0 comments

Historical Fiction

Clara’s dreams were filled with what could be and what could never be. Her eyes flitted open and jerked her away from her paradise. Clara felt around for her water glass, knocking a pile of books over in the process. She knelt and picked up the familiar titles- too familiar for her liking. She started her day the same way she had yesterday, the day before, and all of her twenty years of life

It should be noted that Clara does not live in a large city or even a small town. Her family, the Brewsters, lived in the smallest of cottages with only nine other homes and a seemingly endless forest for companionship. Everyone there seemed to be exactly the same- well, everyone except her. Clara’s sister, Ellinna, saw the world just the same as all othe other young girls did. To her, life was rosy and perfect. This was quite a different Earth from what Clara saw. On a rare occasion of weakness, Clara wished she could see life the way her sister did. But she could not.

 One of the key differences between the two was gifts. Their parents, Albert and Merriweather, were the only ones to make the 20-mile trek to town. No matter how much Clara begged to come along, their response was always the same: “No Clara.” they would say. “It is simply not safe for a delicate thing like yourself. How about I bring you something instead hm? A poppy perhaps? Or maybe a pretty postcard?” 

“No, father” Clara would respond stiffly- thinking of herself as not in the least bit delicate. “Please bring a book. A long one without any pictures or princesses.”

“Surely you want something pretty? A nice yellow dress?” her mother would suggest softly upon which Ellianna would usually chime in and request that particular item. 

“Thank you for your offer, mother. But, I do not think fancy dresses suit me well. Bring me a book if you cannot take me with you.”

“So be it. If I find one suitable I will.”

Suitable. It had grown to be Clara’s least favorite word aside from “young lady” and “behave”.  Everything in her life had to be what was classified as suitable for her by Merriweather and Albert. Ellie did not mind, she loved everything her mother did as a child: embroidering, flower picking, dresses, stringing beads, and all of those empty-minded activities. They were just the same. Clara knew she did not mean that with malice. They were both kind, dedicated, and loyal to those they cared for. There was nothing wrong with that, they were her family and she loved them after all. But, like all the other women and girls in their minuscule community, they were terribly small-minded. Ellie never thought of anything more than the present and settling down someday with a man and family of her own. Clara could not blame her, after all, that was all their mother and father taught her. 

The scene just like that ensued one bright, Saturday afternoon on the lower floor of her parent’s cottage. Clara never called the home hers- a fact which no one ever seemed to notice except for, perhaps, the cat.  Clara liked to believe she was like a cat. Cats were smart, cunning, and were able to do what they pleased. The latter was something that she envied more than anything in the world. She called the tabby cat hers- a statement that was quite agreeable for all parties. The tabby would only approach her, something which the rest of the community never noticed or minded. They believed that cats were a creation of the devil- Clara thought no such thing. It was simply misunderstood. Clara told the tabby truths that no one else in the world knew. Her home was one of these topics. It was not really hers, the cottage was decorated with all of the things she resented about the forest- little delicate things that she was never allowed to touch.  Apparently, that too would be “unsuitable”. 

“Mother, you know how I loathe it. Why must you torture me so?” Clara pleaded that afternoon just as she had every year since she was young.

“Clarabella,” Merriweather began. Clara scowled. She hated her full name. It was too proper and prissy. “You mustn’t speak this way! The annual cherry-picking is a community tradition and as such, it should be-”

“Held in the highest esteem to anyone who wishes to be part of our little town,” the two said in unison.

“I know, mother. You say that to me every year and every year I tell you the same thing. I do not see the point of standing in the hot sun listening to girls gossip about who is going around with who while they force me to do all of the work!”

“Maybe you should sit with them and listen! Clarabella, you are twenty years old. That is only three years younger than a spinster. All your friends are courting very nice men- it might do you some good to learn a thing or two from them.”

“You mean they are courting rich men. Or at least some of the richest out of the ten eligible men in this entire forest… I don’t want to sit and wait for some man who thinks he is better than me to call me pretty enough to marry him.”

