I’m going to take a huge step of courage and put this out there for the world to see. I’m doing a creative writing project for one of my classes, writing flash fictions and a short story that are based upon/influenced by the novels we’re reading this semester. This is what I wrote for Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.
The Day is Bright
When I was young, days as bright as this made me feel as though all the world wished good things for me. It was on this sort of day that the woman I would come to call my aunt took me in, on this sort of day that she had first allowed me to hem a skirt for one of our more distinguished patronesses, on this sort of day that Emile and I admitted our affections with a kiss quickly stolen while my aunt was taking a gentleman’s measurements.
For a moment, emerging into the sunlight for the first time in days (weeks? Months? With no windows, time had been impossible to discern), I forget the misery to which I had been subjected. For a moment, I do not think of having been hungry, sleepless, confined so closely with others that I could not sit without my knees pulled to my chest. For a moment, I cannot help but smile and breathe deeply of the sweet air. It is brisker than the last time I breathed it, and I realize that frost, instead of red and gold leaves, clings to the trees.
And then the rest of my body recognizes the chill —only momentarily before I join those already packed into a waiting cart— and I remember. I remember the charges (plotting! Me, a simple girl, accused of plotting!), the irons that clad my wrists with barely an explanation, much less a trial, the sound of my aunt’s desperate pleas for mercy as I was torn from her.
I wonder whatever became of the bodice I had been embroidering. I had slaved over the intricate stitches, and my aunt had said it was my best work, and they had trampled it when they shackled me.
Perhaps I should be afraid, wailing like the woman huddled in the farthest corner of the cart, or praying silently with trembling lips like the snowy-haired man across from me. But with the sun shining so brightly, I cannot be. My heart grieves for the anguish my aunt will face, and my dear cousin too, from whom I have been separated for ages. When I think of Emile receiving the news, it threatens to break entirely. The night before I was taken, we had promised to one day become betrothed.
But surely… surely a day like this cannot be blackened by injustice.
For the good of the Republic. This must be, in some way that my young age and simplicity cannot see, for the good of the Republic.
The passenger beside me sighs deeply. It’s a sigh I cannot quite decipher, because it does not seem to bear the weight of sorrow or resignation. I look at him and in an instant recognize two things: First, a peculiar hope in his eyes. Secondly, I realize he had been confined next to me for a time. I might not have recognized him had he not caused such a sensation. With his arrival, there had come murmurs within the walls and shouting without, though I could never quite make out what was said, besides his name. I remember him because of my curiosity about the gossip and because he was the only one of us to have been released.
But why, then, is he beside me now? I ask him if he remembers me, and he says he does, though he sounds uncertain. And hadn’t he been released? He had been, he answers, but then condemned again.
There is something about his voice, some note of hope, that brings me a deeper comfort than the sunshine has. Might I hold his hand, I ask, to share in his courage? He looks on me with pity. In that moment, I am suddenly sure of his strength. He is not the man I had thought, but a willing sacrifice.
A sacrifice for the sake of that citizen’s wife and daughter, he reveals. He is quick to hush me, but I have suddenly come to understand his hope. It is because he has no doubt of what he will die for. He needs not question what good his death will do for the Republic, but has the certainty of a greater cause.
If only, I say to him, I were certain of a greater cause, that I might not feel so weak. He smiles (such kindness in his eyes, as if he were looking upon a beloved daughter!) and reminds me of He who was sacrificed and raised to glory before us — the greatest sacrifice of all. This is the comfort I may take in what is past, he says.
The cart has stopped, and we are removed, but I am scarcely aware of it or of the frenzied mob that roars at the base of the platform.
And for the future? I ask. Might I take comfort in the hope that my cousin, my only blood relation, shall grow to be old? Might I hope that I will wait for her in a better land, in mercy, and might I hope that the time I wait will not seem long?
He gives me a final, reassuring promise. I hear footsteps descending the wooden stairs behind me, where I have refused to look until now.
A kiss and a blessing exchanged. I am taken, turned, brought up the stairs, knelt down facing the crowd, my neck positioned upon a plank wet and warm with blood.
I am not afraid.
I do not look above me, and I do not look at the crowd.
For the last time, I look at the sky.
The day is bright.