A thick shaft of buttery sunlight slants across the floor and slides up the wall. In its light can be seen the varied debris of a lived-in home. A softly-patterned scarf dangles across a chair. A single shoe lies missing its partner in a dark corner next to the bed. Across the dresser is strewn a collection of powders, perfumes and other paraphernalia aimed at imitating beauty. Not quite in the light stands a half-open door through which a faint humming can be heard. A sweet moment passes in which the only sounds are the distant ticking of a kitchen clock, the subtle song drifting down the hallway and a somnolent buzzing of life through the open window.
A sudden, sharp click-clacking taps down the hallway and carries the humming closer to the doorway. A slender figure emerges and clacks towards the bed. A serving tray rests in her hands and on it lies a most magnificent meal. Freshly brewed coffee steams into the summer air next to a plate boasting all sorts of breakfast delights. Richly glistening eggs keep company with crispy strips of bacon, perfectly golden slices of toasted bread and saucy baked beans. A separate plate contains a towering pile of fluffy flapjacks covered with slick sticks of butter. The sharp tang of freshly squeezed orange juice mingles with the musky scent of genuine maple syrup where the two containers stand together. A small glass vase holds a single dangling blossom, bright and white. Carefully she places the tray with its treasures on a wide side table next to the bed. Once she is finished carefully arranging every plate and cup and glass, the woman turns a wide smile to the shape slumped on the bed beside her.
“Look what I’ve made for you. Doesn’t it look delicious?”
Her voice is as bright and warm as the sun streaming through the open window. Her matching smile dims only slightly when no answer is forthcoming, but quickly regains its brilliance as she seats herself close to the bed-ridden figure.
“I’ve made all your favourites. Surely you’d like a bite or two?” She speaks softer now, her voice low and intimate, her hand trailing a delicate line through mussed-up hair. “Hmmm, I think this may need a wash again. What do you think?”
She pauses expectantly but, again, no answer comes her way. A small frown creases her forehead. “Now there’s no need to be huffy, you know. A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would be better than this moody silence.”
The creases of her frown deepen and the beginnings of real anger start to simmer in her eyes. Before she can give voice to this emotion, a muffled mumbling finally issues from the figure.
“Oh, but of course! Silly me!” Her delighted laughter tinkles like summer rain from her lips. “How can you possibly talk with this thing still wrapped around you?”
With a swift tug, the woman undoes the knot binding the silk scarf around the man’s head, leaving his mouth free and able to open. Relief fleetingly occupies his face, but is soon replaced by the ever-present fear and panic.
“There, all better.” Her features are once more lit with her glowing smile. “Would you like some of this delicious breakfast now?” She traces his face with loving fingers as she speaks, seemingly ignorant of his faint trembling.
“Ye-,” he begins, but his voice rasps ragged from an unused throat.
“Oh poor dear, you must be almost silly with thirst! Here, have some orange juice. I squeezed it myself this morning, just for you.”
She carefully tilts the glass till it rests against his cracked lips then steadily pours its contents into his eager mouth. She replaces the empty glass on the tray, then takes the folded napkin and gently wipes away the traces of juice at the corners of his mouth.
“Better?” she asks lovingly. He clears his throat and gives a small cough. “Yes. Thank you.” Her smile widens almost impossibly at the sound of his voice. “Now, how about some breakfast?” He merely nods but she shoots from the bed as if he had voiced some strong imperative. As has become her routine, she places the tray on a stand across the man’s lap then positions herself so that she can easily reach his mouth with a food-laden fork. In small pieces she feeds her love the delicious breakfast she prepared for him, all the while alternating between affectionate chatter and soft, sweet humming. When all the plates are cleared, she returns the tray to the side table and stashes the stand under the bed as always. Having finished her duty, she is now free to indulge her pleasure and, as with every morning, stretches out alongside the man with a soft, contented sigh. Many minutes pass before the man can gather his shredded courage and voice his plea once more.
“Lillian, please…” his voice trembles as tears trail, yet again unbidden, down his face. “Please, Lillian, please let me go…”
At his words she looks sharply up but her face instantly softens at the sight of his tears. “Oh darling, no! Don’t cry! Sshh, don’t cry.” She wraps her hands around his cheeks and gently kisses away his tears but the gesture only causes him to cry even more. “Oh my baby, don’t cry. I’m here and nothing’s going to happen to you. Ssshh….”
“Please…please let me go…please…”
“No darling, I can’t do that. You’re mine, you see, and you belong here with me. If I let you go you’d never come back. Or if you stayed, it would only be a matter of time before you find someone else and leave me.” She leans forward, voice fervent and heated, “and you cannot leave. Not ever. You’re mine, William, forever. Do you understand that? Forever.”
He nods, as she expects, and immediately her face resettles into its familiar, pleasant lines. “Of course you understand.” Her voice is soft and loving once more as she returns to holding him where he lies tied to the bed. Snuggling into his chest, she tightens her arms around him then whispers into his skin, voice laden with adoration, “I love you, William.”
He stares blankly at the ceiling, dead in every sense except the literal. Finally he whispers raggedly, as expected, voice empty and without inflection, “I love you too, Lillian.”