and drained his glass.

“There is nothing fortunate about me, sir.”

“Isn’t there.”

Atchison watched him carefully behind an expressionless face. He had seen desperation in many forms. Starvation. Defense. Protection. Greed. This was new. This was a hunt.

“You’re fortunate indeed if you expect to leave this house having violated the modesty of my only daughter, enjoyed my hospitality these months, and plan to continue your esteemed position at the Bank of Columbia.” Worthington poured himself another brandy and sat down behind his large desk. A portrait of authority.

Atchison locked his eyes with Worthington’s. “I’ll be gone in the morning. Good night, sir.”

*

It was just passed five in the morning as Atchison moved gingerly across the entryway tiles with his case and walking stick, but he paused in the parlor doorway feeling an icy draft whip through his coat. Alice, the chimney girl, stood before the fireplace. Her back was to him so he could not see her face. The side window was half open, ushering in the unwelcome frosty breeze. He placed his case in the doorway. “Good morning, Alice, isn’t it?” The girl startled and whipped around.

“Yes, sir.” She folded her dirty hands and lowered her head with a quick backward glance at the window.

“Everything alright?” The open window drew him across the room toward the dark. He lifted it further and leaned outside finding only a dairy cart passing by and a man in a checkered cap crossing the street.

“I’m fine,” Alice chirped. “Just airing the room while the cinders are swept.” Her small body collapsed into an embryo as she began to shimmy her way up the chimney, back pressed the bricks, knees to her chin, feet and one small boned hand bracing against the sides, while holding the sweeper upright.

Atchison moved toward the fireplace, in awe of such a vanishing act, but there was only a stream of soot falling into a little pile. It was as though she had disappeared in a puff of smoke.

He retrieved his case, put on his hat, and left the house as silently as he had entered all those weeks before. Only now, he required the steadiness of a fine ivory handled cane on which to lean and the fur-lined collar of his coat to brace against the cold. Now he took his steps carefully, aware that every destination was a treacherous distance.

*

 Charlotte looked at the clock on her nightstand then down at the words in her hand. Her mind was blank. She wanted a match. She needed a flame.

Dressing quickly and barely registering the cold, she took the pale, blue farewell and folded it twice so that it filled her palm. She chose the morning room and strode to the fireplace. Reaching for a match from the small iron box on the corner of the mantle, she tightened the fist by her side. She felt cold now. And so very sad and silly. She sat on the rug before the fireplace and moved her closed fist to her lap.

Her eyes fell heavy on the grate where her offering would soon lie, but as she focused, a glimmer shone in the corner behind the blackened metal. For a moment she forgot her humiliation and found herself on all fours, note still clutched in her hand, reaching for the twinkle in the dust.

She plucked her very own silver bookmark from the powder. As with a surprise raindrop, Charlotte felt compelled to twist her face upwards, to the unending darkness of the chimney pipe. Confusion gave way to disappointed blame. Oh Alice… She uncurled her fist and looked at the crumpled paper. She placed it in her sleeve’s lace cuff, relishing the scratch against her wrist.

She heard the swishing and clanking of Alice at her work. Seized with a guilty sense of purpose, she hid herself and waited for Alice to venture somewhere unauthorized. The house was quiet. Charlotte bit her inner lip. The clock ticked.

The coughing stifled. The clanking ceased. Charlotte stilled. She swore she heard whispering. Would Alice be muttering to herself? She waited. Silence. Then the sliding of… a window? A chair across the rug? She pressed her back against the wallpapered alcove. Softly padding feet sounded out of the parlor. Steady feet. Purposeful. They floated up the stairs above Charlotte, all the way to the mid-level where her own room was. She knew she couldn’t be seen from above at that angle, so she stepped out and looked up.

Alice strode up the top staircase to the guest apartment. Atchison’s room. Charlotte followed.

Alice’s tiny form walked right up to Atchison’s door and reached for the porcelain knob. Charlotte paused at the top stair, keeping low, though Alice’s back was to her. Alice turned the knob and found it locked. Charlotte smiled faintly. Good. But then little Alice plunged her thin hand into her pocket and produced a pin or tool of some sort to pick the door lock. Charlotte smiled wide despite herself. Even better. As Alice stepped through the doorway, Charlotte gave one more look around the halls below.

Crossing Atchison’s threshold made her heart pound. The drapes were still drawn, keeping out the cold. It was dim, but with the door open to the corridor there was light enough to see Alice standing now in the middle of the room on the center of the oriental carpet blanketing the chilly floorboards. Charlotte said softly, “Alice?”

There was no response. Approaching the girl slowly, she said, “It’s alright. I won’t harm you. I’m not here to scold you.” She came around to face her. “It’s alright,” she began again, but froze. Alice’s face was expressionless. Charlotte had heard of sleepwalkers and immediately knew Alice was not at all aware of what was happening. But sleep lock-picking?

“Alice?” Charlotte reached to touch the girl’s shoulder, bending lower to see her face more clearly. She then remembered the carnival and hesitated. Bringing her hand before Alice’s face, Charlotte snapped her fingers.

Alice’s green eyes came to focus on Charlotte and the small dirty face fell into a pale, confused alarm. She licked her lips and averted her eyes but found nowhere to rest them. “It’s alright. Truly,” Charlotte said while holding both her hands out flat in front of the girl. She studied the small face and smiled at her.

“Miss,” Alice croaked. “I,” her quick breathing and twisting of her filthy apron made her soft dry voice even smaller, “I only came to,” she looked frantically around, assessing where in fact she was, “to be sure the fireplace was in order here, in…” Her poor face was such a picture of torture that Charlotte felt compelled to wrap her arms around her. But restrained herself.

“I’m sure Mr. Atchison appreciates your diligence.”

