Danica Zuzic 2018
I remember Emmaline, holding Lucy's hand. I remember the way it reminded me of Harriet and me. Oh Harriet, my Harriet, my best friend, my love. I miss her dreadfully.
Even now, I struggle to forgive myself. Even now, after all this time, dark thoughts engulf my mind like the tide. On cold nights when I'm all alone I find myself drowning in waves of sadness and guilt followed by selfish, selfish pain. How is it that even after the last five months, five months of a new life far, far away from the cape where my minds demons were created, I still think of what my old life could have become? I still think of the future we could have made?
If it were not for my jealous hand, we would both be in Melbourne. We would both be going to dances, parties, living the life of luxury amongst the ladies of Melbourne. But I, like always, had to mess things up and ruin it all. Unlike Harriet, who was always glowing with her kindness and purity, I have always had a darker side filled with curiosity and risk taking behaviour that I always suspected would lead to something awful, something unspeakable.
Now I pay the price. The price of my reckless, childish, rash nature. I have been stuck here in Bendigo with my father’s distant cousin and his family for five months now. I only have a month until I have to go back, back to that godforsaken cape. Unless I find a suitor. A suitor who is rich, intelligent, and handsome, who can look after me and wash away the tumult of emotions that bound me to the grief of the past.
But I am no Harriet, no suitors will ever come for me. How could I expect a confident handsome man to fall for a clumsy, flawed, unladylike woman like me, whose past is filled with sinful acts and desires? What if they find out the envy, lust, and jealousy that has frequented my mind like the waves that crash on the sand? What if they find out what I did to my best friend, my dear Harriet? How can I expect anyone to love me?
I remember that day at the beach where my fingers had crinkled from the water. I ran my new, strange fingers down Harriet’s back, pretending I was a monster of the deep. I no longer need to pretend, for I am the real monster. If only Harriet knew. She could have saved herself and the rest of the cape from the trauma I have caused.
The only person foolish enough to waste their feelings on me is waiting for me and my response back on the cape, at least to the last of my knowledge he is. For all I know he could have decided that he no longer wanted me by his side forever. Maybe he has decided that he no longer wanted the burden of me as a wife, or to see my face as daily reminder for the rest of his life of the sorrow, the grief, and the pain that drowned everyone the day I pulled the trigger. Maybe he has decided to wait for Emmaline or the day he meets a fair maiden who is capable of loving him, cherishing him, and giving him the life that he deserves.
Not me. Not I. Not the one who was willing to falsely encourage his unrequited affection a little longer just to feel the power of having control over his feelings. Not the one whose chest expanded with pleasure seeing him crushed by the refusal to his proposal.
I have always recoiled at the thought of marriage and dreamed of sailing away, of living beneath the ocean, away from everyone’s expectations of who I should be. It seems to be some aspect of my interior that causes me to have such peculiar thoughts and views. When I let slip a flight of fancy, a curious question, or a statement that goes against gender norms, others stare at me as though I am absurd.
No man, could ever bring me the joy that flutters deep within me as thoughts of brilliant blue waters, soft breezes of the Pacific, and beautiful new lands fill my mind. To see in person the world that my fathers beloved maps attempt to replicate and live the life of adventure that seem to only exist amongst the pages of the books I used to hold so dearly, that is what I have always wanted. If only I could abandon my role as a woman and sail away from real life and its boring truths to a life so intriguing that I have no time to slip back into the depths of my mind.
The sound of my door slowly opening woke me from my thoughts. I slowly sat up in my bed, my neck sore from how I was lying. My cousin had entered the room, His dark thick hair was a mess on top of his head, and his eyes seemed red and puffy, as if he had just been crying. He collapsed on my bed, exhausted, as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.
I was shocked, but also intrigued, for I have never seen a man my age so look so vulnerable before. I rested my arm around his shoulder, to comfort him and ease his pain. He took a couple of sharp breaths before he removed his hands from his face leaving white marks on his red cheeks.
‘I’m running away’ Isaac mumbled under his breath averting his eyes from mine.
‘What?’ I exclaimed, shocked by his sudden decision.
‘I can’t join the Navy, I can’t, I just can’t. There is no possible way that I can force myself into the life of military. I would rather live the rest of my life disowned by my family then subject myself to such hell.’ He dragged his hands down his face resting his head on his fingertips.
‘Hell? What do you mean? How could a life of adventure and discovering new worlds be considered hell?’ I asked, confused by how the idea of something that brings me such joy could bring the very opposite to someone else.
‘Yes, explore new worlds of intense training, rocky waters, rationed food, and putting your life on the line for little to no reward. The very thought of it makes me sick to the stomach. I cannot decline the offer either for joining the Navy is what is expected of me and I am unable to face my father and tell him how I really feel.’
‘Just join and then if you decide you still hate it you can leave. Maybe you’ll find that it isn’t terrible after all.’
‘That is a bit hypocritical coming from you. Besides, not everyone loves adventure like you. What would you know anyway, Kate? You're just a girl. You don’t know what it is like to have to be tough, to have to work for the rest of your life.” He stood up and walked towards the door. Just as he reached for the handle he turned, “I just thought I’d let you know before I left.” He then left without waiting for my response.
'Oh!' I cried in fury and fell back into my bed as hot tears spilled down my cheeks. The thought of how he disregarded my feelings and thoughts just because I was a girl angered me. My face aflame. How could he just ignore my advice and struggles like that? Why can he abandon the life he has been given? Why can he just leave his responsibility behind, and I have to stay? Why can’t I leave?
I looked across the room to the mirror sitting on my dresser, looking at how similar my face was to Isaac’s. Noticing how our eyes, nose and lips looked the exact same. Why can’t I leave? Why do I have to stay and suffer? I raced to the bathroom and shut the door. I scavenged through the top draw searching to find if Isaac had left a razor behind. Something cold and sharped nipped the tip of my forefinger. I pulled it out of the draw, and there it was, Isaac’s razor with a drip of my blood running down its blade.
I wiped the blade on the skirt of my nightgown, leaving a bright red stain. I looked up into the mirror above the sink. My eyes red and puffy, water stains running down my cheeks revealing the paths of where my tears fallen. My hands started to shake, nervous and excited anticipating the turn my life was about to take.
I slowly raised the razor to the top of my head. I grasped the first strand of hair and placed the blade gently next to the roots. Taking a deep breath I sliced across cutting away my hair, my responsibility, my role as a woman. Before I knew it my all my hair was gone. My head bare, with nothing to hide it, naked for all to see. My head felt lighter, as if the weight of my past fell to the ground with every strand of hair.
My symbol of femineity was gone. I stared at my reflection, at how alien yet familiar it seemed. I no longer looked Kate, the girl who was always second best, the girl who killed her best friend, the girl who was destined to never live the life she wanted. She was gone. From this moment on I was the new Isaac Gilbert. The Isaac Gilbert that was going to join the navy and live a life of adventure free from the struggles of the past.