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Jack and Jill (novel preview)

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Chapter Two

1

Jill opened the creaky door. Her house was never quiet, even when there were no voices to disturb the air. Every step triggered a squeak or a groan of the old wood. The two-story house looked majestic and tall on the outside, but inside, it consisted of dust-covered furniture and peeling, yellowed wallpaper. That was the true reason no one was ever welcomed into their home. Of course, no one would ever want to come in; not with her around.

The house had been left to the family by her grandmother, so despite the financial situation at present, the grand house was right in the middle of town, on a nice street that they did not deserve to grace. Jill personally felt uncomfortable there, but what was she to do? This was home, and it was the only one that she had ever known.

She came into the house with the wooden bucket as quietly as she could so she would not alert her parents that she was back. The sounds of the crying toddler and her nine-year-old brother’s antics were in her favor. She walked in softly and set the pail on the countertop beside the wash basin. Jill tried to sneak away then. Perhaps she could make it to her room before her mother noticed her.

It didn’t work.

“Jill, do take this child,” her mother sighed, catching her before she could slip away.

Jill turned to have Baby Timothy practically thrown at her, and there was nothing for her to do but cradle him as best she could. He was drooling again, and smelled terrible. He just looked up at her. Such a shame: over a year old and he couldn’t speak a word.

Her mother rubbed her reddened eyes tiredly and sat down in a chair beside the table. This woman had seen better days. Jill was certain that her mother had been a beautiful girl once. Perhaps she had been one of those pretty, town-girls. Her only mistake was that she had married the wrong man, and everything had fallen apart after that. Her eyes were always cradled by dark crescents, and her mouth was lined by the permanence of her frown.

“He’s whining about something, I don’t know what,” her mother said. “I don’t know how to make him stop anymore.”

Jill could see an open liquor bottle on the table. Ladies didn’t drink. Her mother was no lady–not anymore. Years of a hard life had taken their toll on her in many ways.

“What should I do with him then?” Jill asked in confusion. The child was now bawling his eyes out on her shoulder, smearing her sleeve with saliva and snot.

“Your father’s at the tavern again, as always,” her mother said instead, lost in her own world. Jill wondered if she’d even been heard. She wondered what it would be like to live in a bubble of soap and water. Would she have a voice to anyone but herself? Perhaps she was already living it.

“He promised he’d give me the good life, you know. We both had family money starting out…”

Jill stepped away as her mother slammed her fist on the rickety table, as if she needed to in order to get Jill’s attention back. The girl hadn’t drifted far… The woman continued on.

“We don’t have any money because your father wastes it all at the pub, drinking and gambling… And that brat!” she burst referring to Timothy. “It won’t give me a moment’s peace!”

Jill didn’t think it right to call him a brat or refer to the child as an it. Jill tried to console her little brother. She was trying to be rational with him, unlike she did yesterday; she would never be violent again. Her mother quickly pulled herself together and took her best coat off the rack beside the door.

“I’m going out,” she said. “Help your father to bed when he gets home, will you dear?”

That meant: Don’t tell your father where I went. Just give him his medicine and tell him lies until he goes to sleep. Did these words mean that much to Jill? No; not really. She would try to put Timothy to sleep and then she would sit in her room and stare blankly at the wall until her father came home.

She knew where her mother was going to be. She would be down the road, meeting Clark Everett, married man and banker. He’d give her mother a little money to help them get through–in exchange for favors of the sort Jill preferred not to think about. This affair had been going on for quite some time now. She guessed that her father was the only one who didn’t know it. In fact, the baby in her arms was probably not even from his loins. She wondered if he suspected.

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