Alice nodded once and looked around more attentively. “Yes, Miss. It, ah, it looks right fine and serviceable, …” she trailed away. “Mr. Atchison moved on then?”

Charlotte snapped her head around to face where Alice was looking. The wardrobe in the corner was open. And empty.

*

Lieutenant Thomas Atchison closed the safety deposit box and spun the dial. In the weeks he lived at Number 14 K Street the resignation he had prepared to tender life remained locked as securely in his chest as the small bits of yet unreturned plunder lying behind that small metal door. The items he’d managed to stealthily return thus far lifted the burden ounce by ounce but his body continued to fail in baffling ways. No doctor could explain it, no priest could sanctify it. His limbs betrayed him. His lungs attacked him. He felt twice his age and was certain he looked it now that the walking stick was his newly required appendage. Drag-stepping out of the bank’s corridor into the wide exchange area he snorted in disbelief. Just as he had accepted the new, shorter road and ceased to feel regret at lost time: Charlotte. A strange thing he could neither explain nor sanctify.

Atchison saw Charlotte crossing the street with purpose. It had been two weeks since he’d seen her and there: a blue dress and matching coat, a black hat but hair flapping in windblown ribbons. Everything about her was a banner, a standard he suddenly wanted to fight behind and battle for. On the chance that she happened to turn back, or if she caught his image reflected in a window or passing streetcar, he left the stick inside the bank doorway. A terrible idea, he knew. She would not turn around, she would not see him, and even if she did, it would mean nothing to her.

He stepped out of the doorway on his own two legs. There was pain somewhere in his body, everywhere in his body. The streets were crowded and dusty. Shoulders squared, jaw set, he took several steps to the crosswalk before resting. He called it resting, but anyone noticing would have called it checking his pocket watch.  Expressionless, staring straight ahead, he stepped from the curb.

Charlotte lifted her skirts and stepped up the curb as she scolded herself. His eyes were something between green, brown, and gold. Not to be trusted. She strode down the walkway seeing nothing. It was absurd to have entertained the idea of marrying him. He had never asked. She had arranged it all in her mind just as her father had arranged a plan for her in his. She was no better than her father. Perhaps his blood ran through her after all. And now little Alice was a thief? She would lose more than her work if anyone were to find out. Would the disturbing reflections never stop?

From behind, she felt more than heard a calamity. Turning, she saw an omnibus stopped and a group of four or five people leaning over someone. A brown pant leg. A sandy head.

She found herself running.

“You’re a lucky man! Missing only a bit of cloth, not your leg!”

Atchison lay on the brick side walkway observing the faces above him. The woman speaking had the smallest mouth he had ever seen. Why that should matter, he didn’t know, but he suddenly wished to be alone in his blood on the road, to be allowed to feel his life leave him, to take comfort in permission given. But the faces remained. They lifted him at the shoulders; he propped himself up, braced with his hands.

The omnibus had clipped his pant leg and knocked him down, tearing the cloth and rendering him groundless. He covered his leg modestly, skin exposed almost to the thigh.

“I’m quite…” If he’d never spoken, perhaps everything would have been alright. But as it was, he had spoken. His legs felt in flames, stabbed, torn. The word “asunder” came to his mind. He started to fall back; his vision was closing as in a kaleidoscope. And then Charlotte’s figure was in the small circle. He heard her voice. She was saying his name—in an unfamiliar tone. A question.

“Lt. Atchison?”

He tried to raise his head, to find her voice, but he was still falling. Braced for the ground, he never met it. His head and shoulders sunk into softness. His face was brushed with wings of some sort. It was all very pleasant and almost distracted him from the legs being ripped from his body.

Charlotte had fallen to her knees behind Atchison, in time to pillow his head and shoulders in her lap. She swept her hair behind her, dragging it from across his face. 

“Lt. Atchison?” He was so pale! She felt along his arms and chest, not sure what she was looking for. “Someone, go for a doctor!”

“He’ll be all right, Miss—not a scratch, see,” a man gestured to Atchison’s exposed leg.

“You aren’t hurt,” she pronounced. He said nothing, but tried again to stand. He felt an icy dread and horror creep about his ribs and knew he could not rise.

“Lt. Atchison,” her voice was barely a whisper. Her white hand traced the top of his leg lightly, more curiosity than seduction, and stopped at his hip. He was hardly aware of pain for a moment; there was only drunken amazement that she would touch him—that he was lying in a heap on Mason Avenue, his clothing torn, certain he would never walk again, Charlotte’s brown eyes, Charlotte’s hand on his leg, Charlotte’s blue dress, Charlotte touching him—he began to panic.

His narrow golden eyes had her tangled in sticky nets. She was going to cry.

“I…” she didn’t know what to say. She moved her hand down his leg again. 

Atchison felt the panic rising to his throat, eyes—

She snapped her head up to face him. Tears?

“What is it, Atchison?” A frantic scream was building in her neck, clawing at the back of her throat. The crowd had grown to nine or ten people, all chattering—mostly to each other.

He shook his head, suddenly grabbing her arm wrapped across him.

“Charlotte, I don’t know!” he gasped.

A dam had broken.

As her chest cracked in two, the fissure made its way to the soft place between her eyes, and she felt her brow rise. The skin behind her ears flamed, dropped, and everything held together fell loose. What did he mean by falling to the ground, showing her this wound, making her love him, and then somehow telling her without words that he would die?






Join us Sunday of the Fourteenth, for Week Ten:
in which Charlotte does not address Dr. Ridgeway as Daniel; Alice the chimneysweep girl is found bleeding in the alley behind Number 14 K Street; and Mrs. Fellows provides comfort with her green travel coat.

