Once upon a time, there was a young maiden named Phoebe, blessed with beauty, grace, and intelligence – and enough guile to hide the last, when necessary.
She was the youngest flower of an ancient lineage, the only child of a love-match. She possessed a wide circle of friends who adored her, and openly envied her loveliness. She lived in ease in an ancient house in the country. Indeed, her whole life was a song – except that her parents were in thrall to The Grandmother.
Fortunately, The Grandmother’s visits were rare: it had been seven years since the last. Phoebe remembered seeing her for the first time. She was a handsome woman, still, but she wore only black and forbade laughter in her presence. The Grandmother greeted Phoebe’s father with:
“So here is the man who stole my daughter.”
Phoebe experienced the first – and only – discomfort of her young life. For weeks she remained at home, and overheard scraps of conversation between her parents: unfamiliar, sharp-edged words like debt and obligation and penury. Even at ten, she sensed a vague recrimination.
The Grandmother insisted on attending morning and evening services; she confidently proclaimed eternal torment for the unredeemed. Phoebe let the words wash over her as she admired the smart cuts of the debutantes’ frocks and their crisp sashes, dancing ribbons, elegant lacing. Her parents mouthed along during the prayers, glancing sidelong at the Grandmother. Phoebe returned her attention to the young ladies’ gowns. The Grandmother pinched Phoebe cruelly above her elbow.
She’s a witch and I hate her.
Without turning her eyes from the altar, Phoebe felt carefully for the knot holding the alms-purse to The Grandmother’s waist. At the end of the penitential rite, she – unnoticed – drew the cord. A thousand coins burst from the purse like merry schoolchildren surging through seminary doors, intent on starting their holidays. The Grandmother emitted an impious ejaculation and ordered the children nearest to collect them.
She missed the coins’ gleam reflected in Phoebe’s eyes.
Soon after the Grandmother returned to town. The house – from its ostensible master down to the cook’s boy – exhaled. Life resumed its usual graceful shape.
One day, Phoebe’s mother received a letter from the Grandmother: his lordship, Phoebe’s grandfather, a peer (an inconsequential member of the legislature) had passed away.
“I’m afraid he greeted Death rather obsequiously.”
Phoebe’s parents exchanged glances.
“Of course I shall carry on in his stead.”
Phoebe’s mother’s brow furrowed.
“But I require a companion.”
Phoebe’s mother had married a poor man with a renowned name during an ephemeral summer. Her mother had told her that as she had sown, so would she reap. She tried to suggest a cousin, a friend, another confidante.
The beldame offhandedly suggested that her daughter’s portion could then be made over to that cousin or friend.
Phoebe’s mother tied her daughter’s bonnet on for her.
“How long must I stay, Mama?”
Phoebe’s mother gave her a faint smile, kissed her forehead, and said, “You mustn’t keep your grandmother waiting.”
The Grandmother and Phoebe drove to town with the carriage shades drawn.
Town! Almost enough to compensate for what The Grandmother called Phoebe’s “new life of rectitude.” Phoebe had a new governess – a pious, frivolous, middle-aged frump, who misremembered the words to customary hymns.
“It’s his holy gaze, not his holidays,” Phoebe sighed.
She spent her first evening dinnerless – for that.
The following morning, she discovered that The Grandmother had ordered her a new wardrobe – but each gown was duller than the last. The cook sermonized, the butler moralized, and even the scullery maid handed her a penny pamphlet. The only visitors were conservative politicians and their wives, invariably dressed like the recently bereaved.
It will only be a few months. Then my parents will bring me home.
She was by turns patient and irate: there were no intimate teas with friends; no chance to leave the house alone; no letters.
No promise of a debut.
But I’m in town.
If the weather was fine, Phoebe attended The Grandmother during her constitutional and drank in the window displays of each haberdasher, jewelry shop, and dressmaker. If the weather were wet, she cadged an hour in the portrait hall. Ostensibly she was reflecting on the example of the family’s founding matriarch – while actually tracing the arabesques of a filigree necklace in her portrait.
And Phoebe adored her room. If she had appeased her governess and recited her prayers, she would creep onto the window seat and bask in the worldly: wealthy ladies on parade, persistent vendors hawking wares, and daring street performers. She turned the full radiance of her smile on passersby and arrested their progress; the footman had to chase many away.
During that year Phoebe learned, to her cost, that a window has two aspects.
