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Mildred was playing with the kite that she had received for her fifth birthday a year ago when her father called her inside. She didn’t know what to expect, so she left her kite in the yard and skipped into the house. She expected presents, not grim-faced adults wearing tight smiles that did not fit the occasion. She had been brought up by a wealthy family, and she never wondered where the money came from. All she knew was that it had not been obtained through hard work and tireless hours like many fortunes. However, she did not care. She only paid any mind to what her wealth brought her: a reputation. A reputation was all she ever knew to think about, to obsess over. Then her father spoke.
“Can you keep a secret Mildred?
A piercing scream shot through the air like an arrow. It did not miss its target. The woman to receive it was paralyzed with fear.
“How dare you? You, you criminal!” There was a loud clatter as a precious vase tumbled to the expensive marble floor.
“Mildred, listen to me! I swear, I didn’t do anything.” A small tear traced a path along the woman’s cheek. “I would never steal anything from you.”
“Like I haven’t heard that one before.”
The lady who lived in the Marble Mansion was not a pleasant one. She was a vulture, constantly circling. She was psychotic, lonely, and absolutely terrifying. Mildred was wealthy; she had inherited a large sum of money, and it had gone straight to her head and darkened her heart at the same time. She lived surrounded by diamonds and gold, and yet, she was never content. Years had passed, and Mildred’s cheeks had become hollow and pale. All she cared about was the safety of her treasures, but there was one in particular that the woman was especially attached to.
“My diamond, it rests in the glimmer in your eye! I know you stole it! Return it immediately, or you will never leave this mansion.”
“I don’t have your diamond, Mildred.” The woman was cowering in a corner, now with tears rolling freely down her face. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Please just let me go and we can both forget about this!”
“Nothing is ever that easy, Mabel. With friendship comes sacrifice, and I will never sacrifice my diamond for you.”
“Mildren listen to yourself, your going insane!”
“I’m only protecting what is dear to me, Mabel. Now hand over the gem or be trapped in the Marble Mansion forever.” Mildred stepped closer to Mabel, looking more like a phantom than any woman. Her white glittering heels clicked against the marble tile, creating an ominous sound. She stepped closer again, now so close that she was almost touching Mabel, who was curled up on the cold ground. She then turned, so quickly that the hem of her white ball gown swished. Mabel was shaking so hard she almost did not hear what Mildred said.
“I am to lock these doors, Mabel, and you shall not leave until you return my jewel.” She traipsed to the door, and pulled a rusty key from a pocket buried in the extravagant ruffles of her white gown. Mildred fitted the key into the lock and turned it very slowly, until a loud clink sounded. Mabel’s fate had been sealed.
“Why do you look so glum, my friend. You have brought this fate upon yourself. If you had returned the diamond when I asked, this never would have happened.” She smiled, a big, toothy grin that exposed her once white teeth, now smeared with her red lipstick. “Oh, Mabel, you won’t die here, not if you just hand over the diamond.”
Mabel was too stunned to respond. She shrunk even further into her corner, not wanting to face any more of Mildred’s wrath.
“Oh, you’re no fun. You never were. You were always too cautious, too slow to just jump into things.” Mildred disappeared through a doorway and gracefully climbed up the marble staircase. Mabel waited until the clicking of her shoes vanished, then, very slowly, she drew herself up from the floor. The fear of Mildred coming back was too great, and Mabel had to lean against the wall to steady herself. The wall was cold, and, like the floors, was entirely made of marble. What was once a splendid manor was nothing more than a beautiful prison to Mabel. Quickly, very quickly, she padded over to the door. She tugged and pushed on the doorknob, unable to persuade the rusty hinges to open. She sank to the ground in a tangled heap. The realization had hit her. She was alone, and she was going to suffer in Marble Mansion for the rest of her life.
Mildred could hear the broken-hearted sobs of Mabel from her room. She sat on the edge of her bed and listened.
They had once been great friends. Since they were both nine years old. Until the time when their friendship was breached. The time when they were sharing secrets under Mabel’s porch in hushed voices. Mildred had a secret, and Mabel knew it. She asked for it, and Mildred had told her that the secret was her own, and that she did not want to share it. Mabel began to cry. They had shared everything until then. She clambered out from under the porch and ran into the house. Mildred then vowed to herself that she would patch up their friendship, and make it as good as new, but in her heart, she knew that it could never be like before. Mildred then ran home, and confronted her family for making her keep that wretched secret that had destroyed her life without even being exposed.