You may enjoy more of the Bridge That Would Not Burnhere.





Who’s responsible for this madcap affair: Masthead
Bonafides/ home



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The Bridge That Would Not Burn

Sunday, February 14th, 2021

by Christina Rauh Fishburne


Defenestrationism.net presents
a serialization in 14 parts





Week Eight:
in which Charlotte refuses to respond otherwise than agreeably to Lt. Atchison’s impudence, until Lt. Atchison arrives.




It was after noon before she heard the carriages and the voices returning. Her face was set in what she baptized “agreeable blankness”. No one thought one way or another about what was going on behind it, so let them be pleased with a lovely void. She was settled in her chair in the parlor and almost looked forward to being disturbed.

“I’ll be in my study,” came her father’s voice to no one in particular. She set her jaw. His footsteps clipped past the doorway without a pause. There was something from Ursula about the sweeps coming again for the parlor and “post-party cleaning” at a special rate. Permission was given. Charlotte seethed. The chimney was more concerning than her absence.

More footsteps approached. She lifted her eyes to the window before her and could see his form reflected in the glass. She took a deep slow breath and pushed down the offenses with the flat of an imaginary hand. She would be blank. Would not respond beyond the politeness of social dictates. Ever again. She would not give him the satisfaction of knowing his effect.

“Good morning, Miss Worthington.” He still stood in the doorway to the room, voice low but dispassionate. “I hope you are feeling recovered.”

She was released from a cage.

Shooting up from her chair, she whirled on him, dropping her voice to a hiss, “Just who do you think you are? Giving me advice of any kind let alone how to conduct myself? Whether you find me foolish or not is of no concern to me regardless of what arrangement you may think you have with my father! That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? If he’s so enamored with you then he may marry you. I don’t care about that fortune or treasure or trophy or whatever it is or isn’t. All I ask is to not be treated as such a thing myself. And as for you— “

“You should marry someone you at least respect and at most like.” He interrupted easily, entering the room as though she had just invited him. “I think you feel neither of those things for the good doctor.” He sat down on the sofa and reached for the decanter on the table next to it. “Or for me.”

“Correct.” She was shaking and clasped her hands in front of her.

“Relax, Miss Worthington. Have a drink.”

“Go to hell.”

He smiled slightly and poured two glasses of port. He had barely raised the glass than she strode across the room and took it from him.

They each sipped from their glass and made a concentrated effort to avoid each other’s eyes. Charlotte sat down on the other end of the sofa and swung her elbow out to the side so that her empty glass was at Atchison’s shoulder. He laughed and refilled it. As he handed it back, she slid her eyes over to him.

“This doesn’t mean I forgive you.” She accepted the glass. “Only that I’ve found a use for you at present.”

He nodded solemnly. “Understood.” He refilled his own glass.

The house was quiet. She glanced at him again and sighed.

“Why do you write me notes?”

“Because you read them.”

“That’s not a good answer.”

“It’s the answer you get.”

She exhaled through her nose in what she hoped was an exasperated fashion.

He twisted the tiny stem of the glass between his thumb and forefinger. The cut crystal threw prisms over their feet.

“I think you’re a person who has many things to say,” he began, “but has no one acceptable to say them to.”

“I have nothing to say to that.”

“I don’t find many people acceptable either. I find it easier to write things I don’t like to say at the time.”

“You have a paper voice.” It came out as an insult.

“Being poetic and mean doesn’t make you strong,” he lectured.

“Being older and a man doesn’t make you wiser.”

He lifted a finger in protest. “Wrong. Being older absolutely makes me wiser.”

However much his being a man canceled that assertion she chose not to say.

He turned to better face her, leaning on one hand so that he was brought an inch closer. She moved back. “I’m surrounded by people I find ridiculous and deadly dull. I know exactly what they will say. Without fail.”

“You should take that gift on the road.”

“And I have wisely deduced that you may be interested in the same poetic questions. Resist this if you can:” She rolled her eyes. “Would you rather say something false and live loudly balanced on a thin bridge over a raging river—”

“I’d rather enjoy this drink in silence.”

“—or say something true but have no one hear it and be half drowning all your life?”

“Riddles irritate me.”

He diffused his own intensity with an exaggerated sigh. “You are… difficult.”

“I hate games.”

“You must have been a fascinating child.”

“I was smaller.”

“Exactly. I find the small and the overlooked fascinating. Preserving the small gives it power. A comment spoken is lost immediately. Changed into memory. Translated into something not itself. Write a small thing down and it stays itself forever. Whether or not you then destroy the page is up to you.”

“In that case your paper voice seems to make the small only more vulnerable. Why give power to only risk losing it? That’s cruel.” She motioned for the decanter. He moved it further back on the table. She narrowed her eyes.

Atchison palmed the air. “It’s chance. Possibility.”

“It’s heartless,” she all but spat.

“Hope is never heartless. Though it’s often…difficult.”

“Hope is easy. Trust without power is difficult.” She felt her words stretch their arms into the air before they vanished. “Faith is difficult.”

He smiled. “You should write that down.”

She digested the moment. Studied the situation in which she now found herself. Would she have a conversation like this with Mrs. Margaret Fellows? Probably not.

She lifted her glass, enjoying the warm fluid feeling of her arms for the second day in a row. She was turning degenerate. “But why notes of meaningless pleasantries and answers to questions you wouldn’t answer in the moment I asked them?”

“I write you meaningless notes because you read them. Of anyone in this place you make them mean something.”

She stopped. Lowering her glass to her lap she raised her eyes slowly. “That feels like a compliment.”

“I try not to say things I don’t mean.”

