These Vicious MasksBy: Kelly Zekas & Tarun Shanker
“If I settle this with Robert tomorrow morning, I should also speak to Mother. I cannot allow her to interfere with my nursing as she did this evening. I didn’t protest her restrictions when she made them—I was happy to be treating any patients. But lately, I’ve been reading Mr. Darwin’s journals, and, well, he was only able to learn by traveling and venturing to a new place. That was how he formulated his brilliant ideas.”
Rose spun Father’s globe with a great push as if she wanted to leave at that very moment. Her words came out with a speed to match it as she explained all the difficulties that female doctors encountered in trying to get an education, take the certification test, and find a place to practice. “Oh, I wish I could do the same!” she said. “There are too many sick and poor all over the world and not nearly enough doctors to help. If only Mother would allow me.”
“You have a better chance of persuading her than anyone else,” I said. “Besides, what is one more mad daughter to her?”
“I should thank you for going mad first, for it makes me look rather sane,” Rose replied with a laugh.
I unfolded my legs to let them dangle, but my feet kept hitting the floor. It took everything within me to refrain from complaining about my own situation. At least Rose had her passion. She knew her precise goals and the obstacles standing in her way. It was a difficult path, no doubt, but it was still a path, and that was enviable. I could not be a doctor like her, and I had no desire to run a household like my mother. What else was there to do? And how would I ever find out if Mother refused to let me see more of the world?
“Ev, you’ll figure it out,” Rose said, sitting down by my side. She saw through me with her piercing eyes, guessing exactly what bothered me. “There’s still plenty of time. And Mr. Kent is quite understanding.”
“What do you mean?”
Rose giggled. “That man is in love with you. And he would certainly be a wonderful companion in your world travels!” Something hot ran through me, starting at the crown of my head.
“I can’t imagine Mr. Kent ever marrying. That’s why I thought we got along so well.”
“Well, if anyone can convince him, it’s you.”
Mother had always argued that there was more freedom during marriage than before. But I had never considered that an actual possibility until this moment.
Rose smiled mischievously. “It looks like we both have a lot of thinking to do, men to turn down . . . or not turn down.”
“Indeed, it is exhausting being so in demand, is it not?” I asked archly.
“Speaking of which, I think it’s bedtime. I can barely stand after all that dancing.”
A yawn took over my mouth. “And all that hiding from dancing has exhausted me.”
We clambered upstairs by the faint light of a nearly melted candle. Outside her bedroom, Rose came to an abrupt stop and enveloped me in a hug. “Thank you. Just talking about this makes me already feel better—freer even.”
“I shall declare your love to men at every ball, then.”
She snorted. “I look forward to it.”
“Good night,” I said, muffling the words into a kiss on her forehead. “Wake me up before you do anything tomorrow.”
I started down the dim hall, and Rose’s voice followed me, soothing like a summer breeze.
“Ev, whatever you decide, I’ll help, too. Mother will be unable to refuse us both.”
Those simple words reassured me more than anything else could have. An involuntary smile crossed my face, and I felt a bit lighter myself. “Thank you, Rose.”
With a wave, she slipped into her room and closed the door behind her. For a moment, I stood in the dark, cozily silent hall—the candle flickering, my toes sinking into the soft rug—and I appreciated the present. No restlessness about the future bubbling up inside to keep me awake all night—just simple contentment.
The only lingering question in my mind was whether there had been some sort of mix-up with our births. Rose was far better at playing the older sister than I could ever hope to be. As I climbed into bed and drifted off, I promised myself that tomorrow I would be the best sister the world had ever seen.
I WAS FLOATING on the Nile River under madly swirling clouds obscuring the pale pink sky, when a familiar, female voice sputtered through my dream.
“Mis . . . Wyn . . . am!”
I turned in the bath-warm water, struggling to see who it was. No sign of life on the riverbank, besides the prowling lions.
“Miss Wyndham!” it shouted, and a wave of realization shuddered through me. That voice. That stern reprimand. I’d heard it countless times from my former teacher and governess, Miss Grey.
“Ca—yo—hear m—?” her voice called out. My head absently nodded to my disembodied teacher’s question. I stared around the dreamscape wildly, wondering why I was still asleep and not jolting awake with fear.
I endeavored to speak, but no matter how I tried, all that came out was a strangled moan. How—where, no—what was she?
“Yo—mus—list—” A pale face framed with wild hair formed in the clouds high above the river, her words sparking with urgency. Bewildered, I struggled to make sense of her mashed-together sentences, rearranging and testing out the sputtered half words. But even when the same sounds seemed to repeat in her desperate warnings, they remained impossible to fit together. Only one intelligible sentence stood out from the mess.