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She was confined during the day to corsets and manners, at night she was free and nothing could hold her down. It was during the middle of the night when her father’s snores broke the quiet silence of night that she would sneak out of her home. With nothing on but the long white night gown she tripped softly down the wooden stairs and out the large oak door and out into the coolness of the night.
It was those first few moments in the freedom of night that she just stood and observed. After only a few moments she became reckless and impatient for the freedom only the wind and cool night air could so easily give. So she would walk down the three steps of the porch, lifting the hem of her gown bunched into a fist, and as her foot touched the grass she relished in the wetness of the dew, it fueled her excitement for the freedom she was about to obtain.
She took it slow; walking at first, with no stars in the sky she only had the glow of the moon to guide her. She stopped once she reached the middle of the front yard and closed her eyes taking a deep breath, and listening to the sounds around her. A breath of nature filled her lungs but the scent of pine, salt, and cool summer air did little to diminish the anger that had been building in her all week, as she had done needle point with her grandmother and served tea to her father’s business associates, and the thought of one man, a man she didn’t love, proposing to her and being forced by her father to say yes.
Then hands that had been hanging loosely at her side only moments before had formed into fists, her nails digging into the tender flesh of her palms, tiny droplets of blood fell from her hands and onto the grass staining it. She began breathing heavily with the horror of her impending marriage.
The hoot of an owl broke the girl out of her despair, opening her eyes as fresh tears fell from her eyes; using her blood stained palms she wiped her face and tried to slow her breathing. She took one more look around before deciding to walk to the west side of her father’s property. She began walking faster and faster until she finally reached a sprint. As she ran the grass grew taller and reeds and cattails began to be mixed in, snagging her night gown as she ran.
Yet she didn’t care, she wanted her freedom and this was the closest she would ever get. At some point the hard dirt that the grass lived in turned to mud.
When she finally ran out of breath she stopped, her night gown stained with mud, grass and her own blood; it was beyond salvageable and there would certainly be questions the next day but she did not care. With her breath back in her lungs she continued forward. Pushing the reeds aside as she walked, and then she reached the source of the mud, it was a lake, the one her brothers had told her about, but she could never see due to her lessons and learning the running of the house hold.
She came to the edge of the water and paused. She pulled the hem of her night gown up forgetting that it was already soiled and let the bottom of her foot graze the top of the water. It felt cold against her skin. She kneeled down by the water cupping water in her hands and splashing it on to her face washing away the blood and dirt; she tried to run her fingers through hair in order to tame it and look semi presentable, but was stopped by the tangles in her hair.
She didn’t bother trying to fix it after that, with the thought of why bother on her mind she waded waist deep out into the lake. When she was waist deep she opened her arms as if to hug the water and fell face first into it. She allowed herself to sink before she had no breath left and she rose to the surface and sucked in a breath.
She walked back to the shore her hair dripping, creating ripples behind her. She climbed out of the water and walked forward her gown sticking to her body as if it was pasted to her. She looked toward the sky, the moon was starting to go beyond the horizon.
She began walking slowly towards her father’s house, following the path she had created on her way there. She ran her fingers through her hair once again, no longer met by resistance, she than rung her gown out. It was as her the sun rose that she reached the front of her father’s house.
The house was alive with people, her brothers wandered the outside calling her name; her oldest brother spotted her first. He ran towards her, worry etched into the features of his face. He grabbed her arms begging her to tell him what happened but she pushed him away and continued walking to the house; passing her father, whose face was red and mouth was open.
She walked up the stairs and down the hallway leaving a trail of dirt behind her. She washed her body and hair and called a servant girl into her rooms to help her dress. She bent over as the servant pulled the corset tighter and tighter until she her breaths became difficult to take. She then preceded to finisher her dressing and put her hair into a tight bun on top of her head. When she was what society considered presentable, and what she considered trapped, she made her way downstairs to the breakfast table where her brothers and father sat. She took her place and no one spoke as they ate.
It was as her tea was being poured that the first words were spoken. “What were you thinking?” she lifted her eyes to not her father’s face but to her brother’s. Her father made no sound, he only observed “Are you trying to disgrace our family, ruin the name that our father has worked so hard to make honorable?” Still she said nothing, even as her brothers face turned red with anger until he finally exploded; standing up and tipping his chair over as he did so before throwing a plate full of food at the wall.
