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Historical Fiction

For as long as she can recall, Ada has been fascinated by the dusty wardrobe that stands in the corner of a forgotten bedroom on the second floor..

More specifically, she has been fascinated by what hides inside it.

A dress hangs there, abandoned, all trailing veils and petticoats and lace. The bodice looks satin smooth from where it towers above her, reflecting flickering candlelight, and when she reaches out the layers of soft fabric wash over her cautious hand.

She can sit there for hours, cross legged on the cold floor, keeping the heavy wooden doors propped open with her elbows, entranced by the glimmering material. She pictures herself wearing it, imagines herself standing in the middle of an empty room, surrounded by cloud. She pictures her mother, and how she must have looked, standing by the altar, the brightest being in the House of the Lord, the first in her family to be married in white, with rubies glittering at her ears and throat, and set in the gold around her finger.

Her mother does not wear her wedding dress, or indeed most of the scarlet gemstones that had once adorned her, though her ring is ever present, the metal still gleaming as if new. Ada suspects that the dress may not fit her anymore - her mother is a good deal plumper than the cut of the dress would suggest, with a fuller bust. And so it hangs here, gathering dust, and visited by no one but Ada herself. Waiting for her.

She thinks she prefers it this way. This way, no one will object when she one day claims the dress for herself. It would swamp her as she is now, she knows, here at the tender age of six. But she dreams of the day it will be her own, dreams of herself at her own wedding, perhaps, stood at an altar of her own, awaiting a faceless figure’s approach, with every shining bead and inch of tuile perfectly in place. That perfect day is coming, she knows, the happiest day of her life. She just has to wait.


Over time, of course, that eagerness, that awe and anticipation, fades. Over time, she comes to realise that her mother hides away her dress because she cannot bear to see it, that she keeps her wedding band polished with sheer anxiety, bare fingers twisting over the gold in times of tension or disquiet. 

Her mother fidgets with her wedding band a lot.

And so, over time, Ada comes to learn that married does not necessarily mean happy.

She is twelve now, and in full possession of all the disdainful certainty that comes with the age. She no longer elaborately, longingly imagines her wedding day, and for years now her mother’s dress has been languishing, abandoned once more. She has decided she favours darker dresses anyway - they better suit her hair and complexion, and are more practical besides.

Even as a child, she had never expended energy creating a husband for her to marry - the man had always been without face or personality or name. It amuses her to think that this might have been the one aspect of marriage that her younger self had right. She comes across her parents in separate rooms engaging in separate endeavours.

Her dreams are duller these days - neither good, nor bad, just neutral. Sleep no longer entices her, so she spends much of her nights awake, in her room across the corridor from her parents’ chambers, noting the sound of their hardwood door swinging open and shut periodically.

She does not know what exactly it means, that her mother and father so clearly loathe being together that half the time either one or the other is willing to forgo their rest rather than stay in their shared bed. She only knows that tying your future to a person you are destined to spend that time trying to avoid seems profoundly unappealing. When her time comes, she promises herself that she will choose a partner with a character more reconcilable with her own.

Until then she is happy to wait.


Marry in red, wish yourself dead.

The rest of the rhyme escapes her, her fascination with weddings long behind her, but that line, beyond all others, has always lingered in her mind. 

Perhaps it should not have come as a surprise, when two men came to carry her mother’s still body out of the manor. 


Her mother’s death is strange, for all the things that change, and for all those that don’t.

There is little material difference in Ada’s life, between the before and the after. She would have expected to feel more upset than she does, but her mother had been growing ever more distant and withdrawn as the years dragged on, and ashamed as she is to think it, Ada sometimes feels as though maybe she’s been living as if her mother was dead for months.

Her father is more present now, and rather subdued himself, which is strange, when she thinks back to all the lengths he went to to avoid her mother, the feeble excuses he used to escape the manor. In his grief and sorrow, she thinks he might feel a greater depth of emotion for her mother now than he ever did while she was alive. In idle, uncharitable moments, she wonders what he mourns - the person he lost, or what she could have been, or who he might have known? She wonders if he only mourns the lack of some familiar routine.

She does not dwell on those thoughts, though. They bore her, more than anything else. As do thoughts of her own future, and life past fifteen, and anything regarding her mother’s old wedding dress.


Ada turns seventeen on the bitterest winter’s eve. She comes out the following spring, dressed in plain, ivory silk, and is perhaps the least interested in the proceedings of all those involved. 

Her father nods at her approvingly whenever she leaves for an engagement; her great aunt, come to act as chaperone in the absence of a mother, fusses over her, from her skirts to the studs in her ears; her ward, Ada’s young cousin, waits by her room each night to interrogate her with his high, unbroken voice.

Ada herself meets a great many suitors, as she expected, and finds one she would not mind marrying within a week, which she did not. He stands out to her, Master Wesley, not for the delicate curls atop his head, nor his air debonair, though she has heard both being lauded about town. She has heard a great many of his attributes being thus praised, in fact, but none so far have interested her as much as he himself did, upon their introduction. 

She read nerves, in his face then, in his every gesture, and that was novel enough, in a room full of men who could afford to marry for pleasure and not necessary survival. But she also read fear, and it occurs to her that while she has long since learned that happiness is not the goal in marriage, she thinks for the first time it might still be achieved if only both parties are of some equal footing.

Ada came out more than prepared to bide her time until the next season, and even the one after that. But she realises that she has been shouldering the responsibility of her wedding alone, when a marriage concerns two. She reconsiders the meaning of the word partner, and thinks Master Wesley may be equal to the task.

She thinks perhaps she may be able to cut her season short.


As a young girl, Ada had dreamt of her wedding in white, her happy ever after. As a growing adolescent she had grown disillusioned with the institution as a whole. Marriage was either a joyous fantasy, or the dull reality, and she never believed that she could ever have both.

Here and now, she is Ada Wesley, aged twenty-three, and approaching her five year anniversary. She lives with her husband who does not ask of her anything she is unwilling to give, and for whom she does the say. She lives with a man who treats her as equal, and who she deigns to see as equal to her too. She spends time with her young cousin who is visiting her more often than he is not, and with friends with whom she shares interests, who she can visit and trip with unchaperoned, and with a stability she is not sure she has ever before known.

And she thinks that perhaps she was right when she discovered all those years ago that the institution of marriage was flawed, but neglected to see the solution, and find someone who knew that truth too, so that together you might redefine what the word means in order to best suit you.

July 17, 2021 01:18

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1 comment

VJ Hamilton
01:11 Jul 23, 2021

Hello A, VJ here from the Critique Circle. Historical fiction, yum! You open with such a vivid scene, the six-year-old mesmerized by a wondrous gown. You observe how her feelings toward the dress change over time. This was a masterful story of Ada and her changing mindset as she matured. Thanks for the great read!


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