On the advice of the women around her, she added the apron to the tub, gratefully accepted the loan of a spare drying cloth to wrap around her front instead, and got to work. First on getting the worst of the dirt from the sheets and then moving both them and Maggie’s washing through the various tubs and stages.
As she was scrubbing at a particularly stubborn stain, a voice piped up at her shoulder, “You’re not very good at this, are you?”
She looked over to see Patty watching with bright-eyed curiosity.
Anaria sighed, “No I’m not, but if I practice then I hope I will get better.”
“It helps if you practice right though.”
“That’s very true, what am I doing wrong?”
Patty lit up, and turned from curious child into exacting taskmaster. When Anaria was finally squeezing and rinsing the sheets and clothes to Patty’s satisfaction, and was seeing quite a difference in the results, Patty sat back and said, “Now you have to teach me something.”
Anaria blinked at her in surprise, “Sorry?”
“I’ve taught you something, now you should teach me something I don’t know.”
“Well that could be difficult as I don’t know what you don’t know. So I might try to teach you something and then find out you already knew it and then it wouldn’t count.”
An eavesdropping Maggie blinked at this rather interesting view, but Patty mulled it over and acknowledged it as fair.
“Can I ask you questions about town then?”
The ensuing barrage kept Anaria busy. Between trying to answer and keeping the heavy, wet sheets, skirts and other items moving into the rinsing tubs and onto the drying racks around the furnace, she wasn’t paying attention to anything other than the questions and the washing.
Wrestling the last of the sheets onto a rack, Anaria looked up as she finished the story she’d been telling about checking over a delivery of goods for her father and finding a stowaway, and realised she was at the centre of a circle of enthralled children.
Maggie chuckled, “It’s been a while since the children have had new stories. I think the last was Liam and he’s not much of a teller. You’re going to find yourself with a bit of a following I’d say.”
“It’s just town life and trading.”
“It’s new and it’s unexaggerated, unromanticised information on the world beyond our small quiet village, and thoroughly entertaining with it. If you can stand the telling, it’ll be good for them.”
Anaria felt a small spark of warmth. It wasn’t much and she doubted it’s true usefulness, but it seemed there was something she could do.
By the time Maggie’s washing was done, Anaria had decided to put a daily limit on both questions and stories. Her voice was starting to give out.
Exhausted but determined, Anaria re-bundled the re-dried sheets under Maggie’s direction and set off back to the cottage with great care.
That little spark fizzled and died as she walked through the door and saw the bread.
Shoulders drooping as all the things she’d done wrong came crashing down on her again, she undid the bundle of sheets and helped Sarah make the beds. Then she took her loaves out to the garden.
She was at the compost tub tearing the bread brick into chunks for composting when Martha walked past. Her superior smirk as she took in the scene made Anaria long to throw a piece of it at her. She settled for a vague polite smile and was briefly buoyed when Martha scowled and stomped off.
The final piece of a truly awful day was that smirk of Martha’s and all Anaria wanted to do was crawl into a dark corner, curl up and shrivel into nothing. Taking a few moments to force the infuriating tears back down, she returned to the cottage and dinner preparation.
It was only Sarah’s attention and quick reaction that kept Anaria from taking her thumb off with the bread knife. Uninjured and too tired to be able to react, she listlessly obeyed Sarah’s worried suggestion to sit by the fire and rest for a bit. Another failure.
The fog didn’t lift as Sarah fussed a little food into her. She couldn’t manage much, it was too much effort. She then had to be helped to bed, stumbling and bent. Sarah chivvied her into a nightdress and tucked her in like a child, with a promise it would be better in the morning.
She heard John come in as Sarah returned to the main room, heard him say Liam was delayed and not to hold dinner for him. She buried her face in the pillow and the dam on the tears broke.
The next morning, Anaria woke to noise in the main room and found herself snuggly cuddled into Liam’s side. She blinked at him in confusion, surely he should be up by now.
He ran a thumb down her cheek, “I’m so sorry Ana. You had a horrible day and I wasn’t here.”
“You had to work, I heard John say you were delayed.”
“It’s not good enough, I should have been here. You’re more important than work.”
She gave him a tremulous smile, he smiled back, “How about we take the day off and I can show you around the woods and the village?”
Anaria drew a deep breath, “No. No, no, NO. I may be an idiot and useless and I’m probably making Sarah’s life a nightmare but I HAVE to do this and I refuse to be treated like some poor cripple who can’t do anything and be coddled and pandered to.”
She floundered her way out of the bed and began haphazardly gathering clothes.
Liam scrambled behind her, “That’s not how I meant it and you know it.”
“How would I know it? I barely know you and all you’ve done since we’ve met is protect me and take care of me and I know you mean it well but I feel so guilty for being so completely incapable of keeping up my end of the promise and you keep pushing and it’s drowning me.”
Liam sighed, “Fine, I’ll see you tonight.”
He grabbed his clothes and left, very carefully not slamming the door behind him.
Wonderful, she’d managed to start the day by upsetting and offending Liam. She pulled yesterday’s clothes on, gathered a fresh set and slunk into the main room.