Wednesday, June 12, 2019

#WEP: A Gilded Cage

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com/2019/06/june-wepiwsg-challenge-sign-up-caged.html?showComment=1559709080425#c230901367056632075

Note that the rules have changed a little. Since we now have a posting window that ends on the 3rd Wednesday and we don't sign up on the list until the post is live, I'm aiming for the 2nd Wednesday, which I didn't make, but I'm close.


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ALL GENRES WELCOME except erotica - 1,000 words maximum
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I had a little fun with this one. When I started putting the story together in my mind I was driving, and couldn't check the prompt, so what I remembered was the old (very old--1899) song about a bird in a gilded cage. I looked up the lyrics and they pretty much matched what I remembered of them, and my story went on from there.

 735 words
Full Critique is fine

A Bird in a Gilded Cage

Clara ran a hand over the edge of the grand piano, paused a moment, and crossed to the Victrola. She put on the record, an antique disc from her girlhood. She’s only a bird in a gilded cage,” the singer crooned.

She remembered how they’d laughed at the song, she and her friends in that giddy year when they all “came out” together and took the social scene by storm. Every one of them knew her duty, and no poor boys need apply. Anyway, they didn’t want to be poor, so they’d laughed at the pathetic song of the misguided girl who’d married for money, and set about corralling the richest men they could find, young men preferred, but old men had more money.

A decade later Phoebe, Sarah, and Fannie hadn’t been laughing. They had married rich men and lived to learn that riches didn’t last, but marriage did. Or, in Fannie’s case, just like in the song, that a man could make his wife’s life a misery and it was perfectly legal.

“You’re so lucky,” Phoebe had sighed each time they met, at Clara’s beautiful home, or in a fancy restaurant at her expense. Pheebs and Sadie weren’t unhappy, though. Riches passed, the marriages remained, and each seemed to have found a kind of peace with her man.

Old and grey as she was, Clara still carried much of the beauty of her youth. Where Phoebe and Sarah had aged poorly, forced as they were after their husbands failed and decided to try farming to work too hard, too often outdoors, Clara stood straight and elegant. She protected her skin from sun and wind and hid her wrinkles well.

For all that, Clara knew more than any of them about what could go wrong with a marriage, but she had continued to laugh off the song, to insist that the money was the thing.

Fannie... Fannie had stopped them all laughing for a long time. After her brute of a husband had finally gone beyond cruel words and hit her, Fannie had made sure he would never hurt her, or her children, again.

Fannie hadn’t been subtle. In those days, there was no mercy for a wife who stabbed her husband with his own sword cane, not even when she appeared in court still bearing the scars of his beatings.

She spent the rest of her life in prison, though she might eventually have been pardoned if she hadn’t died of influenza instead. Phoebe and her husband took Fanny’s children. Clara had paid off their father, who didn’t really want them anyway.

Meanwhile, Clara made her own plans. Her husband might have lost his money had she not canceled his orders to pursue some very shaky investments. And when he grew angry at her “interference,” never mind that she’d saved him from a very sharp operator indeed, she had given him only the one chance. One raised hand.

It had been the society story of the year: rich financier dies of heart attack at the peak of his success. Beautiful young widow left mourning. That sort of thing.

Clara’s father hadn’t believed in educating girls, but he hadn’t been able to stop her reading. Clara read everything. When her brother went to medical school, she even read his texts.

And she remembered everything.

No, it hadn’t been so hard to keep the door of her gilded cage open. Clara had found it comfortable, especially as a rich widow. She hadn’t been foolish enough to marry a second time. Why should she? She had all the money she needed, and the skills to make it grow. She remained a leading light in upper-class society, and her entertainments were the most sought-after honor of the town.

She let the Victrola wind down. Her gaze traveled around the elegantly appointed room where she received visitors, on to the room where she conducted business. She thought of the closets full of clothes, carefully selected for every occasion, and not a one of them comfortable.

An ironic smile twisted her lips as she set the record to playing again.

It didn’t take a man to make a cage. How had she failed to realize what a trap she’d made for herself, following all the rules?

All the rules but the one, the powder in his coffee.

At least it had been her own cage all these years.

###

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2019
As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated!
  
 

29 comments:

  1. I guess, a gilded cage is still a cage, but maybe murder is not always a way out. Maybe a woman could leave and make a life for herself without her rich husband's money?

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    1. Well sure she could! But that wasn't Clara's way :)

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  2. Your flash brings to mind that old song - "Satin Sheets to lie on, satin pillows to cry one,,," I wrote a story about that once and these women sound as unhappy as Tammy Wynette's lament. These ladies of yours didn't beg to be free, they smashed their own way out of their bars. Great use of the theme.