The first time a flower-seller sent a rose to the blossom of the house, the Grandmother scorched his ears for his impertinence. When an artist set up his easel across the street three days running, the Grandmother ordered velvet curtains for Phoebe’s room. But when a knight’s son whispered sweet words and made Phoebe smile – during prayers! – the Grandmother beat her black and blue, and ordered the servants to pack.
“I am endeavoring to save your immortal soul. God loves the righteous.”
They left town before dawn.
The Grandmother refused to open the shades until they had passed into the countryside. It was midnight before they reached their destination: their ancestral cottage, deep in the woods.
It was the noble family’s summer home, and thus bore the exact relation to a real cottage that a melon does to a grape. The west wing had fallen into disrepair; nevertheless, the east wing contained dozens of suites and the remnants of a ballroom. There were servants’ quarters and handsome stables, and a private courtyard with its own well. Phoebe saw none of it; when she arrived, the Grandmother whisked her away to a cobwebbed room, and locked the door. And the door to the antechamber.
Phoebe sat on the narrow bed, staring. She painfully banished each thought of her parents. She braided her hair and covered the moldering pillow with her shawl before she slept.
When she awoke, there was nothing outside but ten thousand freewheeling leaves mocking her incarceration, fifty feet above the ground. She looked down. A thicket of thorns lay below.
If Phoebe had imagined – however fancifully – that her removal from the world might result in kinder treatment, she was sadly mistaken. The Grandmother kept her behind two locked doors with only her governess and her hymnals. Her meals were barely designed to nourish the body, let alone the soul. She was allowed out twice a day for prayers with The Grandmother. If The Grandmother deemed Phoebe insufficiently passionate in confessing her sinful nature, her destructive materialism, and her profane desire for admiration, she did not scruple to lay her walking stick across her granddaughter’s back.
Then, each night the thud of the grandmother’s boots heralded her coming; she came in to say a final prayer and demand a good night kiss.
“I hate you,” Phoebe declared, with matter-of-fact asperity. The Grandmother stripped Phoebe bare and hit every inch of the girl that she could reach.
And so it went.
The only beautiful thing left to Phoebe – untouched because the holy texts said it was supposed to be a woman’s ornament – was her long blonde hair. Phoebe spent many bitter hours staring out the window, braiding and unraveling it. Her fingers grew deft. When her governess was not there, she sang answers to the birds’ calls and imagined herself elsewhere.
Despite Phoebe’s continuing isolation, word spread of the beautiful maiden in the tower, and her jailor the crone. Several lusty lads attempted to serenade her; one impassioned (if fatuous) youth cried, “Let down your hair to me!” She emptied her water jug over their heads to cool their ardor – assessing, correctly, that impassioned ballads would only result in another round with the Grandmother’s cane. Nevertheless, two suitors approached with ladders before being dispatched by the guards.
One insufficient lordling even attempted to scale the tower. Phoebe watched, dubiously; success would result in their both being trapped in a locked room atop a tall tower. If he had brought a rope and a grappling hook, that would be something. But he hadn’t. Then he lost his tentative hold two-thirds of the way up; the briars enveloped him. It only added to her legend.
There is no prince coming to my rescue.
Meanwhile she smoldered and braided her hair…until it occurred to her that her new skill had other applications.
It was only fifty feet to the ground.
Every spare bit of thread, cord, or fabric she could find, Phoebe tried weaving together. She scrounged for scraps of fabric in the splintering wardrobe, but found them too moth-eaten. She tried the belt from her bathrobe, the window sash, and even strands of her own hair. Ultimately, she discovered that her starched sheets – though miserable for sleeping – were made of a durable cotton, so she cut strips from them and carefully re-hemmed each before wash day. She did the same with her stiff petticoats, her aprons, and her nightgowns; she blithely told her governess she was still growing.
As she braided and knotted her rope, she designed her escape, knowing there would be no second chance. And she intended to ensure that her new life would be as comfortable as she could make it. So, as she allowed herself to be escorted to prayers, she watched the servants and intuited where the other crucial rooms lay. She noted that her grandmother permitted modest amounts of jewelry on holidays. And she listened attentively to the house’s rhythms, hearing the butler barring creaking door before he went to bed.
Her rope was finally finished. It was sixty feet long, and coiled beneath the far corner of her bed.
