Alice stands
in the room
by the stairs,
at the end
of the house;
the low end,
servant's end,
Father said,
don't go there,
but she does.


She goes down
the back stairs,
down long dark
watching staff
in their world,
the kitchen,
the wash room,
other rooms.


And this room.
She watches
the thin maid
called Mary


Why're you here?
Mary asks.


To see you,
Alice says.


Why see me?
Mary asks.


I love you,
Alice  says.


Mary frowns.
You shouldn't
use those words,
Mary says
turning round.


Alice stands
her small hands
in pockets
of her blue


But I do,
I love you.


Why is that?
Mary asks.


You are kind
like Mother
used to be
before she
had to leave.


Mary heard,
rumours spread,
the mother
had to leave,
had problems
in the head,
locked away
so they say,
for a year
and a day.


She'll be back,
Mary says.


Alice sighs,
I love you,
I want you
to stand in
for Mother,
between us,
Alice says.


Mary sits
on a chair,
flushes red,
between us
I can be
I suppose,
Mary says.


of her pledge
she gazes
at the child
standing there.


Need a hug,
Alice says,


Mary feels
at a lost
what to do.


Can I sit
on your lap?
Alice asks.


Mary nods
and opens
her thin arms.


Alice walks
to Mary
and climbs up
on her lap,
lays her head
on Mary's
silky breasts,
smells apples
and green soap.


Mary hugs
her closer,
kisses on
the child's head.


Love you, too,
Mary says.

Our secret,
Alice says,
none must know.


None will know,
Mary says,
just we two.


Nanny's voice
echoes down
the passage
Best go now,
Mary says,
learn for me
at lessons,
do your best,
my daughter


Alice nods,
kisses quick,
then goes up
the back stairs
out of sight.


Seen Alice?
Nanny asks.


Not at all,
Mary lies,
sees the dark
cruel eyes
scan the room.


She'll be pained
if she's caught
down this end,
Nanny says.


Then she gone,
her black skirt
swishing loud,
the black shoes
going click,
clack, click, clack.


Mary gives
a rude sign
with fingers
behind fat
Nanny's back.

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