I’m posting a section a day of my epistolary romance novella The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. You can read it online for free here (click on the “Perilous Life of Jade Yeo” category to access the other posts), or you can buy the ebook at Smashwords or Amazon. The ebook contains the complete 23,000-word novella.
Monday, 14th March 1921
I have made a friend! Those of us who loved not wisely but too well are quarantined from the decent women, so there has not been much opportunity for conversation with the other half. But I was struck down by a vile cold this past week, and have only been able to creep out of my room today. I was too late for lunch, but one of the Misses took pity on me and persuaded the cook to whip something up for me.
I was gnawing doggedly on a potato, alone in the dining room, when a girl came in and sat down across the table from me. She asked if I wouldn’t mind her horning in on my bread rolls.
“Please do,” I said.
I liked the look of her at once: she had untidy brown hair, and bright dark eyes that darted as a bird’s eyes do, taking in everything about her. She looked like a nice squirrel. “Are you sure you don’t want a sardine?”
“No–the plainest possible bread. A crust would be even better, in fact,” she said, extracting one from a roll. “I have been fed on milk and fat for days. Bread and water is my idea of heaven. What is your name? I am Margery.”
“My name is Jade,” I said. I don’t tell people my real name, after the way everyone at university mangled it. It’s fortunate that my name can be translated into a name that sounds sensible in English. Imagine if I had been named Swallow, or Plum.
“That is a pretty name,” said Margery.
“So is yours,” I said courteously. “What are you in for?”
Margery cast a look around to check that none of the Misses were hovering, and swallowed a crust.
“I’m mad,” she confided. “And you?”
“I’m bad,” I said.
Margery nodded sympathetically.
“I thought you seemed to have all your marbles lined up in a row,” she said. “And of course they’ve allowed you civilian rations. I expect they don’t drown you in milk, as they do us.”
“Why do they drown you in milk?” I said, interested.
Margery turned the palms of her hands up in a gesture of despair.
“Why do they do any of the things they do?” she said. “I am made to eat and eat and eat, and sleep the rest of the day.”
“As if you were a dormouse,” I said.
“Indeed, as if I were a dormouse,” said Margery. “They have only let me out of bed today. I suspect the purpose of these torments was to force me to recover out of pure indignation.”
“I was going to observe that you seem to have quite a good hold on your marbles yourself,” I said.
“Oh yes, most of the time,” said Margery. “But sometimes, you know, they get away from one. Then a black thing with horns and wings comes and sits at the foot of the bed and stares at one with evil yellow eyes–and one can’t get out of bed, but lies there and wishes one was dead, until one’s relations come to pack one off to the nearest nursing home. Do you know the feeling?”
“No,” I said.
“Good,” said Margery. “I hope you never do.”
We were quiet for a while. I broke the silence to ask:
“Did your relations send you here, then?”
“My brother-in-law, I should say,” said Margery. “He tried the seaside first, thinking the sea breeze would blow away my humours. But my humours clung obstinately to me, so he sent me here instead.
“My sister would have kept trying with the seaside,” she added.
“I hope you shan’t be here much longer,” I said. “Since you dislike it so.”
“Why, don’t you?” said Margery.
“Well, I chose to come here, which puts a different complexion on things,” I said. “Besides, they let me eat all sorts. I would leave if they tried to restrict my diet to milk.”
“You chose to come?” cried Margery. “But what about the–” She clamped her mouth shut and went pink.
“Oh, the father?” I said. “He is paying, but he didn’t force me to come here. I chose the institution.”
“I retract what I said about your looking sane,” said Margery. “Fancy choosing to come to a dreadful place like this! Do you not find it fearfully dull?”
I have, rather. It is not so much not having anything to do, because I spend my days reading and writing, as I always did. I don’t cook here, but save for that and for the fresh air and better view from my window, I might as well be in London.
No, what I miss is not the giddy whirl of life in the metropolis, but having people to see and talk to. The Misses are kind, but they don’t talk; they issue platitudes.
“It does get lonely,” I admitted. “But where else could I have gone? If I had stayed where I was it might have got rather awkward in a few months. My landlady lives in mortal fear of what her neighbours might think, and they would have had awful thoughts about me.”
Margery looked somber.
“That is true,” she said. “If I were you, I suppose I would have relied on my sister.”
“If you don’t like it here,” I said, “can you not write to your sister to say that you are feeling better and please will she take you away?”
“There is Reginald, you see,” said Margery. “That is my brother-in-law. He is not unkind, but he has a scientific mind. He hates to see me lolling about at home in a funk when I could be here, lolling about in a funk under the supervision of trained nurses. If I insist on coming home now he will say, but the doctor said you must lie in bed for two months at the very least, and not an inch will he budge, no matter what I tell him.
“But,” said Margery–I could tell she had a mind that got stuck on ideas, and would not let go of them easily–“do you not have anyone you could rely on? You haven’t got a Reginald barring your escape.”
“No,” I said. “But I don’t have a sister either. I haven’t got any family here.” I sent a silent apology to Aunt Iris, but in this sort of eventuality she doesn’t really count–and wouldn’t want to, either.
“Oh,” said Margery.
The corners of her mouth turned down. Then she brightened.
“But you must have friends. Do you not have friends?”
I haven’t got many friends in England. Everyone I was close to at university has returned to their respective countries since, and after university I was mostly too busy to make new friends. Ravi, of course–and Hardie and Diana qualify, I suppose.
“I have three friends here,” I said, “but it would be rather awkward for me to ask them for help.”
Margery did not seem to like this answer. She frowned.
“Well, that’s wrong,” she said. “Because you have four. I am your friend. I’ll help you.”
“That is kind, thank you,” I said. “How do you mean to start?”
Margery reflected. “I shall comfort your cheerless hours with my prattle. Cordelia–that’s my sister–she always liked to hear me talk. And I shall help you select a name for the baby. Have you chosen one already?”
We spent the rest of the afternoon making great plans. Margery is not allowed to read books because the words are too taxing for her intellects, so we are to see if we can arrange for me to come into her room to read to her. The doctor might not mind that. And Margery is to pretend to be wholly oblivious of my being pregnant, for fear that the Misses might ban contact to prevent my polluting her virginal mind.
I wonder what Ravi is doing right now. Perhaps I shall explain everything to him some day, when the tadpole is a frog and both Ravi and I are too old to be troubled by the past. Then we will sit on a porch in the twilight drinking good tea and laugh about how silly I was, and he will reach out and touch his beautiful wife’s greying but still lovely hair, and feel serene and happy about how everything turned out ….
But now I am wallowing again!