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better than heaven

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i.

Grace leaves her father with nothing more than her suitcase, a hug to her siblings and a murmured prayer to God that they will be safe because something inside her knows that she will never see them again. Her father leers at her from the window, drowning himself in whiskey and Grace wants to break the bottle, take a shard of glass and stab him with it.

She doesn’t. She digs her nails into her fists and thinks of her mother, floating forever somewhere in the infinite sea, and hopes she is proud of her.

Mary Whitney becomes the first person to ever smile at her without wanting something more in return, and Grace cannot help but smile back.

ii.

She wakes from the nightmare without screaming, but still she clamps a hand over her mouth. The candle in the window flickers and Grace worries that it will light the curtain.

“When my father finds out I am not sending home my wages, he will surely kill me.” Grace doesn’t mean to say it aloud, but she does, because Mary turns to her and strokes a piece of sweat soaked hair from her forehead.

Mary speaks softly, resolutely. “If your father ever dares to come for you, I’ll take a kitchen knife and I will stop him. I will not let him take you, not as long as I am alive. Even when I am not, I swear my ghost shall haunt him til he joins the rest in the burning pits of hell.”

Grace does not want to imagine a world without Mary in it, and when Mary turns back Grace finds herself staring at Mary’s curtain of midnight coloured hair until she falls back to sleep.

iii.

“We shall live in the woods together, you and I. We will live off the land and shall never want for anything more than one another.”

Grace knows she is joking but it is such a lovely thought. “And what of your farm?”

“Oh, we will have that as well. Our dog Rex will help us hunt!” Mary declares with such certainty that Grace can almost believe a life without men controlling their every action could ever be possible. Mary has a way of speaking which makes Grace feel as if the world is only them and it is hypnotising. She would be a siren, if she were mythical.

I love you, Grace wants to say.

Mary grins, brighter than sunshine, and Grace bites her tongue.