My Name is Minette, Chapter Twelve: Trapped

That was the last conversation she’d been trying to avoid. “Maw, please!” Minette protested. She wrapped a lock of hair around her finger and rubbed it between her fingers. She wouldn’t be able to meet her reflection at all with her last shadow of independence sheared off. It was her only weak grasp at her true self, at the person she dreamed about. Shearing off her hair turned her outsides into the outsides of the Good Son, the honorable husband, the person who was not–and would never be–Minette.

Paw’s fist slammed down on the table, silverware jangling, Irma startling. Uh-oh.

He leaned forward. Crickets sung outside, unaware of the calamity inside. “Why do you fight this so hard?” he asked. His face was the reddest she’d ever seen it, and that was saying something.

Minette was silent. She couldn’t tell him. She had no defense. She couldn’t answer past her tight throat.

“Morton, you’re too old for all this. It’s time to grow up,” he said, snapping the last two words in emphasis.

Minette ordered herself not to cry. She nodded her head, hiding behind locks that would be gone in a day or two. Her dreams bled away. This was real. This was happening. To her. And soon.

“Yes, Paw.”

Paw leaned back. “Good,” he said. The sounds of life resumed. Everyone else kept eating, complimenting Maw on her mash. Irma asked about her dress, and Maw’s eager yammering filled the silence and loosened everyone’s shoulders.

Life kept turning around Minette, even as desperately as she wanted it to stop, to just stop, if only for a moment.

It felt utterly useless, almost stupid. What control did she have over her life? All her dreaming, her pining for something else, it had only served to hurt her. To highlight its own impossibility. Before autumn came, she’d have a moppy head and a wife and she’d be a partner at the smithy.

Before long, she’d be trapped behind the portrait of her false life forever, acting and dancing around like a fool until it was time for her own weary, overworked death, completely voiceless, her true self unknown to all.

My Name is Minette, Chapter Eleven: Paw’s Plan

“Irma’s right,” Minette said. “It’s a little early to talk about this, isn’t it?” She tried a smile. Maw and Paw liked to get serious sometimes, to impart Elder Wisdom upon the Youths, but those moments never lasted long. Minette just had to get through this one.

“I met a boy who goes to school in town,” Rhys piped up. “He’s my age, and he’s the son of the candlemaker. If they can–”

“It’s never too early to get your affairs in order,” Maw said, barely blinking at Rhys’ words.

Rhys went quiet. Minette had nothing to say, either, and definitely not Irma.

“I thought you’d be happy,” Paw added after the silence hung around too long, and Minette didn’t miss the edge of hurt in his tone.

Minette’s heart fell into her tummy. She sighed. “I… I just don’t think I’m ready yet,” she said. “I could use some more time. To practice. At the smithy.” It was the most and the least she could say to appease Paw and eliminate any suspicion. Minette didn’t know how to explain herself if he learned that she didn’t want to be the man of the house. She didn’t want to run a smoky, choking business for forty years and then die because of it and consign her beefy son to the same fate. She didn’t want to impregnate some woman. She didn’t want to drop her kids on a wife locked at home while Minette compared her muscles with other men at the pub and complained about naughty children and nagging.

“Of course y’are!” Paw exclaimed. “We’ll go to the mines tomorrow. I want you to find me the softest ore. Something good to work on on your own. Once you do that, we’ll start your partnership, and let the women in town know you’re eligible. It’ll all fall together.”

Minette nodded, running a sweaty hand through her hair. She schooled the look on her face. He made it sound so easy, like she’d stumble into the forge and then stumble home to bed her wife. Easy peasy. She’d thought he would back off, give her time. Some pointers, maybe. But instead, he’d only doubled down. 

In that moment, Minette had already run through a million and one different scenarios where she sabotaged Paw’s copper test or intentionally pulled out the grossest, worst piece of copper ever, but she crossed them all off her mental list. Paw knew her too well to fall for a trick like that. Plus, if he did think she was that brick dumb stupid, it still wouldn’t stop the part Minette was truly afraid of: the siring of sons. The sense of duty. The unseen woman, the loyal wife.

“That hair,” Maw added, nodding over at Paw. “That goes, too.”

My Name Is Minette, Chapter Ten: The Lecture

The table went silent. Minette waited for someone to say something, anything, but there was nothing. Even the forks and spoons had stilled.

