His mouth is hot and hard against the nape of my neck, the sharp cut of his unshaven jaw sending my body flinching against the mantlepiece. The shadows bend, licked with that wet low flame and the ghost of my form into the bloom of the wallpaper. There is nothing, nothing but that spit of the bracken and kindling and the sound of his throat against my clavicle. And I stare at that shadow, my shadow, in the mirror above the mantlepiece as it bends her blackness away from him-
I had been working for the Maspin family since late March 1904, an ancient Argentinian family of lawyers and barristers formerly crowded into the sweltering villas of Ancasti. The year before, Mr Vincent Maspin had emigrated to London with his wife, Malene, a small-mouthed woman with her hair piled high in tortoiseshell combs, and their two small sons. They lived at 23 Rosecroft Avenue, Hampstead, in a great sprawling whitewashed home that tasted of thick beeswax and peppermint.
The boys were well-behaved enough, proficient in German, English, Spanish and a little Latin, with a great love of the ants and spiders they found upon the Heath. They kept them in jam jars they coaxed from their old Argentine cook and sought to scare me with tales of the beasts and bugs back home. Mrs Maspin was fair, quiet, and left me much to my own devices save from the odd scolding for scuffed shoes or unkempt nails. I suppose I would have forgotten them all, by now, a glimpse of my youth and folly blurred beneath scores of fallen canopies, giddy summers, and the great war. If perhaps, that great cold winter had bloomed a little differently.
This is an ancient story, of course, one often told. The governess. A tired one, born of a thousand unhappy marriages and flushed young things. I shan’t bore you with my sin, or his. Safe to say that when Malene decided to visit some ailing aunt in Edinburgh one dark November evening, where the frosts caressed the panes and the snows crept up my skirts from my walk with the children, I found myself quite alone with Maspin, who seemed to discover that I existed as one discovers a fawn in a thicket. I said nothing, and he said nothing, never a word nor a fingertip of mine validating that rough, hard palm to my jaw, that monstrous, hungry mouth to my own, the taste of claret and then blood, my…