A/N: Written for the Diversity Writing Challenge, c17 - write at least five reincarnations (slightly different) of the same scene.
A Mother's Indecision
Never had Nora thought that she would be leaving her dear children behind: the children she had borne, that she had nurtured when it wasn't the midwife or, as they grew older, the nanny, scrubbing them and scolding them and forcing food into their protesting mouths…
In a way, they were dolls as well, dolls she played with when the fancy struck her but she left most of their well-being to others: the midwife, then the nanny, then when they'd grow older still the Governess that would school them in all manners of growing up. Because they weren't improvised. They could afford a Governess and much else besides and children like that didn't have much use for their mother, in the end. Her duty was already done.
And yet, it was still difficult to think of leaving them, once the question arose. And it took a very long time in arising as well.
Except he played that card, the children, and she heard her voices in the morning wondering where she'd gone, why she didn't love them, and she broke down in tears like the child she was deep inside and dropped her bag.
The maid unpacked it for her.
I should leave, she thought. She was dwindling away, becoming more a doll in this house than she cared to be and suddenly she yearned for freedom. Perhaps her husband was right, though. It was a flighting fancy, like her want for macaroons when she went to do the shopping. She could pack her bags and unpack them and that might be enough to rid herself of that desire.
For now, it was still there.
She packed her bags – slowly, almost lethargically, and she heard her two children quarrelling in their playroom, and the nanny's scolding voice.
She'd had to work somewhere, once she was out and about on her own. Her seamanship was rather poor, but maybe she could become a nurse, or a Governor, or a nanny. Being a nanny was rather easy. And many households needed nannys.
I can just stay here and be a nanny. But what good would that be? If I do get tired of it, I can go back to being the mother…
And wasn't that how their lives were? Inside the doll house, as dolls that could be moved from role to roll until they found the right one, but never leaving the house.
I could just try…for a little bit…
The nanny came in, eyes rimmed in black and wringing her hands. 'Mistress,' she gasped. 'The children are quarrelling and they won't listen to a word –'
Or I could not. Her husband was right, or perhaps it was the look of the nanny that made her grimace internally and outwardly she unpacked her cosmetics bag again. 'The Master is in the study,' she said.
She was the wife and the mother behind the door and the mistress of the house again.
The fancy struck her again, and this time the children were out with the nanny, a reward for their good behaviour. The house was empty without them, because her husband was a silent figure in the study and there was no wind to coax the wind chimes into a song.
Now would be the perfect time, she thought wistfully. No-one will even know. And many a time she'd gone shopping on such whims and enjoyed macaroons and brought a few necessities home to serve as the excuse. And her husband wound think their quarrel from the previous night had simply lit her desire for another sweet.
What it had lit, rather, was her desire for some freedom.
If she packed a bag and took it with her, she could stay out a little later, go a little further – perhaps she could escape the doll house as well. Maybe there wouldn't be anything to change her mind then. No husband twisting his words just so, no children making noise to pull at her heart strings so effortlessly…
But she found herself buying more macaroons than she could eat anyway, saving a few to sneak to them to the children like she always did, and wondering what they'd done with the nanny, wondering…
And she found herself drifting home as well and slipping the macaroons into their still too small hands.
They went on a holiday. She, her husband, the kids and the nanny to look after them. She found herself just watching them. Of course, her husband was busy with other things as usual. As long as everyone in the house was as they should be, he didn't care. And the nanny watched the children. She had nothing to do. Nothing to be except the petite wife and mistress sitting under the shade while others milled about.
She could easily slip in amongst them, take off her bonnet and shawl and vanish into the nameless men and women. She could quite easily become one of those nameless women. Her husband wouldn't notice. He was too busy with other affairs and she was just his doll bride, expected to look the pretty part in public and remain out of sight otherwise. And her children were busy too. Playing. With the nanny doing all manner of motherly things, leaving her, the real mother, to simply sit under the shade of the tree and watch them.
It was an impersonal seat, an impersonal feeling. I would flee this. But she had nothing with her at the time, and she was sure the time it would take to collect her belongings would see her mind changed once again. Already, doubt crept into her mind. She wasn't angry enough. Driven enough. Her patience ran out quickly but her drive dwindled. And she was afraid. She knew very little of this place, and her husband oft reminded her how little she knew of the world at all.
And so she stayed, and their ungracious holiday passed in the same manner as it had begun, and perhaps only the children were truly happy.
No… Nora looked at both their faces in turn. They were weary too.
But soon you'll be off to boarding school, my dears, she thought. And then their sweet faces could not be used to dissuade her any longer.
The pair of them were shouting in the corridors and, this time, the children were peeking around the banister, looking and listening. They were to go to boarding school and Torvald disagreed with her choice, stating it too grand. Nora was bitter about that, as she had worked before and knew the value of money like the doll wife Torvald had wanted to keep would never have. And that reminder rekindled the flame, the desire for freedom.
'That is right,' she said, her tone flat, 'I know the value of money, and hard work as well. I am not a helpless doll who cannot live without her doll's hose – and, no Torvald, I shan't be persuaded in this again. The children are grown and will be on their own way soon enough.'
And he could not argue that, for his doll's house, his perfect household, demanded the children go to boarding school at their age – or the eldest at least. Torvald lacked the argument he'd used time and again to restrain her, and unwittingly had given Nora the other in hand. Oft she forgot, in her flighty thoughts, that she had worked to pay off that trip to Italy for him. When scolded like a child, the thought remained tucked away. When called a child explicitly she recalled.
'But where will you go?' a last, desperate bid, but this time Nora was stubborn, committed, and the maid had so graciously packed her bag as well. Perhaps she, too, understood.
'I will be a nanny someplace,' she said carelessly, 'or a maid, or a Governess. Or my good friend Mrs Linde might help me. She understands my plight.'
'You'll come back,' Torvald muttered, repeating, 'You'll come back.'
Perhaps. For Nora had turned back from that path so many times. It may be that she would again. But she had to get past this. At least try. But still… 'Will this home be open should I return?' asked Nora, sounding much like the child she was oft accused of being.
Torvald watched her, thinking, hesitating. Then he gave a nod and with relief, Nora was free to explore the opportunity till she found another place in the world or returned to this.