“She just needs more time,” Minette spoke up. “She can learn just the same as any of us can. But sometimes you’ve got to be patient.

When Maw said “Morton…” in That Tone of Voice, Minette had no choice but to shut her mouth and look up at Maw. “Enough about that, then.”

Minette knew what that meant. She held back a sigh. “Yes, Maw?”

“Paw tells me you’re doing well at the smithy,” Maw said. It wasn’t a compliment.

Just get to the point, Minette wanted to scream. No need to draw out the agony. She knew this was about more than just hammering metal. This was about the Good Son they wanted.

“Yes,” Minette said, proud of how her voice barely trembled.

“We’re thinkin’ of your future,” Paw butted in, popping a bread roll into his mouth whole. “I’m getting old.”

“I know you are,” Minette said. She thought again of his froggy, chipped voice, of how his whiskers were more white than brown. His aging appearance was another reminder of her future–and how the little world she inhabited was soon to change in a big way.

Paw frowned. Rhys stomped on her big toe under the table.

“Rhys,” Maw said, spoon in hand, without even looking at him.

His foot retreated.

“Anyway,” Paw continued, clearing his throat, “it’s time you weren’t my apprentice, but my partner. I’ll teach you how to run the business by yourself, and you’ll take over. We’ll take you out courting to find you the right woman. She’ll move in with us, and start keeping house soon after that.”

Minette couldn’t help but laugh at all he left unsaid. Minette would take over the smithy when he was dead. Her future dainty, submissive wife would take over the house when Maw was dead. Couldn’t they see how absurd it was to speak so frankly about their own untimely demises?

Irma huffed. “Can we talk about something else?” she asked, echoing Minette’s thoughts. “May I be excused?”

“No,” Maw and Paw said, in unison, answering both questions. Irma slouched in her seat.

Minette nudged Irma’s knee. Irma hated all this talk about death even more than Minette did–her future was just as uncertain. Lots of townsfolk talked about the blind girl down the way, but it was the things they didn’t say that gave away their true feelings. They just didn’t know what to do with her. Minette knew that feeling, that dread, and she knew that Irma must be feeling like she was toeing the edge of a great, dark, chasm.

My Name is Minette, Chapter Nine: The Dreaded Dinner Table

That night, Minette sat at the dinner table already dreading Paw and Maw’s imminent interrogation. She didn’t want to hear them call her a boy or a suitor. She wanted to ignore her fate. They were all huddled around their little round table, knees knocking, toes fighting. 

Rhys was humming to himself, gnawing on his porridge spoon, and Irma was devouring her food like a mouse who’d found its way into the cookie jar. Minette hid her anxiety by chastising her siblings’ manners as usual and teasing them as much as she could without starting a ruckus.

Maw and Paw were, predictably, surveying the table and its inhabitants like a king and queen on a haughty dais. They noticed any green beans hidden under a napkin, any elbow pinching of an irritating sibling.

This evening, try as Minette might, each child received their time in the sweltering spotlight.

Irma came first. Paw leveled his molten stare at her, and she looked up, swallowing, even though her eyes couldn’t see it.

“Irma,” Paw said, in that deceptively quiet, even tone. “You went to the shop with Rhys today.”

“Yes, Paw,” Irma said. Minette glanced at Rhys and found him observing his peas with altogether too much fascination. Uh-oh.

“Well? How did it go, then?”

“It was… fine,” Irma said, with just a squick of hesitation. “Rhys was there the whole time. He helped me count the copper Drunes.”

Paw’s head swiveled like an owl’s to peer at Rhys. “Is that true?”

Rhys nodded, his moppy hair falling into his eyes. “Yes,” he said. “We got the bread and the flour, like Maw asked. Irma did great, Paw. You should really let her–”

“Really?” Paw interrupted, and Rhys’ jaw clamped shut. “I should let her do what? Overpay for Thom’s clumpy flour again?”

Irma opened her mouth to respond, but Paw dropped a bunch of copper-colored Drunes onto the middle of the table before she could say anything. They rang out and clattered against one another. “You gave me two Drunes short. Two Drunes we could have saved longer. Two Drunes your father worked hard for.”

Irma lowered her head. “I’m sorry.”

