She was ill.
It did not matter anymore of what. No one knew, of course. No doctors, for all of their new, modern ways, could even lessen the symptoms, let alone tell her what it was that was sapping her strength. Even now, as she sat out on the high balcony that overlooked the valley in which her home nestled, wrapped in a blanket despite the springtime sun smiling down on her, she could barely harness the strength it took to keep her head raised. She dreaded the day when she couldn't, when her husband, her longsuffering, faithful husband, would not even be able to see her look him in the eyes.
She would rather die first. A possibility she had only recently come to accept.
Her husband had been a saint, much to the surprise of everyone in the community except Dorothy herself. A large, gruff man, many had expected that he would be seeking a new woman for his bed when it became obvious that Dorothy could not be of service in that area. Those who dared to speak this idea out loud were treated to his fist.
He had made all accommodations for her comfort. Their bedroom, up two flights of narrow stairs, was abandoned now, in favor of a much smaller room on the ground floor. When she could no longer easily walk, he had procured for her a chair with wheels on the bottom to help her around. When she could no longer push it, a nurse was hired, her duties expanding as Dorothy's condition became worse.
Marie was no less than an angel. A tiny girl with short cropped red hair and wide, expressive eyes, she hailed from the Isles in Europe, and had a strong, lilting accent to show it. Her voice was soothing, and though she could be a bit abrasive, Dorothy thought that a nurse must be, otherwise the patient would sit in their own grief, and their visitors would bear the afflicted down with overly expressed concerns. When Dorothy was feeling better, Marie would bring her here, to the balcony, and let her sit in the sun. Though Dorothy could barely talk anymore, Marie filled the silence with chatter, uplifting words, and, sometimes, song.
Of late, however, even Marie was quieter. Dorothy knew the reasons: She was becoming such a burden. Her husband was feeling the strain of being chained to a marriage that could not provide his basic needs, and brooding more and more upstairs, though he did make an effort to come visit, even still. When he did, he would simply hold her pale, frail hand in the massive confines of his and look at her, his eyes so full of grief that it saddened her to see them.
"Oh, Lady, the sun's goin' doon an' et's time tae go inside. Did ye like yuir time outside, Lady?" Marie's voice, softer than usual, also seemed strained, as if the happiness she were showing was a put on. Dorothy tried to look up at her and smile, but her head would only bob, and finally ended up with her chin resting against her chest.
She wanted to weep, but Marie was speaking again. "'Course ye did, 'tis healthy, tae be in th' sun, isn't it? But 'tis also healthy to get good rest." She paused, then, with a cool, slender hand pressed to the other woman's forehead, lifted Dorothy's head up and let it roll back. Dorothy could see Marie's face, upside down, smiling, and could tell that the smile was masking something else, a glint in the girl's eyes. "'Tis time tae rest, Lady..."
Marie did not speak as she brought Dorothy to the small room, but her movements were efficient as ever, aligning the chair, preparing the bed, and moving Dorothy from one to the other efficiently. Dorothy had marveled in the strength in the young girl's arms the first time Marie had physically lifted her from the chair to the bed. It was no less impressive, even if there wasn't nearly as much weight on Dorothy now.
Marie sat by the bed, for the first time in a long time, and took a cool cloth to Dorothy's forehead. It felt good, and Dorothy smiled at the feeling. Marie gave that wooden, sad smile back. Dorothy closed her eyes, not wanting to see her caretaker, her friend, so sad. It wasn't long before sleep pulled at her.
She had been on the edge, where sleep and wakefulness merge, when she heard the soft lilt of Marie's voice, as if down a deep tunnel, softly whispering, "S'for th' best..."
Pressure! She couldn't breathe! It felt as if someone were sitting across her chest and over her mouth. Her arms tried to flail, but she had lost that ability long ago. Her legs scrabbled against the bed, but could barely raise, let alone get traction. She couldn't breathe. She couldn't breathe, and she was dying, and she realized with this force that she did not want to die!
She tried, tried so hard, to bring her breath through the pressure on her throat and chest, but could not. Her mind, cruelly sharp even as the rest of her body betrayed her, began to cloud, and stopped sending signals to retain life. In the end, she though, just before the darkness caught her, this was for the best, just as Marie said.
The darkness had taken her, yes. It had not taken her far.
She felt no strength in her limbs, and yet could now move. This place, this dark, cold, damp place, had no light, and yet she could see, as if whatever vile things lived her made their own light. Or simply were too dark for the lack of light to conceal them.
There were windows here, too. Windows she could look through, to see dreary versions of her home. She had, a first, hungrily watched. The funeral had been somber, as was proper, and she felt satisfied that she was well remembered.
Until she found the window that lead to the bedroom that had been hers and her husband's. There, to her horror, he watched as Marie, her seemingly faithful nurse, twirled a new dress about her legs, and smiled, and, when her husband walked in through the door, did not flee for the impropriety of trying on her mistress' former attire, but leapt into his arms, kissing him as Dorothy had never kissed him, even in health. Wantonly. Brazenly.
Dorothy had waited for her husband to tell her it was too soon, that she shouldn't be here, that she was to leave. Instead he took her to their bed, his and Dorothy's.
She watched. She could not pull away.
And she smiled, lustfully, as he left afterward.
Now Dorothy watched her. Now she could see. This was not new. This was not since the death of his wife, which Dorothy could have come to accept. She had been dallying with him like a common whore.
And he had not only accepted it, but encouraged it.
They were to be married. Marie had said as much as she looked through the window, a window that Dorothy now knew was a mirror in her own room. They were to be married. Now that Dorothy was out of the way.
Dorothy felt her non-existent fist clench as she wept. Though she could not see it, she knew that the tears from her eyes were not falling down her cheeks, but spreading outward, away and around and in front of her eyes, like tendrils, black and damp and covering them like a dark glow.
She stood in front of the mirror-window through which she could see the world she had been in, waiting. Marie would be there, soon, preparing to wed her husband, coming to see herself in the mirror, to express her happiness. But Dorothy would show herself first.
She did not think, in the end, that Marie would be happy at all...