Junie sat at her writing desk, pen in hand, dripping ink on the paper before her.
My dear sister, Lily, she began, and then paused. She placed the pen on its holder and then violently crumpled the paper, tossing it angrily across the room. Putting her head in her hands, she sighed deeply and then arranged a new sheet of paper on the desk.
Again grasping the pen, she dipped it in ink, tapped away the excess and started fresh.
She stared at the words, unable to write more. Again placing the pen on its rest, she sat back in her chair and stared at the ceiling.
“I can’t do this,” she said aloud.
Standing suddenly, she descended the stairs and walked out the front door. Rain-spattered cobblestones greeted her like the ink she’d dripped on paper.
Junie rolled her eyes. Of course it would be raining.
Without an umbrella she walked briskly across Academy square, taking shelter in the tram tunnel by Mr. Mornington’s carriage house. Her hair dripping, she pulled a cigar and cutter from her pocket and focused intently on snipping off the cap. Returning the cutter her pocket, she then fished out a small silver matchbox, withdrew a match and pulled it swiftly across the striker. She held the end of the cigar in the flame until it finally ignited, then drew on it heavily. So filled were her senses with aromatic and earthy smoke that she closed her eyes to fully appreciate its pleasures.
The ritual was a comfort.
It was something she had picked up in Paris while lodging with a burlesque dancer. Proper society frowned on women with cigar habits, but for those who cared little for increasingly restrictive social mores, it was a forbidden delight. Ever since, Junie had indulged in at least a couple of cigars a week, mostly during times when she felt a strong need to relax. Such as now.
Her sister, Lily, had written her about the care of their elderly aunt and whether she could be sent to New Babbage for the remainder of her life. The city had doctors, hospitals, and…and Junie, who currently had no responsibilities to bear. Junie’s skin crawled at the thought. Even on the best of days her aunt was bad-tempered and manipulative. Whoever bore the burden of seeing to her care did so without relish.
Junie brought the cigar to her mouth, puffed absently for a few moments, reflecting on the ironic timing of the request now that she finally felt settled and comfortable. The house was finished. She was making new aquaintances, attending balls…she was allowing herself to be happy. She exhaled forcefully, a cloud of smoke rising in the tunnel. Her arm dropped to her side in resignation.
She knew that she had an obligation to Lily. It was true that Junie currently enjoyed a freedom that most people did not, including her sister. Lily was busy with her husband and children, running the household, trying to get her stories published, all the while contending with a crotchety old woman who couldn’t be pleased. Junie wished that she didn’t understand. She wished that she could blindly refuse and continue her life unfettered. But she did see the complexity in the situation and knew there was really no choice.
The rain had let up a bit and she walked slowly out into the square, meandering home with a heavy heart. She was unenthusiastic about the task before her.
Stubbing out the cigar in a rock crystal dish, she sat back down at her desk to resume the letter she’d begun.
I am in receipt of your letter regarding our aunt, and am resigned to the fact that it will be better for her in New Babbage.
Please see her sent here.
Reading over the letter time and again, she couldn’t resist adding a postscript for Lily’s husband, Chester, as she usually did. He had offered to send funds to compensate Junie for her inconvenience. In spite of the fact that caring for her aunt was an inconvenience, she found the offer insulting nonetheless.
P.S. – Please inform Chester that I am able to suggest a place where he can put his cheque.
Satisfied that the cogs were in motion for the needful to be done, Junie stood up from the desk and poured herself a strong drink.
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