“If you are speaking about Jeffery you are mistaken. He is a fine man. We have known his family for years. He could make you comfortable, Clarabella. If only you would stop with this nonsense and give him a chance.” 

“Give me a chance then,” Clara pleaded again, approaching her mother’s armchair.

“Please, mother. Let me make this week’s grocery run into town. If you do I promise I will give Jeffery a chance. I swear it.”

For a fraction of a second Clara thought she might have gotten through to Merriweather. 

“Go outside, dearest. We can make cherry cakes with Ellianna tonight if you bring enough home. That will be quite nice.”

Clara studied her for a moment but that second of hope had passed. She was never getting out- at least not today. She left the home, walking in quick strides towards Cherry Grove. It was named quite well. As soon as Clara reached the edge of the hill her home was on, she could see for miles. The little red balls of fruit glimmered in the sun and became even more pronounced next to the dark, green leaves. It was a beautiful sight made only less tranquil by the shrill voices of the five girls Clara also knew far too well.

“Look it is Clarabella!” shrieked one of the girls.

“What is she wearing?” one of them said in an attempted whisper.

“Hush Claud! She might hear you!” Clara recognizes this voice as Audrey’s- the oldest and prissiest of the bunch.

“And why might that scare me?”

“She could call the tabby on you!”

“No animal could ever go near her in that shade of green!” another voice sneered.

“What are you doing here, Bella? Audrey asked as Clara approached them. Audrey stood up from the pile of lounging girls atop a freakishly pink blanket.

“I have come to pick cherries- same as all of  you.”

“Hm,” Audrey snorted.

“Speaking of tradition,” Blanche jeered, sitting up. “Why don’t you start picking? My mother wants a full basket by sundown.”

“Go on Bella. Chop chop,” Claude added. 

They all laid back down and started whispering and shrieking at each other wildly. Clara considered saying something witty back to them but did not see a point in doing so. Anything she said would be true after all. The only thing they had to do to find her insults would be to take a hard look at themselves. As Clara began to walk towards a patch of trees on the edge of the grove she heard another shrill voice ring from the gaggle.

“At least she doesn’t have to worry about looking good like the rest of us! I mean, that hair! You would have thought she was some sort of woodland nomad creature!”

The comment was followed by laughing so high-pitched and obnoxious that Clara thought she might have even heard a wolf howling along in the distance. She stopped at the row of trees farthest from the girls where she could see the only level patch of ground in the community that was longer than 10 yards. The field was currently filled with lush, green grass and a rainbow of brightly colored flowers. It was a beautiful sight. Sometimes, at dusk, she would sneak out and lie there in the silence as she watched the sunset below the lightning bugs. It was the only time when she really felt at peace. Watching the sun fall reminded her that there was another world. Nothing as powerful as that gives life to people without purpose. There had to be a purpose for her more than this, she just needed to find it.

During the day, Clara was never allowed into the vast field- it was the boys’ territory. The younger boys’ would try to catch butterflies and bugs while the older ones played chase, ball, and anything else they could do to keep their minds temporarily occupied. The other girls liked to watch the guys their age run while gossiping about heaven knows what- Clara was never included. But she had learned not to mind that by now. Currently, she could hear their jesting voices and could see them playing a chaotic game of football. From behind her, Clara could still hear Claude laughing and “whispering”.

“One sort of feels sorry for them,” a voice said from somewhere above her.

“What?” she asked in surprise. spotting the speaker.

He was a somewhat pale boy and 22 years old if Clara had to guess. He had unkempt sandy hair and bright green eyes. He was currently perched in the highest branches of the tree behind her.

“The girls I mean.” He continued. “The first time I met them I thought they were rather pretty. But now I realize that they really weren’t just pretending to be like this- all empty-headed and bratty. They’re mean. I do not like mean people. You watch them for a while and realize that they can not help it. It is who they are. They just don’t have anything else to do with themselves. That’s when you start to feel sorry for them. I bet that’s why you didn’t snap at them just now- I know you could have.”

“Who are you?”

“My name is Wesley Evans, miss.”

“How do you know me?” she asked suspiciously, dropping a few cherries into her basket.