“Enough Lawrence.” Her father said before it escalated farther. “No one knows of this disgrace and no one ever will, and as for you Lillian you are to act like the lady that your mother, God bless her soul, raised you to be. This will not happen again do you understand?”
“Once a horse has experienced freedom, you cannot pen them, for they will jump any fence to taste that freedom again; and just like the horse I have tasted freedom and I will do anything to fully achieve it.”
“Now listen here.” Her father began, his face becoming red with anger “You will marry Jonathan, be his wife and a mother to his children and you will not bring disgrace to this family.” The girl let a small sad smile slip on to her face before excusing herself from the table without giving her father an answer. Her youngest brother, William, said nothing but simply looked at the food on his plate.
She walked the grounds of her father’s lands in her proper clothes, missing the freedom that the night before had brought her. She had had a taste of what could be and would not settle for less. She slipped the shoes and stockings from her feet and lifted her dress off the ground and began to run yet still the freedom did not come, so she dropped her dress and let down her hair and began pumping her arms as she ran faster, and yet the freedom did not come. She reached where the grass grew and the cat tails and reeds mixed in and stopped at the small lake to splash water on to her flushed cheeks.
She sat there waiting for the freedom that she craved so badly to come when she heard something click. She turned around just in time to see the bullet come toward her and pierce her heart; she gripped her chest as blood dribbled out of her mouth and the word, Why, stuttered from her lips as she took her last breath, and fell into the water behind her.
She floated on top of the water with the petals of flowers from fallen trees surrounded along with the blood stained water. Her loose hair and clothes were now soaked through, and her eyes had glassed over but stayed focused on the sky above.
The man who had held the gun simply sat on the shore watching his sister’s dead body sink through the tears that fell from his eyes. That was how they found him; weeping on the muddy bank in the light of the moon with gun in hand. He heard them coming but did not bother to run.
“William where is she?” his father asked shaking him by the shoulders.
But William was unable to speak through his sobs and could only point out into the water. His oldest brother Lawrence ran in to the water tripping on something and falling down head first. He came up and shook his head in an effort to clear the water from his eyes and lifted the object that he had tripped on; he lifted it out of the water to find an arm as white as a china dolls, and was horrified to realize that it was his baby sister’s.
He found her head and lifted it out of the water, her eyes still open and strands of hair stuck to her face. He let out gasping sobs as he moved the strands away from her face and to the side. He lifted her body further out of the water and clutched her close thinking only of the harsh words he had said to her only hours before.
Her father who had been trying to calm his son down now looked at his oldest son who cradled his only daughter’s dead body to his chest. He walked into the water and to his son and pushed the girl’s hair back from her face and began to weep. The girl’s father took her body from her brother and cradled her in his arms as if she were a babe again and carried her out of the blood washed water.
The girl’s oldest brother heaved his youngest brother to his feet and forced him to walk behind their father who carried her body. They walked back to her home passing her fiancé, Jonathan, who sat on the front porch. He did not weep, and said no words of comfort only that it was a shame and he had to leave.
They carried her lifeless body to her room and laid her on the bed and covered her with a sheet that would soon be stained from the blood that still flowed from her body. Her father then walked down the stairs to see his oldest son, Lawrence, pressing his youngest son, William, against the wall; both had tears staining their faces. “Enough stop it; we have had enough blood spilled.” Their father yelled.
“Not until he tells you what he told me.” Lawrence said through his sobs.
Their father looked at William waiting “I killed her.” Their father’s face paled “She wanted to be free and she never would have with him. She was never meant to be a mother cooped up watching children and running a house . . . she was meant to be free.” William explained through his sobs “Like a bird she needed to be free.” The oldest released the youngest and allowed him to slide to the ground.
The sobs of the three men echoed through the house and carried on to the funeral. She was buried in the dead of night under the light of the moon. Her father prayed that it would be enough to give her the freedom she so desperately wanted and seemed to need. As the three men walked back to the house that no longer held the presence of the girl, a bird soared above them chirping its’ song.
William’s sobs echoed the bird’s song and only solidified the absence of the freedom craving girl.
Only in death can we fill the crave for freedom