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Maud once had a hundred pairs of white kid-skin gloves, all the same. I remember them as if I'd last seen her wearing them yesterday, with their neat rows of buttons running down her wrists. I don't know what she did with them, whether she gave or threw them away. I never saw them again, and I never asked.

Sometimes I come into her study and find her sitting still as the heavy desk she leans against, without so much as a flutter of her long lashes or a rustle of her silk skirts. Her pen lies idle across white sheets marked with black.

She is waiting for me, silent, with her hands hanging at her sides. Her hands in gloves.

Maud doesn't need to say a word. I know what she wants me to do. I kneel beside her chair as if I was her maid again, and I peel off her gloves.

They are not white, not kid-skin, not buttoned. They are different every time. Once they were black satin past her elbows, and her gown was sleeveless so her upper arms and shoulders glowed like the moon. Once they were red lace cut off before the wrists. Once they were brown leather soft as butter in the sun.

Beneath the gloves, her hands are pale and smooth. I think of pearls. At first, I always think of pearls. And then I touch her fingers, her slick nails, the faint pulse beating between her flesh and the delicate bone of her wrist, and then I don't think of anything so dead or cold.

By the time her second glove is off, I can hear her skirts rustling. When I look up, her lashes flutter.

I don't know where she goes to buy her gloves, or what she does with them after I take them off. She is a mystery, my Maud.

"Don't read the last page first," she said once, and smiled. "I like to surprise you, Sue."

"I like you to surprise me," I told her.

My ears are very sharp. I always know when she's wearing her gloves, because when I stop outside the study door, I can't hear the soft scratching of her pen across the page.

I am standing there now, with my naked hand on the doorknob. I hear only silence. When I open the door, it will be to her first page.