Wesley considered his response for a few moments before saying, “I watch the sunset too.”

Clara scoffed and climbed up into the lower branches of her tree. After a moment he adjusted down so they were at the same height.

“Why are you not with the others, Wesley?”

“I don’t want to be,” he said, shrugging as he tossed a cherry into his mouth.

“How do you know me?” she asked after a moment.

“I already told you.”

“Hardly!”

“Challange accepted.”

“That was not a-”

“Too late.”

Clara leaned back against a branch, thankful for the shade and distraction at the very least. She would never admit it- but she was intrigued.

“You only go to the field at night yet whenever I look up I can see you watching it. But you’re not watching us. You are watching the sky above our heads, the ground beneath our feet, and the trees past our shoulders. That’s how you are different than Audrey and her friends. You do not long for the love of a man- but love what you do not know. You watch the sky at night which suggests you are deeper than the others. You are the only girl to go near the tabby so you are an intellect. You are the only one it trusts so you are kind.” He paused. “Am I right?” he asked nonchalantly, destemming another ruby orb.

“My name is Clara Brewster,” she considered her answer before speaking again, “Yes, you are right.”

“I knew I was a real Holmes!”

“Who?”

“Sherlock.”

“What are you talking about?”

“A Study in Scarlet- it came out last month. A smart lady like you must have read it.”

Clara did not respond- she couldn’t bring herself to. She just leaned back further into the leaves and half-heartedly grabbed another cherry.

“Your parents don’t let you leave this place do they?” he asked. His joking smile faded into sincerity.

“How did you know that?” she asked suddenly, leaned forwards again, and nearly choked on the fruit.

“I didn’t mean to offend you. Mine don’t either. They never bring me books and when they do it is  all bible stuff and things for little kids.”

“Then how can you possibly have read A Study in- whatever it was.”

“Scarlet. Look…. I know you’re frustrated with your folks about this and want to know more. it is  just that-” his voice trailed off.

“You can not risk losing what makes you smile.”

He nodded. The two ate in silence after that, periodically turning to look at a boy who threw a ball too hard at his friend or listened to a sequel from the girls. Clara was not sure how long they sat there. It was strange for her. She had never felt understood and yet, while there were no more words shared between them, she felt a certain companionship she did not know she missed.

“DINNER!”  a dozen of voices rang out from all of the homes in unison. 

Clara thought she must have become lost in thought because when she became jolted back to reality Audrey’s group and the boys were gone. Clara jumped somewhat gracefully off the tree and Wesley followed.

“It was nice to meet you, Wesley.”

“You too,”

Just as she began to walk away she heard his voice again.

“And Clara- I hope you don’t think you have been rid of me now.”

She smiled but kept walking.

“I would not dream of it!” she called back.

***

Three hours later, Clara laid in her bed and listened to the crickets and dove sing each other to sleep. She crossed the room towards her little window and opened it. From here, Clara could see the grove, the field, and a few other homes. But mostly, she could just see the endless leaves and canopies that had closed her into this life. She breathed in the fresh air felt the soft wind rub against her cheek. She thought of Wesley, Sherlock, cherries, and sunsets- she smiled. 

Before she even knew what she was doing, Clara had already climbed through the window and snuck along with the shadows towards the field. The grass was damp underfoot but she did not mind. Somehow Clara felt freer. It was like somehow knowing there was something else out there was enough- just for that night.

Finally, she reached the field. Clara scanned the area for Weasley but found nothing. She did not really mind- Clara liked being alone here. She crept to the spot where she could see the last few rays dip below the soil when she nearly tripped over something. She felt around and discovered something soft- a blanket had been laid out. But that was not what interested her. In the center of the fabric lay a book entitled “A Study in Scarlet”. She grabbed it quickly as if worried at any moment someone could take it away from her. She clutched the first serious book she had ever received in her arms, unable to open it. Finally, excitement and curiosity overwhelming her- she opened it. Scribbled on the acknowledgments page was a note that read: “So you can see Sherlock. Thank you for watching the sunsets.”

April 30, 2021 23:53

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

0 comments

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.