POLLY'S WAITING GAME.
Polly waited. Eyes settled on the wall opposite. Now and again secretly, the eyes moved to the lips and the lifted spoon. Silver spoon slightly tainted, not her job, but Dudman would blame her. Stiff necked and pinched-faced. The Lady's eyes met Polly's. Coldness as if touched by a corpse. The head held so. The chin poised as if half way between words. The nose lifted for scent; the ears for sounds. Polly's eyes averted. The mind full of tricks. The waiting game. How long between slurps, she wondered. The lips parted as if words were about to be spilled out, but none came. The hand raised; the spoon paused. Sighed, the Lady. Polly held in check the ever ready smile; the grin settled behind her mask of solemnity. The hands held in front of her stomach; clutched in a prayer gesture; fingers entwined. What a face she's got on her, Polly mused. What a sight for sore eyes, she mused deeper, thinking of his Lordship away in the country, and Master George off somewhere with his regiment, out of sight and out of touch. Thank the Lord for that, Polly thought, lifting her chin, sensing the ache in her back with the stiffness of it all.
"Tea, Perkins!" the Lady said. The tray emptied. Moved to one side. Eyes on Polly; on how she moved; how the uniform seemed drab; the girl such a mess, Lady Elmore thought, taking a breath, settling back against her pillow. Polly moved. The tray of tea things in her hands steadied; the eyes on the bed; and where to place the damned thing, she mused, sensing the eyes on her critical, a sigh breathed out. Laid tray gently on the bed as if baby in a cradle had to be laid there instead of tea, jug, and such things. The Lady's head nodded; the eyes settled on the cup and saucer; the teapot; the sugar bowl and jug. Elmore wants it poured, Polly mused, moving forward, placing finger on teapot, arranging teacup, and saucer just so, turning all to be in reach.
"Pour, Perkins," The Lady said. Head to one side as if she were a bird awaiting a worm. Polly nodded. Sighed under breath. Let hand gently move cup; lift teapot above at an angle; not to let drips fall in the lap; not allow hot tea to scald. The thought, held in check like grin and amusement, permitted the task to be done with the solemnity she'd practised, repeatedly in her sleep. Could sleep now. Coldness in her bones from attic and bed. Susie and her damned cold feet on her back; her grubby fingers around the waist clutching for warmth. The tea poured. The cup settled calm; the spoon, silver and tainted by the side. The Lady's finger lifted the milk jug. Poured with daintiness; held between the two fingers; poised as if about to dance some ballet in miniature.
Polly watched. Sighed softly. Sensed dampness between armpits; felt her stomach rumble; her eyes scanned the room; the window; the curtains. Such a room she'd never have; never sleep in such a bed; or have scene of greenery and blossoming trees. Polly's had rooftops and dark walls or dull skies; damp walls and the scent from the chamber pot after a night's pee. The cup lifted and set before lips. Poised. The hand held in mid air like a bird of prey waiting; the small digit pointing outwards. The other hand rose and waved Polly back to her place. Moved backward. Footsteps slow. Eyes lowered to the floor. Head forward slightly as if waiting her beheading. Polly sensed the wall against her back. Brought her hands over her stomach; settled as if to protect entrance. Master George; hands on and hands off, depending on his mood. Away now, Polly mused, running her tongue over lower lip, taking a small bite of her inner cheek. A cough. Elmore choking on her tea? No such luck. Polly raised the eyes. Elmore closed her eyes. Gone down the wrong way. The tea. Serves her right, Polly mused, hiding a smile. The Lady told her to move the tray. And the other one, Susie, dull girl, to take the other. The cough settled. The face flushed. The eyes watery. The hands clutched together like virgin's legs, Polly mused, lifting the tray and curtsying and moving backwards. Holding the tray against her stomach, she opened the door, then out in the passageway she closed it with a gentleness of a tap on the back of a child. Sighed. Grinned. Poked out a tongue. Moved to the top of the landing and stared at the stairs. Susie came upwards. A smile broad as a horse's backside on her face; her hair gripped poorly trying to escape her cap. Her nose dripping and reddened. Susie stomped the stairs. Giggled behind her hand; pulled a face and nodded towards the far off door where Elmore waited. Let her wait, Susie whispered; let her rot in her bed, Polly mused, remembering cold feet, and a sniffing nose and the coldness embracing her in the attic like death itself enfolding her close in the dark and damp. Smiled. Sighed. Such is life. Life is such. This life.