Two years after their arrival at the cottage, Phoebe received the worst beating of her life. The grandmother, in slippers for once, had stolen in during her bath, and had caught Phoebe with her hand between her legs. She winced, easing into bed, and counted.
The new year’s holiday is in one week. Seven days. Six. Five. Four. Three…Two…One…
After celebrating the holiday – a meager dinner with The Grandmother and her governess – Phoebe sprang into action. She re-tested her rope’s knots. She had no suitcase, so she put on all her underclothes (waste not, want not). Then she strung the cord of her bathrobe between the foot of her bed and the chair.
When the Grandmother came in to claim her kiss, Phoebe’s patience was rewarded.
The Grandmother tripped, falling face-first to the floor. Phoebe was ready; she leapt astride the old woman and gagged her with an old handkerchief. Then Phoebe bound The Grandmother’s wrists behind her back. Finally, Phoebe hauled the old woman – evidently emitting a stream of profanity behind the handkerchief – onto the bed, and said, cheerfully:
“The maid will be with you in the morning.”
Then she put on The Grandmother’s shoes.
Phoebe mimicked the old woman’s masterful gait, knowing the servants would hear and assume all was well. She entered The Grandmother’s bedroom. The room had an austere palette, but every piece of furniture was a treasure, the carpet an heirloom, the blankets thick and warm. She passed them by, and instead located the jewelry box, liberated from its closet for the holiday. Phoebe inserted her hairpin with surgical precision – the lock split – a small fortune in jewels! She secreted them about her person. She selected a fine knife from the kitchen. She procured bread, cheese, and apples from the larder, cramming them into a sack tied to her waist.
She removed the boots and crept back through the house in stocking feet. She could not risk opening the creaking bolt at the front door, so she returned to her room. Ignoring the still-struggling Grandmother, she donned her own shoes and several shawls, secured her rope to the bed, and lowered herself carefully. She didn’t quite clear the briars.
She struggled out and emerged covered in scratches. And she laughed aloud.
The moon had risen.
Without a backward glance, Phoebe started down the well-worn path through the woods. Toward the road. Away from everything.
She encountered no wild creatures, and reached the road just before dawn. A farmer taking his lettuces to market stopped his cart, hopped down, and asked if she wanted a ride.
“Yes, indeed, thank you.”
The farmer laughed. “You don’t understand, missy. I’ll give you a ride –” He gestured to her groin – “if you give me one first.”
She fixed him with the Grandmother’s best icy stare, and he recoiled slightly. I didn’t think to look for coins. “You’ll be lucky if I don’t summon the law.”
“You’ll be lucky if I don’t leave you here,” he replied, with a semblance of bravado.
“You’re offering an ox-cart, not a carriage.”
“Better to ride with me than risk the riffraff traveling along this road.”
She was not afraid. But it was better to get away from the cottage as quickly as possible. “I’ll swallow your seed,” she said. “That’s my final offer.”
The farmer complained, but lowered his trousers. She knelt, and paid her way.
Phoebe returned to the capital – disgusted, but unharmed.
From now on, I will be the mistress of my own fate. I will not live by anyone else’s rules. And woe betide anyone who thinks otherwise.
She would not return home. She had determined that her parents were concerned principally for the comforts of their eventual old age. So that was that; she strolled into the lower city. She scouted several pawn shops and approached the least dissipated-looking manager, to whom she sold a few lesser jewels. She rented a pair of rooms in an artists’ neighborhood, found – and hired – a sly-looking laundress’s daughter as her maid, then walked to the upper city’s high street in search of a dressmaker.
Now Phoebe slowed her pace, delighting in the colors, the textures, the choices…She nearly kissed the windows. But she had not yet found the shop. She rejected two dozen and was on the point of returning to her flat when she spotted a simple, elegant sign on a side-street: Frocks – Gowns – Ladies’ Apparel. She could tell the dress in the window was two inches too long but otherwise perfect, the color of a wedding-day sky. She stepped in.
“I’ll take it.”
The manager – a respectable woman of middle age – recognized an accent from one of the Families when she heard one. “Of course, my lady; would you care to try it first?”
It was exactly as Phoebe imagined. She drank in the thousands of azure-clad angels in the three-sided mirror when the manager spoke again. She explained that the shop would be showcasing its wares in a high street fashion show-cum-benefit. A percentage of the proceeds would go to some good cause or other…Phoebe waited. “I know it’s unusual…but…might your ladyship be willing to act as one of the models?”