One of the many things Charlotte hated was being asked to open a gift in the presence of the giver. The expectation suffocated her and threatened to crush any joy she should feel even if she was pleased with the contents. It became her habit to hide herself away as soon as the parcel was pushed toward her, to slide a different face over her own, to reflect what was expected. Compliments were reflexes. Involuntary. Meaningless. Charlotte’s own reflex was to first resist saying “thank you” and then form the words deliberately. It was odd to feel her tongue between her teeth, the click of her throat, the push of her lips. It was odd to feel grateful.






Join us Sunday of the Fourteenth, for Week Nine:
in which Alice the chimneysweep girl lock-picks in her sleep, calling Charlotte’s attention to Lt. Atchison’s emptied wardrobe.

You may enjoy more of the Bridge That Would Not Burnhere.





Who’s responsible for this madcap affair: Masthead
Bonafides/ home



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The Bridge That Would Not Burn

Sunday, February 7th, 2021

by Christina Rauh Fishburne


Defenestrationism.net presents
a serialization in 14 parts





Week Seven
in which Charlotte contemplates the insolent humans with which she is forced to abide.




Charlotte drew her own baths, banishing Lavinia from the second level of the house once she had hauled the final bucket of hot water up the stairs. Charlotte, already naked beneath her dressing gown, retrieved the buckets from the other side of the bathroom door—careful to keep the dressing gown closed, even though not a soul was on the floor. As a child, she had found that by the time she was undressed, the filled tub would be cooled. It did not matter by how many degrees. Charlotte grieved any wasted warmth regardless how little she recognized the loss. For all the rebellious flames inside her, she could not abide that anyone see her body on the outside. She rarely wore a corset. She needed no assistance keeping herself inside, and required no help in freeing herself from clothes.

Steam curls floated up from the copper tub, lined with a white cotton sheet whose edges poured over the sides and pooled in lacey puddles at the floor.  Naked she stood in the center of the tub, the warm scented water reaching just below her knees. She eased down into the water and leaned against the slanted back, the cotton sheet steamed warm on her shoulders.  She did not close her eyes.

Mr. Porter would take her places.  Undoubtedly.  She could escape this house, this country even.  See things.  Go places.  Do whatever she liked—he would neither notice nor care.

Dr. Ridgeway would treat her like a queen.  He would love her.  Take care of her.  He would respect her, and likely fear her.  She could do whatever she liked with him as well, for he would not dare displease her.

Charlotte stared at the end of the tub until everything went out of focus. 

And Atchison.

Charlotte closed her eyes and slid further under the water.

*

            The next morning the house was alive earlier than usual for preparations to attend church in Georgetown. There was far more preparation made regarding attire, meal planning, and seating strategizing than any made concerning one’s spiritual condition. Charlotte liked the idea of church. One day she would have liked to go by herself, surrounded by nothing but her own curiosity and hunger for something true, but until then she attended surrounded by her father’s intentions to inspire curiosity.

            She rose slowly, swinging her feet over the side of her bed and relishing the icy kiss of the floor boards even under the oriental rug. Cold feet were better than any cup of coffee to brighten the senses. Coffee made her think of Atchison. Thinking of Atchison made her smile faintly. Smiling faintly made her think of smiling with her entire face and why she did not do so. Which made her frown.

            She saw the pale blue page, folded once, under her door and slipped out of bed. Pulling her dressing coat over her shoulders she sat back on her bed and opened it.

            Don’t be a fool.

            The words simply stood there. They were suddenly awkward; having completed their task, they waited for gratuity that would not be dispensed.

            She realized she had not taken a breath in a hundred years and gasped. Each time she read it she was a different person. A person insulted, confused, angry, delighted, and back to angry.

            She sent word through Lavinia that she was unwell and would not be attending services today. Then she dressed methodically and waited for everyone to leave so that should could tear around the house in a stifled rage before taking coffee and breakfast in contemplative silence as she planned how to ignore the insolent humans with which she was forced to abide.





Join us Sunday of the Fourteenth, for Week Eight:
in which Charlotte refuses to respond otherwise than agreeably to Lt. Atchison’s impudence, until Lt. Atchison arrives.

You may enjoy more of the Bridge That Would Not Burnhere.





Who’s responsible for this madcap affair: Masthead
Bonafides/ home


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The Bridge That Would Not Burn

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

by Christina Rauh Fishburne


Defenestrationism.net presents
a serialization in 14 parts





Week Six:
in which Dr. Ridgeway is unsure if the ladies wish to attend the exhibit he has already invited them to, and Charlotte finds it difficult to be bored in the parlor of Number 14 K Street.


Part II

Mrs. Margaret Fellows put on her gloves as she spoke.

“Now, my dear, we must do something about it. Your hat, at the very least, serves a practical purpose. It’s freezing outside and you’re no longer a child.” She took Charlotte’s purple felt hat and pinned it to her hair. “Lovely. And just in time. I hear the carriage.”

“Miss Worthington, Mrs. Fellows, so lovely to see you both.” Dr. Ridgeway took each hand gently as he was admitted through the front door. “Shall we?”

Charlotte squeezed out a polite looking smile and allowed him to tuck her arm in his as they stepped outside and down the steps. It was a crisp Saturday, and though she wore gloves she felt the warmth of his hand over hers. It was not unpleasant. “I think you’ll enjoy the exhibit,” he was saying. “It’s gotten nothing but praise. Of course, if you’d rather not attend, we can easily find some other diversion.” He helped each of them into the carriage and climbed in after them.

“I’m sure it will be lovely, sir.” Charlotte settled in the red velvet interior.

“Daniel, please.”

“Daniel.” It did feel good to be out of the house. She did indeed feel stronger when the effect of saying his name was so complete. She rewarded him with a smile and a direct look.

