I sit in front of my vanity attempting to drag the comb through my flaming curls. Staring back at my reflection, the wild mane that surrounds me like a halo of fire and the comb is stuck in the knots, I realize it is hopeless. I release a huff of frustration before slamming the comb on the table in front of her.
My father recently fired my maid, Sophie, who had served the family for as long as I can remember. I hadn’t had much time to process the loss, until now when I wonder whom who plait my hair for the party tonight. How will I face all the guests? Hanging my head down in my arms, I admit defeat.
I hear the door knob turn behind me but refuse to acknowledge the sound. I resign to stay here all night until fingers move through my locks easily, untangling the knots. Slowly, I lift my head to see my mother’s reflection, standing behind me. Her red locks are caefully tamed, as always, in a chignon. She holds her hand out for the comb. Silently, I retrieve it from the table and place it in her waiting palm. I cringe, awaiting the comb to encounter the numerous knots and the pain in my scalp to follow.
“It’ll be alright, Aileana. Don’t you worry,” she says, taming my hair with the comb.
My mother’s voice has always been soothing, just as she works the comb in my hair without hurting me.
“I’ve brought something for you.”
I turn to see her hand disappear into the fold of her dress. What she retrieves from her dress in a handful of a purple flower, the likes I’ve yet to see before.
She holds out the plant to me and I hold it in both of mine. “What are they called.”
“It is known as a thistle, thought to be extinct here in Scotland.”
“Where did you get it.”
“A friend,” and that’s all she says on the matter, motioning me to turn around again.
I watch my mother’s reflection through the mirror, her fingers beginning to plait my hair.
“I know that lobelia are you favorite but I thought this would like lovely weaved into your hair tonight.”
I smile. “I would like that very much.”
She returns the smile with her own. “There will be no one more beautiful than you, my daughter, tonight on your debut into Scottish society.”
My reflection is beaming and it is all because of her. No one can make me feel like this, only mother.
* * *
My dance card is full. I barely have any time to socialize with Catherine Stewart, my closest friend. The amount of bachelors that have shown up the the debut of the Marquess of Douglas’ daughter is nearly unheard of. I know it is not because they have an interest in me but because of how substantial my dowry is.
I’ve yet to see my parent’s on the dance floor. I find them, side by side, my mother’s arm tucked into my father’s elbow. She is wearing a blue dress, my favorite color.
“Come dance,” I shout to her over my shoulder.
“Soon,” she replies. My father stares down at her, his gaze full of love.
When the dance is complete, I spot my father among various nobles, deep in conversation. My mother is nowhere to be seen.
Not wanting to interrupt the Marquess of Douglas, I continue searching for my mother. I finally spot her blue dress fleeing the ballroom. Sneaking away, I pursue her to the gardens outside. She is too far ahead and I am about to shout out to her when I hear a scream.
I duck behind one of the hedges. Slowly I peer out. What I find terrifies me. My mother hangs suspended in the air by her neck by another woman. This stranger has long flowing hair and vivid green eyes. She smile at my mother, what a haunting sight it is.
“I’ve found you at last.”
My mother can do no more than whimper.
I am about to go inside for help when the strange woman reaches her free arm out to my mother’s chest so fast, she breaks through my mother’s ribs. Her hand retrieves my mother’s still beating heart.
The woman drops my mother’s lifeless body on the garden floor then turns to walk away. Just like that, she’s gone.
I don’t know how long I sit there, crouched behind the hedge, until suddenly I’m kneeling at my mother’s side, throwing myself against her and yelling at her to wake up. It’s useless, I know her heart is gone but this can’t be it. It can’t be.
The commotion must have alerted some party goers because my father arrives to tear me from my mother.