What would any thoughtless young noblewoman say?
“What a lark,” she replied.
She ordered two more frocks while she waited for the seamstresses to adjust the hem. Then she wore her new blue dress out of the shop. Every man under eighty bowed when she passed.
She had emerged from the desert, and intended to live – by her own rules.
The remainder of her money would last three months, if she were careful. The first rule, she thought, is that my amusements must be free – or nearly so.
She needed new shoes – a parasol – an evening gown…that money would have to come from somewhere. The second rule is that I will never pay for my own dinner. I will find a friend – or I will go without.
When her maid had gone, she laid the remainder of the Grandmother’s jewels out on the bed, and appraised them. They would last two years, at the outside.
The third rule is that I have one year to find a new situation.
And in the meantime, I intend to enjoy myself.
Phoebe bought the laundress’s daughter a pinafore and a cap, and reminded her sharply that her salary depended upon her ability to keep her mouth shut. The girl offered a sardonic look, but nodded.
So, Phoebe walked into the city, with her quaint maid in tow, looking demure and unspeakably lovely. She walked in the park, struck up conversations; a red-cheeked soldier, an eccentric tycoon, and a rich blockhead took her to dinner. The last was by far her favorite: he took her to dinner at a historic hotel – and there, finally, she tasted wine.
Her days were her own. At breakfast she ate buttery pastries and read newspapers, to reacquaint herself with the world. On fine days she walked in fashionable streets and studied the styles. On wet days she went to the art museum, which was free, and immersed herself in the beauty of bygone centuries. Late, after a better or worse (or occasionally nonexistent) dinner, she plunged into her neighborhood. She saw the denizens of her old life (those with Family names: de Lacys, Girards, Ridleys) pass through, inebriated or enchanted. She toured artists’ studios, argued with anarchists, nursed a drink through scandalous revues, and borrowed banned books. She even taught a few aspirant members of the demimonde her aristocratic lilt in exchange for theatre tickets.
Such was life – until the fashion show.
She strode down the runway before strangers, her lush blonde hair loose, her gown cut to flatter. She heard the crowd’s indrawn breaths; her eyes sparkled. She basked in a sea of envy, women jealous of her…
…until she saw him.
He was nearly as dazzling as she.
He was there with a lady: A sweetheart – or a sister?
It didn’t matter.
Phoebe and the young man struck up an easy conversation after the show. His companion’s expression grew sour.
If she were to taste the fruits of love, she thought, it was best to be prepared. She had no intention of wandering aimlessly with a pair of crying babes. And there were no shortage of unspeakable things in Phoebe’s bohemian neighborhood. She found a wise woman operating a fortune-telling business and dispensary a few streets away. Phoebe waved away the tarot cards but accepted a packet of wild carrot seeds and some rapunzel leaves.
It did not take long for her to prise her pearl from its useless shell.
Her Adonis took her to an extravagant dinner, and thence to a hotel room. His kisses were wine and his voice was song and when he finally plunged into her, she drew him in deeper. Their coupling was frenzied and when Phoebe climaxed with him inside her, she was triumphant.
This was a new entertainment – and one entirely within her rules.
She was as discriminating as an aging oenophile, insisting on sampling only the finest vintages of man – either those with impressive bodies, or unusual brilliance. She spent a memorable night with a haughtily handsome, dark-skinned foreigner, Xavier, who took her pleasure as seriously as he took his own. She lay with a renowned poet, who was rumored to prefer men, and sampled a new form of indulgence. She – once, daringly – allowed a peer to take her against the embankment at the river’s edge. And each time she thought of what The Grandmother would say, and laughed.
Phoebe spent some weeks with an elderly libertine writer who had given her good dinners, better conversation, and outstanding nights. It was he who suggested the ball. And it was there that she met Lord Armand de Lacy. She omitted any mention of their common surname. Instead, assembling his faint allusions to his distinguished lineage, she determined that he was her third cousin, once removed. He was a member of the legislature who accepted the mildly conservative family line as naturally as air and sunshine.
He was fair and handsome and he had a politician’s genial ease, a quality she lacked but whose intrinsic value she recognized. He treated her as a woman of intelligence. He discussed the representatives’ ongoing debates on the remnants of their empire, trade, and the role of religion in public life.
And he was clearly taken with her, but that was to be expected.
What caught her by surprise was his unusually peremptory suggestion, many lunches and a romantic dinner later:
“I have a mistress…but I’m thinking of asking you to join us.”
