Every morning Madame wakes us early; there are at least a dozen girls, all more beautiful than myself. We arrange ourselves, brush our hair, rinse our faces and smile as she enters. She will only pick a few to bus the morning dishes and cook the daily meals, the rest will be offered to the hard labor of cleaning the sheets and tending the outdoor duties, long hours can be spent pumping water and scrubbing out the chicken coop. We live amongst but do not dare speak between each other. Three mistresses oversee our development and showcase the pretty ones to the many couples who shop the home on Saturdays.
Shortly after I arrived at le Manoir I began to lose words, they fell from the mouth of the speaker and were lost before my ears. A fever broken out one afternoon as I swept the barn terrace, vomiting and redness spread across my body, the Madame took me to a nurse. Immediately I was quarantined and spent three months in isolation, the nurse would attend me and upon the request of Madame an older girl was sent to teach me French, Maryse Devereux.
Maryse and I became fast friends; she was at least four years older than me and she wanted to teach me French as much as I was interested in learning it. It was not the language however that created our bond but our shared grief and distaste for le Manoir. When the nurse would leave Maryse would climb into my bed and rest her head against my chest, our French book rested in her hands, her tears would stain my cotton nightgown as she read the words waiting for my acknowledgement.
“Siv? Suis-je jolie?" she asked one afternoon.
“Of course Maryse. You are the most beautiful girl at Le Manoir”
“They come and leave and no one will take me away! Je déteste ça.”
“Dont worry Maryse, I promise, one day my father will come and he will take us both away."
“Stupide!” Maryse jumped to her feet “When will you learn Siv? He does not want you! He knew how stupid you were! You dont understand...Tu ne peut même pas comprendre ce que je dis.” It was true, I rarely understood what she had said, most of our conversations were broken and it would not be long before I was completely deaf and unable to hear a word. “He isn’t going to save you Siv, he is dead.” Maryse stormed the room. “Dieu aide cette fille stupide”
“Je suis désolé” I was sorry for making her angry, “I understood the pain Maryse, but we can not just lose everything.”
“I will never be saved!” the anger broke and Maryse collapsed on the floor in tears.
I will remember her voice brass and sweet, it was the last I would hear. It took years to perfect French and it was not the last language I would learn to speak. Even without my ears.