Issue 30: Laura Stanley
Dear Danny/ As ever, Rebecca
I am dying,
but I cannot tell you.
Today, I received the X-rays.
Three or four months, the doctor says.
I have always said I want to go quickly,
like the snap of a shut book.
I can only remember Mama in bed.
Her frail body and ashen face.
At the end, she was so tormented by visions
that her white bedsheets became a straightjacket.
She begged me for release.
I gifted her death as she gifted me life.
You will not watch me shrivel away.
The news of my death will fall upon you
swift as an axe. But this is not goodbye,
not yet. I will write you these letters
for you to open after I’ve gone.
Dearest, where shall I hide them?
There is nothing more delicious
than a secret waiting to be found.
Do not remember me as dead.
Remember me dressed as Caroline de Winter.
I will miss the parties at Manderley.
I will miss the dancing; the sway of violins;
the cold crackle of champagne on my tongue;
the blaze of rockets against the midnight sky.
I will miss the hours of anticipation before,
when it would be only you and me,
alone in my bedroom. The air breathless –
except for the whisper of waves.
From my window, I watched the sea
snake around the rocks and devour.
You slipped Caroline’s white silk dress
over my naked shoulders,
brushed my hair with your expert hands.
I played with a white azalea,
crushing its sweetness
until it was slick between my fingertips.
Hell is simply Paris at midnight.
Isn’t that what you once said?
When did we go Danny, 1924? 25?
We were both so young and you followed
me anywhere and I took you to that club,
the one where everything feels underwater.
All those women with hair as short and smooth
as black swimming caps. All those women
sliding against each other in dresses so flat
against their breasts the satin looks wet.
All those women, half-shadow, half-light,
hems of beads swishing past their knees.
Time billowing –
Women curling around each other like seaweed.
Rebecca! Your hand flew to your mouth.
The women might as well be in bathing costumes.
I laughed because you couldn’t look away.
It was time for your first, proper kiss.
Welcome to heaven, I said.
Let me pick you out an angel.
Tonight, I saw you for the last time.
Since you left for Kerrith,
I’ve been turning back the chapters
in my mind – ten, twenty years,
back to when Mama died
and I became the lady of the house.
Papa tried dozens of maids,
sour old women that tore at the lugs
in my hair until the brush snagged.
I played tricks on them,
watched them shriek and jump
and run out of the house.
I wanted someone my own age, a sister.
You were tall and dark like me,
your hair coiled tight like a Adder.
I refused to pin mine up.
I loved riding, climbing trees,
swimming in the forbidden lake.
Oh the trouble I got you into!
But I told Papa that if he dismissed you,
I would never speak to him again.
How could I live without the girl
who tapped on my door whenever she heard
strange cries coming from my room.
You never seemed to sleep at night
so I called you my little vampire.
Ghosts are just stories, you said.
Until dawn, you held me in bed.
I dreamt Manderley was on fire.
Max was caught in a rope of flame.
We drove away together –
such exquisite ecstasy –
my right hand on the wheel,
my left hand holding yours.
My thumb seared patterns
into your skin, the letters of my name.
Laura Stanley is a poet from the West Midlands. Her heresy has appeared in bath magg, Magma, The Interpreter’s House and After Sylvia (Nine Arches Press).
Copyright © 2023 by Laura Stanley, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author