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I. Solitary Reaper

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'My daughter won't stop crying,' I told the Priest.

'Have you asked her to stop?'

I nod, though he cannot see me. 'Yes. I visit her grave every day. She never listens to me.'

There was a momentary silence before the startled voice of the man on the other side of the confessional wall could be heard.

'My dear child! I don't quite understand. What do you mean, you visit her grave?'

'Why, my daughter is dead, Father,' I said with a heavy heart. The tears I kept barricaded seeped through my eyelashes and ran down my cheeks. 'Oh dear, I feel as though I must start from the beginning. But my tale is rather long, and I'm afraid the story begins with my daughter's death.'

The small box of a room I sat in felt as though it would suffocate me. Enclosed, womb-like, filled with sin and secrets. Every fibre of my being beat with the cravings of absolution. Perhaps this was not where I was going to find it, but under any circumstances, my story had to be divulged to a willing ear.

'My name is...'

The Priest interrupted. 'You do not need to speak your name, child. I respect the anonymity of those who confess.'

'I feel like my name is important, Father. It may help you understand, for you may have heard of me. My name is Rowena Holloway...'

'My God!' I heard the Priest cry.

I shut my eyes tight, but a noise from the Priest's room caused me to open them again. I thought he was leaving. 'You have heard of me! But fear not, I only wish to tell my story in the hopes of finding meaning. I wish to be forgiven, for I cannot move on until I do. Please, please let me continue.'

The Priest did not respond. I procured his shocked silence as an invitation to resume, and so I began my tale...

It was 1840, five years ago, when I settled down one night with my husband. I had just given birth to our firstborn child, a daughter, and we decided to move from our crowded London apartment to a cottage 85 miles away in Kintbury.

The cottage was a wonderful dream come true; the perfect place to raise a child, and hopefully later, children. My husband received very good earnings from the books he wrote, and publishers offered four-figure sums to release his works. I was never really an aficionado of his works, but he did not need to know that. I skimmed through his last one.

'What do you think of the cottage, my dear Rowena?' He would ask me almost every day for the first four months we lived there.

'My mouth cannot help but smile,' I would reply, and a kiss would last a lifetime. The bliss I felt as it was just the three of us felt as though it would have lasted a lifetime more.

But as my daughter turned five months old, to be exact, I woke one night with the most incredible headache. I felt nauseous as the pain split my head in two. I did not want to wake my husband, so I crept to my window for the clean air that awaited me outside.

Slowly, the headache subsided and I was able to return to my bed. I gradually found slumber again, though I drifted in and out of sleep.

That was when I heard crying from the nursery. It took me a second to realise that a faint voice comforted and soothed her to silence, and I felt grateful to my husband.

Then I turned in my bed and found my husband sleeping right beside me.

My heart plummeted and I screamed. 'George! George!'

George woke instantly and leapt up as I clambered out of bed. 'What's going on?' The poor man, he was confused at my frantic state.

I managed to tell him. 'There's someone with the baby!'

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