I've been here a long time. I've seen people come and go, styles change, rules bend. Propriety has all but vanished. I've weathered it all, but there's one thing I still cannot abide, even after all this time, one thorn that I can't quite see well enough to pluck out of my skin: the people upstairs.
I must concede that they're not all bad. I've watched them enough to know that they have hearts and passions, that they love their children, that they can be surpassingly kind to each other. But to us? Those who blend into the background? Their utter lack of consideration reveals a darkness in their souls.
They expect us to be silent yet display great disappointment at our very silence. They ask us simplistic questions, refuse to listen to our answers, and then ask again, a never-ending cycle. They demand to know where we are, summon us at all hours of the night, and then ignore us when we appear.
Yet last week I sharpened a gentleman's razor and—after cutting himself bloodily—he thanked me. Thanked me as if I had saved his life. His wife worked herself into such a frenzy of excitement, like a blushing maiden swept up by the passion of the penny theater. When I offered her some water, she nearly fainted.
They applaud us grandiosely for knowing how to shut doors or arrange their silly belongings on their dressing tables, as if these were great feats, as if we were so abysmally inept that opening a window or playing a few notes on the pianoforte were an accomplishment. One day they pour honeyed courtesies on us, delighted at our every move, and the next they shriek in grave indignation at a mere glimpse of us in the hall mirror. Such mercurial moods I cannot abide. We do not exist only for the amusement of idle people.
Last night I was hard about my work when they sent the sick boy to fetch me. Decent people don't make children with typhoid fever run through the whole first floor, down the stairs, and along the dark hall to find me unless it is an urgent matter. When I reached the room where they were sitting in silence in the dark, all they wanted was for me to shake their table and turn on their lights. Again.
"A bright light means yes," a woman said slowly, as if I were a child. I remembered her voice and her ridiculous frock from earlier, when she passed me in the upstairs hall, chatting with a man in just as ridiculous of attire. Not a word to me from either of them. Only now did she deign to speak to me, her words tortuously slow. "Do you know where you are?”
Of course I know where I am.
"Turn on the light if you know where you are.”
. I didn't. I'm not sure I ever will again.
All we want—my business partner and I and the boy with typhoid and the recluse in the attic who always wears white and weeps sometimes in the darkness—all we want is a little quiet respect.
All we want is to rest in peace.
Melinda Brasher spends her time writing, traveling, and teaching English as a second language in places like Poland, Mexico, Czechia, and Arizona. Her talents include navigating by old-fashioned map, mashing multiple languages together in foreign train stations, and dealing cards really fast. You can find her fiction in Deep Magic, Leading Edge, Pseudopod, and others. Visit her online at www.melindabrasher.com, on Twitter as @MelindaJBrasher, or on Facebook as @writermelindabrasher.