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    1. I think Tammy Wynette was borrowing from the older song. I didn't want to put the lyrics here, not being sure if they are under copyright or not, but the gist is that the young woman married for money and wears a happy face on the outside but is regretting it all the while.

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  3. Her own cage, but a cage just the same. Some days I wonder just how many women took Clara or Fannie's option to attempt to prise those cage doors open, at a time when divorce was neither easy nor acceptable. I really love your use of the prompt.

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    1. Thanks! Fannie we'd forgive now--she was driven to it in self defense, really. Clara, not so much. But he did raise a hand...What I found interesting about her was that having freed herself of the man, she chose to keep the cage, for the most part.

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    2. I think the cages we lock ourselves into are often the strongest.

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    3. Hi Rebecca - at least she was free ... even if the structural vestiges of her monied life remained. I really enjoyed your take ... cheers Hilary

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  4. I like this. I think it has potential for a novel, too.

    Mine is still due out on the 19th, which doesn't help with all the changes going on. But I dare say people will see it. I'll have to pull the next one forward.

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    1. Oy. Now I’m even behind on the comments, let alone reading stories. So much for getting a head start!

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  5. Cages of our own making are often the most difficult to bear. Some are from choices of our own , and others are the results of no better options. I dare say many of those trapped consider Fanny or Phoebe's way out. Some choose to direct the violence inward.

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    1. Phoebe and Sarah seem to have found some kind of happiness—maybe they grew up enough to know that riches aren’t everything.

      As for Fanny, at least our laws now recognize what she did as self-defense, and husbands are no longer legally allowed to beat their wives (yes, it was legal, and not that long ago). It probably would have made for a better balance in the story if Fanny had killed herself, now I think about it. That would give Clara a better reason to take the action she did. Not sure why that didn’t occur to me, but I wrote in a hurry.

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  6. Hi Rebecca - well done ... interesting take on characters and what their lives drove them to ... at least one was free, and could give the others some happy times without worries as they met up ... cheers Hilary

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  7. A lot of the time when men murder their entire families, people are shocked and comment on what a "nice guy" he was. Sometimes there is even an implication that the wife pushed him over the edge.
    When women kill abusive husbands in self-defense, they are always pigeonholed as unhinged harpies.
    I really don't believe in saying that people "age poorly." We simply age. Some of us have more health problems than others. There tends to be an implication that people bring ill health on themselves. Ill health is a fault in our stars (or our DNA) and often dependent on economic circumstances. People in impoverished circumstances tend to lack access to proper nutrition and medical care.

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    1. I agree with you about the “aging poorly” thing. That would be Clara’s view, though—those external appearances are very important to her.

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  8. Society has a way of pidgeon-holing everyone into a cage. I liked this. Very nicely structured.

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    1. Society tries hard! I just finished reading Michelle Obama’s book, and it made me think that the farther up the wealth/power spectrum, the more you are actually constrained. FLOTUS can’t slum around in shorts and t-shirts and running shoes like I do!

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  9. Even when one thinks they are free of a cage, one day they wake up and realize they have just made another. The way it seems to go.

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    1. I’ve read that the cage we choose is no cage. But Clara is proof that you can choose badly and still end up feeling as caged as any victim.

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  10. Clara is a great character! Strong and smart, with a side order of villainy! Great story!

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    1. Thanks! I’m wondering what she’s going to do now that, even at this late date, she’s realized she made herself a new cage.

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  11. A well structured if not slightly old fashioned tale of questionably matched marriage, where marriage was not for love but, for property,money, or influence. Except Clara's marriage was more of a cage, where she eventually found a way to escape her cage. Well done.

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  12. WoW! She fell to the lure of money. Not saying that having lots of money is evil. However, if you don't know what brings true happiness, you lock yourself in a cage and you miss life.
    Very well told. I enjoyed your story.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G

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    1. I dare say it happened less than some authors make it appear, but the idea that girls from the “best” families were a commodity to be sold on the market has a long history. For all I know, it still goes on, though I have trouble imagining a modern young woman agreeing to family pressure to marry for money. They do, of course, still do it on their own hook.

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  13. We do tend to build our own cages. I love how your character is able to process what she has done and the result. Well written.
    Nancy

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  14. I like Clara's self awareness - she swaps the cage of marriage for one of her own making. The cages we build for ourselves are nevertheless, cages. I don't know if they are any better than the ones others build for us. An interesting take on the prompt. Well crafted flash. Thank you for sharing it.

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