By Laura Teodorescu
Tea time is at eight o’clock every morning, without exception. Emily puts milk into hers, but mama and I take it with a hearty amount of honey. We drink it slowly, in the Great Dining Room, without exchanging any words. When we’re done, Emily cleans up quickly, mama goes in her study to answer letters and I pick up the Encyclopaedia. I have to read a chapter every day and tell mama and Emily about it over dinner. Mama insists it’s good for my education, but not everything in it is that interesting.
The windows are opened every day at ten. Emily stretches her long, thin arms up, up, up into the air and opens the windows ever so slightly, so that you couldn’t notice they were open from the outside. She only opens the large windows in the Great Dining Room, the Ball Room, the library, and the dormitories. The kitchen’s windows were boarded up and Mrs. Mary has to cook using only the light of half a dozen candles. Mama said it is because the food tasted better this way. I didn’t tell her, but ever since we boarded up the kitchen, the food has been a lot worse. I always eat it, though, because Mrs. Mary puts a lot of effort into it. I know because sometimes I go to read my chapter next to her, while she and Emily scrub pots or peel potatoes.
Every day at twelve, I go to the library to build a book fort. Mama doesn’t like it, but she never enters the library so she doesn’t know I still do it. Emily covers for me because sometimes I help her press flowers inside the books. She wants to stick them on this gigantic painting she made. After she leaves the castle, she wants to get married to her fiance, Carl, and she said this painting is for their living room. Emily said that they can’t afford too many things, but a painting would make it more homely. I am the only one who has seen the painting, but I can’t say what it is of. I promised Emily.
Two o’clock is my favourite time of the day. Emily takes me for a little walk in the inner garden. The garden is a bit dry and the flowers are all wilted since the last rain was more than three months ago and we aren’t allowed to take water out of the well. But it still looks pretty, even with yellow grass and dust everywhere, especially when Emily sits in the middle, in her blue dress, and picks the prettiest flowers for her painting. The only thing that I don’t like is that sometimes I hear some voices on the outside that cry and scream and beg. Mama said they were the castle’s protectors and that they pray to the gods for water. Once, one of them had climbed the wall while I was there. He looked like a normal man, but very skinny and dirty. Mama said it was because he is humble so the Gods will listen to him.
At four o’clock, we eat dinner. We usually have potato stew. Mrs. Mary tells us every day it’s her specialty, but I wish we had something else too, from time to time. I don’t tell her that, though, because she looks very proud of the stew. Once, I had asked mama why did we go from three big meals a day to only one and the tea. She told me it’s because now I’m no longer a child and a young lady eats a little less so she can maintain her silhouette. Emily said this is what she did and she is very pretty, so I guess it’s true.
Sometimes, at six, I help Emily fix the clothes. I hold the fabric and she sews. Nobody can move the needle faster than her and she usually tells me stories until she’s done. Sometimes, the stories are about her life, but most of the time they’re about Celeste, the Butterfly Princess – that is the character she made for me and she goes on new adventures every day. Very rarely, Emily is silent and moves the needle slowly, so she doesn’t finish in time. Those are the bad days and I try to cheer her up. That is when I tell her stories about Marcelline, Celeste’s friend. Emily smiles and she squeezes my hand.
I am alone at eight. It’s the time mama put aside for me to stay alone for a bit and think and pray. I don’t like to pray, because I think the humble spirits outside the castle do a better job then I could. I don’t want the Gods to be busy with my clumsy prayers. Instead, I go out in the garden again and I dig a little. I have a well I started and I think I am very close to getting to the water. When I’m done with it, I will tell Emily about it, but for now I keep it a secret.
I always have to go to sleep at ten, even when I am not tired. If I can’t fall asleep, I think about a new story to tell Emily or about what I read in the Encyclopaedia. Sometimes I dream all night long about infinite rivers of roses and silk and children I can play with. And it rains with bright blue water and the garden is happy and green again and mama is smiling and Mrs. Mary is making pot roast again and Emily is dancing with Carl and papa is back. I always wake up with a smile on my face, at around seven. Which is perfect, because tea time is at eight o’clock every morning, without exception.