I was awoken by the sounds of footsteps and the vaguely audible ruckus that ensued from rummaging through ceramic. I bolted up. Thieves? Unlikely. I was certain I had locked up all possible openings that morning, before retiring to bed. Furthermore, the light from the window indicated that it was the height of noon – quite possibly the worst possible time to carry out a burglary. Besides, based on the sounds of the footsteps, there was only one person, whereas thieves often operated in groups. Pulling on my clothes, I cautiously poked my head through the doorway, glancing in the direction of Rosalind’s room.
The door was open.
I blinked once as I comprehended what was happening. Then I bolted downstairs, dashing toward the kitchen, where I had heard the rummaging. Sure enough, Rosalind was standing in the kitchen, wearing her barmaid outfit, sorting through shelves and looking over all the get-well gifts we had been given with a troubled eye. As I approached, she looked up from her sorting and glanced at me, smiling radiantly.
“Good afternoon. Did you sleep well?”
I stayed in the doorway, unable to believe my eyes. Despite a week with no visible improvement, despite acting and living like a doll with strings cut for the last seven days, she was suddenly up and energetic again – it was as though the grief she had shown me over the past week had simply vanished. I tentatively opened my mouth to confirm her condition.
“…Are you alright now? Are you sure you’re okay?”
Rosalind rested her hands against the edge of the counter, the expression on her face faltering slightly. Glancing at her hands, I could see her tensing, gripping the table. She gave me an answer through a pained voice.
“…Of course I’m…not. Ruth was the only tie I had left to my family. She was the only one I could turn to when I’d lost my parents. Ruth was the last living reminder of my parents and who they were. And now that she’s gone, it feels… like something’s been cut. It was bad enough when it was just her leaving – but I was able to hold it in. When the possibility of her being dead appeared, though… it was too much.”
She gave me an apologetic smile.
“Sorry for the trouble I’ve given you over the last week. It must have been hard, taking care of me. I have these… moments, you see, where I sort of lose control. I retreat into myself, and I become only vaguely aware of what’s happening around me. This is the second time it’s happened. The first was when my parents died. The one who looked after me that time was Ruth…”
She looked like she was about to tear up, but her grip on the counter tightened and she shook her head furiously, affirming her resolve, seemingly for her own benefit as well as my own – her tone was one of beratement, scolding herself.
“No. I’ve done enough crying. Ruth wouldn’t have wanted me to dwell on this. If she were here, maybe she’d even bop me on the head for acting this childish. I need to move on with my life. She’ll never forgive me otherwise.”
She bit her lip and turned back to the crockery.
“Anyway, since you’re up, help me with these. We’ve been closed for too long; we need to re-open soon or we’ll start losing our regulars.”
As she spoke, her hands resumed the process of sorting. I hesitated for a moment, but decided to speak up. Rosalind was an intelligent woman. She would likely have come to the same conclusion I did, after she had sorted out her emotional turmoil.
“…Hey Ros. About Ruth… You know, I don’t think-”
“Stop right there.”
Her hands paused as she cut me off mid-sentence.
“I know. There’s the possibility. There was no body, the cart was left behind, too many things are inconsistent. And there’s the issue of her strength. You acknowledged her as an equal, and you managed to punch a hole in my wall. So… I know. I know the possibility exists. But… I don’t want to consider it. If I consider it, really consider it, I won’t be able to move on. I’ll cling on to it, I’ll become a prisoner to it. I don’t want that. I know for a fact that Ruth doesn’t want that. So… I’m going to pretend that I don’t recognise that chance. And if possible, I’d like you to pretend the same. Or, at least, don’t give me hope that… it might be true. Or I won’t be able to carry on.”
Her hands were trembling. She seemed on the verge of crying again. I quietly walked over to her and placed my hand over hers until it became still.
“What are you talking about? I was just going to say that I don’t think this plate goes here. See? The depth is different. I did a bit of reorganisation while you were out, so it’s understandable that you might be confused.”
I felt the hand beneath mine tense, then relax. Rosalind responded in a tone of feigned annoyance.
“Well now, moving things without my permission? This is my shop, you know. Aren’t you getting a bit too comfortable with this place?”
“Well, it was precisely because I was uncomfortable that I did the reorganisation. Seriously. When I saw that you had basically no sorting method for the plates, I almost fainted. How do you even find anything?”
“I memorised the location.”
“Of course. Even though it would be far simpler to just sort them according to type, depth, size and usage. When I was trying to cook dinner for you, I had to spend almost twenty minutes attempting to locate a pot of the correct depth. The kitchen was a mess. Therefore, as was my duty,” I gestured to the butler outfit Rosalind had provided me, “I took the liberty of rearranging everything into a more sensible order. After all, it’s the duty of the butler to ensure the preservation of order within her employer’s estate.”
“And here I thought you were against the idea of a butler outfit.”
“What can I say? The look suits me. And it’s a clothing style I’m familiar with. And playing the part is an interesting experience, too.”
“Well then, my dear butler, as your employer, I order you to put everything back to the way it was.”
“I refuse. It would tarnish the pride of our establishment.”
Rosalind set the plate she was holding down onto the counter and stepped back, breaking into a smile that was equal parts playful and grateful.
“Well then, at least show me where everything is. Give me the grand tour.”
I bowed theatrically, placing one hand across my chest.
“As you desire, Madam.” I picked up the plate and strode across the kitchen, opening a shelf. “As you can see, all the shallower, smaller plates that we use for plating appetisers are over here, next to the…”
I continued explaining the new placements and arrangement, though I was cognizant of the fact that I only held a part of Rosalind’s attention. I could see in the corner of my eye that she was staring at me, but she seemed somewhat unfocused – it was clear she was not really listening. As I strode past her to the other side of the kitchen, she spoke quietly.
I did not acknowledge it – it seemed imprudent to do so. Instead, we continued on the explanation of the kitchen, and we did not speak again of Ruth’s fate.