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Amelia by Geoffrey Heptonstall

Amelia dances alone, a girl again in a looking-glass room who moves through all the mornings and afternoons of each peculiar day. When she enters this keepsake kingdom, Amelia dreams. She dreams of being young again. She dreams of being a child. She is a child in her mind.

“Am I pretty, mama? Am I pretty? Am I the prettiest girl you ever did see?”

“Why, I declare that my daughter is the prettiest girl, the prettiest girl I ever did see. Of course, you are pretty, my darling: you are my own dear daughter.”

The reply echoes on the walls of the shuttered room. Amelia often talks to her dear mother who always replies.

Crazy Amelia. She speaks to phantoms of her past, a past that is ever-present in her mind. She hears their replies. She voices their replies because their voices are real. Amelia knows that.

I want to tell her the truth, but the truth is cruel. I want to tell her things she needs to know.

Look at your life, Amelia.

“I heard somebody, Mama. Somebody is here. I know that somebody is listening.”

“Did somebody speak? Is there somebody here? Who is there? Now, don’t you cry, darling. There’s nothing to be scared of. It’s only the wind. That’s all it is, I’m sure.

“I’m scared, Mama. I am so scared. There’s nobody here but us, Mama. Isn’t that right? I know it’s right because you’re here to protect me, aren’t you, Mama? And so I’m safe here. I’ll always be safe. And I’ll always be pretty.”

You’ll always be pretty, Amelia. You’ll always be my own dear child. You’ll grow up one day to be a beautiful young woman. But that won’t happen for a long time. Don’t think about that now. Be a child, a pretty child, Amelia, the prettiest girl in the whole world.”

You see? It began at home. It always begins at home. When there’s something wrong, the root of it is deep. It’s always a tangle of deep roots. And what do they produce – Amelia, Crazy Amelia who has never worked, who has never known anything of the world, who has remained a child, who has never lived. You see her wandering through meadows and woods, singing, talking, laughing, chasing butterflies, picking wildflowers. A little girl who grew without ever changing. Everybody smiles tolerantly at her. But I don’t smile. I remember Amelia.

“I shall decide what is right because I am actually better than you. We are a well-known family. We are people other people look up to. Our house is rather grand, you must admit – almost a mansion. Yes, I guess you could call it that. Father was raised in a mansion. And I hope to live in one someday. It is what I expect, and no less. Whereas others are not so fortunate…”

That is what she said. I can hear her now. Sometimes when I pass by her house, I can hear her voice tunelessly singing or vaguely murmuring. And I know what she is saying. I heard it long ago.

“I’d hate to be ugly. I don’t like ugly, stupid girls. There are so many of them. I hate girls that aren’t as pretty and good as me. I’m so well-behaved, aren’t I? I always do exactly as I’m told. I always do exactly as I’m told, except when I don’t want to. But that’s all right because if I say don’t want to do something, I always get my own way. That’s only right. “

“What a pretty little girl you are, Amelia. You’re so adorable.”

“Why, thank you, Mama. I’m so much prettier than any other girl. I’m prettier than anyone. I’m so much prettier.”

The paint on the house is cracked. The wooden boards are rotting. The roof leaks. The garden has been neglected for years. That is the reality Amelia does not see.

Did she never want to leave this small town? Did she never want to discover what was happening in the world beyond the garden fence?

“Yes, you really could learn a lot from my little girl. I am truly amazed at how mature she is for her age. I’m sure I wasn’t nearly so wise at her age. She is going to grow into such a fine woman. I know it. I just know it.”

“I hope to live my life as best I can. And I intend to do that by keeping faith with those who have so kindly and generously raised me. I think it so rude to simply leave your family after all they have done for you.”

“Why should my dear daughter ever wish to leave her hometown and this, her home? It will always be your home, Amelia.”

The windows are darkened by drapes perpetually closed. The shutters, hanging loosely on rusted hinges, are closed, too. I have not seen them open in all the years Amelia has lived here alone.

And so Amelia dreams. She goes on with her dreams while I grow apart from her. Amelia is a child in her mind, always a child. Once she was quite an ordinary girl, but that was so long ago.

"Am I pretty, mama? Am I pretty? Mama, where are you? Why don’t you answer me? You know I hate to be ignored. And I hate to be alone. So where are you? I’m scared, Mama. I’m scared, Mama. I’m scared.”

She is gone, Amelia. She went many years ago.

“Who are you? Just who is this, telling lies and scaring me? Well, let me tell you, you do not scare me. Isn’t that, right, Mama?”

I’m here, Amelia. I came back. I did not come back to see you, but here we both are.

“Whatever was I thinking of when I thought a girl like you could be my friend? I ride, and I have my own horse. You ride, not as well as I do, but you only ride the stable horses. Similarly, you play tennis, but…Oh, my dear, you must not think I look down on you. Why, no. I try to be good and kind even to those who are not nearly as good and kind as I try to be.”

“Yes, you really could learn a lot from my little girl. I am truly amazed at how mature she is for her age. I’m sure I wasn’t nearly so wise at her age. She is going to grow into such a fine woman. I know it. I just know it.”

How strange it is to see and hear what is long gone. The shadows and echoes of the past linger. I find myself here again. I walk through the walls as if they were air. I walk in the darkness of Amelia’s mind.

“I know you’re here. I thought you were gone. Gone some place. They told me you had died. You died and I live on. So you do not frighten me. Mama is here to protect me. Isn’t that right, Mama? Isn’t that right? Why don’t you answer me? I’m scared, Mama. We must lock all the doors and close the shutters. There is somebody prowling. I think I know who it is. We must call the police. She is dangerous. She is back when we thought she had gone for ever and ever. I hate her, and I always will. She is ugly and stupid. Her folks aren’t as rich as mine. I hate poor people. I hate girls like her, thinking they’re smart to lie and cheat. I didn’t lie. I did not. She was going to do it. I know she was. She was going to go into my room. I know she was. She wanted to do away with me. I had to defend myself. And that’s what happened. She made me do it. I hate her for that. It was her, not me. As if I would do such a thing. I did nothing wrong.”

“My daughter is a good, kind girl. She would never do anything to harm anyone. “

“Am I pretty, mama? Am I pretty? Am I the prettiest girl you ever did see?”

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