That day didn’t matter anymore. Mildred threw rocks at Mabel’s window until Mabel let her apologize and tell her secret. She told a lie, though. She would never tell her family’s secret. Mabel was wary of Mildred from then on. She was always the cautious one. The one to watch her step. It was then that Mildred realized the weight of the secret that she was forced to keep. It was pulling her shoulders down toward the pit of earth, and soon it would drag Mildred’s sanity there also.
Mildred's reputation had had no matter in her mind until she was six years old and was forced to be the vessel for that awful secret in the first place. Then she continued to care, and built the mansion as a trophy of all of the riches she had obtained.
Mildred reached into her pocket, and after digging around for a short while, pulled out a large diamond. It glittered cheerily as Mildred rolled it around in the palm of her hand. It was the same diamond that Mildred had accused Mabel of stealing. She looked down at it and cooed, “Oh, don’t worry. You were safe with me this entire time.” Her voice hardened. “Not that you’re even worth protecting.”
Mildred dropped the diamond and crushed it with the heel of her shoe, sending little fragments skidding across the marble floor.
“You are not even worth a few coins. You fake!” Mildred’s face then crumpled and she sank to the floor in a heap of ruffled fabric and tears.
“If only I could afford real jewels. I would never have to keep a secret again. I’m a phony, a fraud, and no one can know.” Her saddened tone then turned to that of one belonging to a soul filled with remorse.
“But Mabel will never know. She came so close on that day. That day where I almost lost my only friend. But now I can’t lose her again. She can’t leave me again. She’s trapped here in this beautiful prison. One that I have so cleverly constructed. A home that is gilded. It is nothing but granite with a well painted coat of white gloss.”
Her eyes brightened as she stood and smoothed her dress. “Mabel will never own my most precious treasure. I have protected it for so many years now that it is habit for me to guard it with even my own sanity.”
The clicking of Mildred’s shoes echoed off the walls as she stalked toward Mabel like a hunter approaching her kill. Mabel shoved herself against the door, trying to put as much distance between them as possible. Her legs were too weak to stand, and she had cried until her voice had become raw. All she could do was watch Mildred as she nudged her with her shoe like Mabel was infected with some sort of contagious disease. Almost three days had passed since Mabel’s arrival in the Marble Mansion, yet Mabel had not left the foot of the door, in hopes that it may swing freely on its hinges without anyone provoking it.
“Oh, Mabel. When will you finally learn that you can’t escape. You chose to keep that precious little diamond of mine, and now you can both rot here, and regret your little thievery stunt and bravery.”
Mabel opened her mouth to speak, but found that her voice was no more than a scratchy cry.
Mildred’s face contorted with emotion. She knew that they could no longer be friends, but that could not stop the flood of feelings. She missed sharing secrets under the porch, and playing dress-up with their Sunday best. She had to let go of those feelings, though. Rage was a much more safe way to guard a secret.
She could not bear to see the remains of their shattered friendship for any longer, so she spun around and left the room, heading to the drawing room. While she may have looked confident, the second she closed the door a single tear slid down her cheek. Mildred instantly wiped it off, and flicked it off of her hand onto the carpet. She was weak. She could not even control her own emotions. The very thought of the destruction of her strength made the room spin.
Mildred collapsed onto a chaise, numb. The seat was elegant, yet it only reminded Mildred of her many lies. What looked like it had been covered in a thin layer of gold was actually covered with a thin layer of gold paint. The sophisticated mahogany structure was actually gauche painted oak. This was why nobody could come too close to Mildred's possessions. This cheap object alone could tell the truth that Mildred has protected for years.
Mabel could not control her breathing. Fear poured over her like an ocean’s tide, sucking her down and forcing her to remain forever under the strong current. Her lungs seared from the sudden lack of oxygen, and Mabel gasped for air, realizing she had not drawn breath in what felt like hours. Her body yearned for sleep, tugging her toward an unconscious oblivion. She fought her desire, refusing to weaken herself as much as to open her mind to the terrors that hide in the Marble Mansion. While awake, Mabel could push her nightmares away, but while asleep, her mind was gullible.
She grasped the door’s handle, and attempted to pull herself up from the ground, but her skinny arms could not complete such a task, and her bony fingers were in pain. She was hallucinating from the hunger, fear, and dehydration that had drenched her body like a hurricane for the past three days. The room began to spin and the marble floors lost their rich creamy color and looked almost as if they were made of granite. Mabel let out a laugh, suddenly reminded of a time when both Mildred and Mabel were nine years old.
