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  The

Game

by

David

Holzel

"Very well, then. You so rarely speak your mind. That in itself is a lesson learned. So what do you want to play?"

The governess was 18, two years older than he. Her dress was gray and of plain material and design. Her shoes were clean but unremarkable. Her braids were held fast to her head. There was no playfulness about her. She taught the lessons earnestly, patiently: history, geography, mathematics, poetry. But now as she waited for his answer, he
  thought he saw her eyes widen and her mouth begin to stretch to a smile, only to be pulled back into its usual neutral, nonjudgemental, noncommittal nonexpression.

It was quiet in the house. Surely the servants were busy downstairs, perhaps even in adjoining rooms. The house was like a hive, yet he heard nothing except, suddenly, the ticking of the clock. He glanced above her head and as he was trying to read the time without losing her gaze, it seemed that the minute hand was moving backward.
  His vision clouded, then cleared. "Have you ever been in the library?" he said.

"I though no one was allowed entry."

"Yes, but I know where Father keeps the key and I visit there sometimes. He keeps the books he brought back from the East on mahogany shelves, books he doesn’t want Mother, his business associates, the neighbors or anyone in this house to have access to or connect with him. He has another side and that must be how he keeps

  his balance among all the demands made upon him."

He tried to read the governess’s expression. Curious and fearful, he thought. He became aware of an electricity that seemed to emanate from the space between them, but crackled inside.

"What is in the library?" She did not move in her chair, yet now they seemed to be nearly face to face.

"I brought a book out to show you." And as he removed a tiny volume

  from the chest pocket of his jacket, she opened her mouth just a little and took a quick gulp of air so that her bosom, until now invisible beneath her plain dress, rose perceptibly.

"It’s hundreds of years old, written by explorers who ventured into the interior of India. It’s a book of games."

She seemed to relax at that. "Let me pick a game then," she said and stretched out her hand to receive the book. The expression of the governess had returned; her face had
  resolved into sharp angles and he felt compelled to comply. She opened the tiny book; its yellowed pages crackled as she turned them. He felt the blood throbbing in his neck.

Then, for the first time he had seen, she abandoned entirely her demeanor of governess. Her face stretched wide and she threw her head back and laughed. The sound of it echoed through the house. Her body shook so that the book dropped out of her hands and to the floor. She tried to speak, but the heaving of her laughter choked her
  words. Tears ran down her face. She convulsed, gasped for air, and went on laughing.

He drew his chair close to hers. She was utterly beautiful.



1998 by David Holzel



Illustration: "Head of a Girl"
by Frederick Lord Leighton

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"I want to play," he said. "No more lessons. I want to play."

His governess closed her book.