They were passing the drawing room window. Had she been in her favorite chair, she would have seen a couple smiling at each other in a carriage. The thought intrigued her as much as the sight of smoke curling up over a distant hill.

*

The walking stick was very fine. Smooth oak, solid and dependable, with a carved ivory handle perfectly fitted to his hand.

“It looks very elegant,” the shopkeeper said.

“Yes.”

“A splendid addition to your features,” the man went on.

“Yes.”

“You’ll find no finer article to accentuate your statements.”

“Yes.”

Atchison experimented various pressures as he left the shop. He weighed statement against hope.

*

There was to be a Christmas party at Number 14 K Street.

 On the menu so far was a clear flavorful soup; freshly baked rolls with sweet cream butter; before a delicately fried fish with lettuce salad; followed by a saddle of mutton served with red currant jelly and sea kale, carrots, beans, and potatoes; and finally a cranberry bread pudding with lemon-ginger sauce. A quartet had been hired, the mutton had been hanging in the smoke house for 10 days already, and Charlotte had decided on her gown. She knew as surely as her eyes were brown that the one item left conspicuously off the menu was herself. She had not been consulted in the guest list but the three names she heard casually mentioned most often by her suddenly very attentive father were: Dr. Daniel Ridgeway, Mr. Jacob Porter, and Lt. Thomas Atchison.

She was seated beside Mr. Porter. The first three courses were almost unbearable, but by the fourth, the mutton, she had seen her glass refilled three times and was feeling generous. She even asked a question or two about his life. Even feigned interest in his responses. But between his pomposity and Dr. Ridgeway’s constant sidelong glances at her from across the table, it was everything Charlotte could do to maintain polite poise. Her yearning to sigh heavily and discharge a jaw-cracking yawn in abject boredom was so compulsive that stifling it became her only mission.

She concentrated on the embroidery on her burgundy silk taffeta gown, the folds and gathers at the sides, the contrast of her dove gray gloves on her lap, the way her shoe slid up and down her heel as she raised it. She counted the candlesticks in the room: 36. She counted the faces at the table, 15, willing herself to ration each smile she gave and to alternate the pattern in which she gave them: “Yes, that must be quite fascinating.” Two ladies at the left, smile, smile. One gentleman on the right, across. “Oh, no. That was surely too disturbing for you!” One gentleman to the left across, smile. Two gentlemen at the right of Mr. Porter, smile.

Her father, at the head of the table, was jolly and pleased with himself. She imagined him tripping, or something being spilled on him. She did not realize she was smiling until Mr. Porter ventured to place his hand on her wrist where it rested at the edge of the table and said, “You are amused as well! It was a glorious moment and I’m sure those street urchins won’t soon forget their place.” She made a low noise in her throat and removed her hand from the table to the safely of her taffeta lap again, averting her eyes beyond him. Atchison was lowering his glass and caught her eyes. He lifted one eyebrow. She rolled her eyes almost imperceptibly and reached for her glass.

They finished the meal and adjourned to the parlor, whose sliding doors had been opened to extend the space and which had been repurposed as the dancing hall. It was all glittering candles and oil lamps, the fresh scent of pine and cinnamon hovered just below the warmth of so many jovial bodies, and the mantle, casements, and tops of the bookcases all stood proud and happy in their holiday decoration. The quartet was introduced and began. It was difficult to be bored in this room. With so many subjects to observe, so many fools to judge and moods to read, she could drift in and out of conversations as easily as she exchanged empty glasses for full ones. A marriage proposal for Miss LeFonte. A new grandchild for the Mathys. A large unmarked package delivered to Mr. Wilcox which turned out to be an heirloom bit of silver thought to be lost years and years ago…she would not have minded hearing more about that one, but the dancing had begun.

She danced with Dr. Ridgeway, and Mr. Porter, and two other gentlemen. She assumed her duty was finished and she would soon be able to join the ladies’ cluster of silks, bows, lace, and pleasantly meaningless conversation in which she was under no obligation to flatter anyone. She planned to be openly offensive. She was looking forward to it, if she was honest. She would not have refused another glass of wine either, if she was more honest… She turned to seek out Lavinia with the tray of glasses newly filled when he stopped her.

“Would you do me the honor?” Atchison held his hand out to her. His posture was disturbingly perfect. His eyes unsmiling. He was everything the opposite of comfortable as she looked at him.

“I’d be delighted,” she intoned, sounding anything but. He received the communication clearly; she was pleased to observe. She was prepared to trudge, graceless and humorless, around the floor with him if for no other reason than to make a point to her father who watched them openly from behind his glass of wine. She intended to give that same father a piercing glare before the dance began, but Atchison’s hand was around her waist and her hand was suddenly in his and extending out away from herself, and she found herself bodiless and floating despite the heaviness of her skirts. She had no sooner come to her senses than she became confused all over again. She looked up at this person holding her and found not, Lieutenant Thomas Atchison: Mysterious Irritant, but someone else. Someone who had shaved very carefully recently, who smelled of soap and the last sip of wine. Someone whose eyes were framed in very fine, pale lashes and were looking at her with a kindness and questioning that made her feel partly sad, almost sorry, and very nearly longing. 

She planned to say something, anything to pull herself back to the moment before when she had felt so sure of her own indignation, but as she opened her mouth, she saw him part his own.

“You’re a very good dancer, Miss Worthington.”

She watched his lips say the words and clamped her own mouth shut before looking up at his eyes again. He was not looking at her so much as detecting. “Yes. I am. Thank you.”

He smiled widely and could have been laughing. His teeth were a bit crooked on the bottom. She found it boyish and downright attractive. She was too occupied with willing her face to stop blushing and added, “I’m also excessively modest, you understand.”

He did laugh then. She smiled.

“I’m a good dancer as well. You’re allowed to say so.”

