Chapter Two: No Warnings
of sisters and storybooks
“Minnie, why won’t you even meet them?” demanded an irate Rose, tugging lightly on the rags she was twining around her sister’s hair.
“They’re just going to be like all the others,” she explained impatiently.
“I don’t see why they have to be,” reasoned Rose, “They might be perfectly nice,”
“And they might be perfectly horrible,” her eyebrows were knitting together, a sign of great distress. “Ouch,” she yelped, as her scalp was yanked cruelly, “Be gentle,”
“I’m done now,” said Rose contentedly, pleased with her handiwork, “Now it’s my turn.” She took Minerva’s place on the floor, kneeling on a spare nightdress so that the tiles wouldn’t cause bruises.
Minerva wet-combed her hair thoroughly, removing all trace of snags and tangles, and set to work with the strips of rag they had been saving up for the occasion. It was a difficult work, the tying of a rag to the root of a lock of hair, then the wrapping and the re-tying, especially with Rose’s hair. Rose’s hair was wavy and abundant, and a pretty shade of wheat blonde which Minerva far preferred to her own straight, thin brown hair- but it was far less manageable. “I don’t see why we need to do this,” Minerva sighed, troubled by Rose’s crazy tresses. Rose had the kind of hair one could describe as ‘tresses’ or perhaps ‘locks’, whereas Minerva’s could not be described as anything more exciting than ‘hair’. The girls in storybooks had ‘tresses’, but, it had to be admitted, Minerva was hardly a story book girl.
“They are taking our photographs,” she explained, as if stating the obvious, “We need to look as beautiful as possible; it’s unlikely the orphanage will be able to afford them again for a long while,”
“I know, but what’s wrong with our plaits?” she still couldn’t see exactly why they had to go to so much fuss, it was only hair.
“We all have plaits, all seventeen of us, and don’t you want to look even the smallest bit special?” Rose turned her head backwards as much as could, trying to look Minerva in the eye.
She didn’t bother to answer. Being the plainer one of a set of twins meant that feeling at all special was a rarity. She had stopped hoping for it long ago, the first time a smiling possible adoptive parent had sighed exasperatedly upon seeing her.
“And,” Rose continued, “They put our photographs, doctor’s check-up, and meeting of possible adopters all on one day, so we have to look extra especially pretty,” she grinned, her dimples still visible in the half-light of approaching dusk and a singular, economy lamp.
“Rose?” Minerva asked poking her food around her plate with her fork, “Will you finish my breakfast? I don’t feel that hungry,”
“Sure, switch it over,” they swapped plates with well-practiced speed, avoiding Matron’s hawk-like stare; it was against the rules to share food, everyone was meant to finish their own plateful. If they did not finish it then they would be served it again and again until they did. The sheer number of times Minerva had been forced to eat cold and congealed poached egg at supper had enforced the need for swift action in plate swapping. “What is the matter?” Rose asked sympathetically, after devouring the remains of scrambled egg and toast, “You normally love the breakfast on Saturdays,”
“I never really look forward to my check-up, I’m always terrified he’s going to tell me I have some horrendifical disease or that I have months to live, or something like that,” she sighed at her own silliness, but still seemed a little tense.
“Don’t be silly Minnie, you are healthy as a horse, if you just got a bit more sunshine you’d be well away,” she teased her. Minerva had a far fairer complexion than her due to preferring books to hopscotch and hoops, which gave her an oddly intense appearance due to the contrast with her dark hair. Rose had very little contrast in her own colouring, light golden-pink skin, golden-brown hair, and golden-hazel eyes.
They finished their breakfast in companionable silence and reluctantly returned to their bedroom, there not really being anywhere else to go. Minerva settled down on her bed, retrieving a tattered novel from beneath her pillow and hungrily reading it, her eyes flicking across the pages at almost comical speed. Rose, on the other hand, simply set herself at the window, wiping away its dripping blanket of condensation and flicking it at Minerva.
“Rose,” she moaned in reply, wiping her sleeve across her face, “Can’t you do something useful? Such as making your bed? Matron will be furious if she finds out it’s still unmade at this hour,”
“Stop going on, Minnie,” her sister teased her back, “Why don’t you do it yourself if you are all that hot and bothered about it, you’re not likely to glean much more from that there copy of Jane Eyre, you must have read it, what, seventeen times?”
“It’s a beautiful story,” Minerva protested, resisting the temptation to toss said novel at her sister’s head.
“Yes it is, wasn’t I the one who filched it for you in the first place, when Miss Buckley was going through her faze of throwing out all books that might mention orphans,”
“You are forgetting to mention the five other books you nabbed too,” she smiled at her sister, more teasing that condemning; those books had come to much use over the dull, dreary weekends and school holidays since.
Rose quickly got tired of trying to see through the layer of raindrops that covered the window’s outside (Scottish springs were never particularly cheerful.) She traced hers and Minerva’s name several times in the condensation in the upper pane of the window, in ever more ornate lettering, before becoming bored of that as well. She missed the days when they could play games in their spare time, when almost everyone in the Home would sit and listen to her stories and laugh and cry at all the right moments. At twelve she was now considered too old for this, although she didn’t think anyone would mind, Minerva might put up a front of maturity but that was only due to self-consciousness- she could not stand being teased by anyone other than Rose.
She foraged through their chest of drawers, searching for one particular book. She finally unearthed it from under one of their spare nightdresses, it was a slim, square book and somehow even shabbier than the much-read Jane Eyre. It was a book which they had both devoured in equal measures, and which they had obviously only owned for a fraction of its lifetime. It was ancient, the pages a shade of khaki rarely seen outside the military, and its lettering faded and unclear. It was also obvious that some long ago woman (likely a scrawny old spinster in Rose’s opinion) had bowdlerised the entire book, from cover to cover it what had presumably been black ink. The trouble in this was that black ink fades over time, to a bright, though admittedly mottled, amber colour, the effect of which was that all lines that had some form or meaning considered ‘unsuitable for children’ was clearly high-lighted for all to see.
She stood up on her bed, flicking to her favourite page, as was marked by an old and faded ribbon. She changed her pose slightly, tilting her head back and holing her hand across her chest in a love-struck manner, “'Tis but thy name that is my enemy. Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man.” Minerva sighed and turned her eyes from her book towards her sister; Rose may be silly, but she could act. She quoted the verse clearly, almost by heart, and her voice strong and love filled. “O, be some other name! What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” This line was spoken with extra heart, it being her favourite, and she put a bouncing emphasis on the word ‘rose’. “So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title. Romeo, doff thy name; And for that name, which is no part of thee, take all myself,”
Minerva applauded, laughing, as Rose finished with a flourish. “Encore, encore!” she cried.
“Si vous voulez, mademoiselle,” Rose answered, bowing low and doffing an imaginary hat. She flicked a few pages backward through the book, changing her demeanour to one of eeriness and melancholy, “And Romeo said to Mercutio, on the subject of his foreseen death, ‘I fear, too early: for my mind misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars shall bitterly begin his fearful date with this night's revels and expire the term of a despised life closed in my breast by some vile forfeit of untimely death. But He, that hath the steerage of my course, direct my sail! On, lusty gentlemen”
But whereas that fair quoted Romeo may have prophesied his own demise, children will ever think they are immortal, and it cannot be said that any shivers were raised on either girl’s neck, or any vision in their heads, nor any shadows through their minds.
(AN-Romeo and Juliet quotes blatanly by Shakespeare, I could hardly ever make that up)