The Scarlett Letter

Is there any balm in Gilead? Tell me, truly, I implore.

Quoth the Raven, nevermore.

*

“Tomorrow will be a very special day.” Heather informed Penny as she tamed her unruly white curls. The reflection of mother and daughter flickered in the mirror, for Heather preferred light by candles, and the result was an atmosphere continually muted and dimmed.  “Tomorrow is your seventh birthday.”

“It isn’t!” cried Penny, her head quivering indignantly. “It is my four hundredth!”

Heather felt a slight shiver slide down her spine, but she brushed the feeling aside as she brushed Penny’s hair. “What a silly thing to say.” She murmured, her expression fixed and calm. “You were born seven years ago. I was present at your birth, after all.”

“You were not.” Insisted Penny, and her eyes snapped with quizzical excitement. “I sprang five hundred years ago from the blackest forest mud, as a daisy or a white, white rose; and you found me and keep me here for, I don’t know why.”

Heather tilted her head and considered what she ought next to say.

“And you are not my mother.” continued Penny curtly. “Vous n’etez pas ma mere. You also sprang from that black ground, and the dark man on the platform did also. For we are all made of the same dirt on the ground, and came from the same secluded spot, and we all have the same soul.” Penny turned her head round so she could find her mother’s eyes. “But your rose is not white. It is red.”

Heather sternly turned Penny’s head to face the mirror and continued fixing her hair.

“What a silly thing to say.” She murmered lightly, with no strain except in her eyes. “Are you Anaximander, to claim to spring spontaneously from the mud? When you speak such silliness, I doubt that you could be my daughter.”

Vous n’etez pas ma mere.” Penny insisted.

“Cannot you say “Tu n’es pas ma mere?” Heather questioned, giving her daughter a teasing tap. “At any rate, whether you are seven years old or four hundred, tomorrow I would like to play a game.

“We are always playing games.” Penny reminded her tiredly.

“Hush. This is what you must promise: you must be very quiet, well behaved and obedient; essentially entirely different from your normal self. No matter what happens, you must obey mother. The more obedient you are, the more points you receive, and if you get the most points, you will win. But if you are bad and mean and disobedient, you will get no points and you will lose the game miserably. Do you understand?”

Heather knew her daughter’s competitive spirit. Penny determined to win more points than her mother, and Heather knew that she would be well-behaved.

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