“You are surprisingly competent, yes.”

“I practice every evening,” he said.

“Really?”

“No, of course not.”

She laughed. “Well, clearly you’ve had some instruction.”

“Years ago. When I was young and unspoiled.”

“Now you are old and ruined, I suppose.” She thought to make a joke regarding his fine new walking stick. But the dance was nearly done. She was sorry for it, as surely this Atchison would end with it.

“Oh yes, quite ruined. No hope for me.” It was spoken with a smirk but she saw a shadow come over his face. “Much more dancing in your future than in mine, I believe.” He dropped his hands from her and began gently applauding with the rest at the end of the dance. “As it should be.”

He took her hand once more and raised it to his lips. She watched her gray silken glove touch his mouth and cursed it to hell for being a barrier between them. She could think of nothing to say as he assumed his overly straight-backed posture. She was watching someone disappear and was not quite sure what to do with the information. He moved through the crowd with biblical mystery, the hem of his garment touching no one in the cheerful airless space.

Confidence, however liquified, had been coursing through her along with no small amount of carelessness. Margaret had said jealousy was a useful tool and Charlotte had no need to build anything or necessarily repair anything, but she was a curious carpenter that evening. She constructed an attitude for herself. She selected a target. She called herself to arms. A rare smile to Dr. Ridgeway drew him toward her as surely as if she had cast her net into the sea. A flirtatious question and a flattering remark were magnifying droplets from a syringe: the doctor grew taller; the girl grew stronger. The effect was astounding. She was astounded. In flouncing away victorious, she caught a flashing Atchison eye from the corner where he stood ramrod straight and looking uncomfortable and martyred with his glass poised between three fingers—fingers that if the glass had been removed, the wrist rotated, would have been an illuminated blessing. Or warning. Astonishment disintegrated into sand and self-consciousness. She was nine years old and caught hiding the dead sparrow beneath the step.

*




Join us Sunday of the Seventh, for Week Seven:
in which Charlotte contemplates the insolent humans with which she is forced to abide.

You may enjoy more of the Bridge That Would Not Burnhere.





Who’s responsible for this madcap affair: Masthead
Bonafides/ home


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The Bridge That Would Not Burn

Sunday, January 24th, 2021

by Christina Rauh Fishburne


Defenestrationism.net presents
a serialization in 14 parts



Week Five:
in which Charlotte and Lt. Atchison sit in each other’s chairs at the fire.



That evening, Charlotte was in Atchison’s seat by the fire. She thought of it as his seat in any case, as she hoped he did. As she hoped it would irritate him by her being in it.

His step was deliberate as his expression was blank when he came through the parlor doorway. She kept her eyes on her book, her senses radiating out of her forehead, her shoulders, the tips of her toes, all invisibly collecting information on how to best portray her total lack of interest in his presence. The message she received was disappointing: surrender. Misfire.

Atchison sat in her seat, at least she thought of it as such, and did not cross his legs but stretched them out toward the fire. She raised white flag eyes and sighed in a long-suffering sort of way.

He was relaxed, languid even. There was a glass in his hand which he lifted as he spoke, as though they had paused in conversation.

“There was a rumor we were near the end of it all. It was April, the weather was warming but the rain was relentless.” His words took on a soft drawl as his bearing dropped away inch by inch. “We’d been separated from the rest of the men during a storm and found shelter in a cave of sorts. Fell into it, actually. It was dark and raining in the worst of disorienting ways. The ground just gave way under us all at once, but not too deep, thank God. It was more of a slope, we saw the next morning, down into this cave entrance or cavern perhaps. We didn’t have the strength or inclination to explore at that point. Anyway, there were three of us, huddled in the dark and damp, confused and afraid. I was 20. The oldest and the leader they turned to. I’ll tell you this, I had no idea what I was doing. In battle, I had what training I’d been given or figured out on my own. But soothing nerves and quelling panic? Neither was my forte. 

“We stayed there all night, built a small weak fire as far in as we could get. We talked a little at first, but one of them, just a kid, hardly a whisker on him, he was good and scared. Wanted to run. Said the storm was the perfect time to do it. Said the Union soldiers wouldn’t waste time looking for three of us, not if the rumors were true and we were surrendering anyway. The more he talked the more it sounded good to us. And that scared me more than anything else. So, I punched him and told them both to be quiet and go to sleep.”

He half-smiled at the fire and lifted the glass again. Charlotte closed her book.

“I told you we didn’t explore,” he went on. “That’s not entirely true. While they slept, I took a bit of wood from the fire, such as it was, and tried to make my way back further into the cave. Anything was better than sitting there feeling responsible for the two of them and certain none of us would make it much longer…I didn’t make it very far, but from what I could see it looked like someone had been there recently. I didn’t think much about it at the time, being concerned as I was with my immediate future as a prisoner, or dead, but I’ve given it a thought or two since.

“The next morning when the sun was nearly up, I realized I’d fallen asleep and the kid was gone. Miller and I climbed up out of that muddy slope and ran straight into a gang of what had to be deserters, though they didn’t admit to it. We were all so out of sorts nobody asked too many questions, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I reckon that the sacks those men had and the direction of the cave in which they were heading add up to stockpiling plunder.

“The chaos we were heading into was worse than the war itself.” Atchison’s eyes flickered back and forth, reading lines on a page Charlotte could not see. “Men try to keep order. I guess we think providing rules will provide direction. From what I can discern, the only thing placing rules on chaos accomplishes is providing opportunity for creative disappointment. Good does find a way. But Evil finds a way too. Just has to work a bit harder to get there.”

He looked at her. She tried to read his face, but she never did have an eye or ear for other languages.