“This is why you can’t be doing things like this, Irma. You’re just not like the rest of us.”

Minette flinched. She looked to Maw for any protest, any resolution, but Maw was silent.

“It was my fault,” Rhys interjected quickly. “I was the one who should’ve–”

“Quiet,” Paw barked.

My Name is Minette, Chapter Eight: The Future

The ladies carried themselves without a second thought, but with a hearty heaping of grace. They moved differently from Minette. Their dresses weren’t royal or anything, weren’t attire for a ball, but their simplicity was beautiful. Minette wanted to feel the black buttons in her hands, slip her arms through a shapely sleeve. Maw could make a dress like that. But not for Minette.

Paw clapped a giant, calloused mitt on her shoulder, startling her. He nodded his chin out toward them with a grunt and a grin. “Nice to look at, ain’t they?”

The ladies scurried off at the sight of Paw’s scruffy mug. Minette watched them go, face going hot. She didn’t know what to say.

Paw chuckled, finding something funny about her silence. “I remember those days with your mother,” he said. “Courting is fun, but marriage is work. You don’t want the prettiest girl, you want the one that can keep house. Remember that, boy.”

Minette wanted this conversation to be over. “Yes, Paw.”

“And go out for once,” Paw said, brow wrinkling. “One drink wouldn’t kill you. You need the experience, the hair on your chest.”

“Yes, Paw.”

“We’ll find you a good woman. Summer’s end. Guaranteed. It’s past time, Mort. We’ll get your hair cut and your shoes polished. Your mother and I will sort it out. Don’t you worry.” Paw clapped her on the back hard enough to make her cough and turned around, wheeling back into the forge and leaving Minette alone.

Minette tightened her jaw, watching the skirts bounce lightly above the ground as the girls turned a corner and disappeared out of sight.

Summer’s end, Paw had said. Brushing her hair out of her face, she looked at the sun-burned hills, the broad Oaks with some leaves already littering the dappled sunlight at their roots

Summer’s end was already here, along with the end of Minette’s freedom.

The real fantasy was how delusional she’d been. She’d assumed she could put it off forever, keep training, keep to herself, and maybe fall into something worthwhile, something that didn’t make her want to scream.

But reality was knocking, and she had to answer the door sooner or later.

She was so screwed.

My Name is Minette, Chapter Seven: Another World

The forge wasn’t far from home. She could see their huddled little roof and stone chimney from here. There was a nice view of town, too. The smithy sat alone on a hill on the outskirts of town, but still inside the great stone walls, observing the cramped, messy streets from above. From this perch, Minette had done quite a lot of people-watching, guessing at the lives of the little ant-sized citizens that rushed to and fro down below. Droz wasn’t massive, but it wasn’t empty, either; it teemed with life. There were districts and people Minette had never ventured to or met. She’d been relegated to her little corner, her little life.

She’d never made it past the walls. The gates were always guarded, and if she went too close, her parents screamed at her about the dangers of the Outside World. Drozians rarely left, and when they did, it was for essential reasons, not because of some secret, hard-to-describe yearning.

Her parents had set her up on playdates with other children in town, but the boys she’d played with were all so rough, so violent. She didn’t understand them or their equally brutish fathers. Some of the people in Droz motivated Minette to just stay home, cooped up inside of walls upon walls.

Maybe her parents were right. If she could barely handle Droz, would she even be remotely prepared for what lay beyond its walls?

Minette admired the tenacity of the weary blue sky and the stubbornness of the dying, tawny grass stalks, the exhausted bumble bees searching bravely for the last of the late summer flowers to pollinate. They all persisted despite the heat and dryness. She understood them, the effort it took just to grow.

A titter grabbed her attention.

A real, actual, dictionary-definition titter.

She looked up and found two ladies walking past, staring right at her. What they were doing all the way out here where the streets were mud was a mystery. They stood out in this tired landscape like gemstones among pebbles.

She didn’t know how old they were, or who they were, or where they were from, only that they wore maroon dresses and high stockings and boots. They carried a parasol between them, keeping fair, unlined skin from the sun, and they smiled over at Minette when she caught their eyes.

Minette was enthralled. Just like with Sir Edric, the sight of them drew her into vivid, rose-tinted fantasies. Their very existence spoke of a different world, a different reality that called to Minette in dulcet tones.