She considered. It’s been nine months since I left Grandmother. And I enjoy his conversation.
“I’ll have to meet her before I decide.”
Teresa Girard was the scion of another Family, who had misunderstood Armand’s intentions at a tender age. She lacked Phoebe’s ethereal beauty, but nevertheless possessed a frank prettiness of her own. She welcomed Phoebe graciously.
And with staggering nonchalance.
I’m not the first, then, that he’s asked.
They ate; the conversation flowed. Armand described his debate with the irascible Lord Ridley, who remained distressed by the country’s having lost control of its last colonies fifty years before. “He said, ‘The new states accept aid willingly; they must be made to comply when we need them.’ I said, ‘It’s easier to trap flies with honey than vinegar’…” He paused. “I should have said…what was it you suggested, Teresa?”
“I said that I disagree with tying aid to politics. But if that is our policy, it should be spelled out clearly.”
Phoebe nodded, thoughtfully.
“Exactly,” said Armand. “Ladies, more wine?”
They all had a great deal more to drink, before they retreated to the bedroom. Teresa took Phoebe’s hand, and kissed her tentatively. Her lips were dry, but tender. Phoebe returned the kiss, and Armand fairly sighed. Their clothes fell away and Phoebe landed in the bed between them, kissed and caressed on both sides, and she thought: I could be happy here.
And, in fact, she was. To her surprise, Teresa accepted her without the faintest whiff of resentment – even when Armand asked Phoebe to accompany him to dinners and fundraisers and a gala with the Consul. Surprisingly, Teresa invited Phoebe to bijou restaurants and elegant shops. Their allowances were handsome, so they went to matinées and high street shops, where deferential managers received them and Phoebe felt herself quite the lady again. But she enjoyed the late afternoons most of all. She and Teresa regularly stopped for coffee or tea, particularly on rainy days, and they would discuss the draft Law on Religion or Armand’s hints about the Ridleys’ maneuverings or their country’s role in the larger world, until the sky darkened and Teresa sent the waiter to call a cab. Then they would ride cozily home to dinner.
But outside the bedroom – where he remained ardent as ever – Armand seemed increasingly preoccupied.
“He’s always like this before a cabinet reshuffle,” observed Teresa.
Phoebe looked blank.
“The Consul periodically dismisses some of his ministers and deputy ministers and replaces them. Armand has been vying for such a post since I’ve known him.”
“Well, what’s standing in his way?”
“Lord Talbot,” said Armand, entering, and pouring himself a drink.
“He’s trying to out-conservative the conservatives,” observed Teresa.
“And the Talbot family is ascendant,” said Armand. “No doubt that will factor into the Consul’s decision.”
Phoebe accompanied Armand to the national day dinner at the Consul’s residence. The Consul, naturally, gave the keynote address, but other promising politicians took their turns. They clung to familiar songs, like timorous court musicians crushed by decades of royal disparagement. Phoebe recognized Lord Talbot immediately. He had been a visitor at The Grandmother’s town house. And: she had seen him in the lower city carousing in ways that made even her cheeks flame.
She whispered to Armand. His mouth dropped open.
“Are you certain?”
Talbot gave a rousing speech, honoring their country’s ancient traditions, its values, its sacred duty to uphold its ideals…His voice was sonorous; the room trembled, as did his listeners, when he called upon them to remember their sins, and to remember that their Creator was ever poised to damn the wicked.
“My brothers and sisters, God loves the righteous.”
Phoebe’s blood surge within her veins.
Armand caught her eye, shuddered. “Please don’t – it’s not right – he is a gentleman –”
“I’m no gentleman,” said Phoebe.
Armand’s warning died on his lips as Phoebe swept onto the floor in the arms of one soft-voiced, pedantic politician after another. She carefully steered each conversation – “What did you think of Lord Talbot’s speech?” – and was usually rewarded with a reciprocal question. She proffered a faint compliment on Talbot’s speaking style…evinced an air of charming hesitation…and put her perfect lips against her dance partner’s ear. And it was shockingly easy to raise Talbot’s transgressions with the politicians’ wives as they hid flushed faces behind their fans.
Then the Consul himself asked Phoebe to dance. When the Consul – laughingly – asked her opinions of the speeches, Phoebe gave them. The Consul sobered.
“What would you have said?”