“I heard later the kid who ran off on us was caught. I can’t see as how it ended well for him.” He finished the drink.

Charlotte’s hands were folded in her lap. She understood being forced into a life she didn’t choose. The impulse to run away, to escape. She hoped the young soldier had made it to safety. More than the tale itself, what fascinated her was the complete alteration in the teller’s mannerism. His language, his posture, his features—everything relaxed. And now, apparently completed as his confession was, Atchison sucked all suggestion of failure back into himself. His back straightened slowly, legs aligned, jaw tightened, eyes pulled away from the fire, forged. She was sorry for it.

“Thank you for indulging me, Miss Worthington. I’ll burden your evening no longer. Good night.”

He was halfway to the stairs before she could fashion her composure into something between nonchalance and benevolence, something like what a priest’s would be.

“What was his name?” she asked before she could stop herself to analyze the repercussions.

But Atchison was gone.

In her room, Charlotte sat at her little desk and plotted assassination. The deserter’s story was her story. The end would not be satisfying, but maybe it could yet be hopeful. It didn’t matter. It would end the same as it always did, eventually, destroyed by her own hand before it had a chance to be seen or changed. She stayed up well past her usual time and was shocked to hear the downstairs clock chime one. The rule, her rule, was one page. It had been a difficult night, inflicting all of her wounds onto one page. “Creative disappointment,” he had said about placing rules onto chaos. Is that what she did? Had that become the sum of her days now? How vexing.

She was climbing into her bed, placing the page on the gallows of her nightstand when she heard a soft step and the gentle creak of floorboards outside her door. She gripped her covers and held her breath. The lamp was still lit beside her. He would know she was not asleep. It was him, surely. Who else would it be? The terrifying thrill shot through her, as the light whish of the note slid under her door. Seeing it there, pale, blue, eggshell thin, doused her in coolness as the racing of her heart slowed. She waited an appropriate moment or two before leaping out of bed as silently as possible and pouncing on it. Before unfolding it, she pressed an ear to the door. Nothing. She opened the note.

His name was John Selber.






Join us Sunday of the Thirty-First, for Week Six:
in which Dr. Ridgeway is unsure if the ladies wish to attend the exhibit he has already invited them to, and Charlotte finds it difficult to be bored in the parlor of Number 14 K Street.

You may enjoy more of the Bridge That Would Not Burnhere.





Who’s responsible for this madcap affair: Masthead
Bonafides/ home


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And the Winners Are…

Monday, January 18th, 2021

What, what, what a contest. Through both plague and through unrest, Art has helped us suffer ever so slightly less.

Thnx, Art– we all owe you one.
(so submit again, next time, Lovers of Literature)




The Grand Prize Winner:
MacDuffy Suite

Runner-up:
Maple Leaf Souls




View how the judges voted— including the excruciatingly exciting three way tie for Runner-up, decided by the Fan Vote’s Runner-up.
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Who’s responsible for this madcap affair?: Masthead
Join us all Spring as,

Defenestrationism.net presents,
a serialization in 14 parts, of

Christina Rauh Fishburne’s

The Bridge That Would Not Burn

–Published now– Week Four:
in which Charlotte slurps her tea, again, and does not ask Lt. Atchison if he found confederate treasure.

or, catch-up with the bustle of excitement, here.




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Wow, people: ’21 FSC update.

Sunday, January 17th, 2021

Wow, people. What a contest.
Judge votes in. Fan vote in. Traffic high.
Announcement scheduled for 1:28 1/18/21.
Wow, people.

Scroll down for our ongoing publication of
The Bridge That Would Not Burn, by Christina Rauh Fishburne,
“in which Charlotte slurps her tea, again, and does not ask Lt. Atchison if he found confederate treasure.”

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The Bridge That Would Not Burn

Sunday, January 17th, 2021

by Christina Rauh Fishburne

Defenestrationism.net presents
a serialization in 14 parts



Week Four:

in which Charlotte slurps her tea, again, and does not ask Lt. Atchison if he found confederate treasure.



Ursula handled things. Much of her time in the past was spent picking up, often mending or concealing, various objects the Worthington girl destroyed. She found them hidden behind drapes, under overturned cups in the kitchen, and kicked to the sides of the walkway leading to the front door. She bitterly fixed or disposed of the pottery, buried the small killed creature. These days, Miss Charlotte stayed out of her way.

Ursula handled the help. It was she that kept the maids on task and paid the Sweep Master, that odious Elias Tuckett. If it weren’t for Mr. Worthington’s obsession with fire disaster prevention and a monthly sweep of the chimneys, she could have avoided Elias Tuckett’s greasy presence for six months at a time. But it wasn’t Ursula’s place to question. It was her place to arrange, to handle, but only to a point. It was the chimney girl who handled the dirtiest of things.

 Ursula avoided her. And watched.

*

Charlotte sat opposite Atchison that evening before the parlor fire and deliberately took the pale blue note from its marking position in her book. Through her lashes she watched him slowly turn the page of his own book. She sighed. He coughed once. She did not read so much as bore holes through each word, and had no rational explanation for why his inattention irritated her.

He coughed again and long enough to justify her asking if he was alright. He waved her off and re-crossed his legs.

“I’ve dealt with a reoccurring chest condition since the war. Made it through nearly the entire conflict without a scratch or illness but it was the damp darkness of a cave we’d taken shelter in that got me.”

She should have said how awful or I’m so sorry. Instead she replied, “What sort of cave and shelter from what?”

He closed his book over his finger and considered her for a long uncomfortable moment. “I’d been separated from the others during a storm. Well, me and two others. The cave wasn’t empty when we found it.”

She waited.

“Are you going to ask if we found gold and treasures and strings of pearls like pirates in a novel?”

