The year is 1808. The story starts out at my mother's manor,
which stood alone on a damp gray moor. The manor was protected by stone walls on all sides. Only my mother and I lived there. Twelve years earlier, when I was four years old, my father had been murdered by a band of thieves who roamed the moor. I never really got to know him.
Sometimes servants stayed and helped with the chores, but for the most part my mother and I were cut off from human contact, sometimes for months at a time. One night, she and I had an unusually bad fight. Inside the manor, our tempers raged like wildfire, while outside, a storm thrashed violently against the windows. We could hear the wind howling like someone lost in the dark night.
"Take that back! How can you say that about me?" I screeched.
"Well, it's true, you are just a silly child. You know nothing about real life," my mother shot back.
I couldn't believe that my mother, whom I'd always turned to for guidance, thought so little of me. Besides, how did she expect me to know anything of the world, when she kept me hidden from it? I was hurt beyond words. I ran up the stairs and into my room, where I crumpled into a ball on the stone floor by the warmth of the fireplace.
Down below, a knock sounded on the thick oak door. It echoed throughout the entire house. I ran down the long staircase, wondering who was out so late in the storm. My mother unlocked the door with a look of irritation on her face. There stood a tall, red-haired girl. Even in the pouring rain, the girl's beauty was untainted. Her green eyes sparkled. They were the color of the jade ring that my father had brought me from China, shortly before he was killed.
The girl explained her situation. The wheel of her carriage had broken, and she was travelling alone, with nobody to help her fix it. My mother invited her in, hiding her foul mood with a smile as sweet as sugar, which made me sick.
The girl looked about sixteen, my age, although she seemed older. She had a poise and dignity I didn't have. She stood to her full height, and when she walked she held her head high, observing everything around her. She was no stranger to the world. I gave her a dress I had grown out of, because I was no longer as thin as she. My hips were simply too wide. I envied her beauty.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Judith." Her voice was soft and kind.
"Why are you travelling alone?" I hoped that I wasn't being too nosy.
"My parents died of cholera when I was a little girl. I went to live with my father's sister. My father was wealthy, and I'm the only heir to his fortune. But now my aunt is trying to marry me off to a man I don't love. Then she'll take my money. So I'm running away, to my family's house in London."
She spoke so casually that I couldn't pity her. I felt as though I would be insulting her if I even tried to. But I was upset. How could her aunt be so cruel? The more Judith spoke, the more I liked her. She was completely comfortable with herself. She wore serenity and self-confidence like a well-tailored gown. Her honesty amazed me. My mother, and her few friends, were all phonies and liars.
Judith and I talked about our dreams until the gray dawn crept slowly over the desolate moor. I told her about the way my mother criticized me at every opportunity. I told her how I hoped to get away soon, to take on life, to see something other than the rain of the moor. I wanted to be independent, and to take care of myself.
Judith was so self-assured and outgoing, she completed my personality. She was my other half. When she asked me to accompany her to London, I lunged at the offer. A change of scenery and a chance to set out on my own were what I wanted. I could get away from my mother and experience freedom for the first time.
The next morning, Judith stayed upstairs in my room, and I brought the subject up to my mother at breakfast. At first, my mother laughed. Then when she realized I was serious, she shouted, "You're only a child! How could you even fathom going to London without me?" She ranted and raved the entire day. At one point, I thought she was going to hit me. She did throw two vases and her set of fine china at me. Luckily, I'm a fast runner. Eventually, she saw that I wasn't giving up, and that throwing things at me would make me more determined to go. By suppertime she gave in. "Let's not part on bad terms. I love you. Be careful."
I was in a state of euphoria. I was going to London with Judith!
London was all I ever imagined and more. From the moment I arrived up until my departure, the excitement never dwindled. Balls and dinners were daily -- or should I say nightly?
But Judith sometimes refused to go out for days at a time. She was temperamental, and she appeared to be deteriorating before my eyes. I never understood why her mood changed so drastically. It hurt me to see her act in such an odd manner. Although I tried to be devoted to her, she pushed me away repeatedly. I lived in constant fear that she would do something rash and hurt herself.
But I always ignored that little voice of warning in the back of my mind, and I will regret that until the day I die. The third week of my visit, Judith vanished. I woke up early one morning and went into her room to see if she was feeling better. I found her bed unmade, and all her things gone. There was no note, no trace of her.
Confused, I stayed in London at her house for a fortnight hoping that she would return, and say her disappearance was a joke. I searched the streets of London for days at a time. I followed girls who looked like her, but it always led to a dead end.
Nevertheless, I had no intention of going home. I rented a small cottage on the outskirts of London. In a letter to my mother, I explained that I needed a life of my own, and that going home would spoil my dream of independence. And to this day, two years later, I visit London once a week. I sit in the park across from Judith's old house. The family now living there has two girls, both around the age of sixteen. I see them going out to balls and to the theater, dressed in silk gowns embroidered with pearls. The girls' faces glow with excitement, and they laugh as they step into their carriage. They remind me of myself and Judith, before she dove into the deep depression that pulled her away from me.
I don't expect Judith to show up on my doorstep as she did that stormy night two years ago. I just wish I could tell her that she is the reason that I found the courage to stand up to my mother, and the strength to venture out into the vast world by myself.
Genie Giaimo is a senior at Tottenville High School in Staten Island, New York. She received a Bread Loaf Young Writers Fellowship for her short story, "Judith." Her prize-winning poem, "15 Minutes," is forthcoming in the anthology, A CELEBRATION OF YOUNG POETS, published by Creative Communication, an organization devoted to the promotion of Language Arts in our schools.
email us with your comments.