‘Don’t,’ he says.
I stop mid-reach. One of my many lady’s maids instead retrieves the spool of ribbon which a careless sweep of my hand had sent tumbling to the floor to unravel like a satin snake.
He takes my hand and kisses it. And I want to scream. I know he does not intend to hurt me, but that word has become a glass shard, piercing me each time it passes his lips.
‘Don’t,’ he says, when I reach with my napkin to soak up a spilled glass of wine on the table.
‘Don’t,’ he says, when I begin to straighten the blankets on the bed after rising in the morning.
‘Don’t,’ he says, when I do anything which betrays my shameful past.
I know he thinks such things are beneath me. Perhaps he has forgotten where he found me; the poor girl who slept in the soot of the hearth. Me, who waited on a step-family as a servant lest I be locked away without food. Me, who would be beaten for the slightest lapse or offense until I had learnt my lesson. Me, who once saw a promise of freedom, but now find myself locked in an even tighter cage than I had been.
My life before, a never ending stream of ‘Do this,’ and ‘Do that’, now hemmed in on all sides by ‘Don’ts.’ I am more a prisoner in this life than I ever was locked in the little attic back home.
He follows me as I turn away, calling me ‘beloved’ and asking what is wrong. He grasps my hand again, but I pull away.
‘Don’t’ I say then, and I wonder why I did not say it to him before he put the slipper on my foot.