A Treatise of all the Weaknesses, Indispositions and Diseases Peculiar to the Female Sex from Eleven Years of Age to Fifty or Upwards to Death and Beyond
On her sixteenth birthday, Adrienne received an anonymous letter:
Dear Miss Grimmer
Since we last met on that Saturday afternoon when you were returning from your errands, I have been longing for you and now the time is fast approaching, I have decided to remind you. You promised to write to me again. I still remember your desire for our future. Everything is in place.
All my kisses until I hear from you
Yours in truth
Write to me please.
You are on top of the world and I ask your hand.
Adrienne’s bedroom was crowded with people preparing her therapy. Her doctor was reading aloud from a big smelly book: ‘A Treatise of all the Weaknesses, Indispositions and Diseases Peculiar to the Female Sex from Eleven Years of Age to Fifty or Upwards to Death and Beyond.’ She squatted beside him on the floor, clutching her abdomen, suffering the wickedest stomach pains she’d ever had in her life. Her toes were cold and she rubbed them against his legs. She was turning beautiful and looked more blue than ever.
The party seemed to be in full swing. She knew someone would take this opportunity to do something to her. They had found a new toy. Would it bite? But Adrienne was good and gentle. To the pleasing softness of her skin was added the ineffable feminine quality of watching over the vicious and treating them as if they too were charming invalids.
‘You are my eldest child. My only daughter.’ Her father looked directly at her as he spoke, but on his breath she could smell wine. He had to be awake every minute and ran the risk of losing sight of the usual meaning of objects. When he looked up again at the clock, it was gathering its strength to strike. ‘Adrienne says, Adrienne says,’ he grumbled. ‘The trouble with our Adrienne is that she gets in her own way. She only sees herself.’
She looked up, hesitant, reached out her two hands and clasped the proffered white bowl. The glass had been cleaned up, pieces of his anger.
‘Here’s bread and a bit of butter.’
‘Enough salt? Don’t cry anymore now. It’s all right. It’s just that this evening I came home on the train with the most awful headache.’
When Adrienne had been warmed and refreshed with food and drink, the doctor wrote a few words on her stomach: ‘You Must Pretend to be Dead.’
The nurses wrapped her head, fingers and toes with linen. Arms and legs wrapped. Amulets placed between each layer. Arms and legs tied together. Scroll of spells placed between her hands. More wrapping. Large cloth wrapped around her and attached with strips.
But what about those fellows waiting still and silent there on the landing, so still and silent they clashed with the crowd, standing noisy in their very silence, harsh as a cry of terror in their quietness? Eyes wide open, she continued to stare into the half-darkness a few yards in front of her, where the men were standing, their arms at their sides. Nothing in her manner suggested a woman now, and she narrowed her eyes as she looked into their faces.
Adrienne was lowered into the bed.
Hours later Adrienne identified what she was feeling as loneliness, and her birthday was officially over for another year. She stayed in bed for eighteen days, her therapists watching over her night and day in large armchairs with backs that let down as beds.
Sitting at the table just over a week ago, she didn’t look like someone who was about to leave her family and elope with me. She no longer remembered. Without her memory she realised reality was gone. There are but a few traces of me in her solid little room, dancing in the atmosphere, her insubstantial suitor.