She shrugged. “It’s your story.”

There was another testing silence, and though she did want to ask now, her resolve not to was greater.

Atchison’s mouth relaxed and he pointed his chin at the note playing between her fingertips. “I’ll tell you about that instead. That is of value to me.”

The fire between them cracked.

“In ’65 when we were making our way back, we cleared debris from a farm road. A girl sat off to the side under the trees. Very thin, very young. She’d seen a hard time of it, that was for sure. She sat there in the dried-up grass, just staring. The other man with me was called to another area closer to the barn, leaving me to finish. I dragged beams and charred bits of furniture off the road, sweating, cussing, hungry, but the work felt better than talking and I was glad to be left alone. For whatever reason, the girl under the tree made me angry. My being there, hauling her burned belongings off the scorched road made me angry. Her placid staring at nothing while the breeze moved her dark hair around her face made me angry. I threw bits of crockery and timber off the road toward her. I tried to ignore her and heaved a larger beam across to drop at her feet when she came close. She didn’t seem to see me but bent down to pick something up, squatting on her heels the way babies do. It was a broken wooden box, metal latches still attached on one end but the two halves came apart in her hands. ‘There used to be letters in here,’ she said. I kicked some smaller timber out of my way to get back to work. It was like she suddenly noticed I was there and she said ‘Good morning.’ Like we were passing in a market.

I hadn’t heard a soul greet another with those words in what seemed like a hundred years. I was startled– which angered me too. Bedraggled and homeless in her blue gingham skirt: no family, life destroyed even more than mine. ‘What the hell is good about this morning?’ I spat.

Squatting there, she tilted her head oddly and placed the broken box gently back on the pile.

‘I think,’ she turned her face away from me and spoke to the hills down the road, ‘maybe I won’t be here tomorrow. Nothing to miss here now. It’s a good time to go.’ She turned back and looked up at me, squinting in the light. ‘Morning’s the best time to make decisions. That’s what mama said.’ I knew there wasn’t much chance of her getting far on her own. Thin, young, and hapless as she was. She said, ‘It’s a lot of work being alive, isn’t it?’ then got up and walked back to the shade of her tree and sat back down. She just sat and watched me.

Over those couple hours, I’d gotten used to her weird silent company and I didn’t want to go back to the men and the seemingly endless parade of preparations for things that may or may not happen. Death was just a thing that might transpire after lunch. Like the possibility of rain.

We travelled over a covered bridge the next day, and I saw her again. Through the cut-out squares, flashes of blue near the creek edge below. Flashes of dark shining hair closer at every blink. Face down in the little creek. Her dark hair floating in with the rocks and moss at the bank. Her blue skirt soaked and clinging to her small form. I don’t know if any of the others saw her, and I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to bury her. I didn’t want to watch the men bury her. As I passed over that bridge, I wished I’d said something kinder to her. And as we continued up the hill through the woods, I decided I would say good morning to someone. That’s how I buried her.”

Charlotte’s relaxed her furrowed brow and felt her ears pop as if reaching a new depth. Or height. She was about to ask how starting the day with a burial was valuable but realized she started her day with a similarly morbid routine.

The coughing that came next would not be stifled. With a brief wave of his hand and creased brow to say it’s nothing, Atchison excused himself and the barrage of coughing carried him out of the parlor.

She’d almost forgotten she disliked him. The parlor flickered in the firelight; familiar furnishings stared back at her. Same silver vase, china blue velvet drapes. Same underlying smell of tobacco and floating bits of dust showing up in lamplight. Same feeling of being alone. But now she felt lonely. Now she minded.

*

Worthington nodded for his cup to be refilled as he adjusted the newspaper where it separated him from the breakfast table he shared with Charlotte. Lavinia adjusted the place setting for the as yet unmaterialized Atchison.

“William Harris told us the most extraordinary thing. His family had lost many valuables during the war when the pillaging was at its worst. Can you believe this—a pocket watch, engraved with his father’s name was mysteriously returned to him recently. Found in a coat pocket of all places! No idea how it came to be there. Fascinating.” There was no response from the table. He eyed his daughter. “Mr. Porter came to call? How was that?”

Charlotte ignored him and put a dainty bite of poached egg in her mouth, chewing with deliberation. Her father grimaced and fluttered the pages again.

Atchison’s arrogant step approached and Charlotte prepared her defenses by adjusting her napkin and washing the egg down with an audible gulp of tea.

“Really, Charlotte! You’re not a child! Sip like a lady.”

Charlotte finished with a loud slurp.

“Good lord,” her father glowered.

Atchison had seated himself, darting a cautious glance between the two of them.

“Nearly twenty and still youthful to a fault,” Worthington dripped.

Atchison sniffed and made a detailed study of the table’s offerings.

“When I was 19, I’d already seen friends killed beside me, been consumed with rage, sunken to the depths of utter hopelessness, and discovered a hot cup of coffee really does have the power to change a man’s entire life.” He coughed into his napkin and seemed to enjoy her squinted expression as she decided whether or not he was looking for pity.

Worthington blinked at him, smile frozen on his face.

Atchison scooped an egg onto his plate and dropped a slice of toast beside it, shook his napkin into his lap, and looked up at each of them as if they had just joined him. “Youth is strangely defined.”

Charlotte stared at him, lifted her small cut crystal water glass, and slowly slurped.

*






Join us Sunday of the Twenty-Fourth, for Week Five:
in which Charlotte and Lt. Atchison sit in each other’s chairs at the fire. 

You may enjoy more of the Bridge That Would Not Burnhere.





Fan Voting for 2021 FLASH SUITE Contest has concluded.
Winners to be announced Tomorrow.
Who’s responsible for this madcap affair: Masthead
Bonafides/ home


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