The Conscience Chest

By Hannah Jamieson

Chapter 3

Heulwen’s room was flooded with a golden light early the next morning. The bright sun had managed to filter through the yellow gauze, which sheltered the window, and had illuminated the room with its warm hue. The sudden exposure woke Heulwen promptly and once the realisation struck her that it was in fact morning she sat bolt upright and continued her usual ritual without delay, stretching out her body like a cat whilst moaning her tiredness away. Unfortunately the warmth of the light was deceptive for as soon as she got out of bed she was shocked to feel the freezing marble flooring underneath her bare feet. She could also hear the quiet whistling of wind sneaking through the gap below the door which was making her shiver. She sighed and rummaged through her cupboard for a jumper to put over her pyjamas and was satisfied when she found a thick navy-blue one. She wandered back over to the bed and perched on the end gazing at the bedside table. Amongst other mundane items which crowded the top of this table was a small clock. It confirmed to her that it was only seven. This meant that her father would not be up for at least another two hours or so. She was trapped in her room until then. She gave herself another stretch and then stared into space considering her room. If only she had remembered to close her dark curtains last night, it would have easily blocked out the dazzling sunlight and would have allowed her a couple more hours of sleep. She got up and drew them anyway hoping to reclaim the lost minutes. She tucked herself in and gazed around her room which now looked stark and sinister with the absent morning glow.

She tossed and turned for ten minutes trying to find a comfortable position, but her woolly jumper made it difficult to roll over and it kept knotting up the duvet. After a few more minutes of wrestling with the discomfort she accepted that it was a futile exercise. She proceeded to prop up her pillows, sit up against the feathery mound and scrutinise her now distorted room. She looked at the wall closest to her. It was the only one that had been covered up with wallpaper. Previously, it had been a deep shade of maroon and had shown off its floral collection proudly. Now, however, it was currently in the midst of a fashion crisis — it looked a horrendous shade of brown and was considerably blotchy. It contrasted greatly to the other three sickly evergreen walls. Mounted onto this hideous wallpaper were three pictures which grabbed her attention. The closest one to her that wasn’t hidden by the darkness was a photograph of her sister Elaine, who was smiling brightly towards the camera. Her sister, unlike herself, had captivatingly long black hair which she usually styled into colossal curls. The effect had rendered many spectators stunned by their vibrancy and the look united itself perfectly with her exhilarating smile. The wind was particularly strong that day as well, she recalled, her hair was billowing everywhere. Even though she was holding back handfuls from her face the wind was persistent. Thick strands easily escaped her grasp and had proceeded to tickle her eyes. Heulwen found herself mirroring her sister’s amused expression.

The next was a small painting of the pier, scenery which now looked unrecognisable in the dark, for the snow appeared dull and the icy river refused to glisten. Heulwen had painted this picture when she was little (after the last escapade that had occurred there). She had been determined to capture the enchantment of that place and had therefore been overly generous with the white glitter. Her attempt had ended with a mess on the floor and a firm scolding from her parents. Despite the fact that the glitter was unnoticeable she could just about see a hint of what had truly inspired the piece. It was an aspect that was desperate to be seen, the valley that lay beyond the stretch of water. Her smile faltered as she turned her gaze to the last picture, one that was completely veiled by the darkness. A stray chill had managed to intrude the covers which convinced her to ignore the picture and to attempt instead snuggling deeper into the duvet for warmth. She forced her whole body to face away from the adjacent wall and pulled up the covers around her ears. Her jumper annoyingly remained bunched up by her chest. She considered restoring it to its correct position but decided the task would all be in vain. She pretended the bundle were her breasts and imagined how it would be having this obstacle in her way daily. She giggled at her own childishness.

After a brief glance at the clock and with still quite a while before her scheming father would come to life, she closed her eyes. Sleep crept up on her unexpectedly. She never noticed as the hours went by and it wasn’t long till she was woken up suddenly by her father’s heavy handed knocks. Before she knew it he had unlocked the door and entered the room.

“What are you doing still in bed?” he enquired loudly, “I would have thought you’d be too excited to sleep in.” To her surprise his voice actually sounded quite dejected. A nurturing urge took hold and she desperately tried to convince him otherwise.