She remembered playing with Mildred on her porch on a sunny day. Mildred had announced that when she grew up, she would live in a manor made from only the finest of imported marbles, and if she ever had to live in a home made from granite, she would be terribly upset. They then proceeded to braid daisies into each other’s hair and giggle until the sun began to set and Mildred had to run home for dinner.
That day was insignificant to them then, nothing but a day similar to the last and the next.
Mabel could not bear the dizzying sensation of watching the room twirl any longer. She shut her eyes tightly and sucked in deep breaths, one after the other. A fog slipped into her head, quiet and soothing like a sweet babbling stream. She let herself succumb to the soft whispers, finally allowing herself to rest.
Mabel rubbed her eyes, weary from her fitful rest. The sun had sunken in the sky, bathing the pristine hallway in a glowing orange hue. The light seemed to calm the panic that had risen in Mabel, and her recent terrors could only be found in the deepest recesses of her imagination.
Closing her eyes, Mabel searched for a sound, a subtle hint of Mildred’s presence. Upon hearing nothing, Mabel began to crawl toward the staircase. Her stiff limbs moved like wooden puppets, and rarely seemed to obey her. The once-vacant glimmer in her eye had been replaced by a sparkle of strength.
When she reached the foot of the elegant marble staircase, Mabel rested her head on the first step. Her starved body could not spare much energy. The trek across the foyer alone had brought her heart to a quickened pace and her breath to a wheeze. Her curiosity was stronger than her deprivation. She gripped the second step fiercely, afraid to let go, and pulled herself up.
This went on for quite a while, with Mabel stopping to rest in between steps. Twice Mabel slipped and fear threatened to tear her to shreds but she managed to catch herself. Mabel wanted to visit the quarters of Mildred. She had never seen Mildred’s room in the Marble Mansion. Mildred had never spoken of it in conversation and Mabel never dared to imply her curiosity with questions of it.
The room was dark, so Mabel had to light an oil lamp found Mildred’s bedside table. The small flame danced, illuminating what Mabel could see now as an almost completely unfurnished room. The walls were bare and the granite floor looked worn and almost brown. This reminded Mabel of her many hallucinations and how she had thought the floors were made of granite. Now, seeing reality dancing with her hallucinations, Mabel was seized with an irrational terror. The fear consumed her, freezing her in place while it slowly gnawed at Mabel’s sanity. That is when Mabel heard the footsteps of no one other than Mildred.
The slow footfalls of Mildred seemed to break the icy dread holding Mabel hostage. She quickly blew out the candle and set it down on the ground beside her. Having no other place to hide than the fortress she created herself, Mabel embraced her legs, pulling them close to her chest, protecting herself like the frightened animal that she was. She could hear the courage-draining clicking of Mildred’s heeled shoes, the squeaking of the rusty hinges as the door swung open, creating a void where a barrier had once stood bravely, blocking Mildred’s view of her prisoner.
Mildred screamed when she saw Mabel. Her terror only lasted a second, however, before she exposed her fountain of rage. Mabel scrambled away from Mildred, using her hands and feet to propel herself on the slick floors. Mabel then felt something sharp scrape her palm. She stopped attempting her escape to lift up her hand, completely oblivious to Mildred’s presence. Crimson blood trickled from her palm, staining the once-white floors. This drew Mabel’s attention away from the blood that had spilled to the floor. There were fragments of glass strewn about, and beneath them was the granite floor with faded brush marks making a visible attempt to hide Mildred’s lies. Mildred’s fear returned as she realized what Mabel might be thinking. She backed away from her, shrieking when her back found the wall. She was trapped in her own bedroom with the truth. Her emotions refused to follow her command, and tears carved ravines into her cheeks. Mabel looked up, her mind spinning with the realization. She let her eyes search for Mildred’s glazed, tearfilled ones, the tears coming from a place in her heart where she kept her now-destroyed reputation that she had so cleverly built. Then she took a breath and acknowledged Mildred’s many secrets.
“Why the lies, Mildred?”
Old habits never leave you, but if you’re lucky they only remain as memories. Mildred preferred to never think of the greed she used to possess, but some days she would see a golden ring and feel a sudden desire to own it, to put it on and strut her power and wealth. Her temptations never died, but they had retreated. Her mansion had been abandoned, left as it was: a reminder. A reminder to the insanity that greed causes. A reminder that diamonds and gold are not the things to be measured and envied, but loyalty and kindness. A reminder of Mildred’s many lies to hide the true materials in which something was constructed, when the quality was equal. A reminder of how much pain and emptiness power can bring. A reminder of Mildred’s secrets, all to protect her reputation.