“That our country will not be held hostage by disingenuous appeals to religion. That we have been generous with our former colonies, and that we desire recognition of our liberality. And that it is time for our country to retake its place in the world.”
The Consul stared.
Phoebe smiled, and thanked him for the dance.
Toward the end of the evening, Talbot and his wife found themselves standing apart, suddenly unable to catch their friends’ eyes.
Armand strode over to Phoebe, looking angry and – possibly? – a little wary. He, so proud to have her on his arm at the beginning of the evening, finally escorted her onto the dance floor. “I specifically told you not to –”
Phoebe gave him her sweetest look. “I am not your maid or your wife, to be told what to do, or what not to do.”
Armand’s face reddened as he struggled to keep his voice down. “You’re only a – you have no idea what kind of damage this will do – to Talbot – to me – to my family –”
“You’re mistaken on each count,” said Phoebe, aware of a shadow behind her. “Lord Talbot has gotten what he deserved. And I could not have your family’s interests more at heart. I am Phoebe de Lacy.”
“That’s…not possible…she’s dead.”
Phoebe laughed. “Is that what they’re saying? No, I am she, granddaughter of the late Lord Darius de Lacy, daughter of –”
“Excuse me,” said the Consul, gravely. “Could I see you both for a moment?”
Phoebe’s jaw was set.
I’ve remade my life already; I can remake it again.
Consul Girard took them into the library. “Lord Talbot spoke with me just now. He withdrew his name from consideration to become a minister in my government.” He paused. “He is also shelving his proposed Law on Religion.” He paused. “You’ve seriously damaged the ultraconservative movement.”
Armand cried, “Sir, I – it was Phoebe, it was entirely her doing, I tried to stop her, I –”
“I wanted to say thank you.”
Phoebe looked at Armand and lifted her chin, gracefully.
Armand had gone the color of curdled milk.
“Talbot and his cohorts have been picking silly fights over ideological purity at the expense of focusing on international strategy. They were gaining sway amongst the Families, but now…Enough,” he declared. “I’ve decided to elevate my deputy foreign affairs minister. Phoebe…Miss de Lacy…I hope you will consider taking the vacant deputy position.”
“Gladly,” said Phoebe, immediately. “Thank you, sir.”
Phoebe returned to Armand’s only to collect her things. Teresa helped her pack, slowly folding each gown. She bit her lip. “I’ll miss you more than I can say.”
I would miss her too.
“Why don’t you come with me?” asked Phoebe.
“As what?” Teresa asked, bemused.
“As whatever you like. Does it matter?”
Teresa apparently decided that it didn’t.
They moved into a new flat, near the ministry. Phoebe became only the third woman in all of the nation to serve as a deputy minister. There was some fanfare in the press. In her leisure time, she and Teresa continued their usual employments. She maintained her old rooms in the lower city for discreet assignations with visiting diplomats and the occasional athlete, and (somewhat later) the Consul himself.
Her first public event was attending the inauguration of a new embassy, opening after a century of antagonistic relations. She was standing beside the ambassador, about to cut the ceremonial ribbon, when a woman’s voice sliced through the crowd.
The Grandmother stood at the back, her presence paralyzing as a nightmare.
Phoebe inhaled sharply. She could humiliate The Grandmother by implying she was senile. She could expose her many cruelties publicly.
Or she could simply offer her antagonist a patronizing and indulgent smile, gesture to her guards to remove the disturbance, and resume her pleasant conversation with the The crowd applauded.
Not long after, she saw in the newspaper that The Grandmother had died. She told Teresa she had an errand to run, and hired a carriage to take her to the cemetery. She told the driver to wait.
She alit in a sunshine-colored gown. The mourners had formed a black, snaking line to sprinkle soil over the casket. Her parents spotted her, seemed to start toward her – but they were nearing the head of the queue, and could not exit without causing a scandal. She met their gazes for a moment, arched her eyebrow, and watched them until they looked away. Then she joined the line. She scooped up a handful of dirt and sprinkled it gently, letting it run between her fingers, until all that remained was a goodly-sized rock. She let it drop; it hit the coffin with an indecent noise.
God loves the righteous.
Phoebe methodically brushed off her hands, and ascertained that the entire assembly was watching as she stepped lightly into the waiting carriage.
Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in over fifty literary magazines, including Drunk Monkeys, Storgy, and Newfound. She tweets occasionally: @LindaCMcMullen