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Cassandra Speaks, Do You Listen?

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“Ah,” said her son, “they’re not alike.” Presently Newland stood up and excused himself from the table. He was making his way to the balcony for a cigar when Janey appeared; apparently still pondering the wonders of Madame Olenska’s black polonaise. Miss Archer’s brown and purple poplin dress seemed to droop farther in comparison. Despite living with his sister for his whole life, it was rare to find himself alone with her, without the ever-present shadow of his mother; he was faintly surprised when she spoke, screwing her eyes fixedly upon him.

“Mother finds the Countess to be scandalous.” Newland found this point to be quite obvious; but he stayed ostensibly silent, the only inclination that he was listening the slight tilt of his head, still smoking his cigar.

“Mother thinks-”

“Mother says! Mother thinks! How about you profess one of your own thoughts for once, girl!” barked Newland, surprising himself with his own declaration. The young man continued to suck on his cigar, almost as if it would grant him the absolution he desired.

Janey’s eyes projected further, shining with a determination uncharacteristic of her. Newland fancied they would pop right out of her skull. Miss Archer seemed to start to speak then stop, gathering herself up before him before pointing her chin up determinedly. “You wish to know what I think? Newland, you act very differently. I’ve never seen you like this before except for- except for when- You remind me faintly of how you were a few months ago- When you began courting May. But different, markedly so.”

The effrontery in which she spoke took Newland aback. He raised an eyebrow but gave no other indication of being affected despite the tempest that had already started raging inside. Janey- Janey of all people had noticed? In lieu of an answer he smoked his cigar rather violently as if to convince a captive audience it was all he was focusing on.

She gave a small laugh, then her voice softened, dropping into a lower register. Cassandra-like, she continued, voice dripping with a sympathy that made Newland’s skin crawl: “I hope you know what you are doing, Newland, since you are the one with the chance. After all, I simply want you to be happy. And if you must make the difficult choice for that, then you must do it and not shy away from it.” And with this final declaration, her eyes seemed to dull over once more, taking on the virgin countenance she usually had and turned back into the house.

An incongruous feeling came over Newland, suddenly, that Janey would forever remain inside this two-story house; sharing space with her own mother as though they were sisters, never to venture out and instead collecting dust, only hearing of the outside world rather than living it. He envisioned a lifetime of taking in the scenery but never interacting; a life spent behind glass, never to be touched or affected in any meaningful way. Too old to be married and too young to be respected, her existence was inexorably a weary one. The young man had never considered his sister’s fate before, and he was at once overwhelmed by it. He put out his cigar on the balcony’s railing and turned back inside, resolved to not think of the issue further.