“I did wake up early! I actually woke up two hours ago! I must’ve just fallen back to sleep again, I didn’t even realise.”

“Well come on then get up, get ready, and for goodness’ sake be quick about it. We cannot afford to be late.” Without another word he quickly departed the room leaving Heulwen to freshen up.

She leapt out of her bed and was greeted by the same cold sensation underneath her feet. With a yelp of surprise and a body wrenching shiver she chose to tip toe the rest of the way to the bathroom. The first impulse she had was to check her appearance in the full-length mirror. It wasn’t until her bleary eyes came into focus that she noticed that her jumper was still gathered up underneath her armpits. She giggled again and proceeded to adjust it with a more ladylike demeanour. Once satisfied she moved in closer to fully scrutinise her face. The mirror was kind to her this particular morning. Her skin, though pale, didn’t have its usual sickly complexion and her eyes looked abnormally bright. Her hair was still in its pitiful thin state though. The amount of times people had resembled its texture to that of a cloud was countless. Its consistency was poor which meant that it was easily damaged so there was no way she could ever attempt such lengths as her sister’s. Still it could reach her shoulders and it did drape in delicate curls. She played with a strand as she brushed her teeth. It was strange how different Elaine was in comparison. In looks she was her complete opposite. Her mousy hair, in every sense of the word, could not compete with the jet black mane that perfectly surrounded Elaine’s face. The lack of male interest, however, was certainly a perk that she was grateful for. They all came flocking virtually seconds after Elaine’s ceremony had ended and Heulwen could easily abstain from that type of attention. Whilst continuing to get ready thoughts of a similar nature gathered around her head. She hoped above all else that this gift from her father wasn’t just a matchmaking scheme and that her sister would be able to drop round for a visit later that afternoon. Her room was still dim after she returned from her piping hot shower. It made it quite a mission for her to find any of her clothes. Discerning anything in her wardrobe, for that matter, was pretty much impossible. Once she was dressed in what she considered to be clothes, she hastily threw open the curtains and pushed aside the yellow gauze. Following a check-up of her outfit, which, in the end, turned out to be well-coordinated, she applied a touch of make-up and chaotically blow-dried her hair. In spite of her obvious excitement a slight awkwardness was causing a swarm of butterflies to become restless in her stomach. She wasn’t sure where this worry originated but she realised whilst she was getting ready that she couldn’t help but continually cast a fleeting look at the box. It looked odd resting on her dressing table. It didn’t contrast well with the purple decor that covered the surface. It was as if it was luring her, filling her up with curiosity, compelling her to open it. She wondered if the words she had previously seen were still churning up the innards of the lining, although she highly doubted it. The surreal events of yesterday were hazy. She began to trace the lock with her finger, teasing it, as it were. The urge to open the lid was growing stronger and it took all of her resilience to withstand it, yet she couldn’t stop her finger from circling the heart. This frightened her, she desperately needed to break eye contact and force away her hand. With all the determination she could rally and without losing another moment she snapped her eyes shut and raced out of the room. Narrowly missing a collision with her mother who had been watching privately from the door way.

“Watch where you are going!” Sylvia barked.

“Sorry...” Heulwen’s heart was pounding and it took a couple of seconds to reassemble her thoughts from the shock. “What were you doing by the door?”

Your father demanded I come and fetch you. You have been keeping him waiting,” she retorted.

“But then... why didn’t you say anything?”

“You were occupied,” she replied calmly. An unexpected smile grew up from the sides of her mouth. “It’s a precious time when a girl bonds with her box.”

“I wasn’t bonding with it.”

“It’s a gradual process...”

“I was just curious.”

“That’s how it starts...”

They looked at each other. What riled Heulwen the most was the superior knowing look that was plastered all over Sylvia’s face. It was intentionally belittling and it only made Heulwen’s resolve stronger; she just refused to believe she could be controlled by an object. She pushed past her mother and quickly descended the stairs to the hallway. Sylvia was not fazed. She just continued to smile as she watched her walk away.