Control: Chapter Three
It was Sunday night dinner. The sunset was casting a warm yellow light over the dining table. In the summer air, fireflies darted here and there, impossible to keep out as Georgie ran in and out of the house, playing happily. Easy show-tunes played from a vinyl in the lounge. The family arrived at the table, dressed in their formal gowns of silk and frills, and each gave a silent nod of greeting. The roast chicken steamed invitingly. The bubbles in their non-alcoholic champagne popped and fizzed.
“Please.” Cora said softly. “Sit.”
The family sat. They were silent for some time, as each filled their plates with a polite delicateness - “you go… no, you go”... “pass the salt, please.” They sat in this silence for a long time, only the sound of the fireflies buzzing softly in the air.
“How was school?” Governor August said. He addressed the question to nobody in particular. He seemed to be staring at a fixed point on the opposite window.
“It was good.” Louisa began. “My political studies class is interesting. I’m glad we have it, to set right any wrongful thinking, to make sure my classmates, that they all know what our common cause is, why the Chip is important, and of course why -”
“Yes.” Governor August interrupted. Louisa blushed and fixed the napkin on her lap. Governor August sipped his drink and turned his gaze, slowly, to Gracie.
“I had a good day too.” Gracie smiled shyly.
“And? Well, what did you do?” Cora said.
“I… I had a really good… uh…”
“If only you talked as much as your sister. No, I know that’s not true, Grace. You don’t talk to us. But you use ridiculous words like splendiferous in Louisa’s presence and talk too much. Isn’t that true?” Governor August looked sharply at both his daughters. Louisa, still blushing, finished her dinner as quickly as possible and left the table with a polite nod of her head.
She dumped her dishes in the sink. The maids always had the radio up loud in the kitchen when they were washing dishes, and they smiled, slipping her a leftover from dessert in a napkin. They knew that she was making an escape from the formalities of the night. Louisa ascended the staircase and went into her father’s library: an immense, dusty room. The shelves were high all around her and arched at the cornices, and in the corner of the room was a fireplace, that had been dormant in the summer months. Louisa always liked to find a book and climb onto the window seat, where she pulled open the bay window and read, overlooking the expanse of the Governor’s Estate below. Now, she sat, preened lawns and sweeping drives below. All was still. Presumedly all the families were having their Sunday night dinner. She’d chosen an older book - one she hadn’t seen before - called The Mystery of the Rose. The cover was deep crimson and worn around the edges. The pages were yellowing and thick with a layer of dust. As she opened it, she got a strong whiff of mildew.
I miss you immensely.
Louisa had never seen a handwritten book before. Every other book - classics - were typed out in a grainy, sans serif font. She read on.
I can’t go another day with them here and you not. The baby is safe. She’s making this ma-ma-ma sound but I don’t have the heart to stop her from doing it. I’m going to keep her safe.
“An odd way to begin a love story…” Louisa murmured to herself. She took a bite of her meringue, and crumbs spilled onto the book across her lap.
I worry that the only way to go on, is to switch off everything entirely. My feelings, I mean. I hate to say it, Rose, but if I feel too much, I’ll end up like you, and what good is that for the baby? The baby will end up like you too, then. Maybe that’s a good thing.
It was growing dark outside and making it difficult for Louisa to read. She’d need to turn on a light. She swung her legs back over the window seat and dropped the book onto the floor with a thud, so she could make the jump onto the carpet of the library floor. But when she landed and looked up, there was a figure in the door. She instinctively shuddered and stopped short. As her father crossed the room, she stood frozen. He leaned over and picked up the book.
“Something different?” he asked impassively. Louisa shifted under his expectant gaze.
“Yes. I… I didn’t get very far. It’s getting dark.”
“It is. Get to bed.”
Louisa nodded and hurried out of the room.
For the week following, the mysterious book weighed on her mind. Days passed mechanically, dominated by routine. Every day Louisa would wake, go to school, and come home to encode or read a book. She’d have family dinner and be asleep by the power cut at nine o’clock. She went back to the library a few times, to try and find the book, but she never could. She settled instead for the classics - Austen and Bronte and Fitzgerald - books that the government had labelled as “safe”. There was nothing to stir this routine.
Tara Wesson is a second-year Journalism and Creative Writing student. She likes long walks on the beach, piña coladas, and getting caught in the rain. But no, she's really just a book-lover with a dog called Shorty, a love of travel, and a penchant for dad jokes.