In my latest novel The Memory Jumper, a side character is taking on a whole life of her own. Queen Colette is a haunted soul, stuck in an unhappy marriage where she feels she has no voice. I took the above self portrait in the spirit of poor Colette. She smiles on the outside and plays the part, but on the inside . . .
Now, enjoy a sneak peek at Colette’s story. She honestly deserves her own novel!
The butterfly bobs through the air, a Red Admiral on an invisible ocean. I’m worried for it; someone must’ve left the door open to let air circulate through the castle, and this unsuspecting insect waltzed right in.
It’ll never escape now.
Everyone else has their eyes trained on the man at the head of the table: my husband.
Intense, dark, cold. His empty stare trains itself on my face, but I continue watching my flying friend. My dinner guests melt away; all I notice is the buttery light descending on the butterfly’s wings, the way the insect flies in a strange bouncing motion, as if constantly catching itself before it falls to its death.
“Colette.” I pull my eyes away from the entertainment, focusing on the blonde woman to my right with the garish forehead and surface-level personality.
“Yes, dear?” I answer.
“Is Adam excited to pick his wife?”
I’m caught in a poisonous flashback. My mother told me my beauty was a gift, a bargaining chip, a token that a poor family could use to gain prestige and stability. But the only thing my appearance ever gained was the attention of a man at a ball twenty-five years ago: a man who just happened to be the king of Frelsi.
Will my son treat his future wife the same way? Have I created a monster? I set my fork down as my hand trembles. I hide my hand in my lap and draw a smile on my face.
“Yes, he is.”
“How are the preparations coming?”
As if I cared about colors of tablecloths and the lustre of candelabras. I was only decorating my own cage.
I pull the corners of my lips up into what could pass for a smile. “Splendidly. The china is simply stunning—just wait until you see how white they are. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Perhaps if I spend more energy on things that don’t matter, I’ll forget the heavier things that do. I look for my butterfly friend. My eyes sense motion in the corner of the room, but what I see makes my heart falter.
Crash. Crash. Nausea overwhelms me; I clench the napkin on my lap, the luxurious linen like burs on my perfectly manicured hands.
“I—I’m sorry.” His eyes still watch me. Always watching, always calculating. Always waiting. “I must—I must powder my nose.”
I shove my chair back much too gracelessly for a queen, then launch myself out of the room.
I must get away from here.
Must get fresh air.
Must find a place I can breath, can be myself again.
Where has Colette gone? Tears fall from my eyes. She is gone, replaced by a butterfly who traded freedom for a golden cage.
It’s all my fault. It’s as if he knows—he knows the terrible things I’ve done. And this is my price to pay.