Claire was trying to eat. Her husband was sitting at the other end of the long table in the candle-lit dining room. The wind was howling outside and despite the crackling fire in the fireplace at the far end, she felt the winter cold creep into her bones.
She was trying to stay upright, despite the tremendous pain, she felt all over her body. He had drunk again with his boys at the pub and somehow managed to get home despite the awful blizzard. Claire knew that it was the horse that brought him home because Henry was so drunk that he had finally fallen off the saddle right in front of the entrance. He was fine – just a bruise here and there, but the fall was enough to bring him back to his senses, get mad and take out on her.
He had beaten her again. This time, he didn’t touch her face. He laughed while hitting her, saying that he wants her to be pretty.
Claire glanced over the table at her husband. She still couldn’t believe the situation she was in. Her father had left her a healthy dowry, but soon after they got married, Henry had lost all interest in keeping the appearances and started spending it irrationally. Before she knew it, the house, the horse, and a patch of land were the only things that remained from what she had from her late father. Then the beating started and that was when she understood what she got herself into. To her shock, she discovered the true Henry. He loved himself first and foremost. Whenever he didn’t spend money on whisky or bets, he would go to the whorehouse for a little good time. Then when he got home, he’d stare at himself for hours in the wall-high Venetian mirror that Claire inherited.
Claire had an urge to break it into small pieces, but she knew that it was too dangerous to do it. She would get a hell of a beating had she done that. One time, Henry was so drunk that he grabbed Claire’s hair and slammed her onto the wall where the mirror was fixed to. One small corner broke and cut her hand. Henry got scared and stopped hitting her. Claire had thought it was because he cared for her, only to later realise that he was concerned that the mirror will fall and break completely.
That was the drop that filled the glass.
She had kept the piece of mirror as a reminder that she had to put a stop to her misery.
It all led to that cold winter evening. It was Christmas Eve. On Boxing Day, instead of the traditional gift box, she wanted to let go of the housegirl. There wasn’t any more money to keep her employed. After that, she would take the time to think about how to start over. But that was two days away and she had to concentrate. The beating she got in the morning didn’t help, though.
Henry was wolfing down whatever was in front of him in no particular order. Every so often, he would take a sip of red wine from the delicate crystal glass.
‘Did you cook tonight?’ he asked with his mouth full. It took Claire a whole second to answer.
‘Good,’ he added while grabbing the pudding and bringing it closer. Claire’s heart was throbbing. This was it! She held her breath.
‘What’s wrong?’ Henry asked harshly. Claire couldn’t think of any excuse and she knew that not answering will fire him up.
‘Eat or leave,’ he barked.
She took a mouthful of potatoes and chewed as naturally as she could. As Henry started downing the pudding, Claire’s confidence was shaking. If it wasn’t going to work, she would be doomed. Henry finished the pudding fast and drank another full glass of wine to quench his thirst.
‘That was good!’ he burped and wiped his mouth with his hand only to see, to his horror, that he was bleeding.
‘What have you done, woman?’ he asked with his mouth full of blood. He looked at Claire with desperation.
It was done. She now had the courage to say it out loud.
‘It was in the pudding.’
‘What was?’ he tried to articulate.
‘Your precious mirror.’
‘I grounded it in the mortar,’ she continued with a calm she didn’t think herself capable of. It was done. He was done. He fell underneath the table. His lack of answer and the small thudding against the table of him dying assured her she was finally free. She took a deep breath and leaned back. She could finally relax. With a faint smile, the first in years, she picked up the wine glass in front of her and drank the entire contents at once. It burnt her throat in a nice, calming way. She took another deep breath when the thudding stopped. She could now finish her dinner. She picked up the napkin and wiped her mouth carefully, but her smile instantly disappeared. The napkin was full of blood. She couldn’t believe that she had made any mistake! As she lifted her eyes, she saw the housegirl at the other end of the table.
‘It was the wine for you, milady,’ she said coldly. ‘Henry loved me and put on my name all your possessions. But I could only get them if both of you were dead. It was just a matter of time before you tried to do what you did, so I just had to wait. I saw you ground the mirror corner and I cleansed the mortar into your wine glass. I was worried you wouldn’t drink it, but…’
‘It’s nothing personal. It’s my signature. You two were my thirteenth household.’
‘You are… Elizabeth…’ Claire realised the famous murderer she had kept in her house for the past three years. She couldn’t talk anymore as her life was leaving her.
‘Yes,’ Elizabeth smiled. ‘I am undefeated.’
Leave a Reply