(A reminder that I'm running an e-book give-away this week of Through the Hourglass, a (now) Goldie-winning anthology of lesbian historical romance, that includes my story "Where My Heart Goes". Comment on any blog entry between now and next Monday, July 18, to be entered to win.)
If the first half of chapter 10 shows Sara recovering her ability to turn her life into a story, the second half reminds the reader why she needs to do so. Despite the passing interaction she has with her few friends, and the way she tames the sparrows and rats, she is deeply lonely. The doll, Emily, who even in brighter times represented a connection with her absent father, now becomes the focus of her concealed rage and frustration. The outbursts that she is too controlled to reveal even to her closest friends, are displayed to Emily. And it is to Emily that she voices her understanding that her “pretends” are only make-believe, and that her life is awful, and that she sees no hopeful future out of the relentless present.
When Lottie visited the attic room, Sara shared her fantasies about a family moving in to the house next door to the school, and someone inhabiting the facing attic window, even if it were only another servant girl. And then—in the most strained coincidence of the story (though I’m quite willing to allow every story at least one strained coincidence)—someone does. And not just any someone, but someone who brings a reminder of her childhood in India, in his furniture and decorations, and in particular in his Indian manservant. (But more on that in the next chapter.)
We are, in fact, about to plunge into a morass of missed connections and conveniently overlooked clues. But the one thing that I don’t see as conveniently overlooked is Sara’s failure to put meaning in Mr. Carrisford’s (the Indian Gentleman’s) origins. Surely wealthy men returning from India with such souvenirs of their time there were not uncommon. There is no reason for Sara to attach any meaning to that fact than a general sense of nostalgia.
Becky continues to cement my fondness for her in being openheartedly curious about the possibility that the Indian Gentleman will turn out to be a person of color, bringing a family with interesting foreign ways. To be sure, when she speculates on them being “heathens”, she feels this is a characteristic that would need to be corrected by evangelism. Both of their fantasies about the new inhabitants are disappointed: Becky’s when he turns out to be an ordinary English gentleman, and Sara’s when he turns out to be a single man with seemingly no potential for intriguing new attic-neighbors. But Sara’s sympathies are immediately engaged—as they so often are—when it turns out the man is an invalid, recovering from some serious unknown illness.
And part of both their fantasies come true in the person of Ram Dass, who is the titular focus of the next chapter. And with that, we will enter into some of the most uncomfortable characterization of the story.